Author Archives: Stephen Shapiro

Shooting for Mars to fix Earth

At the TEDx NASA conference, I had some amazing conversations with people in the “green room” while preparing to take the stage.One individual had spent his entire career with NASA focused on travel to Mars. This was his life’s passion. But now that he has moved out of the space program into the private sector, he wonders if the money spent on space travel should be re-focused. He wonders if we should spend the money fixing problems here on earth.We had a lively debate. One thing I suggested was that shooting for Mars MIGHT be the way to fix some of our issues here on earth.From my experience, when trying to solve problems, we attempt to move from point A (where we are today) to point B (where we want to go). But often we fall short and end up at A’ (as depicted in the graphic on the left).However, … Continue reading

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This past Friday I had 6 minutes to share a message about innovation with the world at TEDx NASA. It was a fantastic event with 29 speakers, authors, musicians, aerospace engineers, a neuroscientist and more. 1,700 people were in attendance and it is reported that nearly 100,000 people watched via video streaming on the internet.Given that my typical speech is 45 minutes long, preparing a 6 minute presentation was a bit of a challenge and required me to script it out to make sure I did not go over my allotted time. Below is what I prepared. Within the next two weeks, I will be able to share the actual video footage – where I am sure I said something completely different.TITLE: SOMETIMES EVEN ROCKET SCIENCE ISN’T ROCKET SCIENCEIt’s not rocket science.We hear people use that expression to describe something that’s not that complex. And although …

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Taking Risk to Avoid Losses

Back in the 1980′s, executives used to joke that you would never get fired for buying “Big Blue” (IBM) computers. It’s not that IBM was the best, but you knew they would not screw up.When I worked for Accenture (then Andersen Consulting), the Economist once called us “The McDonalds of the consulting industry. You know what you will get and it’s not fillet mignon.” People hired us not to get highly creative solutions, but rather to be assured of a successfully implemented solution.There is a reason why consulting firms are so successful.People choose safe, tried and true solutions over those which may be better yet have a risk of failure.This is human nature. People take risks to minimize losses, yet play it safe when it comes to increasing gains.But how much of a gain must be dangled in front of us before we will risk giving up the sure thing? … Continue reading

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Unlocking Perfection - Cleaning Michaelangelo

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of “The Little Prince”, once said:”Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add but when there is no longer anything to take away.”This is a brilliant quote because it describes the challenge many innovators face. Too often, new products are overly complex and end up ‘over-serving’ their customers. My new computer with Vista and Office 2007 is a perfect example of that. 99% of the software’s functionality goes unused, yet these complexities slow down my computer and reduce ease of use. Being able to do everything for everyone is not perfection.Next time you are designing a process, a product, or a service, ask yourself, “What can I remove?” For most consumers, simplicity is more important than comprehensiveness (and complexity).The concept of ‘taking away’ is also a great time management technique. In addition to your to do list, be …

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Early ATM

“Build it and they will come.” We hear that mantra a lot. But with innovation, it is often more like, “Solve a pain and they will come.” The ultimate success of the Automated Teller Machine (ATM) is a great example of this.The other night I was having dinner with someone who in the mid-1970′s worked with Citibank, the second largest bank at the time. He shared with me the story of the birth of the ATM, at least from his perspective.In 1977, after investing hundreds of millions of dollars in ATM technology research and development, Citibank decided to install machines across all of New York City. But at first, they were not very popular. The technology was confusing to first-time users, the machines were not always accurate (they sometimes dispensed the wrong amount of money), and they were impersonal. I was told that customers who used ATM machines were so … Continue reading

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Amazon Kindle DX

In an earlier blog entry on content, readers provided a number of interesting comments. If you haven’t already read that article (and the comments), you may want to do so in order to understand this new article.Many did not agree with my point of view. And that is great. I only wanted to stimulate some conversation.Let me first address some of the comments (and I appreciate the time that everyone took in writing comments). The comment is in italics with my response following.”I wonder if the Kindle model requires a subsidy to offset the upfront cost of technology development and/or design manufacturing.” Two thoughts come to mind. 1) No one has an issue paying $150 for an iPod even though the cost of the music is pretty much the same. 2) As new generations of eBook readers hit the market, prices will drop. Several are now on the market for … Continue reading

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Innovation Metrics

Sometimes the question you ask is more important than the actions you take.During President Obama’s inauguration speech, he said:”The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works – whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.”This is brilliant in its simplicity. The same thought applies to innovation.The question you need to ask is not whether you are developing creative products, processes or business ideas, but whether your innovation efforts work – whether they serve your customers, serve your employees, and ultimately serve your shareholders.Innovation is not about change for change sake. It is about purposeful change that creates value that reduces costs, increases sales, or improves cash flow.In these troubling times, asking the right question is more important than ever. Do your innovation efforts work?Stephen …

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