Intellectual Property

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

While the security aspects of intellectual property (“IP”) are often sacrificed for speed to market considerations in today’s world of mash-ups and knock-offs, I believe when it comes to IP it is possible to have your cake and eat it too. The protection of all forms of intellectual property (“IP”) should constitute common sense and require no real explanation, however the courts are littered with case law precedent that has been decisioned against some of the largest and most sophisticated companies on the planet. What should be routine business 101 protocol, can easily turn into major financial and operational debacles if you don’t have a solid grasp of IP law. In today’s post I’ll discuss the basics of identifying and protecting your intellectual property.

The issues surrounding IP are basically three-fold: 1.) What actually constitutes intellectual property and what doesn’t? 2.) What is the best method to protect what is deemed as IP, and; 3.) Is intellectual property worth protecting? The answers to the aforementioned questions really lie in the eye of the beholder…Some companies take a very aggressive stance on attempting to classify virtually everything as intellectual property in an attempt to create competitive barriers and gain a competitive edge. Other firms only consider IP as it applies to protecting proprietary technology, while other firms almost ignore the concept of IP altogether (some out of ignorance and some by design). As to cost…well sometimes protecting IP is absolutely worth the costs involved, and in other circumstances any dollars sunk into protecting IP is more akin to a frivolous investment that can actually show a strong negative return.

I have witnessed companies invest human and financial capital to adopt a trade name without doing their research only to receive a cease and desist letter, or even worse, to be sued for IP infringement. I have watched other firms invest the time and resources into protecting a piece of intellectual property via the appropriate form of registration, but not be prepared for the cost associated with defending their mark against an aggressive and better capitalized competitor. I have observed other companies who made a valid attempt to protect their IP, but chose the wrong form of protection only to have better IP counsel exploit their flawed strategy. I have watched yet even more firms lose control over their IP to employees or contractors because they did not understand the ramifications of not using work for hire, non-compete, or non-circumvention provisions.

A company’s intellectual property can be virtually anything (tangible or intangible) from a trade name, product or service name, technology, business process, marketing copy, images and the list goes on…Companies can protect their IP through the use of a variety of legal mechanisms and registrations of which the most common types include:

  • Patents
  • Copyright
  • Trademark
  • Know-how
  • Trade Secret
  • Mask Works
  • Contract

Without going into the details surrounding all of the above protection alternatives, and to keep things simple, let’s use the example of a corporate website as it applies to copyright protection (keep in mind that certain things within a website can also be patentable, trademarkable or protected by contract). A basic website is composed of a multitude of copyrightable elements including textual content, graphical content, source code, custom applications, and numerous other items. Although as an entrepreneur or senior executive you might personally draft some of the text for your website, your internal staff or outsourced agency/contractor usually edits and refines your draft text, creates the graphics, source code and applications. Who owns what? Are you protected? Do you care? It is important to have proper written language incorporated within your employment agreements and vendor contracts to assure your right to move your site, modify it, and not have it held hostage or taken offline. Ideally, your contracts and agreements should specify that you own the copyright for the graphics, source code, applications, etc., but at a minimum you need a license to use those materials and to create derivative works.

Lastly, in addition to cost considerations there is also the potential for financial upside to a well conceived and protected piece of intellectual property. IP can produce revenue, be carried as an asset on the balance sheet, add to corporate valuation, or produce a personal income stream to an individual that licenses IP back to the entity.  

Bottom line…IP considerations should be incorporated into your business strategy and tactics in a fashion that provides you with the greatest possible benefits while managing your risk. In order to achieve the balance between risk and reward you should retain the services of a reputable IP law firm.

The Power of The Written Word

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

In today’s post I want to focus on the acquisition of knowledge gained through reading. While there are certainly numerous other ways to learn (experience, classroom instruction, digital learning, etc.) I am a huge fan of the benefits of professional development gained from good old-fashion reading. Someone once said “you are what you read” and while I think there is far more to the equation of our individual make-up than our choice of reading material, there is also an element of truth contained in the aforementioned quote.

If I told you how much time I spend reading and researching you probably wouldn’t believe me, but suffice it to say, I am a voracious reader. I subscribe to online clipping services, use RSS feeds to scour news groups, forums and the Blogosphere, usually have at least two books going at any one time, as well as reading a variety of industry publications and periodicals. That being said, I’m always amazed at the number of executives who don’t keep up with their professional reading.

Here is a telling observation According to surveys conducted by our leadership development practice, a very large common denominator shared by executives who feel that they are not achieving the level of success they feel themselves capable of, is that many of them are “too busy to keep up with their reading”, Hmmm Furthermore studies show that active readers are likely to have annual incomes more than 3 times greater than those who spend little or no time reading.

Reading should not be something that is done when you’re bored, or have nothing better to do, rather it needs to be incorporated into your daily regimen. I have personally worked with literally hundreds of C-suite executives and without question the most successful professionals are those that constantly seek out learning opportunities and who are voracious readers. They realize the importance of learning and make reading a priority. Think of the business leaders that have had the biggest positive impact in your life and I’m sure you’ll find that these individuals were in constant search of new and better information. They use the information acquired through reading in order to inspire, motivate, and lead those around them.

The question is not if you should be reading, but rather what should you be reading? With the plethora of reading material on the market today it is not a simple thing to make sure that you’re covering all the bases in a time efficient fashion. Therefore the following tips were designed to help you get the most out of your reading while maintaining efficiency in your reading efforts:

Books: You should always be engaged in the reading of at least one book on professional development. Since I can’t speak to the individual needs of our readers in this forum I am simply going to recommend what I believe are the 3 best general business books authored over the past 5 years. These books can have an immediate impact on the way in which you think about, and conduct business. If you haven’t read them start here:

  • The Attention Economy” authored by Accenture consultants Thomas Davenport and John Beck. This book delves into the critical importance of understanding both sides of the attention equation: “getting and holding the attention of information-flooded employees, consumers, and stockholders, and on parceling out their own attention in the face of overwhelming options. The resolution: learn to manage this critical yet finite resource, of fail.
  • The World Is Flat” authored by three time Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times journalist Thomas L. Friedman. This book begins with a historical view of the world which leads to riveting and perceptive conclusions based upon both the macro and micro economic effects of globalization, and what it will take for a business to achieve and maintain success in the rapidly changing global economy.
  • Blue Ocean Strategy” authored by INSEAD professors W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne. This book argues the premise (and successfully so in my opinion) that tomorrow’s leading companies will succeed not by battling competitors in overly competitive markets for thin margins (bloody “red oceans”) but by creating “blue oceans” of uncontested market space ripe for growth.
  • Okay, I know I said I was only going to give you three books, but I can’t resist plugging my new book “Leadership Matters…The CEO Survival Manual“. If you’re a senior executive looking to improve your leadership skills and business savvy, then this book is written for you.

Periodicals, Trade Publications and Industry Journals: Again, not being able to address the specific needs of each reader, you must make your own choices here as well. However being aware of industry trends, competitive positioning, who the thought leaders are, etc. are all critical to your success. Pick the top couple of publications in your industry, sector, vertical or micro-vertical and pour-over the content looking for opportunities to exploit. Most print publications now also have Internet versions or digital newsletters that can be subscribed to as well. I typically always have a print copy of a periodical in my brief case, one on my night stand, and several in my office. My favorite general business publications are The Economist, Chief Executive, Fast Company, Business 2.0 and Wired.

Digital Media (Blogs, Forums, News Groups, News Portals, Clipping Services and other aggregators): Select an appropriate cross section of all of the aforementioned options. What I particularly like about this genre is that it is often “real time” information as opposed to other mediums that have a built in latency factor.  Another benefit is that much of the content produced in this medium is not from the typical industry pundits, but rather true “in the trenches” thought leaders that see things coming long before journalists report it in the news, or the so-called gurus publish it in their latest book. This medium has been my preferred reading choice for a number of years now because it is extremely productive and time effective. I subscribe to these venues because I’m able to be “pushed” content that I’ve asked for in a medium that I enjoy. If you are not a heavy consumer of online information you are truly missing the boat

Personal Reading: Read whatever you enjoy personal development, spiritual reading, fiction, etc. However keep in mind that it does little good to feed your brain if you’re not feeding your soul first. I’m not going to preach, and I realize that our readers have different religious preferences, so you decide what reading material should fall into this category. I’m also not going to tell you how much time you should allocate to this category, but I would suggest you ponder what is truly important in life and make your investments where they will pay the biggest dividends.

I hope these thoughts have helped you rekindle your interest in reading, and that you’ll make the necessary changes to your schedule which will allow you to reap the many benefits described above…

Customers vs. Clients

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Is your business built around customers or clients? Are you simply a purveyor of products and services to your customers or do you enlighten, add value, inform, advise, counsel, and advocate on behalf of your clients? There is not only a definitional difference between the terms customers and clients, but there are also tremendous strategic, operational, and philosophical differences between companies who sell customers and those that serve clients. In today’s post we’ll go beyond semantics and definitions to get at the core of some principles that can radically improve your business, your brand, and your future…

While many people may think of the words client and customer as being interchangeable, nothing could be further from the truth. The definition of a customer is simply someone that buys goods or services. The term customer is an external reference that puts the emphasis on selling. At first blush I’m sure some of you might be wondering what’s wrong with that, but before you draw any conclusions let’s look at the definition of a client…The definition of a client is someone who is under your care and protection. This is an internal reference that places the emphasis on serving. In other words, if you have customers your goal is to get them to buy something, and if you serve clients your goal is to look out for their best interests. Think about it like this…is your personal preference to be sold or served? When you’re in the marketplace as a consumer do you seek out professionals whom you can trust or peddlers selling a product?

If you think carefully about what I’ve written thus far you’ll find that you really shouldn’t be seeking customers after thinking through the definitional differences provided above, rather you should be looking to serve clients. Your goal should not be to find customers who make a one time purchase simply because you have the “goods” they need right now. Rather your goal should be to build sustainable relationships with clients who value your professional advice based upon the strength of your brand and the need for your expertise. Another way of examining the contrast between clients and customers is to ask yourself whether you desire to be paid for what you do for your clients, or what you hand your customers.

The distinctions being made in this text are really much more than splitting hairs over semantical differences…they boil down to accepting a philosophy and buying into a mindset that separates selling from advising, serving, protecting, and stewarding. The sad reality is that many businesses still operate their sales organizations with the same principles and techniques they were using in the 70’s and 80’s. Trust me when I tell you that your prospective clients have heard it all before and can see the worn-out, old school closes coming a mile away. They can sniff antiquated selling strategies and will tune out on your presentation such that it’s actually over before you even get started. Stop selling customers and start servicing clients…

If you are operating on a franchised one-size fits all sales model you are likely missing substantial opportunities and are not even aware of it. If you focus on cultivating client relationships you will become indispensable for what you know (the experience, knowledge, and information you can transfer), how you add value, and how you make clients feel about the interaction. When you do that, you’re building a client base, not a customer list. When you peel back the layers on healthy client/professional relationships the one thing you will always find as a constant is a bond of trust, which in turn creates the much desired, but rarely achieved, result of a loyal business relationship. Well conceived client/professional engagements are sustainable relationships with ongoing opportunities for both parties. 

Bottom line…companies built upon a client-centric focus attract and retain better talent, command premium prices, have more highly regarded brands, create loyal client relationships, and generate more revenue over the lifecycle of a relationship. Regardless of the business you’re in, if you make the paradigm shift in thought, and in action, from customer to client your business will become a healthier and more competitive enterprise.

The Economy…Getting Worse

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Intraday News Alert – Apparently the Economy is getting worse at a much more rapid rate than I thought. It is rare that I’ll make an intra-day post, but I felt it would be irresponsible not to report on some of today’s economic news. I have been stating for quite some time now that we are clearly in a recession while many academics are still debating the issue. However the real issue is not are we, or aren’t we, but rather how bad is it really going to get…

Just today, oil hit a record high of $117 dollars per barrel, unleaded gas hit an average record daily high of $3.50 per gallon, most ominous however is The New York Sun’s headline story of food rationing in the US. You heard me right…FOOD RATIONING. Not since the Great Depression have we experienced food rationing in the United States, so my message to you is simply that things are not always as rosy as they appear, and that our economy is at best in a very fragile state right now. It won’t take too much at this juncture to see further and more rapid economic deterioration. I’m far from a doomsday propogandist, and I’m not calling for panic, but I am recommending close, measured observation and prudent judgment moving forward.

The smart CEOs will keep their personal overhead in check while concentrating corporate resources in business development, sales, marketing, and advertising. This will protect you from being over-leveraged on a personal basis, while insuring the sales funnel remains primed to increase competitive separation over those companies who are pulling back.  

Finally, A Law Firm That Gets It…

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Surely I jest…A law firm that gets it? I have been waiting to be able to make this statement for most of my professional life, and to be candid, I actually thought I would be dead and buried long before I found a firm that would wake up and smell the roses. No single industry has been guilty of lagging behind the times more than the legal profession. In fact, I think it is fair to say that no industry is more adverse to change than our venerable friends in the practice of law. In today’s post I’ll refer you to a law firm in Chicago that is going to revolutionize the way attorneys conduct business in the future…  

First a little background…I grew up in a legal family, have served as a managing director of a law firm, recruited and managed legal staffs as a C-suite executive, and have dealt with many an outside counsel as an entrepreneur and advisor. I have both sued and been sued, and suffice it to say I know the good, the bad and the ugly about the legal profession. The simple truth of the matter is that if law firms had to go to trial and defend their business practices, they would lose eleven times out of ten…that is until now.

Let me introduce you to Valorem Law Firm (their website is definitely worth a visit). Not only has this firm done away with the hourly rate, but they give their clients the unilateral ability to adjust their bill based upon perceived value or lack thereof. Their invoice actually comes with a line item entitled value adjustment in which you the client determines what is fair and just. What I particularly like is the way in which the firm pokes fun at their peers (I use that term lightly). Frankly, they would be crazy not to exploit such a strong value proposition.

I would strongly suggest that it would be in the best interests of survival for other law firms to come out of the dark ages and align their business practices with the clients in which they desire to serve. My hat is off to the lawyers at Valorem Law Firm…Job well done! 

Polishing Your Public Speaking Ability

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

If your public speaking ability is a bit rough around the edges, then today’s post is written for you. If you’re a CEO or CXO you will be called upon to speak on a fairly routine basis…You better get used to it, and you better get it right. The downside of public speaking is that nothing has the potential to highlight your flaws like the spotlight of being center stage. In today’s post I’ll share some of the most common mistakes made by executives and entrepreneurs who either voluntarily or involuntarily find themselves hooked up to the microphone…

Having spoken at countless business conferences and trade shows over the years I have had the pleasure of speaking on the same agenda with some of the best speakers in the world. However just like clockwork, there is invariably one speaker on the program that while possessing a tremendous track record of professional accomplishment is a complete disaster as a public orator. If you’re anything like me, you have often wondered how a talented business leader who absolutely commands the boardroom can put an audience to sleep from behind the podium. What’s even more amusing is that the person causing you to nod-off often believes that they stole the show with their riveting presentation…  

Public speaking doesn’t come naturally for most people and therefore if you’re not one of the naturally gifted you must work diligently if you plan on being as successful on the stage as you are in the boardroom. Avoiding the following mistakes will allow you to hold your own as a professional speaker.

  • Don’t Blow Your Opening: I have written often on the power of first impressions and nowhere is a strong first impression more critical than when you are on stage in front of a crowd who has paid to listen to you. Don’t make the mistake of being laid-back in the opening minutes as these are the most important moments for establishing rapport and engaging your audience. Think big and think bold…Start with a bang and not with a whimper.  Ask a tough question that really makes people sit-up and think, make a bold statement or rattle off statistics meant to shock and awe. Whether your preferred opening is the appropriate use of humor, issuing a challenge or making a bold statement make it big and make it memorable.
  • Choose the Right Subject: Don’t speak on a topic unless you are in complete control of the subject matter. More importantly don’t speak on a subject that you are not passionate about. Lastly don’t speak to an audience if you haven’t customized your presentation to said audience. I detest canned presentations and so does everyone else I know. If you personalize the presentation to your audience they will recognize and appreciate it. This will establish an immediate bond of trust and you’ll be off to the races. There is nothing worse than canned presentations and even though many speech coaches recommend you develop a few canned speeches that become your go to speeches I would suggest that you avoid that tactic at all costs.
  • Don’t Read To Your Audience: Think back to Speech 101…Don’t read from your notes, look-up and establish eye contact. There’s an old speaking joke that says the last time someone read to you it was likely your mother and she was trying to put you to sleep. Work from an outline or commit your speech to memory, but do not read.
  • Never Be a Copycat: Don’t attempt to mimic someone else’s style, use their stories or their content. If you can’t be original then you shouldn’t speak. Audiences are not looking for cheap impersonators, but rather are looking for you to add value based upon your unique personal experience. Be original, be big and be memorable…
  • Don’t Forget the Audience: If you don’t work the room you are wrong. If you take the time to survey, question or challenge the audience you will be given hints as to the topical content of interest and you can in turn make sure your presentation meets the needs and expectations of your audience. Nothing is more important than understanding and interacting with the audience.
  • The “fake it till you make it” Approach Does Not Work: Vigorously plan and prepare for your speaking engagement. Don’t just show-up and wing-it as it will be apparent to everyone in the room that you did not value them enough to act like a professional and prepare. There is an old saying that I picked-up in the military that has stuck with me to this day: “Prior Proper Planning Prevents -iss Poor Performance.”

Anyone can become a proficient speaker if they want it bad enough to work at it. By avoiding the mistakes noted above you will be off to a good start and will likely not put your audience to sleep.


price in the ear hearing aides test

Your Story Matters

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

So, what’s your story? If your personal or corporate brand doesn’t tell a story, then your brand is lacking the very essence of what makes a strong brand…The story. There is no denying that everybody loves a good story, and there is a reason why…think about novels you’ve read, movies you’ve watched, speeches you’ve listened to, ads that have hooked your interest, or virtually any other message delivered by any other medium and it’s the story that either seals the deal, or leaves you feeling cheated. In today’s post I’ll discuss the value in creating a strong brand story…

A story is the root level driver behind successfully communicating any message. Well crafted stories, whether delivered visually, textually, verbally, etc. are the instruments that tug at your emotions, speak to your logic, support your beliefs, and reinforce your positions. Great stories engage, inform, persuade, entertain, mobilize, convict, flatter, and inspire. So my question is this, why wouldn’t you want your brand to tell a great story? Think about any strong brand and they tell a great story.

The inspiration for today’s post was an outcome of an on-site meeting I had today with a new client in which we spent a great deal of time dissecting their brand. In a collaborative exercise designed to have my client articulate their value propositions in the form of a story, there was no doubt that they came away clearly understanding the power of developing an effective brand story which can be leveraged across markets and mediums. If you’ve ever been captivated by a skilled orator whose ability eloquently and articulately paint brilliant word pictures, you understand what I’m trying to communicate. 

When all is said and done, the brand story needs to engender trust while implanting your brand promise in the minds of your various constituencies in a manner that is memorable, authentic, relevant, and actionable. While branding is a complex subject to be sure, it all begins with the story…tell it well and succeed, tell it poorly and fail. This is a simple, yet powerful message that I encourage you to take to heart.

Personal Branding by Association

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

The impact of your associations on Personal branding should not be taken lightly by executives in today’s world. Your long-term success as a top CEO or senior executive will be heavily influenced by the strength and character of your personal brand. The perception of your personal brand by key constituencies such as your board of directors, investors, the media, key employees, customers, partners and other key stakeholders will not only have an impact on your current role, but future roles as well. In today’s post I’ll address what is becoming more and more of an issue with regard to your personal brand, which is the conclusion people draw about you based upon the company you keep…

The reality is that who you associate with on both a personal and professional basis matters…There is truth in the old axiom which states “perception is reality” and this is particularly accurate when the perception catches fire and becomes a widely held belief. The good news is that if you make sound choices in your personal and professional relationships you will benefit from doing so. On the other hand, should your choices place you in the company of those who are not respected and largely thought of in ill fashion by others, your personal brand will likely suffer as a result.

The most recent and powerful example of guilt by association would be Barack Obama’s long-term relationships with questionable associations such as Bill Ayres, Rashid Khalidi, Tony Rezko, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and the list goes on…Regardless of how you feel about either one of the aforementioned individuals, there is no denying that Senator Obama’s personal brand has undergone tremendous scrutiny and has received a glut of negative attention as a result of this one single relationship. 

Anyone of us can reflect back over time and cite numerous references of occasions where we have observed someone in the company of an individual who we did not hold in high regard. Almost to the one these situations caused us to question, even if ever so briefly, the character of the party of the first part. Over the years I have come to the conclusion that the mistake most people make in choosing their relationships is that they make there decisions based upon the wrong criteria. If you choose your acquaintances based on an alignment of values as opposed to the exploitation of an opportunity, or for social climbing purposes your personal brand will likely stand the test of time. If however, you make your relationship decisions based upon short-term gains you may unconsciously place your future at risk. 

The lesson contained in today’s post is a simple one…you will be judged by the character of those you associate with, so my advice is this: jealously guard your personal sphere of influence, and limit your network to those individuals who will enhance your personal brand and not detract from it.   

Innovation is Hot…

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Innovation is definitely hot…Yesterday’s blog on innovation tools sparked an avalanche of inquiries asking for more posts on the topic of innovation. It seems as if each time I address the subject of innovation it triggers a Pavlovian response from our readers crying out for more information. While there is an innovation category on this blog containing several posts, and one of our more popular webcasts is focused on innovation and change, in today’s post I thought I’d go back to basics and discuss what innovation is, and is not… 

In previous posts I’ve discussed the difference between incremental and disruptive innovation, talked about R&D vs. innovation, have discussed the many areas in which innovation can leveraged across the enterprise, and have opined ad-nauseam about how to manage and lead innovation. However, I’m not sure that I’ve ever really attempted to define innovation by subtraction…

What I mean by the aforementioned statement is that there is a great deal of confusion about what innovation is or is not. Thus I’ve decided to look at how innovation differs from two other areas (creativity and invention) which are often used interchangeably, but incorrectly as substitute phraseology:

  • Creativity: As much as my creative friends would quickly love to offer a dissenting opinion, innovation and creativity are not one in the same. Creativity spawns an idea…it is the genesis of a concept, thought, or vision. However creativity normally stops short of implementation. By contrast innovation is the process by which ideas are transformed from the theoretical into reality. Innovation is about action, application, execution, implementation, and delivery. Before the creative lynch mobs come knocking at my door, let me state that while I cannot, and will not argue that creativity has no place under the umbrella of innovation, it is clearly a sub-component of the greater whole, which is innovation. A creative concept or idea not brought to market by a process of innovation while a neat thing, is nonetheless commercially useless.
  • Invention: Science or invention is what examines, refines, and validates an idea or concept based upon research. Innovation is the process of commercializing the invention itself. What good is a patent without a market purpose for exploiting the intellectual property? Much like ideas, inventions that don’t have a defined and actionable go-to-market strategy are not inherently valuable items in the business world. Let me put it this way…eBay didn’t invent auctions, they simply created a commercial application for an idea that had been around since the dawn of time by leveraging a sound business model via great technology, excellent marketing, and a new medium…This is innovation.

Creative ideas and inventions may serve as interesting topics of discussion, or as personal achievements of some note, but without a path to monetization (innovation) they serve little commercial purpose. The purpose of today’s post was not to be overly harsh in an attempt to burst anyone’s bubble, but rather to keep readers focused on the important distinctions that separate the dreamers from the doers (the innovators).   

Innovation Tools

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Innovation seems to be at the top of the list for many CEOs as they attempt to maintain their competitive edge, drive sales growth, and increase brand equity. Today’s Myatt on Monday’s question comes from an intuitive CEO looking for a bit of help with where to start. The question he submitted asked: “Are there any toolsets that can be used to streamline the innovation process?” There was a time in the not too distant past when the answer would have been no, but that’s not the case today…in the text that follows I’ll provide a list of vendors who offer solutions in the rapidly proliferating arena of idea and innovation management… 

Regular readers of this blog know that I write often on the topic of innovation. I make no secret of the fact that I believe innovation is a key component of achieving sustainable success in today’s business world. However the topic of innovation seems to be particularly difficult for many organizations to get their arms around. The concept of change and growth are scary propositions for many entities, but when you attempt to address innovation outside of a clearly defined process the wheels can come off rather quickly.

What CEOs need to keep in mind is that successfully launching an innovation initiative is no different than launching any other enterprise-wide initiative. It rarely just happens by osmosis…like most other valuable business initiatives it requires a vision, a strategy, and great tactical execution. The following companies are representative of a new group of solution providers offering a variety of tools that will help a company automate process, workflow, collaboration, reporting, and other key components:

Let me leave you with a final thought…I would strongly suggest that you take note of lessons learned by those companies who suffered flawed implementations in the early years of ERP systems, CRM systems, etc. Just because there is a new tool set available doesn’t mean that your company will successfully adopt it. Bottom line…As enticing as it might be, don’t even think about investing in innovation tools until you have a clearly articulated vision, mission, and strategy for creating a culture of innovation… 

Question Your Way To Success

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

As a CEO you must learn to question everything…even the answers to your own questions. Never settle for anything other than a solid answer that meets your needs. Regrettably, many CEOs feel that if they are doing all the talking then they must not be in control of their environment. It is those same CEOs who also tend to believe that the people they are talking to must be listening…rarely is either of the aforementioned assumptions correct. If you find yourself doing most of the talking in meetings and presentations here’s a tip…Stop immediately! Few things in business are as irritating as those individuals who take the floor and don’t know when to give it up. It is my strongest suggestion that you leave the pontificating and filibustering to politicians, and learn to be more effective by learning the art of asking effective questions. In today’s post I’ll share with you the 5 keys to asking great questions. 

You have all heard the old saying that God gave us two ears and only one mouth because we were intended to do twice as much listening as talking. Oh, how true that saying is, but too many executives, entrepreneurs, and sales people just love to hear themselves speak. The reality is that many professionals either don’t know how to advance a discussion, are afraid of what might happen in the event of a poignant pause, or simply don’t know how to ask the right question. 

So why are questions so important? If you want to establish a relationship with someone, or advance a cause, you must first seek to understand what’s going on in the other person’s world. Questions allow you to direct the conversation, redirect the flow of a conversation, elicit critical information, and show that you care about what the other person is thinking. The following 5 tips will allow you to ask effective questions that will improve your productivity by converting you from a blowhard into a skilled communicator:

  1. Be sincere in your questioning…Forget about what’s in it for you and think about how you can help the person you’re communicating with. Do not manipulate, control, or lead the other person, but make an honest effort to find out how you can help them achieve their objectives. This approach oddly enough will lead you closer to fulfilling your own objectives.
  2. Don’t ask questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. Use questions that begin with who, what, where, when, why or how in an attempt to enable dialoging. If the other person is doing all the sharing of information, you will find yourself in the enviable position of being able to assess, evaluate, and synthesize the information being shared. While the other party is talking…you are learning.
  3. Avoid obvious questions that if prepared or competent you should already have the answer to. Rather ask questions that are insightful such that they require thought to be answered.
  4. Use questions that encourage the other person to reveal their thoughts and emotions. These questions will help you truly get to know the other party and to build common ground and rapport. If you can move beyond the analytical to the emotional, the other party is much more likely to reveal their bias or agenda.
  5. Ask questions that reveal your subject matter expertise and that demonstrate your ability to provide meaningful solutions. These questions should engender credibility and therefore provide the other party with confidence that you can handle the situation in a manner that is in alignment with their best interests. Force people to move beyond surface level discussions by taking them past their comfort zones with intelligent questioning. Never settle for the general, ambiguous, vague, or standard answer. Continue probing until you are satisfied with the answer.

If you want to become a great communicator master the art of skillful questioning. Work on developing a list of well thought out questions that are situational, industry specific, product specific, market specific, positionally specific, etc., and use them to put you in a position to help others…