Innovation: 5 tough love questions to ask your team

Friday, October 27, 2017

AME Author, creator of InnovateU

How often do you find yourself saying “we should have thought of that!” when your competition introduces something new? If you’re tired of playing catch-up and struggling to find the time to focus on innovating in ways that add value to your customers, these tough love questions will point you in the right direction. And that “right direction” might just be the AME San Diego annual conference next year, where the focus will be on innovation in manufacturing!

The first step is to provoke some fresh conversation, so liven up your next leadership team meeting with these 5 Tough Love Questions:

1. When was the last time we did something innovative and unexpected that made our customers sit up and take notice, and made our competitors wonder why they didn’t come up with it first?
Note… this could be a product or service innovation that you can sell to customers, but it might also be something innovative within your processes that simply creates an outstanding and memorable customer experience.

2. When was the last time we did something innovative that had huge value-add for our customers but was so far below the radar screen that our competitors couldn’t figure out what we were up to?
I love stealth innovation, which often comes from changing something in the customer experience and/or in your service and guarantee policies, especially when its something subtle yet powerful that’s tough for competitors to copy.

3. When was the last time our customers were eager and willing to pay a premium to do business with us because we’re significantly different and better than our competition?
Innovation should make us different and better, right?  So why is it that customers continually put pressure on margins, seeking “lowest price” vs “best value?” A bonus question: ask yourself what “job” your company or product is being “hired” to do – and do it better by far than the “next candidate!”

4. What could we achieve if our high-potential employees spent as much time focused on developing value-add innovation as they spend on email?
Many companies known for innovation – Apple, and Goretex amongst them – give their employees a full day each week to simply explore what might be the next big thing. Your employees probably spend a minimum of 90 minutes per day on email. Email isn’t going away, but what if you could free up just 90 minutes once a week to focus on innovation? If your employees have their noses to the grindstone all the time, a day of downtime might be too big a leap… but consider having a 90-minute brainstorming session with the rank and file on the “ask yourself” question in #3 above to get the ball rolling.

5. How often are we inspired by a success story in the business press, but we don’t know how to generate that kind of success ourselves?
There are many options to get you beyond inspired to started. A couple of my favorite authors on innovation are Gary Hamel and the Blue Ocean Strategy team of Kim & Mauborgne. They have just released a new book called Blue Ocean Shift. Why not post your favorite innovation resource or author below, and share with other Target readers? There’s also an entire chapter in Profit in Plain Sight, (my #1 bestseller, with 21 low risk, low cost paths to innovation). Follow any of these authors’ blogs, or pick up a copy of their books, and start to create your own roadmap for innovation.


Are you cringing a bit, knowing that your team may not have good answers to these questions? Don’t let that stop you from asking them! When you change the conversations, you change the outcomes, and this is the perfect time of year to help your team get their creative juices flowing so that you can do things differently next year.

Think about sending members of your team to AME San Diego 2018 conference – these practitioner-driven conferences are always a great catalyst to generate thinking in new ways. I’ll see you there!