How Are Businesses Responding to the Global Economy?

Business responding to global economyAn idea has been running through my mind over the last few months. What if businesses decide to step outside of the global economy? With the UK slipping into recession, the onging Eurozone crisis and Asia slowing down, it would seem that things are not looking well at all. And it doesn’t look like it is going to change much over the next 10 years if the forecast in the Global Outlook 2012 is accurate.

But is that the whole story?

If you look at specific economies, you start seeing that there is some positive growth. Within the Eurozone, Ireland is starting to show consistent growth and Germany remains strong. Despite the slowdown, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia are growing. Chile’s economy is growing and the US economy is showing some modest growth of its own. And there is some very interesting stuff happening in Nigeria.

Are these examples of businesses “stepping out” of the global economy?

It may be more of a mindset or an unwillingness to wait and see if the economy is going to go back to “normal.” Perhaps there is some kind of recognition that things are not going to revert to how things were 4 years ago. Beyond regions of the world and specific economies there are some interesting trends:

Collaborative consumption– In a previous #KaizenBiz (it was #kaizenblog at the time) we had Nick Allen of Spring Ventures as our guest on this topic. ZipCar, AirBNB, Craigslist and bartering networks are finding success as they are connecting with customers who want use of goods or services when they need or want it without the responsibility or cost of ownership. This can be seen by businesses who rent equipment or have a virtual office for cost-cutting, personnel or other reasons.

Digitization of manufacturing-There is an interesting post on The Economist explaining how manufacturing is experiencing a revolution. Additive manufacturing includes using 3D printers to create moulds, lighter and resilient new materials, more robotics and online collaborative manufacturing services. Not only will larger manufacturing companies take advantage of this but also smaller companies will be able to compete effectively.

Collaborative relationships a la “Co-opetition”– Even though Brandenburger and Nalebuff’s book has been out for years, their point about changing the game has not gotten old. With cloud computing, social media and other technology tools, there are large and small companies engaging in short and long term relationships to achieve profitable success. There are a number of corporations partnering with universities to create incubators resulting in thriving companies. There are all kinds of collaborative relationships of a smaller nature between peers in networking groups.

What is so different about this economic turbulence compared to past recessions?

How do emerging economies fit into the overall global economy?

How would you describe how businesses are responding to the global economy?

Which sectors do you think are positioned to succeed in today’s business environment?




This Week’s Chat Plays With Nick Kellet and Gamification

Since I’m always looking for interesting business topics and even more interesting guests, I was intrigued when Caroline Di Diego and Brandie McCallum recommended Nick Kellet. Nick brings such energy and enthusiasm to what he does!

Gamification is popping up everywhere

After noticing so many references to gamification in marketing and encouraging productivity, it seemed only natural to bring the topic to the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz. Basically, gamification is the application of game design and game techniques to non-game situations. But gamification is so much more.

Our guest, Nick Kellet

Some people are familiar with Nick’s new venture, which he co-founded with Shyam Subramanyan. It is a site that lists questions and answers to a variety of topics and groups. (You can see an example here which Kaizen Biz sponsors) Did you know that Nick created a game also?

He describes himself as “inventor of GiftTRAP, Co-Founder at Listly. Former VP, New Markets at Business Objects, Founder of Next Action Technology, creator of AnswerSets, British-born, Canadian-adopted family-guy”. You can learn more about him on his website.

Gamification really made a difference in his work and his life

While creating GiftTRAP, he got to explore game design and discovered there is so much more. Read his framing post and get ready for a lively conversation!

Discussion questions:

  1. How do you describe gamification?
  2. What kinds of engagement between people does gamification encourage?
  3. How is game design similar to designing a startup/business venture?
  4. If the best game designs rely on story to help engagement, what role does storytelling play in creating a business?
  5. How would you know a team/staff has an appreciation for game?
  6. Where would gamification make a difference to the momentum/growth of a startup/business?

Please join us on Friday, April 20, 2012 at 5pm BST/12pm ET/9am PT for the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz. You can access the chat by using TweetChat or TweetGrid (unless you already use TweetDeck).




Design Thinking-What It Can Be Is Not Necessarily What It Should Be

Jose Baldaia

This post is by guest blogger, Jose Baldaia, psychologist and consultant in Organizational Behavior and Innovation. He works with small to medium sized enterprises focusing on Open Innovation and Design Thinking. Please join us to explore Design Thinking with Jose Baldaia this Friday at 12pm ET/5pm GMT/9am PT on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz

What it can be is not necessarily what it should be! We do not have to choose always between …We can create new!

We live in a transitional phase between an old “business world”, traditional and corporate, and a “new world” with a people-centric approach to create new things and with value through interdisciplinary teams and collaborative processes.

There is, on the part of some people, a purpose of convergence of these two worlds, which basically can mean a new model created with the relevant points of each one and where empathy takes on a key role.

This new model requires a different mindset

Design Thinking is a mindset that allows forms of collaboration in interdisciplinary teams producing amazing results. Teams with this mindset exhibit empathy, movement, suppleness and evolution.

Design thinking is a way to do something in a dimension that represents a new learning experience for everyone, especially for business people. It is a fact that cannot be ignored or minimized is that they have a lot to give back with their experience.

However, many of these business people fear failure, have aversion to unpredictability or uncertainty and have a major concern with their status.

Design thinking requires a different attitude

That is, go beyond the case studies or exchanges of good practices. Business cannot be happy with the simple transfer of a solution from one company to another. We can’t think only in case studies or implementation of best practices. Every business needs unique solutions and not adaptations of other companies’ solutions.

Roger Martin on “The Design of Business,” says that, in order to become design thinkers, we must develop:

  • posture-our perspective of the world and our role in it
  • tools-the models we use to organize our world and our thoughts
  • experiences-what has built and developed our skills and sensibilities

Then, the fundamental question that a design thinker asks is:

“Does this helps me to get where I need to go”?

To answer this question, it is important to not forget that design thinking places three fundamental issues that are raised for the development of our projects:

Is it this desirable?

Is it technically feasible?

 Is it economically viable?

Challenging the status quo

Design Thinking goes further challenging the status quo because design thinkers can resolve finer problems through integrative thinking in collaboration using the logic of abduction. The logic of abduction is the logic of what can be and not what should be or what it is.

We can see that after inspiration and ideation comes a third space of design thinking process that is implementation. At the heart of the implementation process is prototyping which transforms ideas into products and services that will then be tested, placed in interaction and refined. Think of interaction as a way of framing the relationship between people and the objects designed for them.

 Prototypes lead to discovery

Through prototypes, the design thinking process seeks to discover unforeseen implementation challenges and unintended consequences in order to obtain more reliable results of long-term success. Prototyping can validate a component of an electronic device or a detail in the interaction between a transmitter (the business and/or product) and a receptor (customer/user).

After the completion of the process of prototyping or the final product or service is created, a team using design thinking helps to create a communication strategy.

Storytelling is a part of this communication strategy

Storytelling helps communicate the solution to a diverse set of entities related to the process, both inside and outside the Organization, especially when there are language or cultural barriers.

Design thinking can be applied to all aspects of a business system (i.e. the cost of structure, the selection of partners or the competitive strategy, etc.). But perhaps there are gaps, for its greater visibility, to establish a common language and mutual understanding between business and Design Thinking.

Design thinking requires empathy with users. Does it prejudice or undermine the competitiveness of businesses?

How is it wrong to try to strike a balance between analysis and intuition?

Design thinking seeks the meaning of things! What affect does this have on business?

How do you include thinking of customer needs rather than focus exclusively on the interests of shareholders?

Why do companies usually reject learning from failure?

About the author: Jose Baldaia is a  psychologist and consultant  of Organizational Behavior and Innovation based in Portugal. In describing his work, he explains, “I try to develop activities based on what I believe and I like as it is the case of Design Thinking.”


Can Anyone Innovate?

Art Markman, Innovation, Smart ThinkingThis post is by guest blogger,  Art Markman, PhD, professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin, and director of the program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations as well as author of Smart Thinking: Three Essential Keys is our guest on this week’s Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz. Art explores thinking and has a passion for bringing cognitive science to everyone. Please join us to explore “Can Anyone Innovate” this Friday at 12pm ET/5pm GMT/9am PT on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz

The world economy is slowly trying to pull itself out of the doldrums, and as a result companies are trying to do more with less.  In these difficult times, innovation continues to be the path that many companies are trying to take to get them back on the road to success.

Of course, not every company innovates successfully.  And, we hold the great innovators in high regard.  Indeed, the death of Steve Jobs last year was deeply felt in large part because of his successful role driving innovation at Apple computer.

So, can anyone be an innovator, or is innovation the gift of a rarified few who are destined to change their industries?

The answer to this question is both happy and sad.

The happy news is that anyone can be an innovator.  The sad news is that most people are not prepared to take on that role.

One of the great advertising tag lines that Apple computer used was “Think Different.”  They populated those ads with pictures of influential people.  The implication was that these people somehow thought about the world in a fundamentally different way than the rest of us.

 In fact, the great innovators of the world have the same brains as the rest of us. 

They have two qualities that separate them from the rest of us.  They know a lot and they are able to find the essences of problems.

Innovators are people who have learned a lot about the way the world works.  They have what psychologists call causal knowledge, which is the knowledge you use to answer the question “why?”  This knowledge is crucial, because when you get stuck trying to solve a new problem, the solutions you know already will not help you.  Instead, you need to be able to understand the factors that caused the problem in order to be able to unravel it.

The difficulty with innovation, though, is that the solution to your problem often comes from a different domain of knowledge from the one you are focused on.  Apple focused on the user rather than the technology.  Speedo developed the Fastskin swimsuit by thinking about sharks rather than human swimmers.  James Dyson created his famous vacuum by thinking about sawmills rather than home cleaning.

In order to be able to draw knowledge from one domain to another, you have to be able to find a good analogy to the problem you are solving.  If you feel like you have gotten stuck while solving a problem, then that means that the problem is not currently reminding you of anything you know about that can help you to solve the problem. The way your memory works is that it provides you with information that is related to the way you are currently thinking about the problem, so when you get stuck, you need to change the way you are describing the problem.  Each new description will help to bring new information to mind.

The ideal way to describe a problem is to find its essence.  That is, to try to move past the surface properties of the problem and to figure out what is really at stake.  The best way to see what I mean by an essence is to think about proverbs.  A proverb like “You can’t judge a book by its cover” looks like it is about books and covers.  The essence of the proverb is its deeper meaning that the surface properties of any object are not a good reflection of its inner value.  If you practice finding the essences of proverbs, it will help you to develop the habit to find the essence of problems you are solving as well.

That is the happy part.  Anyone can be an innovator.

The sad news is that most people will not be innovators.  The key barrier to being a great innovator is knowledge.  To innovate successfully, you have to learn a lot about the way the world works in general—not just in your main area of expertise.  Steve Jobs did not know that knowledge about calligraphy would come in handy when thinking about computer design.  James Dyson did not know that an understanding of sawmills would be crucial to the development of a new vacuum.  Yet, they learned about these topics anyhow.  And then this knowledge was available when they needed it.

The people who are most likely to innovate are going to be the ones who have learned a lot about the way the world works.  Anyone can get on the road to innovation by being open to learning new things.  But, those people who have spent their lives acquiring knowledge will be ahead of the game.  If you are looking to innovate in a hurry, you need to find those people.


What keeps people from learning the causal knowledge they need to innovate?

How can a company agree on the essence of the problems it wants to solve?

What are the qualities that make someone learn about the way the world works?

Are there other barriers to innovation?

About the author: Art Markman, PhD is a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin, and director of the program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations.  His latest book is called Smart Thinking: Three essential keys to solve problems, innovate, and get things done.