Author Archives: Stephen Shapiro

About Stephen Shapiro

After a 15-year tenure leading a 20,000-person innovation practice at Accenture, in 2001 Stephen Shapiro launched his professional speaking career. He has presented his counterintuitive perspectives on innovation to audiences in 50 countries. His latest book, “Best Practices Are Stupid," was named the best innovation book of 2011. In 2015 he was inducted into the Speaker Hall of Fame. You can learn more about him at
Everything Has a Personality

While developing Personality Poker, one thing I discovered is that lots of things have personalities: People, Political Parties, Products, Places, and Organizations (I could not find a “p” for this last one). When you look at everything through the lens of a personality, you begin to see why individuals gravitate towards (or away from) certain people, companies, political affiliations, products, and geographies. Contrary to convention wisdom, opposites do not attract. Human beings prefer to be surrounded by people who are “like” them. Therefore, the desire for “sameness” creates homogeneous personalities in everything we see. Saying that people have personalities is nothing new. Personality typing has been around for over 2,000 years, since the days of Hippocrates. But organizations also have personalities. In some circles, this might be referred to as a company’s “culture.” The personality of a company impacts the people they hire and the methods they use to motivate … Continue reading

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How Can Goals Enhance Creativity?

Over the years, I have written numerous articles on “The Performance Paradox” that show how an obsession with the future reduces performance in the present. And typically, creativity is significantly diminished in the process. But given that businesses are driven by goals, how can we leverage them as a tool for enhancing creativity? One way is to use stretch targets. REALLY stretch targets. For example, one client that I was with last week has a target of doubling their business over the next 5 years. I know MANY organizations that have exactly the same goal. That equates to a 14% growth rate each year (assuming compounding). I’m sure, with hard work, they could hit those numbers, even though it would certainly not be easy. But what if they set a target of growing by 50% a year? It might have a fundamentally different impact on the organization. That …

Posted in Creativity, Headlines, Innovation, Leadership, Management | 2 Comments
Using Energy Management to Improve Innovation Success

A while back I had lunch with Scott Westover, a pilot, a business executive and an aspiring speaker. He shared with me some thoughts on how what he learned from aerobatic flying could be applied to business success. I asked him to write a blog entry on this topic. His philosophy is called “Energy Management.” I love it because it appears to be an irrefutable law, much like the Third Law of Motion which states that for every force there is an equal and opposite force. More importantly, it explains why many innovations fail. Here is Scott’s story. About four years ago I started flying aerobatics. During one of my early flights confidence exceeded skill as I attempted an advanced maneuver. It was one thing to practice emergency recoveries with a well-qualified instructor in the back seat and a different thing entirely to problem solve on my own while the … Continue reading

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Doing Nothing to Enhance Creativity

We are in such a fast paced society that we are always focused on achieving our goals. In business, these goals might be hitting quarterly earnings targets, sales quotas, or operating budgets. Even innovation initiatives are goal-driven. We measure ideas generated, time-to-market, and percent of revenue from new products. We are indeed a goal-driven society. And there is nothing wrong with that. But there are times when this obsession can be counter-productive. In previous posts, I’ve talked extensively about the “Performance Paradox”. This is the phenomenon whereby a hyper-focus on your goals is the very thing that prevents you from achieving them. Dan Pink also wrote about this concept in his recent book, Drive. Yesterday it was a beautiful, sunny day here in Boston, so I decided to walk the ocean near where I live. I spent most of my time walking up and down the beach, listening …

Posted in Creativity, Headlines, Innovation, Psychology | 5 Comments
Are You Smarter than a PhD?

“Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?” is an entertaining show. In the world of innovation, the biggest question is, “Are you smarter than a PhD?” Here’s what I mean… In Personality Poker we address four primary innovation styles. The spades are the ones who are, as we would say in Boston, “wicked smaht.” We find that spades are analytical, fact-driven, and often quite intelligent. One of the challenges with driving innovation into organizations is that smart people are often more interested in being right than doing right. That is, experts want to believe that they can solve every problem under the sun. Although this isn’t true, this pervasive belief can circumvent your innovation efforts. Here’s a simple example… A few years back, an InnoCentive client identified a very complex challenge they wanted solved. They posted this challenge to the website. Anyone who could solve this problem would get … Continue reading

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You Failed! Now What?

Last week, I had three conversations with three different companies. And each had a complaint about the same group of people: lawyers. If you think about it, innovators and lawyers have completely opposite objectives. Innovators want to grow the business. They believe that risk and failure are a natural part of the innovation process. Their mantra is “expansion.” Lawyers, on the other hand, want to guard the business. Their objective is to minimize risk and avoid failure. Their mantra is “protection.” But the issue isn’t really lawyers versus innovators. The issue is how to balance an organization’s need to protect the business while enabling it to expand at the same time. In my previous blog entry, I discussed how to redefine failure. The model proposed was to treat everything like an experiment. While using this mindset, failure only occurs when the experiment does not give you the feedback you …

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Redefining Failure

I view life as a series of experiments. When you look at it through this lens, failure means something completely different. One definition of an experiment is: “A test or investigation, especially one planned to provide evidence for or against a hypothesis.” The only way an experiment can fail is if you don’t get the evidence. Even if the evidence proves your hypotheses was wrong, the experiment itself was a huge success. When you view innovation through the lens of experimentation, it redefines failure. When developing new ideas, the best approach (especially when there is “market” uncertainty) is to create small experiments that can be scaled over time. The experiment can give you one of four outcomes: Our hypothesis was validated by the experiment. Let’s make a larger investment in a larger experiment. Our original hypothesis was wrong, but we found a different direction that looks promising. Let’s create a … Continue reading

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