Can You Systematize Innovation?

When it comes to systematizing innovation, I always remember “Try a lot of stuff and keep what works”, a chapter in Jim Collins book Built to Last. It tells about how 3M and the others systemize their process by having a 15% rule. It encourages their employees to use 15% of their time to proactively cultivate and pursue innovative ideas that excite them.

I tried that a couple of times with Hilsoft, but we always fail. We were always bombarded with operational issues, and it is difficult to spare time to execute innovative ideas.

I came across with a podcast of Tim Ferris the other day, and I got a little excited when the guest was Eric Schmidt, the former CEO & chairman of Google.

The first idea I learned was to run your company at a consistent spin rate with the formula:

70% of your efforts in your core product
20% of your efforts in new products
10% of your efforts in new ideas

Unlike the 15% rule where it is employee driven, this is management driven. To simplify the idea, you can depict the formula above as: 70% of your team shall focus on your core products, 20% dedicated team in new products and 10% dedicated team in new ideas. It resolves the issue of cutting the momentum of the core products team as the new products & new ideas are dedicated.

At Hilsoft, in a way, this is unconsciously executed. Majority of our team focuses on our core which is ERP and HR/Payroll. A smaller percentage of our team is dedicated to new products such as Hotel Management, Real-Estate & CRM and a tiny portion on new ideas such as Snap Accounting & Snap Payroll. With this new learning, I am motivated to mindfully steer our team to more or less hit the percentages above. This move should result in more focus, clear direction, and staff satisfaction. We can always shuffle people now and then, to excite them.

The second idea that I learned, that as a leader, you may also want to systematize your meetings. I first discovered this from Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter where he runs the company in themed days.

“The way I found that works for me is I theme my days. On Monday, at both companies, I focus on management and running the company…Tuesday is focused on product. Wednesday is focused on marketing and communications and growth. Thursday is focused on developers and partnerships. Friday is focused on the company and the culture and recruiting. Saturday I take off, I hike. Sunday is reflection, feedback, strategy, and getting ready for the week.”

Instead of squeezing your time each day in solving issues on all departments, having themed days is focus-driven hence more productive results.

I just recently implemented Mondays in operations, Tuesdays in sales and Fridays in team coaching and culture. The rest would be client meetings as we don’t have the luxury yet of me being full time in the back office. I still need to support our sales and delivery team in the field.

So to answer the question in the title, yes innovation can be systematized. It’s a matter of building & setting the right parameters (time & resource) to keep your clock ticking.

9 Tech Trend Assumptions That We Make That Is Probably Wrong

In light of my fascination with technology and innovation, I’ve been thinking about some assumptions that many of us make that may be wrong or we don’t realize what is really happening in the technology space.

This post is to encourage all of us to innovate and stimulate our thinking about the latest technology trends.

  1. The future of technology is coming. What we don’t realize is that it is here already. We have the AI, VR, AR, DLT, name it. We are already on it, and we just need to think of ways on how to apply it.
  2. Social media makes us happy. Yes if you’re using it properly. Some people are just not mindful that they only use it as a platform to let other people perceive them as happy.
  3. Internet or Cybersecurity is not a big deal. Hackers stole $172B from people in 2017.
  4. If we create an app and place an ad, it will get traction by itself. Before even creating the app, introduce first the change that you want to contribute to your chosen market. Build your MVP and minimum viable audience (MVA), a small tribe of loyal customers first and then do the ads.
  5. Your business does not need an AI strategy. If this is your assumption, then expect that you will go out of business in 10-20 years.
  6. Innovation is always just about the latest technologies. When Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone, the touch screen technology has been existing for quite a while already. He was able to disrupt the market by using an existing technology.
  7. Innovation is only for geniuses. Anybody can innovate. If you’re an employee, you can always find ways to improve your productivity by using new tools and technologies. There’s a lot of productivity tools out there such as Asana, Trello or JIRA. If you’re a developer, research and introduce coding practices like automated-tests, continuous integration and new ways to build and debug, if successful, then you can always share with your colleagues or even the management.
  8. That Blockchain and distributed ledgers (DLT) are the same things. If bitcoin or cryptocurrencies are the by-products of the blockchain, DLT is the mother concept of the blockchain. There several other implementations of DLT such as blockDAG and TDAG. Each has distinct characteristics that affect security and performance. If you choose to innovate on this space, then carefully study each option.
  9. That Blockchain is unhackable. Yes, it is, specially colluded attacks. Again, find the right balance in your implementation.

If you’re an entrepreneur and you want to build something, define your mission first more than profits. Choose your target audience. Analyze their challenges and white space. Then solve them through the latest technology that is applicable to solve the problem. You don’t need to study deeply on a particular subject if you don’t need it.

In any case, the awareness of the above can help you apply the technology rightly and may give you a proper perspective of the future.

The Innovative Employee

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Being an innovative employee is a little tricky. It depends on your overall career objective. Are you working for your employer because you love what you do? Or are you working because you want to help your family, help customers, save for the future or gain experience?

When I was working for a Japanese company back in the day, I used to play around with tools to make our product, a banking application, useable. My motivation was the self-gratification of solving real-life programming challenges. I was competitive and enjoy the experience of finishing early on my commitment. Until I left the company and worked for my own.

So the innovation that I had done was to find ways to estimate tasks creatively, execute coding with finesse and release early. I break tasks into 2-hour chunks, use a notepad to log them thru our intranet time accounting app.

As the youngest member of the 12-man team, I love the attention I get when I solve challenging problems by myself.

Here’s my take on how to be an innovative employee and routines that will get you on your way to peak performance:

Proper Mindset

Having a positive mindset and attitude is the top most important thing that you should do. Stay away from work gossip and toxic people who feed you nothing but negativity & complaints.  Establish a productive routine from making your bed by the time you wake up, visualization, exercise, and focus.

Implement the latest technology and methodology.

Look up the technique called “Pomodoro”. It’s about breaking your tasks into 25-minute chunks and 5-minute break. It’s one of the trending methodologies these days. With this, plus an app such as TickTick can be an innovative tool for productivity.

Balance stress and rest.

Did you know that the most important part of toning your body is rest? After breaking your muscles during a workout, rest is the part where it builds back the muscles that you teared up. It’s no different with work, rest is where you sometimes achieve the eureka moment and get solutions to your problems. It allows your brain to step out of the linear thought process. It is where your subconscious mind kicks-in.

Do not multi-task.

Compartmentalize your tasks into categories and block your time for each category. Turn off your phone during time-blocking.

Concretize your purpose.

Is it really about just gaining experience or just getting your salary every 15th and 30th? Align your purpose with the company’s purpose to get motivated and contribute to society.

Set your own scorecard and engage for impact.

Try to gamify your scores. When I heard the term “gamify” for the first time, I couldn’t help but be curious and be excited about it. Being creative on your targets and your KPIs make it more exciting and fun to work with.

Engaging for impact means, just adequate follow through and you’re working harmoniously with your team especially when your tasks are inter-linked with each other.

There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing progress, whether it is about your own growth, the company’s, your team or your customer’s.  And being an innovative member of your team gives you true pleasure at work and in life.

10 Practical Guideposts on Innovation

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I wrote this for myself.  I am obsessed with it.  I can’t help but be obsessed with solving every problem or every inefficiency that I see.  I know these guideposts will help me when I need it.
 
I started this blog a few months back to help me have a platform to do my research about innovation and creativity.  Over time, gradually, I started to understand its basics and intricacies.
 
I failed a couple of times but when successful, I fell in love with the products or solutions that I develop.  I get motivated every time I hear business challenges internally and that of our clients.  I’ve also seen what innovation looks like at every stage of our business and in life.
 
1. Innovation Never Stops.  Problems and challenges never stop therefore you should never stop innovating.  Do not tolerate problems that you see, queue it in your to-dos, prioritize and work on each of them.
 
2. Be Brave to Start Again.  If the product or solution does not work, cut the losses and do not be afraid of starting again.  The company 3M has this process of keeping what works and discarding what doesn’t work.
 
3. Find Your Inspiration.  In music, you need inspiration to come up with songs.  In writing, you find inspiration from books you read on life experiences.  In business, you get inspiration from your mentors, competitors, and innovators.
 
4. Don’t Worry if You Can’t Figure Out Your Niche Yet.  When I started the company, we didn’t know yet what to build.  We built our first product (accounting software) from the people around us who happened to be accountants.  All I want at the time is to innovate.
 
5. Be Patient.  I know I said not to be afraid to start again, but you have to find that balance in re-doing and being patient.  It takes time.  If you are building a product, build your minimum viable product (MVP) and iterate.  On the first year, start, research, and learn everything.  Just Do.  On the 2nd year, try to network and make friends with people who are your possible clients or partners.  Year three, try to start making money, but not profit yet.  Year four, profit and year five, scale up.
 
6. There are no shortcuts.  This is related to number 5, but just to emphasize further, there’s no life hack, or overnight success, for innovation. It takes time.
 
7. Stick with the Purpose.  More than money and profits, the product or innovation that you do should have a purpose, a mission and vision.  It can be as simple as innovating your to-do list.  Being efficient in your to-dos will help you focus and be efficient in managing time.  So in effect, you will have the time for other important matters or time to spend time with your family.  That’s the purpose.
 
8. Start Today.   Don’t wait for tomorrow, or next week to innovate.  Be mindful of the problems in front of you, then look for solutions now.
 
9. What If I Want to Invent Something Weird?  Maybe a flying car, or underground tunnel?  Do item 5 then number 2.
 
10. What If I Keep on Failing?  Do a routine every morning to listen to positive affirmations from YouTube.  List down three things you are thankful for.  Exercise.  Then repeat from number 1. 
 
Hopefully, these  will be useful to you as it was, and will always be, to me.

Learning How to Learn

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I’ve been pondering about learning in the past days and thought of my process of learning as early as my college days.  Being creative requires a lot of time learning about things in all aspects of art, music, writing, photography, and business innovation. 

So I asked myself, what are the building blocks of learning?  I did some research and came across Dr. Barbara Oakley, a former US Army with a rank of Captain and the author of the book, “Learning How to Learn.”

Here are some excerpts:

· The brain creates synapses when you learn something new. And sleep helps you and your brain cell regenerate to speed up the learning process.

· Most of the time, we procrastinate when we try to learn about something. The main reason is because of anxiety of learning something new. My personal technique when I procrastinate is the 5-second rule of Mel Robbins. It works for me. Once you start, it will eventually lead to satisfaction.

 · Chunking – just like programming which you do the coding per function or method. Chunking is the art of grouping concepts such as chapters that form part of the entire subject.

 

· Exercise – it is a very effective way to learn better on top of sleep.  It helps your brain maintain the neurons that help stimulate learning.

 

A little over a decade ago, I started a blog, “Create Things Now.”  It was all about creating, creating music, photos, animation.  I learn something by chunking them into blog posts.  One example is a post about writing a song.  

The first time I did it, I researched on the practical formula for writing a song.  I started off with a title, then lyrics, then chord progression, and melody.  Then I researched about recording and mixing, and came across GarageBand, LogicPro, mixing and mastering.  

I eventually shutdown my blog for some personal reasons but now that I am back in blogging and business, my experience from my research led me to not hire a sound engineer when recording voiceovers for marketing videos that I produce.

 

So here’s my practical suggestion as your takeaway:

1. Choose a subject that you want to learn about and that you will use eventually. If you want to impress someone, say a friend who has a piano at home, then learn how to play the piano.

2. Just start. Buy a basic piano or a keyboard, go to YouTube and learn from tutorials. Pick out the songs you like and learn how to play them. Do it in chunks, start with the intro, have a break, then on to the verses. 

3. Schedule your learning session once a day, once a week or once a month. It doesn’t matter as long as you stick to it and make it a habit.

I am writing this because of my recent goal to come up with a presentation video about Hilsoft products, hence the photo in this blog.  I researched sample videos online, retrieved my old Fuji camera with tripod, set up my mic/GarageBand for the audio, bought a green paper for background graphics (just like in the movies) for later use in editing.  Then I chose to set up in our conference room because of good lighting by the window.

Take note, I learned in chunks—set lighting, video editing—from my blog 10 years ago. If I did it, so can you!

An Innovative Way to Manage Human Resources

When I started the business 17 years ago, I did not regard the HR function as the most important function in a business enterprise. But as we grow, I realize now that HR is one of the most important, if not the most important, functions in the company especially when you are in a service business.

A service business by default should be an employee-driven company. Year after year, I realize the importance of 201 file, employee contracts, company policies, training, comp and ben, and many more. These things are more than a handful and for an efficient HR department, you will need an innovation that will cut through the clutter and have your personnel manager and human resources focus on what’s important, getting quality applicants.

So how do we innovate in human resources department? Below are the things that I learned over the years:

1. Optimize recruitment – online paid job postings are slowly dying. Job seekers are no longer reactive in those platforms. LinkedIn and social media are the most effective platforms these days. A company might also want to do a continuous pooling to easily retrieve one CV when needed. One software we made with one recruitment outsourcing client was an in-house uploader of all sourced CVs so the recruiter can easily search any requirement when needed.

2. Succession and Promotion – An HRIS can easily track personnel action or movement. Implementing one will definitely improve HR’s monitoring of employee promotion and changes in compensation and benefits. By having an inventory of skillset in place, HR can easily re-classify existing employees to fill positions that have opened.

3. Training and Development – Personally, I prefer home-grown management. HR can implement this by establishing training programs that can be offered to qualified existing employees. If you are a growing company, it is more effective to source managers from within the ranks rather than outside. HR can start by establishing short-term and long-term goals for each employee and follow it through by performance evaluation and appraisal.

4. Employee Engagement – Establishing a formula that enhances human drive is a very interesting topic for me. Human behavior and psychology are things that I want to learn even during college. It’s actually my second choice if I didn’t pursue computer science. There are many publications online and offline that talk about strategies to secure employee engagement. The basic formula for me is empowerment, task autonomy, and ownership.

With all of these learning, automating some of the functions of HR is definitely an innovation in itself. Barring HRIS and payroll software, innovating to keep your personnel engaged in the company is a challenging task that goes beyond incentivizing them all. Be creative and immerse yourself to learn where innovation is much needed in the HR department.

Snap Accounting Series: Beta Launch

Yesterday was the day that I’ve been looking forward to in 3 years. The product is now launched but limited to the free check writer app. Any user can register and use the app to book their disbursements and generate expense reports online.

It is mobile responsive so you can easily book expenses even outside the office. You can assign the preparation of checks to someone and as a small business owner, you can approve it anytime and anywhere. All prepared and approved checks can be printed online even by batches.

Marketing plans are all set and its just a matter of execution. We plan to post teasers of the next app but in the meantime, we will be on standby for any feedback from the users to the initial release.

I can’t wait for your feedback or share with you testimonials from other users.

After years of surviving and growing as an ERP company for SMEs, I am glad to have deployed a product for startups and micro business owners.

This is an innovative tool and will definitely assist them in capturing their transactions so they know how and when to grow the business with the reports that Snap Accounting will generate.