Remember what got you started in the world of business? Your first ideas, your drafts, your
drawing boards? As a novice, you were probably acting on curiosity rather than expertise or
excitement rather than surety. This curiosity mindset is what set you apart and made your ideas
worth implementing. It may even have been the driving factor behind where you are today.

Yet despite the inherent value of curiosity in the workplace and its positive impact on our lives,
so many of us suffer from complacency in business. As time passes, we lose our spirit of
interrogation and exploration. We get stuck in the same patterns of recognition and reward. We
stop being curious and fail to look critically at our successes and failures.

Expertise complacency is an extremely common phenomenon whereby knowledge experts and
skilled leaders lose the will (and therefore the ability) to continue learning and improving.
Experts feel a lot of confidence, but they also fear losing what they’ve worked so long and hard
for. This fear-induced stasis leads to further innovation suckers, like not examining successes and
not taking risks. 

Why Curiosity Is Important in Business

Knowledge and expertise in business are fundamental tenets and necessary for growing a
reputation and creating products and services that work really well. However, the value of
curiosity in the workplace cannot be overstated.

Here's why curiosity is important in business: 

4 Practical Methods to Overcome Complacency in Business

Complacency in business can be, at best, a limiting factor and, at worst, a destructive force.
Either way, you can fight complacency by stimulating and encouraging a curiosity mindset and
showing your team how to tap into the value of curiosity in the workplace. Here's how to get

  1. Find your 'curiosity zone.'
    Practicing curiosity doesn’t mean you have to leap into unexplored territory or become a
    complete novice. Your ideal zone of curiosity will be an area in which you have some experience
    or a little knowledge but no certainty or preconceived answers. This balance keeps curiosity alive
    without you getting lost in the fog. Here, you can start trying new things and get comfortable
    with the feeling of uncertainty, recognizing what can and cannot be controlled.
  2. Bring new curiosity to old problems.
    Innovation can happen anywhere; it’s not just for discovering a totally new technology or a cure
    for cancer. Reinvent the wheel, whatever that means to your business, by thinking in new
    ways about old problems. Encourage employees to do this, too, by hosting engaging activities
    like hack-a-thons or curiosity clubs​.
  3. Collaborate with curious outsiders.
    To make a success of your curiosity mindset, you’ll need a collection of curious friends to help.
    Invite others to join your mission, ask external eyes to weigh in on your plans, and find fresh
    perspectives however you can to help you see old problems in new ways. Curiosity is
    contagious; if you surround yourself with curious people, you will start to find it easier to
    cultivate a curiosity mindset. Moreover, you’ll start to create an environment where your
    curiosity rubs off on your team.
  4. Play the long game.
    Curiosity is for life, not just for the next performance review. A curiosity mindset takes time and
    experimentation to build and nurture. It won’t solve your problems in one day. So stick with it.
    Develop a state of curiosity about your curiosity mindset — by exploring new subjects over time,
    setting up experiments, and watching the reactions. The most important method of tapping into
    the value of curiosity in the workplace is just by creating a workplace where questions are
    favored over answers and people feel safe to voice their ideas. 

    Knowledge and expertise in business can only get you so far; rely on them for too long, and your
    organization will forget how to grow. Bring new light onto those old roots by cultivating a
    curiosity mindset, not just in yourself but in your whole team.

Forget asking for advice. Here's a radical approach that could change everything:

It's called a Clearness Committee, and it's a Quaker practice that dates back to the 1660s.

But don't let its age fool you - it's a tool that's more relevant for leaders than ever.

Here's how it works:

Gather a group of trusted colleagues - but not to give you their opinions or solutions.

Instead, their job is to ask you honest, open questions.

Questions that help you tap into your own inner wisdom and find clarity.

No fixing, no advising, no steering.

Just deep listening and powerful inquiries.

As a leader, this can be transformative.

I've started teaching Clearness Committees in my Curiosity Workshops.

And the results are profound.

Leaders understand that it feels much more energizing and engaging to have others ask you questions rather than give advice.

They lean into these conversations rather than get defensive to well-intentioned suggestions.

And the solutions they find are often more innovative than anything they could have come up with on their own.

All because of the power of asking instead of telling.

What complex challenge are you facing right now?

What if you gathered a Clearness Committee and tried this approach?

You might be surprised at the wisdom and clarity that emerges - not from others, but from within yourself.

Breaking the Expertise Trap

When it comes to work, expertise is the far-off horizon we’re all striving to reach. You want to
become smarter and wiser. You want to know more and gather more experiences under your belt.
You may even strive to receive public acclaim or awards.

Yet even if you manage to reach some form of expertise, it can often be a poisoned chalice if you
don’t know how to wield it properly. 

Instead of enabling its owner to make better choices and overcome challenges, expertise can
become a barrier to growth 
and can often keep you from continuing to learn and adapt.

What Are the 3 Biggest Expertise Traps?

There are three major traps that will make life more challenging when you start to feel like an
expert. They are the following:

  1. You stop trying to learn. 
    While having confidence in your skills is important and healthy, feeling like you’ve “grown out”
    of learning can be detrimental to your career. You lose the incentive to improve and grow, which
    are vital drivers in today’s rapidly changing world. If you lose the desire to learn, you stop
    changing, and change is essential for continuously thriving over time. 

  2. You stop examining your success. 
    In the early days, you are hypersensitive to success. You look for it everywhere and analyze the
    moves that led to a win. Because the beginner mindset is honed on success, you are able to learn
    from past mistakes and keep improving. But expertise can cut you off from this analytical,
    backward-looking mode, so you are less connected to what’s working and what isn’t. This makes
    sustained success difficult to achieve and may even cause you to falter where you wouldn't have

  3. You stop taking risks. 
    The third expertise trap is about the safety of expertise. When you have scaled a peak and
    reached the top, it can be tempting to stop looking around for new challenges. You don’t want to
    fall or fail. But when you stop challenging yourself, you limit your potential for growth. Your
    comfort zone begins to shrink, and as the novices around you experiment and expand the
    possibilities of their industries, you stay still.

    These expertise traps hinder both individuals and their organizations. 

    On an individual level, professionals experience decreased adaptability. They’re less able to shift according to the climate around them, including to new technologies. They may even actively resist change and cling stubbornly to their existing skills. This state of stagnation cannot last because there will always be others willing to experiment and test the boundaries with creative approaches. 

    On an organizational level, stagnation leads to an inability to adapt to changes in the market. An organization full of its own expertise is less likely to pay close attention to emerging trends and the shifting demands of consumers. A loss of engagement follows, with team members perhaps feeling disconnected, behind the times, and lacking in purpose. Teams themselves can suffer if stagnation leads to homogeneity rather than diversity.

The Benefits of Continuous Learning at Work

Why is continuous learning the antidote to the expertise trap? For starters, continuous learning
recognizes that work isn’t something you train for just once. Degrees and courses cannot prepare
you for the way the world changes. Even the “school of life” will be useless if you treat it like a
one-and-done thing. 

The benefits of continuous learning at work are increased agility, an increased capacity for
change, and the ability to unlock visionary thinking. Continuous learning practitioners are
experts, yes, but they also stay nimble and humble about their expertise. They continue to assess
new situations and challenges in the world around them in order to evolve, innovate, and make
future plans. 

After all, what is business expertise without the ability to apply it to today’s market challenges?

How to Build a Continuous Learning Environment in the Workplace

The qualities gained from continuous learning form an ongoing defense against expertise traps,
allowing leaders to engage in and adapt to a world in flux. The question is: How to build a
continuous learning environment in the workplace when the workplace itself is changing so

  1. Lead by example.
    You can go a long way toward creating a culture of continuous learning in your organization by
    modeling it for your team. Show employees what you mean by continuous learning by
    demonstrating a passion for your own skill development. Engage in learning opportunities, keep
    up to date with training, upskill, and share your learnings with your colleagues to cultivate an
    environment where continuous learning happens naturally and isn’t intimidating. 
  2. Prioritize real-world scenarios.
    Leaders can make continuous learning easier by connecting it to real-world situations as often as
    possible. Develop and practice active learning strategies in your workplace, methods that involve hands-on experience. Try a day where people shadow their colleagues in different roles or split up familiar teams into new groups and give them a real-world problem to solve. These strategies make learning more dynamic, memorable, and enjoyable. 
  1. Invite new eyes in.
    As mentioned above, expertise can make a leader complacent and less able to change. They can
    develop blind spots and be unable to see what needs changing. Inviting an external perspective
    into your work environment could shed much-needed light on your current approach and show
    you which areas could benefit from a shake-up. Collaborating with other experts, including those
    from different industries, roles, and generations, could turn continuous learning into insights and
    innovations you can use. 

    Interested in learning more about the Expertise Trap and how to break out of this cycle? Get in
    touch with me
     and let’s discuss how to get into a more positive, productive mindset through
    continuous learning.

Do you know the story of Ronald Wayne, Apple’s third co-founder?

He knew Steve Jobs from their time together at Atari. And when Jobs and Woz started Apple, Ronald became the third co-founder and owned 10% of the company. 

He owned that stock for all of 12 days before he got cold feet. He thought that Jobs and Wozniak were just two crazy kids who might take on a lot of financial obligations that he would be responsible for. He had more assets than either of his co-founders and he let the fear take over.

Ronald sold his 10% interest in 1976 for $800. That stock would be worth over $100 Billion today 😮.

But this isn’t where the story ends. Ronald did it again in 1990! That year, he was cleaning out his filing cabinet and sold the original contract for the creation of Apple for $500. In 2011, that document sold at auction for $1.59 Million. 🤦🏻

Ok. So what’s going on here and how can we use some epic questions to help us avoid Ronald’s fate?

Ronald had legitimate fears. He wanted to protect himself. But he didn’t need to completely leave the opportunity in order to reduce his risk.

He could have asked:

1. Can I limit my financial exposure without selling ALL of the stock? Could he have sold back a portion of his stock in exchange for protection from any of the company’s liabilities?

2. What is an experiment I can run to see if this is a good decision? The moment he got spooked, Jobs had taken out a $15,000 loan to buy supplies to fulfill Apple’s first contract with a San Francisco computer store. Ronald was worried that this store was known for failing to pay its bills and Apple wouldn’t make money on the contract. Could this project have been an experiment Ronald could have afforded to take?

3. Who can I consult for a second opinion? Ronald could have sensed that he was having an emotional response to this situation, and thought, is there a handful of people I can speak with who might help me make a better decision or figure out how to reduce my liability?

Ronald Wayne's story is a powerful reminder to look beyond immediate fears and to recognize the potential of patience and vision.

Here's to making decisions that our future selves will thank us for! 🌟

Strategies for Learning From Failure (and How to Navigate Its 6 Stages)

No matter who you are, facing failure is hard. When we fail, our gut reaction is to turn around
and hide. Our survival instincts kick in to avoid embarrassment. Think about it. If you try ice
skating and have a bad fall, you can either decide that you aren’t good at ice skating and vow to
never try it again, or you can choose to return to the rink and improve gradually. By choosing to
keep going, we develop a growth mindset.

When people fail, they often rely on a sort of fight-or-flight response instead of asking, “How do
you learn from this?” People mistakenly think that failure is a direct reflection of their skill sets,
abilities, and talents. For instance, my biggest and most embarrassing failure was a startup I
started: Its growth skyrocketed quickly, and then it failed almost as dramatically.

The 6 Stages of Failure

Contrary to what many might believe, failure, like that of my startup, is not a one-step process.
We actually go through six different stages each time a setback occurs:

Stage 1: Denial

First, failure tends to produce early warning signs. Unfortunately, our cognitive biases will often
ignore these signals. Instead of accepting failure, we deny that it exists and focus on only
positive feedback. This deludes us into thinking that everything is going according to plan when,
in fact, it is not.

Stage 2: Doubling Down

When we first recognize a potential failure, our gut instinct is to double down, or “escalate
,” on decisions that aren’t going well. Instead of making a necessary pivot, we often
believe that we can turn things around if we just stay the course. In reality, we are only digging a
deeper hole.

Stage 3: Shame

Once our failure becomes undeniable, we quickly fall into the shame stage. This stage is rarely
visible to others, but it takes a significant toll on our self-esteem. The shame we feel from
failure worsens anxiety and hampers our engagement at work.

Stage 4: Defensiveness

Even though we quietly punish ourselves for our failures, we articulate to others numerous
reasons why it wasn’t our fault. We will blame individuals, systemic issues, or forces of nature

beyond our control for what happened. When in defensive mode, we may also tell ourselves that
there was nothing we could do differently, further shielding ourselves from learning from our
failures and preventing a growth mindset.

Stage 5: Moving on

After we’ve exhausted our defensive excuses with anyone who will listen, we usually attempt to
put the failure behind us and never speak of it again. We move forward; we find our next project.

Stage 6: Looking for the Assets

There’s a sixth stage that most people never take advantage of, but it’s the one that holds all the

During this stage, you sift through the rubble left by your failure and uncover all the potential
assets you’ve gained through your efforts — and those assets should exist, because nothing is
ever a 100% failure. This audit of the failed project involves identifying systems and processes
that you developed, relationships, insights, intellectual property, tools, and other lessons to
consider how your experience transforms your work. We take what worked, learn from what
didn’t, and create something new (and better).

That failed startup I started was my lowest point as a professional. And as soon as I figured out
where we had gone wrong, I started keeping a journal about the experience. I had to document
what went wrong and what I wished I could have done differently.

That journal eventually became my first book — a New York Times best-seller that has been
used in over 100 universities to teach entrepreneurship and innovation and helped me launch a
whole new career as a keynote speaker. My biggest success came as a result of my biggest
failure. But only because I decided to look for the assets rather than hiding from the shame.

To learn how to “fail better” each time, we must avoid getting stuck in any one stage of failure
and try to get to Stage 6 as quickly as we can. When you are inevitably faced with failure in the
future, remember these six stages and focus on that final leap toward new opportunity and

Human beings hate change. All of us.

When Zoom has to update right before an important call, I'm not thinking "yay! an update! I'm
thinking, ah. I don't have time for this. I just want to do my call."

And I'm an innovation expert.

When Midwest express stopped serving cookies or Southwest Airlines stopped serving peanuts,
I wasn't cheering for the future of airline food. I didn't like it. I was used to the way it was.

So telling people to embrace change is just telling them to fight natural human instincts. We
prefer stability and predictability.

So what do we do instead?

Instead of trying to convince everyone love change, why don't we equip them with the tools
and mindset to navigate it. So that the change isn't as upsetting or disruptive. And they
approach it with an open mind.

There are two Master Skills that innovation experts share in this regard: Learning Agility and Growth

  1. Learning Agility: This is an individual's ability to rapidly acquire, unlearn, and adapt
    behaviors based on new and evolving information. It encapsulates the willingness to be
    wrong, learn from experiences, and adjust as necessary.
  2. Growth Mindset: Those with a growth mindset understand that they can always
    improve, regardless of their experience level or current expertise. This mindset fosters
    resilience, encourages challenges, and views failures not as definitive shortcomings but
    as opportunities for growth and learning.

But why are these skills so pivotal?

Because they don't just prepare individuals for one change; they prepare them for the ongoing
journey of change. They foster adaptability and instill a sense of curiosity.

Working on these skills outside of a big change initiative reduces the intimidation of that future
change when it becomes necessary.

Post 1: All of the reasons not to do it.

(Posted 9.9.2023)

I have a big new goal I've been coveting, and I thought I would document my journey from the very beginning.

I recently learned of the Maccabean Games or the Jewish Olympics. It is the third largest sporting event in the world, after the world cup and the actual Olympics. 10,000 athletes go to Israel every 4 years to compete in Olympic events. And the best part is there are age groups!

Ever since I learned about this event, I've wanted to try to go. Having never had a chance to participate in sports as a kid, and really enjoying both sports and competition, this feels like a perfect goal.

Goal: To try to make it to the Maccabean Games (by qualifying for team USA) in tennis. 😮

Now. Here are all the reasons I've been telling myself to forget it.
1.    I started playing tennis this year 😂. And the level I have to get to is likely that of a collegiate player.  Is that even possible??
2.    I had breast cancer surgery last year that sliced through my pectoral muscles. Could I ever get them back strong enough to be competitive?
3.    I'm 42 and already experiencing some pain in my knee and hip after exercise. Can my body even handle the training it would take?
4.    I've never actively played a competitive sport in my life. And those of you who know my funny high school basketball tryouts story know that I would basically be starting from scratch 🥛🥛🥛.

And here's my short list of why I should do it:
1.    I think I can do it.
2.    It would be fun to try ❤️.
3.    I love playing tennis and can't seem to get enough of it.

Ok. Tell me everything I need to know!

Post 2: 🎾 How I Set BIG Goals.

(Posted 9.16.23)

I think it's easy to look at a big, audacious goal and think, "Where do I even start?"

As someone who thrives on challenges, you may have seen my new goal: Improving my tennis rating from 2.5 to 4.5 within a year and qualifying to represent Team USA at the Maccabiah Games in Israel!

Here's how I approach such monumental tasks:

1. Break it Down: Big goals can be intimidating. I start by breaking them into smaller, more manageable tasks. In terms of tennis, it's about improving specific skills one at a time - be it the serve, the volley, or the footwork.

2. Seek Expertise: It's important that I (a person who knows almost nothing about tennis) am not in charge of creating the game plan. That's why I got a coach. He knows what we need to work on to achieve the goal and he provides deliberate practice (the kind of practice that improves skill).

3. Find The Believers: In moments of doubt (and they come often), it's the cheerleaders in our life who reignite our flame. I'm grateful for friends and fellow enthusiasts who remind me of my potential when it seems like an impossible goal. (HT to Adam Smiley Poswolsky for teaching me about the importance of Believers).

4. Identify the Good, Better, Best Goal: I got this strategy from Jon Acuff. It helps you not set yourself up for failure when attempting something really ambitious. I'm creating three options of what I'd like to achieve: Good: I train for a year without hurting myself and significantly improve my rating to 3.5 or higher. Better: I place in a competitive tournament. Best: I place in the US qualifier for the Maccabiah Games.

5. Measure Progress: I'll be setting milestones along the way and sharing them publicly. By tracking where I am vs. where I need to be, I can make adjustments.

6. Don't Over Do It: Passion is a double-edged sword. While it drives you to train, it can also cause burn out or risk injury. So I've recruited a physical therapist to the team to make sure I'm not taking myself out of the game by going too hard to fast right off the bat.

To my tennis enthusiasts out there, I'd love any tips or insights you might have. And to everyone else, what big goals are you setting for yourself? Let's Go Big together! 🌟

Post 3: The Power of Questions in Pursuit of Big Goals

(Posted 9.23.23)

When we set big goals, our natural impulse often urges us to dive in headfirst, relying on sheer force to propel us forward.

However, I believe in the value of sitting with a problem and asking a lot of questions up front to help you chose the highest ROI for your energy.

The biggest challenge with doing something new is innovation waste, or using all that energy in ways that don't really move the ball forward.

Take my own objective: I've set an ambitious target to achieve a 4.5 tennis rating in a little over a year and qualify to represent team USA in the Maccabiah Games.

Rather than blindly enrolling in intense training sessions, I'm pausing to ask all the questions:

Foundations & Basics:
- What are the fundamental techniques every tennis player should know? (Below is a video of me spending a day learning the volley).
- How do I avoid typical beginner mistakes?
- What equipment do I need? (did you know there are actual tennis shoes?? And they aren't your sneakers 😂)

Training & Practice:
- How often should I practice to achieve my goal and not injure myself?
- What drills are most effective for building foundational skills?
- How will I know when I'm ready to compete in tournaments?

Mentorship & Guidance:
- How will I know when my coach has topped out at what they can teach me?
- Are there different coaches that specialize in teaching various fundamental skills? Or those that teach singles vs doubles players? Or even those that teach women vs men?
- Who can I talked to that has not only qualified but done well at the Maccabiah games so I can learn from them?

Physical & Mental Conditioning:
- How can I improve my agility, strength, and stamina for tennis?
- What kind of content would be most helpful for me to consume in between lessons? Books, Youtube videos, Instagram accounts.

Feedback & Improvement:
- How can I get regular feedback on my techniques and gameplay?
- What's the best way for me to record my practices?
- Are there other tools or technologies that can assist in helping my performance?

Tournaments & Competitive Play:
- Which local tournaments or leagues should I consider joining?
- How should I prepare for matches, and how do I best learn from each competition?

Community & Networking:
- How can I build relationships with players at or above my skill level to challenge myself?


Do you see how starting with questions can help you save a lot of time and effort?

My hope is that this curiosity fueled approach will set me up for success.

And to anyone embarking on a new ambitious goal: Don't start with a plan; instead, start with a list of questions you want to figure out!


Post 4: The Power of Deliberate Practice and Coaching 🎾

(Posted 9.30.23)

In my journey from a 2.5 to a 4.5 tennis player, I've learned a profound lesson that goes beyond the tennis court: The immense value of deliberate practice.

It would be easy for me to spend hours on the court, hitting ball after ball, hoping to improve. In fact, that's how I spent my spring and summer.

While time and effort are commendable, they alone aren't enough for substantial growth.

That's where the magic of deliberate practice comes in.

Deliberate practice is a concept that was popularized by Anders Ericsson, who studied the habits of top performers across various fields. Ericsson's research showed that with the right type and amount of practice, most people can achieve exceptional levels of skill and performance in almost any domain.

But it only works if you follow this very specific kind of practice (I outline the steps in the comments below).

I had my first lesson with a coach about 3 weeks ago, and my body was so sore after that I kept saying, "what have I been playing all this time???" My body was just not used to the movements he was asking me to do!

That's my coach Elliott, in the picture.

🌟 Improving Alone vs. With a Coach:
When trying to improve on our own, we rely heavily on self-assessment, which can often be clouded by our biases or limited perspective. In contrast, a coach provides an external and experienced viewpoint. They see the nuances in our techniques, the small yet significant errors in our form, and the habits that hold us back.

I've grown more in my abilities over the last 3 weeks than I have in my first 6 months of playing tennis! 🚀

Here's how:

With a coach's guidance, our practice sessions become more targeted. They guide our focus, correct our mistakes in real-time, and introduce drills tailored to our needs.

This structured and deliberate approach ensures that we're not just practicing but practicing right. The result? A faster and more efficient improvement trajectory.

For anyone out there striving for excellence, be it in tennis, a professional field, or a personal hobby, remember this: While passion and persistence are crucial, the guidance of a mentor and the discipline of deliberate practice can be the difference between slow progression and accelerated mastery.

I'd love to know if you've ever taken advantage of deliberate practice to master a skill.

And stay tuned for more insights on my journey. The road to 4.5 continues! 🎾🔥

Post 5: Enjoy My Pain

(Posted 10.7.23)

I have a crazy goal: to qualify for the Jewish Olympics.

Spoiler alert – I am currently terrible. I started playing this year and I need to get to a collegiate level of play to have any shot.

But here's the thing; I am embracing every flawed forehand, every misguided backhand, and every missed serve. Why? Because I believe that embracing my inadequacies is the first step towards mastery.

We live in a world that celebrates perfection, where social media highlights are filled with nothing but accomplishments.

But what you don't often see is the journey, the missteps, and the countless hours of practice that go into honing a skill.

Every professional was once a beginner. And in those early stages, they weren't pretty. They weren’t perfect. But they were resilient.

Being bad at something is a gift.

It provides us with a blank canvas, a world filled with endless possibilities. Each mistake is a lesson, each failure a stepping stone.

If we approach each setback with a learner’s mentality, we evolve. We grow. We inch closer to our goals.

So, why am I sharing this with you? Because I want you to enjoy my pain. Not in a sadistic way, but as a testament to growth, to vulnerability, and to the beauty of the journey.

Today, you might be chuckling at my missteps, but in the coming months, you’ll witness a transformation.

Post 6: My Pickleball Epiphany

For weeks, I was stuck. In my journey to learn to play tennis and compete in the Jewish Olympics, I couldn't figure out a vital part of play.

My wrist just wouldn’t twist (pronate) right for a proper serve and volley, even with my amazing coach, Elliott, trying every trick in the book. 🎾❌ We were almost giving up and looking for a “Plan B” for those shots.

Then came a 4-day work trip with my kiddo! 🚗💼 His big wish? Play LOADS of pickleball. Now, ever since I started playing tennis, I've been a “Tennis Only, Please!” kind of gal. But I decided to say YES to any idea that he brought up on the trip, so pickleball it was! 🥒🏓

And, oh boy, did we play! Hour after hour, day after day. I thought I could make the most of it by working on my footwork and holding the paddle the way I would hold a tennis racquet. And guess what happened when I got back home?

During my next tennis lesson, BAM! I served and volleyed with the right grip, just like that! 🎾🔥 Elliott and I were both like 😱 because something clicked while playing pickleball and fixed my tennis problem!

🌟 Lesson of the Week: 🌟 Always be open to learning, even from unexpected places!

Who knew that saying YES to pickleball (and fun times with my son) would be the secret sauce to my tennis progress? 🚀 So here's a shoutout to being open, trying new things, and finding happy surprises along the way! 🎉❤️

🔗 For a full recap of my tennis journey, including how it got started, I've linked a recap post in the comments! 🎾🌟


Post 7: Prepare for Failure

(This is my weekly series documenting my journey from being a tennis amateur to attempting to play in the Jewish Olympics - striving to get to a collegiate level of play)

Why do most people fall short of their goals? It's not because they lack talent, drive, or ambition. It's because they haven't prepared for setbacks. And setbacks are inevitable.

It's almost comical when you think about it. How often we set ourselves up for disappointment by failing to acknowledge that setbacks are a natural part of the journey. And not planning on what we'll do when they happen.

This week was one of those setback weeks for me.

I had every intention to stick to my training, to push myself harder and to refine my skills. But life had other plans. Between juggling the responsibilities of looking after two little ones while my husband was away, managing three client engagements, and my coach getting sick, there was simply no room for tennis.

And as I looked at my untouched gear (pictured here), the familiar voice of doubt started to creep in. "This is unrealistic. How will you ever find the time to achieve this? You're thinking too big this time. It's never going to happen."

But here's the good news. I've been down this road before. Every ambitious goal I've set for myself has been met with challenges, setbacks, and that nagging voice of doubt.

What's different this time? I'm prepared for it. I expect it. I've accepted that there will be days, or even weeks, where I feel like I'm moving backwards rather than forwards.

I just know that this setbacks isn't the end. It's simply a pause, a moments to reflect, and an opportunity to bounce back stronger.

So while this week was a dud, I'm not discouraged. I've scheduled my lesson for next week and am even working on scheduling my first match 😮.

Do you have any advice on bouncing back from setbacks? Anything you like to tell yourself or do?

Post 8: Navigating the Mental Game

(This is a series documenting my journey from being a tennis amateur to a collegiate level player in a year and a half and attempting to qualifying to play in the Jewish Olympics)

The last few weeks have been super frustrating.

I’m doing great in practice with my coach. He’s telling me that we’re progressing well. But anytime I play a competitive match, my nerves take over and I mentally sabotage myself.

I'm not even putting too much pressure on myself to win. I worry about embarrassing myself in front of the other players, which causes me to overcorrect and…embarrass myself in front of the other players 🤦🏻. I just don’t play as well in a match as I do in practice.

Even though this is my first time playing competitive sports, this feeling of self-sabotage is oddly familiar. For the first eight years as a keynote speaker, I would get physically ill before every speech. It seemed like my brain (which was very excited about the opportunity) and my body (which was trying to put a stop to it) were not on the same page. Thankfully, I’m on the other side of that challenge, but I would love to solve this tennis situation in less than eight years 🙃. 

So, I'm on a quest. A quest to tame my game-time nerves.

I’m asking a lot of questions about what’s possible and trying out a lot of experiments.

Please send all the tips and tricks.

My big takeaway so far is that in this game of life, whether with a racket or a microphone, the real match is within.

Post 9: “How do you not hurt yourself?”

(This is a series documenting my journey from being a tennis amateur to a collegiate level player in a year and a half and attempting to qualifying to play in the Jewish Olympics)

A fellow tennis player asked me this question when she found out I’ve been playing around 10 hours a week.

As someone who's never played sports before, hurting myself was one of my greatest concerns.

But I worked backwards and built a team:

- A physical therapist to help me strengthen the right muscles and make adjustments when something starts to hurt.
- A pelvic floor physical therapist to make sure that all of my body can keep up with this level of play and dry needle muscles that need it.
- A trainer (my husband) to help me recover well after playing and hold me accountable to my strength training regime.
- A tennis coach to make sure I’m developing all the right skillsets.

Just like achieving any big goal, the secret to fast growth is Who not How. All of these individuals are helping me improve in ways I could never figure out on my own. Because I've never done anything like this before.

If you want to achieve something you’ve never done before or start growing at an exponential rate, the key is to find individuals who will show you your blindspots!

And yes, it sounds like a part-time job. But just like my full-time job, I'm loving every second. And I'm making progress!

I'm now playing in two separate 3.0 leagues. For those keeping up with my journey, this is a big jump from where I started.

Tryouts for Team USA are Oct 6-8! Wish me luck!

This kind of strategic decision making is one of the top skills innovators must master.

Here's how I make the decision without letting my pride take over:

  1. Data-Driven Decisions
    I insist that every project measure what I call Pivot Indicators. These are pre-defined metrics
    that answer two important questions: "When will we know if it's not working?" and "How will
    we know?" By establishing these indicators upfront, we remove ambiguity from the evaluation

    Whether it's a certain threshold of user engagement, a predefined ROI, or customer satisfaction
    scores, these indicators act as the guardians of our resources, ensuring that we stay agil
    respond promptly to feedback, and invest in avenues that truly resonate with our overarching

  2. The Passion Parameter
    Numbers are vital, but they're not everything. The intangible yet palpable energy of passion is
    often the difference between projects that fizzle out and those that thrive. If you had to make
    the decision today to start this idea from scratch, would you do it?

    Are you still as excited about the opportunity as you were when everything kicked off? If your
    team exudes excitement and genuine belief in the project, this collective energy can transform
    challenges into opportunities.

  3. Opportunity Costs and the Big Picture
    Every resource committed to one initiative means potential neglect for another. It's essential to
    ask: What could these resources achieve elsewhere? I actually sit down and make a list of
    where I would invest the resources if I had more time and effort. Then, I'm not deciding
    whether I failed at something or didn't, I'm just deciding between option A or B for my time and

I'd like to add that one way I make this decision easy on myself, is I avoid it altogether by
employing a stage gate process for evaluating where I invest my time and resources.

The stage-gate process divides the development of a new initiative into stages separated by
gates. At each gate, the ongoing viability of the initiative is evaluated based on predetermined

  1. Sleep on it: I force myself a 48 hour waiting period before doing anything about a
    new exciting idea to see if I'm just as passionate in a few days or if something exciting
    has captured my attention.
  2. Feasibility Study: I examine the idea in-depth. What's the potential? What resources
    will be required? Do I have the time and energy to invest, or will it take away from
    current projects I'm trying to finish?
  3. Testing Phase: If the idea passes the feasibility gate, I'll assign a small amount of
    resources to conduct a test. Can I sell this idea? How much work does it take to execute
    on it? Do I enjoy doing that work? I outline my riskiest assumptions and conduct
    experiments to test the most challenging ones.
  4. Viability Phase: I give myself a challenge: If I can accomplish ___ within ___, then
    it's worth the next phase of investment. Yes, this is also a test, but it's an ambitious
    challenge that involves dollars collected or something else of high value.
  5. Launch/Scale or Re-evaluate: If the initiative passes the viability phase, it's time to
    invest in a launch. If not, I'll revisit the previous stages or consider pausing or stopping
    the initiative.

Our resources—whether time, talent, or capital—are finite, and successful innovators
understand that we have to continuously reassess to make sure that we don't get stuck.

They recognize that every excuse, no matter how valid it may seem, is a self-imposed roadblock
on the path to transformative change.

Rather than getting bogged down by challenges or setbacks, innovators harness them as
catalysts for creativity and adaptability. They maintain an unwavering belief in their vision for organizational growth and development, knowing that for every problem, there's a solution waiting to be discovered.

This relentless pursuit of betterment through an innovator's mindset, paired with a refusal to let excuses deter them, is what sets innovators apart and drives them towards groundbreaking achievements.

I've listed out the common excuses I've heard inside organizations, and how innovators can
combat them:

  1. "I don't have the resources."
    While ample resources can be an advantage, innovation is more about ingenuity than
    abundance. Innovators often use constraints as a springboard for creativity, seeking
    alternative approaches and leveraging available tools to their fullest potential. I'm
    currently reading a book called A Beautiful Constraint filled with examples of how
    innovators saw a lack of resources as an opportunity.
  2. "I don't want to fail."
    Embracing a growth mindset, innovators see failures not as dead ends, but as feedback
    loops. Each misstep offers invaluable insights, guiding them closer to their goals. They
    understand that organizational growth and development is a journey fraught with uncertainties, and the key isn't to avoid failure but to learn, adapt, and persevere in its wake.
  3. "There's no support from the top."
    While executive buy-in can be beneficial, it's not always necessary. Innovators find a
    way to take initiative, pilot projects, and gather tangible results to demonstrate value.
    By showcasing the potential impact of their ideas, they can organically garner the
    support and resources they need to scale their efforts.
  4. "It's always been done this way."
    Tradition can be a strength, but it shouldn't be a shackle. Innovators constantly
    challenge the status quo, asking "why is it like this?" and "is there a better way to do it?"
    By blending respect for established practices with a curiosity to explore uncharted
    territories, they strike a balance between stability and evolution.
  5. "I don't have time."
    Time, like any other resource, is about allocation and prioritization. Innovators are
    proactive in carving out "innovation pockets" within their schedules. These dedicated
    slots—whether used for brainstorming, researching, or simply reflecting—are sacred,
    allowing time, like any other resource, is about allocation and prioritization.

The new age of business demands an innovator mindset not only from a select few but from everyone.
Whether you're in the mailroom or the boardroom, innovation is the new standard operating
procedure. So, to all my friends across the organizational spectrum: It's time to step up, sideline
those excuses, and let your innovative spirit shine.

Innovation #NoMoreExcuses #OrganizationalGrowth

In my journey from a 2.5 to a 4.5 tennis player, I've learned a profound lesson that goes beyond
the boundaries of the tennis court: The immense value of deliberate practice.

It would be easy for me to spend hours on the court, hitting ball after ball, hoping to improve.
In fact, that's how I spent my spring and summer.

While time and effort are commendable, they alone aren't enough for substantial growth.
That's where the magic of deliberate practice comes in.

Deliberate practice is a concept that was popularized by Anders Ericsson, who studied the
habits of top performers across various fields. Ericsson's research showed that with the right
type and amount of practice, most people can achieve exceptional levels of skill and
performance in almost any organizational coaching domain.

But it only works if you follow this very specific kind of practice (I outline the steps at the end of
this post).

I had my first lesson with a coach about 3 weeks ago, and my body was so sore after that I kept
saying, "what have I been playing all this time???" My body was just not used to the
movements he was asking me to do!

That's my coach Elliott, in the picture.

Improving Alone vs. With a Coach:

When trying to improve on our own, we rely heavily on self-assessment, which can often be
clouded by our biases or limited perspective. In contrast, a coach provides an external and
experienced viewpoint. They see the nuances in our techniques, the small yet significant errors
in our form, and the habits that hold us back.

I've grown more in my abilities over the last 3 weeks than I have in my first 6 months of playing

Here's how:

With a coach's guidance, our practice sessions become more targeted. They guide our focus,
correct our mistakes in real-time, and introduce drills tailored to our needs. This structured and deliberate approach to organizational coaching through leadership coaching services ensures that we're not just practicing but practicing right. The result? A faster and more efficient improvement trajectory.

For anyone out there striving for excellence, be it in tennis, a professional field, or a personal
hobby, remember this: While passion and persistence are crucial, the guidance of a mentor and
the discipline of deliberate practice can be the difference between slow progression and
accelerated mastery.

And if you want to know if you're taking advantage of deliberate practice, consider these
important elements:

  1. Purposeful and Structured: Unlike casual or unstructured practice, deliberate practice is
    always purpose-driven. There's a clear goal for each session, and it's not just about
    repetition but about aiming for improvement in specific areas.
  2. Feedback Loop: One of the hallmarks of deliberate practice is the constant feedback.
    This could be from a coach, video recordings, or other external tools. The feedback
    allows for immediate correction, which is pivotal for learning.
  3. Challenging and Outside Comfort Zone: Practitioners of deliberate practice consistently
    push their boundaries. If a task becomes easy, it's a sign to move onto something more
    challenging. This ensures continuous growth.
  4. Mental Engagement: It's not enough to just go through the motions. Deliberate practice
    demands complete mental focus and consciousness. One has to be aware of what
    they're doing, why they're doing it, and how it can be improved.
  5. Iterative Nature: The approach is all about small, incremental improvements. You
    identify weaknesses, work on them, get feedback, adjust, and then practice again.
  6. Limited Duration: Contrary to the notion that more hours automatically lead to
    improvement, deliberate practice emphasizes quality over quantity. It's often intense
    and requires breaks to avoid burnout and to allow for mental and physical recovery.

In contrast, here are the potential issues with solo practice:

  1. Can Lack Direction: Solo practice, unless guided by prior knowledge or resources, can
    sometimes lack a clear goal or structure. It's more about repetition and less about
    targeted improvement.
  2. Limited Feedback: Without external input, there's a risk of cementing wrong techniques
    or habits. While one can still self-assess, it's challenging to catch all mistakes or nuances
    without an external perspective.
  3. Comfort Zone: Solo practitioners might fall into the trap of practicing what they're
    already good at because it feels satisfying. However, growth often comes from
    addressing weaknesses, which we might avoid or be unaware of.
  4. Variable Engagement: Without structure or feedback, it's easier to become mentally
    disengaged, turning practice into a routine activity rather than a focused learning
  5. Duration-Based: Solo practitioners might measure their progress by the amount of time
    spent practicing, which can sometimes lead to long hours with limited actual

I'd love to know if you've ever taken advantage of deliberate practice through leadership coaching services to master a skill.

And stay tuned for more insights on my journey. The road to 4.5 continues!

The role of meeting planners is quickly evolving from individuals who orchestrate gatherings to those that curate experiences.  And in an era of ever-evolving audience expectations and shortening attention spans, it's time to expand the role to include "experience designers".

It's not just about meeting logistics anymore; being a guest speaker for corporate events is about crafting a memorable experience from start to finish.

Why Event Planners Need to Create Memorable Events

  1. Enhanced Information Retention: Cognitive science suggests that experiences tied to strong emotions or unique occurrences are more easily remembered. Memorable events, therefore, ensure that attendees not only receive information but retain it better, maximizing the event's impact.
  2. Evolution of Audience Expectations: Modern attendees seek more than just information; they crave memorable experiences. With exposure to a plethora of well-curated digital events and interactive platforms, the bar has been raised. Audiences want events that inspire, engage, and remain etched in their memory.
  3. Fostering Passion: A memorable event can kindle or deepen an attendee's passion for an organization or cause. When participants walk away feeling inspired and connected, they become more enthusiastic advocates, sharing their experience and championing the organization's mission.
  4. Building Long-Term Loyalty: Memorable experiences encourage attendees to return. If they had an unforgettable time one year, they're more likely to sign up for subsequent events, ensuring a consistent and loyal audience base year after year.

As a guest speaker for corporate events, the key to crafting unforgettable experiences is to start thinking of an event as a storyboard. Much like a filmmaker plots the journey of their hero, planners should think about their attendee's experience as a scene-by-scene story line.

My corporate event planning checklist helps identify the main 'scenes' or touchpoints of an event, we can meticulously sculpt each moment, adding elements of surprise, emotion, and personalization, and ensuring that it leaves a lasting impression.

Specifically, the best event designers think of the following three elements:

  1. Harnessing Multi-Sensory Engagement: As our understanding of memory and recall deepens, it's clear that engaging multiple senses enhances retention and enjoyment. This could be anything from the ambiance and lighting of a room to the tactile materials used in workshops, or the smells we bring into an event.
  2. Incorporating Surprise Elements: The human brain is wired to remember anomalies. By introducing unexpected moments or elements into an event, experience designers ensure these moments stick in attendees' memories.
  3. Prioritizing Co-Creation: Involving attendees in the creation or decision-making processes of an event can lead to increased ownership and a feeling of belonging. This approach not only fosters engagement but can also lead to invaluable feedback and ideas.

Want to put these elements into practice?

I was recently a guest speaker for a corporate event of members from PCMA and MPI to brainstorm 100 different ideas to make our events memorable.  We broke down the event journey into the following scenes: the lead-up to the event, arrival, the main content, the departure, and post event follow-up. For each scene, we shared things we've done or seen that could make any event stand out.

I've turned that discussion into a handy corporate event planning checklist. It's a treasure trove of inspiration to make your next event truly memorable. Download it below!

Remember, every event is an opportunity to tell a story, craft an experience, and leave a mark. As we embrace the role of an experience designer, we're not just planning meetings—we're creating memories that will resonate for a lifetime.

When it comes to life's trajectory, most of us spotlight our wins. But what if we began viewing our growth through the lens of opportunities we consciously sidestepped? 🤔

In our hustle and bustle world, almost everyone has a résumé. It's that trusty document, detailing our proudest moments, like a passport stamping our professional journeys. But, what if there's another side to this story? 

Enter: The Reverse Resume: the goal setting and professional development plan I use to test whether I'm being innovative enough as a professional. 

The Balance of Choices

While a conventional resume lists our achievements, the Reverse Resume is the flip side; this goal setting and professional development plan captures all the opportunities, projects, and endeavors we’ve turned down.

And the driving force behind this concept? Growth.

The Yearly Review

Each year, I pull out my reverse resume, taking a moment to reflect upon the array of opportunities I’ve declined. And here’s the catch: I want this list to be more impressive with each passing year. If the opportunities I'm saying no to are amazing, it’s a clear indicator that the ones I’m saying yes to are of even greater value and alignment to my goals.

By turning down the good, I’m holding out for the great career growth opportunities.

The Strength in Saying "No"

So, the next time you're faced with the difficult decision of declining a good opportunity, don't wince in hesitation or regret. Instead, celebrate that addition to your reverse resume, for it's a testament to your evolving standards and unwavering vision.

The Reverse Resume isn't about reveling in missed chances but celebrating the growth that leads us to make better choices. Remember, as you evolve, so should your boundaries.

Be proud of what you decline, for it is a sign of what truly matters.

Embracing The Reverse Resume Approach

If you're intrigued by this concept, here's how you can start:

  1. Document Opportunities: Begin by jotting down the significant opportunities you decline. These could range from job offers, project collaborations, or even academic pursuits.
  2. Reflect Periodically: Set aside time each year to review your Reverse Resume. Delve into the reasons behind each declination. Were they aligned with your goals? Were they distractions masquerading as opportunities?
  3. Measure Growth: Compare the career growth opportunities you've declined with those you've accepted. Has there been a shift in the quality or alignment of opportunities over the years?
  4. Seek Feedback: Share your Reverse Resume with trusted mentors or peers. Their external perspective might offer insights into your growth trajectory and decision-making process.

Concluding Thoughts

The Reverse Resume serves as the negative space of our lives, highlighting the paths we consciously choose not to tread. This goal setting and professional development plan is a celebration of discernment, alignment, and growth. While the world might laud us for our achievements, let's also take pride in the opportunities we've declined. 

After all, they are the clearest indicators of what truly matters to us.

Have you experienced any reverse resume moments lately? Reflect upon them, for they are the signposts guiding you towards an even more purposeful journey.

While growth only occurs in a state of curiosity, it's equally important to acknowledge that it's not effortless to get into a state of curiosity through the fixed mindset and a growth mindset.

In fact, if we aren't mindful about it, we can find ourselves in various states that inhibit growth:

1. Apathy or Complacency: Apathy or complacency is a state characterized by a lack of interest, enthusiasm, or motivation. In this state, we become indifferent or resigned to our circumstances, leading to a diminished drive for growth.

Apathy can result from feeling stuck, disengaged, or overwhelmed, and it can impede progress by hindering the desire to explore new ideas, seek opportunities, or invest in personal development.

2. Fear and Resistance: Fear and resistance arise when we are hesitant to step outside of our comfort zones or take risks. These states often stem from a fear of failure, rejection, or the unknown.

When we are consumed by fear and resistance, we may avoid challenges, new experiences, or opportunities that could lead to growth. Instead, we remain confined within familiar boundaries, limiting our potential for advancement.

3. Fixed Mindset: A fixed mindset refers to the belief that abilities and qualities are fixed traits that cannot be significantly developed or changed. Those with a fixed mindset tend to avoid challenges, ignore constructive feedback, and view setbacks as personal failures.

This state can hinder growth by stifling the curiosity and openness necessary for embracing new ideas, acquiring new skills, and persisting through obstacles by exploring a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.

4. Overconfidence or Expertise: While confidence is essential for growth, excessive overconfidence or feeling like the expert can hinder progress. When we believe that we have all the answers or that we have reached the pinnacle of our abilities, we become resistant to feedback, new perspectives, and opportunities for growth.

This state can lead to complacency and a reluctance to learn from others or challenge our assumptions, limiting our potential for further development.

5. Distractions and Busyness: In today's fast-paced world, we can easily become consumed by distractions and busyness. Constantly focusing on mundane tasks or superficial activities without making space for introspection or deep engagement can impede growth.

This state can prevent us from allocating time and energy to pursue meaningful learning experiences, reflect on our progress, or invest in intentional personal and professional development.
While these alternative states of a fixed mindset and a growth mindset may hinder growth, it's important to recognize that they are not permanent conditions.

As a business growth keynote speaker, Diana Kander helps cultivate self-awareness, embracing curiosity, and actively working towards a growth mindset, we can shift away from these limiting states and create an environment conducive to continuous growth and development.

The Big Idea:

It's the story of one man's experience in 4 different concentration camps over 3 years. He details the brutal, unimaginable treatment that he endured, the loss of everyone he loved, and how, through all of that, he didn't lose meaning in his life. A practicing psychiatrist both before and after the war, he explains that having meaning, much more than striving for pleasure or power, will help you get through life's challenges and allow you to be happy.


In 1942, just nine months after his marriage, Frankl and his family were sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. His father died there of starvation and pneumonia. In 1944, Frankl and the surviving members of his family were transported to Auschwitz, where his mother and brother were murdered in the gas chambers. His wife died later of typhus in Bergen-Belsen. Frankl spent three years in four concentration camps.

While head of the Neurological Department at the general Polyclinic Hospital, Frankl wrote Man’s Search for Meaning over a nine-day period. The book, originally titled A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp, was released in German in 1946. The English translation of Man's Search for Meaning was published in 1959, and became an international bestseller.

The book is 50% his account of surviving in the camps and 50% his theory of Logotherapy that he believes is a better psychiatric approach to dealing with neuroses like anxiety and depression.

Top 10 Takeaways:


Final Thought:

            I am so moved after reading this book that I don't want it to leave my side.  Like I literally want to carry it around in my backpack wherever I go.

            I just never want to forget how I felt reading it. The thoughts of what we as humans a capable of doing to others and at the same time what we are able to survive while maintaining our humanity.

            And I didn't mention it above, but I don't want to forget the story of Dr. J – You can never predict the future actions of a man. People can change in radical ways.

Other quotes I loved:

I set a goal to do the splits this year.

I've never done the splits.  I'm not even close. Here's my laughable starting photo.

And yet the goal doesn't really matter.

What matters is my mental model of how I, Diana, learn to do new things. Sometimes impossible seeming things. And my real goal is to learn the flaws in this model and update it using the splits as my vehicle. 

Setting and achieving your goals are nothing more than wishes.

And even if you have a plan for accomplishing your goal, that's not as strong as having a mental model for how you as a person generally achieve goals.

This Goals Achievement Mental Model would include answers to the following questions:

  1. Have you set and achieved similar goals in the past? If not, let's start at ground zero of what might be going wrong. If you do have a track record of setting and achieving goals, then what has helped you get to the finish line?  Was it the right methodology? A coach? An accountability buddy? Journaling about your experience? Public pressure? (That last one is my go-to 😂)
  2. Have you consistently built new habits to achieve your goals in the past? How much time can you really commit to each day or each week? What does it take for you to create new habits?
  3. Have you been able to overcome challenges or setbacks in the past? Have you hit roadblocks in your previous pursuits? (I can't think of a goal I've set and achieved without – at several points in the process – feeling completely disillusioned and ready to give up.) What do you do in those challenging situations?  What helps you power through?
  4. Have you sought out support or guidance when you needed in the past? If you've never done something before, you're likely starting with a terrible game plan on how to get there. What has worked for you in the past to seek out guidance to make progress and get over hurdles?

My goal is not just to achieve new things each year, it's to refine my philosophy about how I achieve things. Tweaking my mental model each year gives me a clear roadmap to follow, making it easier to stay on track and avoid getting sidetracked or discouraged.  And it helps me spend my time better.  I'm dedicating 15 minutes a day to doing the splits.  That's a very big return on a minimal output.

So, while the setting and achieving your goal itself may be important, your personal methodology of how you accomplish goals or resolutions is a lot more valuable to your long term growth.  If you can upgrade your mental model for achieving goals each year, you'll find that your growth becomes exponential.  

Don't get me wrong, I do want to hear about your New Year's Resolutions! It's fun to go for big things!  It's just that the goal itself doesn't interest me nearly as much as your mental model to get there.

Many of our daily actions are habitual, meaning they are performed automatically and without conscious thought. It's a useful way for us to save mental energy and streamline tasks that are performed frequently.

These automatic actions are often based on our learning mental models, which are the assumptions, beliefs, and frameworks that we use to make sense of the world around us. They are like little formulas about how we believe things are supposed to work.  

Here's a simple example:

Except this mental model is actually incorrect. Salt doesn't make your water boil any faster (unless your pot is filled with 20% salt).  If you want your water to boil faster, it would be smarter to just start with hot water.

And we have tens of thousands of these theories, big and small, secretly governing many of our actions. Here are just some of the categories they fall into:

But we haven't spent much time articulating exactly what our philosophies are in these areas. We're just mindlessly acting based on these hidden rules, instead of using a strategic mindset. 

When I was in high school, one of my health learned mental models (thanks to some brilliant commercials) was that the key to being physically fit was drinking as much milk as possible.  Do you remember those, "Milk, It Does a Body Good" commercials?  They were very effective.

And when I didn't make the team because I was frothing at the mouth during tryouts (this is what happens when you drink nothing but milk for two days and then engage in aerobic activity!), I didn't question the mental model.  I blamed the coaches for having too much running and not enough shooting drills during tryouts. I also declared that I just wasn't a runner.  But I held onto that milk philosophy for a decade until I started proactively learning about health and fitness.

We protect these assumptions by never questioning them. Where did they come from? Are they working for us? Do they need updating?

And yet learning mental models determine how strategic we are in our actions.  If our philosophies are accurate and helpful, they can guide us toward big wins. On the other hand, if our mental models are flawed or limited, they can lead us down the wrong path and prevent us from achieving our goals.

Or, in the words of Charlie Munger, "You get further in life by avoiding repeated stupidity than you do by striving for maximum intelligence."

So how do we update our mental models? Here are three methods:

Method 1: Updating our questions

1. When you ask a question that you ask often, reflect on whether you’re getting the kind of response that you’re hoping for.  

Ex: You ask your kid after school how their day was. They say "Fine." You try again. You ask them, "What was the best part?" or "What did they learn?" They don't remember. It feels like a very unsuccessful interrogation. These questions and learning mental models that make you think they should be working aren't serving you.

2. Try some other questions instead to see if you get a better response. Ask others about what questions they use to accomplish the same goals.

One question that has worked well for me is: "How was your day on a scale of 1 to 10?"

Method 2. Mental Model reflection

1. Identify an area of your life that you would like to grow or improve. (It's not too late for New Year's resolutions!)

2. Make a list of all the mental models you currently have about that subject and see which ones might need to be updated or might not be serving you.

3. Seek out new perspectives on these philosophies. Consider asking for feedback from others.

4. Update one mental model at a time and come up with a way to test the new approach.

Method 3. Inspiration

1. Find a source of inspiration that regularly challenges your existing learned mental models. My monthly newsletter attempts to do just that. Ask This Not That is a monthly dose of question makeover – in which I take one common question and offering an alternative that could help you get much better results.

2. Join a group of people who like to talk about this topic. There are strategic mindset groups on both LinkedIn and Facebook.

Whatever method you choose, understand that the quality of your strategic thinking is determined by the life philosophies swimming around in your head. Identifying and upgrading these mental models can help you make better decisions, solve problems faster, and identify big opportunities.

took review of think again by adam grant

The Big Idea:

To beat the overconfidence effect in yourself and others you need to argue like you're right but listen like you're wrong.


Adam Grant was the youngest tenured professor at Wharton School, receiving tenure at the age of 28. He specializes in organizational psychology. He has been Wharton's top-rated professor for seven straight years.  

He's authored four New York Times Bestselling books.  Think Again is his latest work, published in 2021. It has 12,000 customer reviews on Amazon, averaging 4.6/5.

Fun fact: Grant was named an All-American springboard diver in 1999 and he worked as a professional magician during college.

Top 3 Takeaways:

  1. The smarter you are, the more likely you are to fall for overconfidence and the harder it is to see your own limitations.
    • "The goal is not to be wrong more often. It's to recognize that we're all more often than we'd like to admit, and the more we deny it, the deeper the hole we dig for ourselves."
  2. To check your overconfidence, you should think like a scientist.
    • This means seeing your ideas as hypothesis that require testing and retesting.
    • It helps to define yourself by your values rather than your opinions. People often feel as if admitting they are wrong about an opinion is somehow letting themselves down. If you remove your opinions from your self-concept, and instead identify with values like curiosity and flexibility, changing your mind will be a lot less scary.
    • Invite others to question your thinking.
  3. Strategies for helping others change their mind:
    • Use fewer arguments. Don't think of all the reasons you are right, the fewer strong points you make the more likely you are to succeed.
    • Use questions to convince rather than statements. Here are three examples of better questions:
      1. Question how rather than why. When people describe why they hold extreme views, they often intensify their commitment and double down. When they try to explain how they would make their views a reality, they often realize the limits of their understanding and start to temper some of their opinions.
      2. Ask "What evidence would change your mind?" You can't bully someone into agreeing with you. It's often more effective to inquire about what would open their minds, and then see if you can convince them on their own terms.
      3. Ask how people originally formed an opinion. Many of our opinions, like our stereotypes, are arbitrary; we've developed them without rigorous data or deep reflection. To help people reevaluate, prompt them to consider how they'd believe different things if they'd been born at a different time or in a different place.


Final Thought:

I don't know of another business book that more people have owned but not read. Which is ironic. I was one of those people. My neighbor Becky kept telling me how much it aligned with my curiosity work, and in my head I was like, "Yea, yea, I teach this stuff, what could I possibly learn?" And the answer is quite a lot. 

This book should be required reading for every senior leader. And it would be of significant value to parents, teachers, politicians, and those of us who don't want to stop growing and improving ourselves.

Noteworthy Quotes:

That's a very small percentage of organizations that have a purposeful way to say what matters and doesn't matter in their culture. How will new people learn what they should strive for? How will they know what's rewarded? Culture is something we have to reinforce on a continual basis, not just from the top but from every part of the organization! What are you doing to operationalize your values? 

Click 👉 "Follow" for daily #Innovation Insights! #InnovateWithDiana #InnovateEveryday #growth #strategy #curiosity #leadership

Let's talk about the importance of milestones in our innovation projects! It's hard to keep our team's engagement and enthusiasm up when they are just expected to come and try their hardest each day with no milestone to celebrate! It's impossible really. It's demoralizing. So what can you do instead? Create small milestones that we can celebrate as a team and use as triggers for reflection and improvement!  What do you think? How important are milestones? 

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Doing innovative work is hard. And a large percentage of the time things might not work out. If you want to keep doing innovative things, it's important to master the skill of properly mourning the failure! Otherwise, we can fall victim to shame, denial, or avoidance. I'd love to share a quick tool I came up with to help me reflect on something that didn't work and use it as a stepping stone to future efforts! Just comment below and let me know you want one, and I'll send it your way! Click 👉 "Follow" for daily #Innovation Insights! #InnovateWithDiana #InnovateEveryday #growth #strategy #curiosity #leadership


This is very exciting and scary to share!  Ten years after selling my last company, I think I've got a business idea I'm very interested in starting. But I need your help.  All I want to do is work on logos and marketing materials, but I know better.  I need your advice on what you would do to make sure this was the right business idea to jump into!  I'm asking you to help me run a pre-mortem on my idea! To help me safeguard myself from letting the infatuation I feel impact my decision making. What would you need in place to decide to jump in? What kind of questions would you ask? Thanks in advance for your help!  Click 👉 "Follow" for daily #Innovation Insights! #InnovateWithDiana #InnovateEveryday #growth #strategy #curiosity #leadership

You can't manage secrets! Please watch this incredible case study from Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford Motor Co. on how to get people to share their problems so your organization can solve them! Click 👉 "Follow" for daily #Innovation Insights! #InnovateWithDiana #InnovateEveryday #growth #strategy #curiosity #leadership

Your performance zone is different than your learning zone. We don't grow and improve when we are performing. We have to put time aside for it to happen.  That's why playing golf or tennis or whatever other sport you love for the last 20 years hasn't really improved your game.  The same is true at work. Just doing your job doesn't improve your skills. You have to put time aside to get into the learning zone and work on something specific! On your calendar, label the time you'll set aside to grow and reflect as "Learning Zone". It doesn't matter how much time you have available to this right now as long as you put it aside and label it! Click 👉 "Follow" for daily #Innovation Insights! #InnovateWithDiana #InnovateEveryday #growth #strategy #curiosity #leadership

Mixup's happen. But it didn't have to be this big of an oops. Either your organization waits for a big failure to stop and reflect what could have gone better, or we make these reflections and lessons learned a part of our successful efforts. "Vaccine production is a notoriously fickle science, and errors are often expected to occur and ruin batches. But Emergent’s mistake went undiscovered for days until Johnson & Johnson’s quality control checks uncovered it, according to people familiar with the situation." It's especially important to find ways to work better from our successful projects when everyone feels safer to share!  Click 👉 "Follow" for daily #Innovation Insights! #InnovateWithDiana #InnovateEveryday #growth #strategy #curiosity #leadership

Will you capitalize on your Covid innovations or will things just go back to how they were?  So many organizations have achieved impossible feats over the last year, making fast progress in ways they thought could never happen. 🏋️♂️ And if we don't stop and reflect on what we want to take with us into the new normal, we'll just go back to the slow ways of the past!  My friend, and fellow innovation consultant, Dr. Simone Ahuja, shares some powerful insights into how organizations can capitalize on their agility over the last year. Please check her out!

The thing about blindspots is that you'll never learn what they are until you make space in your life to find out. We all have a list of things we need to work on, but there's an even more important list of things we aren't even aware of that will help us get to our goal FASTER.  This is the origin story of how I discovered the value of understanding our blindspots and what it did for my company!  I'd love to hear an important blindspot you've uncovered! Please share below in the comments!  Click 👉 "Follow" for daily #Innovation Insights! #InnovateWithDiana #InnovateEveryday #growth #strategy #curiosity

Do you have a solution in search of a problem?  One easy way to tell is to ask potential customers how much time or effort they've gone to in order to solve this problem! Does this solution work? ---- This is the wrong question!  Is it beautiful?  I mean, look at it! But still cold!  But will customers pay for it?! -------- Ah!! You're close, but that's still not the right question. Have customers already paid for something else to solve this problem that didn't quite work?! ------- Ding! Ding! Ding! That's the ticket!  Click 👉 "Follow" for daily #Innovation Insights! #InnovateWithDiana #InnovateEveryday #customerdevelopment #growth #strategy #curiosity

Customer Interview Tips!  The process you use to find potential customers to interview will give you insights into the sales process later on! If it's difficult to directly get a hold of them now, just to ask some questions, it will be even more difficult to try to sell them something. If you think of your offering as a business model rather than a product, you will be much more open to finding these creative ways to get to your customers! Click 👉 "Follow" for daily #Innovation Insights! #InnovateWithDiana #InnovateEveryday #customerdevelopment #growth #strategy #curiosity Improve Customer Service

This is a really important tip about creating psychological safety!  If you are feeling frustrated by something at your work place, I promise you that there is someone on the other side of that issue who is feeling just as frustrated - but with their own story.  You might think you're doing a great job of hiding your disappointment.  You might think that you're doing them a favor by not bringing it up. But you're communication your negative feelings loud and clear. You're just unaware that you are doing it.  Rather than scheduling a meeting to talk about all the things that didn't work for you, could you try to schedule a moment just to hear their side?  There might be a process breakdown, something simple that you can fix together, that might prevent these kinds of issues from repeating!  Click 👉 "Follow" for daily #Innovation Insights! #InnovateWithDiana #InnovateEveryday #management #growth #leadership #curiosity

Why do transformation efforts fail 80% of the time?  Because the more innovative the change, the more likely it is to trigger fear in your workplace.  Most change efforts make an assumption that people will come around once they experience the change, or once they see momentum growing, or once they hear the compelling case for its importance. But the cultural roadblocks I talk about in this video are so much more powerful!  Can you believe there are 17 different things we fear at work?!  Innovation and change can't happen without courage.  And we have to fill up the courage tanks of our teams BEFORE we can implement change and disruption efforts!   Click 👉 "Follow" for daily #Innovation Insights! #InnovateWithDiana #InnovateEveryday #management #growth #leadership #curiosity

What's an easy way to increase curiosity and innovation in your organization? Bring in curious outsiders! I love this partnership between the Louisville Airport and the University of Louisville to use students and faculty as innovation catalysts! There are 3 reasons these types of partnerships can be powerful: 1. They aren't burdened with "the way we've always done it" and can look at pervasive problems with fresh eyes (example: things like developing runway surfaces with extended lifecycles). 2. They can identify things that "aren't broken" but could be significantly improved (i.e. elevating airport terminal operations and passenger movement efficiency through technology). 3. They can connect with other innovators doing similar work to significantly expedite their learning curve! (Pittsburgh International Airport has a similar relationship with Carnegie Mellon University). What do you think?! What are some other advantages of this partnership? Click 👉 "Follow" for daily #Innovation Insights! #InnovateWithDiana #InnovateEveryday #management #growth #leadership #curiosity

How do you bring humility and a change of perspective to your boss?  You'll never convince them with your words. You have to create experiences for them to come to the right conclusions on their a SAFE way. Innovation consultant, Barry O'Reilly, does an excellent job of demonstrating how to do this! Think about the right experience you can create vs. the argument you should make! Click 👉 "Follow" for daily #Innovation Insights! #InnovateWithDiana #InnovateEveryday #management #growth #leadership #curiosity

If you want to create psychological safety on your team, please watch out for LOADED words!  There are some terms that we use that carry so much weight that they sabotage what we are trying to achieve.  For instance, just saying "get me a draft" to a colleague can trigger a lot of fear.  You might be unaware of their previous boss that expected perfection with each draft, and yelled when they didn't get it. You might be unaware of their self created perfectionist tendencies. So if you want to make your teammate feel SAFE to get you just an idea of what they are thinking to make sure they are on the right track, then try using a NEW word that doesn't carry so much baggage!  Something like: - a prototype - a sketch - a shitty first draft Using terms that aren't loaded will allow you to really define them for your team! Click 👉 "Follow" for daily #Innovation Insights! #InnovateWithDiana #InnovateEveryday #management #growth #leadership #curiosity

Is feedback working in your organization? Proper feedback loops are the secret to a innovative and agile culture. In this short video, Sheila Heen offers an amazing tip on how to kick off change efforts to address blindspots and improve feedback. So eternally grateful to Sheila for this amazing conversation. Sheila is a lecturer at Harvard Law School, a New York Times Bestselling author, and CEO at the Triad Consulting Group! Please check her out! And click 👉 "Follow" for daily #Innovation Insights! #InnovateWithDiana #InnovateEveryday #management #growth #leadership #curiosity

“This is a safe place!” There is so often a disconnect between these words and our actions. This video really speaks to me because I feel like I’ve been in attendance at this kind of meeting dozens of times. The team leader has the right instincts. They want the right things. But there’s a disconnect between their behavior and their words. What would you do if you were working with such a leader. How could we help increase their self awareness?

Psychological Safety is Annoying! There's just no two ways about it. Don't just think that you'll tell your team you want to hear what they think and it'll be all high fives and group hugs. They are going to challenge you. They are going to criticize your well researched, well thought out proposals. They are going to steal your thunder. But they will make the idea better. They will make the project more successful. They are going to exponentially multiply what you could accomplish with just your ideas alone. Psychological safety is annoying. But building amazing things is so much more fun than being right.  Click 👉 "Follow" for daily #Innovation Insights!

#InnovateWithDiana #InnovateEveryday #management #growth #leadership #curiosity

The biggest lesson I've learned from Steve Jobs is the power of saying no. And not just any no. It's easy to say no to things you don't want to do. The hardest thing to do is say no to the things that interest or excite you but at the same time distract you from focussing on what's most important at the moment. You've done the hard work of setting resolutions or creating a strategic plan for the year. What are you going to stop doing to make those a reality? Comment below and let me know what you're going to say no to to make your big plan come true! #InnovateWithDiana #mindset #leadership #success  #personaldevelopment

For the past 60 years the financial services industry has been booming. Since 1980, year over year growth rates tripled and large entities flourished as smaller competitors crumbled. With low interest rates and new regulations, banks grew quickly as the rest of the marketplace piggybacked off their success. Savvy and risk-averse business men and women flocked to the industry; a career in financial services seemed like a safe bet.

Such a prolonged period of success is both a blessing and a curse. What made the financial services sector soar has also been responsible for nearly crippling it and taking our economy with it.

Here Comes Trouble

By succeeding for so many years – practically a lifetime in the business world – financial service firms remained virtually untouched while other industries were being disrupted. This made them dangerously comfortable. The strategies that once promoted growth stopped working in the same ways in today’s hyper competitive economy.

As an innovation keynote speaker, I understand how ignoring changing tech and forgoing innovation experts for “guaranteed profits,” created the ideal environment for disruption.

In stark contrast to large, collateral backed loans, today’s financial innovators focus on small and specialized services like micro-loans, peer to peer lending, and small business lines of credit. The walls that once separated consumers from their finances gave way as startups like Square, Stripe, Coin, and Dwalla eliminate fees while providing new value.

Even business we typically wouldn’t consider part of financial services got into the game and expanded the field of competitors. Home Depot now offers loans for home remodeling projects. Starbucks and Chik-Fil-A created an app to speed-up payments and create financial loyalty. Walmart, Google, Apple Pay, Paypal are now viable forms of currency. The threats are ever increasing, and the financial services industry isn’t prepared to innovate and adapt.

The Expert Trap

While it's not fair to blame success for the impending doom, it is important to address the traps of reaching expert status. Yes, being really good at something, being an expert, can be what stifles innovation.

Enter: The Expert Traps. The silent and unseen killers of creativity and creation. When we feel like experts at what we do, the following traps await us:

Trap #1: We Stop Trying to Learn and Improve

Confidence in your skills is important. We’d all like our bankers, lawyers, and employers to be good at what they do. It’s a valid and honorable trait. However, when confidence grows without limits and exceeds its true skill, we lose the incentive to improve.

And this is what suffocated innovation experts in the financial industry. Big banks and firms were killing it (as in, they were raking in the profits). They were the best of the best; taking the time to reassess their offering would have only distracted them from continuing to win. Or so they thought.

As an innovation keynote speaker, I understand how this dangerous confidence convinces experts that it isn’t necessary to test and question the status quo. Hubris whispers “You know what you’re doing. You’ve got the track record to prove it.” While the beginner or the novice looks for opportunities to improve, the expert believes they will always be the best of the best, even as their stock prices plummet. This is one of the reasons they never saw the 2008 collapse coming.

Trap #2: We Don’t Examine Our Successes

Looking backward is a no-brainer when we lose. We can learn from our mistakes. Being a loser incentivizes us to examine what went wrong. But when we win, the opposite happens. Why look back when the future's so bright? By assuming the win was a result of perfect strategy and execution, you could ignore big opportunities to improve.

Winning is awesome. You will never find me happy with a loss. However, constant improvement and innovation experts demand we approach both losses and successes as a beginner. And a beginner never stops reflecting. If a beginner receives unexpected praise from a superior, the novice will ask, “What did I do and how can I do it again?”

So hold your head up high. Things are going well! Now turn around and take a hard look at how you got there. Can you repeat it? Was it luck? And most importantly, what could you have done better? Ask the hard questions and live to succeed another day.

Trap #3: We Play it Safe

Ah, to be the best of the best. It feels great to be at the top. So great, in fact, you’d rather not look down. Falling from such heights could be deadly.

For many in the financial industry, reaching the top triggered the instinct to survive. How can we avoid falling? What can we do to stay absolutely still and not compromise our position? Delaying or completely avoiding action feels like the safer option when you’ve fought so hard to get there.

But a beginner has nothing to lose. The beginner defaults to action, to responsible experimentation and seeing what happens. For the beginner, the opportunity to learn something new is more motivating than potentially making a mess. Failure is inevitable for a beginner, so why not try?

This doesn’t mean beginners experiment with reckless abandon, the goal is success after all. Beginners forgo guaranteed success in favor of growing their abilities. Innovation experts hunker down and hold their position, even if it means ignoring an oncoming catastrophe.

 The Systematic Solution

Understanding the traps is a great first step. But it’s not enough. Research on cognitive biases shows that being aware of biases/expert traps doesn't do much to reduce their effects. All of the above traps happen subconsciously. Trying to “watch out” for the traps is just as difficult as “watching out” for how you’re breathing while you sleep.

The only way to control for the traps of success and expertise is to implement guardrails to keep your work on the right path. Here’s what I suggest:

1. Look for Negative Evidence

When you’re making a decision or choosing a strategic direction, assign someone to challenge your bias for a particular direction. The military calls them red teams, some in business call them a devil's advocate, and I call them provocateurs. Either way, find an individual or team of outsiders who have no vested interest in your project. They care enough to help, but not enough that they will be affected by the outcome. These innovation experts are in the best position to open your eyes to blind spots.

2. Retrospectives to Examine Success and Failure

Schedule a meeting at least once a year to look back at your project or company and examine the processes and results. Retrospectives create a structure for reflection, learning, and planning. No matter how well things are going, A Retrospective shows you how to correct glaring strategic mistakes that are invisible when you’re executing on day-to-day activities. I’ve used this process countless times and if you’re not sure where to start, you can use my 20+ page guide to running a successful Retrospective here.

3. Experiment

The most innovative companies are only so because of constant experiments. Experiments to see if they can improve things that are already working well. Experiment to find solutions to pervasive problems. Experimentation increases the velocity of decision making. It helps kill or change projects that aren’t working and lowers the cost of finding solutions. The best experiments use the scientific method, and if you’re not sure how to set up your next test, check out my innovation keynote speaker template here.

Complacency is the enemy of innovation experts. The more comfortable you are, the less you work to improve and create new value. And complacency always takes its toll. As the pace picks up, the expert falls behind. Only those focussed on constant growth and improvement, even in good times, will be the ones to achieve sustained success.

Adopt the mindset of a beginner, build your retrospective strategy, and never stop fighting to improve. If you never settle, you will never peak! Let’s make the financial services industry boom for another 60, shall we?

Three years ago, I was coaching a successful company that was very confused about the failure of a recent product launch. When I was first hired, they told me they were convinced they had done everything by the book.

Before developing the product, the company held five focus groups with potential customers to make sure they were going in the right direction. After the product received positive feedback from each of the focus groups, the company spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in a little over a year to bring the product to market.

The product launch was disappointing to say the least. No one—not even the focus group participants who said they were interested—bought it. This experience is one of the most financially painful experiences in innovation, but it’s an experience that can be easily avoided.

In this example, the company was very excited about its new product idea. That excitement was obvious during the focus groups when moderators asked client feedback questions like, “Wouldn’t it be great if [blank]?” and, “Don’t you think [blank] is a big problem?”

Leading questions like these broadcast the answers you’re hoping to hear to your interview subjects. And as we’ve covered before, once your interview subjects understand what you want them to say, they are very likely to give you the answer you are hoping for, even if they don’t actually believe it.

Leading client feedback questions often result in false positives that waste money, time and opportunity.

After the company’s new product failed, they let me create an open-ended interview questionnaire to contact their target market. Not only did they find how to talk to customers, that the problem their product aimed to solve never existed, but they discovered that their product created new problems that they had not foreseen!

Use Open-Ended Questions to Identify Migraine Problems

Your customers’ natural inclination is to be nice, not honest.

Open-ended questions give your potential customers the option to respond very honestly and to fully explain the problems they’re facing (that your product may or may not solve). For example, you might ask someone, “Wouldn’t it be great if you never had to scoop your dog’s poop during walks?” If they’re a dog owner, chances are they will say yes. But if you ask them, “What have you done to solve that problem?” they will probably say they haven’t tried anything other than using bags they get from the grocery store.

When you use open-ended client feedback questions effectively, you’ll know you’ve hit a real migraine problem when the customer tells you it’s a problem without your prompting and then explains what specific actions they’ve taken to solve the problem.

Leading questions that broadcast the answers you want to hear:

Open-ended questions start with less direct language:

They also avoid biased language, like ”Do you agree that…” or “Don’t you hate it when…”

Comfort, Conversation and Active Listening

Not only do open-ended questions elicit more honest answers, they often make the customer more comfortable. No one wants to be interrogated, and few people want to be sold. Open-ended questions demonstrate to someone that you know how to talk to customers and care what they think. It makes it obvious that your agenda is to learn, not to convince.

Unlike leading questions, open-ended client feedback questions turn the interview into a conversation. While your customer is talking—and if your questions are good, they may talk for a while—give them verbal and physical responses, like saying, “Uh-huh” or nodding your head. Talk as little as possible; you’re here to learn.

But in order to learn, you need to listen. Actively listen for any pain points, not just the one you expect to discover, and dig deeper when you’ve found one. You can do this by asking more direct questions:

Be Open, But Stay Focused

Even though open-ended client feedback questions can have a wide range of answers, the questions should still be focused. For example, if you have an idea for a client relationship management tool, you shouldn’t start by asking, “What are the three biggest problems in your life?” Instead ask the interviewee to tell you about how they keep in touch with potential and current clients. “Tell me about the tools that help you do that.” “Are there any that don’t work as well as you wanted?” After answering those few questions, you’ll have enough information to ask them to walk you through the process they followed for the last prospective client they targeted. “How did you hear about them?” “What did you do after the first contact?” “How did you stay in touch?”

By asking focused, unbiased, and open-ended questions during the initial interview—and digging deeper on pain points—you’ll have information you can immediately use to more effectively pursue the right ideas, and avoid ones that won’t work.

(Note: This is the second installment of a multipart series on conducting customer interviews and discovering true migraine problems.  And check out the first article in the series.)

Ok, you’re on the bandwagon. You understand that you need to a get to a new level when it comes to understanding your customers and finding their migraine problems. You need to understand them better than they know themselves.

Here’s the thing: When you go out to interview customers, they are probably going to LIE to you.

I’ve lost count of how many companies I’ve seen fail while insisting that everyone they’ve talked to loved their idea. They think they’ve conducted the customer interviews they needed, but they didn’t understand one of the most important rules to customer interviews:

People’s natural inclination is to lie during interviews

Think about the last time a friend told you about their “brilliant” new idea that you thought was really dumb. Were you 100 percent honest with your friend? I bet you weren’t. You, and most people, would probably lie a little bit to get out of the awkward situation. It’s a lot like that for your customers. Their natural inclination is not to be completely honest with you during an interview. They want to figure out the answer you’re looking for and give you that answer so they can leave the conversation as soon as possible. Customers don’t lie to be malicious; it’s just the opposite.

Here are three main reasons customers will lie to you:

1.   They want to spare your feelings

They can clearly see how passionate you are about an idea, and they don’t want to be the one person to hurt your feelings.

When I was pregnant with my son and trying to decide on names, I conducted a fun experiment. I wanted to see what people really thought of the names my husband and I were considering, so when someone asked me what I was naming my son, I would give one of two responses. To one group, I said I wasn’t really sure, but I liked names like Branch, Major and True. To the other group I would say I was naming my son True, and that I was really excited about it. I quickly found that the two groups reacted very differently to my responses. When I told people I was still deciding, more than 90 percent would tell me they didn’t like any of the names I had picked. But when I acted excited about one name, over 90 percent of people told me they loved the name True and would go on and on about how unique it was. Obviously I wasn’t hearing the truth from everyone.

With my son’s name, I was just conducting an experiment. I didn’t really care what people thought. But, when you’re talking about starting a company, hearing the truth from customers is vital to your success. The problem is, if they can sense the answer you are hoping for, they will jump to give it to you.

2. They want to get out of the conversation

The key to understanding your customers real pain and current ways of solving existing problems is to get them talking.  You want to ask them open-ended questions that will elicit a lot more valuable details than the response to the specific question.  (More on open ended questions coming soon – make sure you are subscribed to get the article)

Now, think about the last time you got a call from a telemarketer trying to solicit a donation or get you to respond to a survey.  I bet with every question they asked, you went through a mental Rolodex of responses that might make the call end as soon as possible. You weren’t thinking of the real answers to their questions, let alone additional information they might find useful.  You were feeling uncomfortable and willing to say anything just to get it to end.

Most customer interviews are the same.  If you don’t do a good job of getting them comfortable and engaged before starting to ask them questions, they will just be looking for the fastest way to exit the conversation, and usually that means saying something like “That sounds awesome, I would probably buy that.”  They know that if they disagree with anything you said that you’ll want to argue with them, so they know that by agreeing with you and telling you how great your idea is, you’ll have no option but to end the conversation and go finish building your new product.

3. They want to seem smart

Many times when you present your idea, you’ll outline all the different ways it can benefit their lives, putting your potential customer in a situation where they look dumb if they disagree with you. For instance, you can tell them all of the money they are wasting each year from poor insulation in their home and all the benefits your product could provide to solve it for them.  What could they say?  “I don’t really care about all that money I’m wasting.” Or “I don’t really care about the environment.” Instead, they would likely try to save face by telling you how interesting it sounds and how they will think about buying your product.  They aren’t going to.  They just don’t want to look dumb, uncaring, or uninformed.

You have to trick people into telling the truth

Once you know that your customers are inclined to lie to you, your whole strategy should change. Your objective should be to trick them into telling you the truth, and to make it hard for them to lie by keeping them in the dark about what you’re really after. It’s the difference between asking someone’s opinion on a few ideas you’re considering and asking their opinion on one idea in which you obviously have a vested interest.

Interviewing customers is one of the most difficult steps in the entrepreneurial process. It’s not as exciting as launching a website or raising money. The truth can hurt too, especially if customers don’t end up liking your big idea. But, the only thing worse than not talking to customers is talking to customers who you don’t realize are lying to you.

What does it feel like to have a terrible business idea? The kind where people laugh behind your back as you walk away? Take a moment. Think about it.

It actually feels a lot like having the world's best business idea…right up until the moment when the market tells you that you don’t have anything anyone wants.

I meet with a lot of founders that don’t have any idea how to figure out whether they have the world’s best or dumbest idea.

After starting a number of companies of my own, and meeting with entrepreneurs at all stages of the startup journey, I’ve come to believe that the ability to differentiate good ideas from bad ones and massage bad ideas into profitable companies is like being physically fit. The vast majority of us aren’t born fit. We have to train, practice, and push ourselves to get good at it.

When I was in high school and college I completely ignored all forms of exercise. But I was lucky, I was a pretty skinny kid. People would always say to me, “are you a runner? You look like one!” and it happened so frequently that I came up with a funny quip back. I would say, “I run from danger!…and nothing else!”

So one day, I was walking my dogs, and I thought to myself, “Self, if there was danger on this street, could you in fact run from it?” I decided to test my assumption and I took off running. I sprinted as fast as I could. I sprinted for two whole blocks until I had to stop and throw up. And after I was done, I thought, "Man, danger would have kicked my butt."

That day I learned that it’s pretty easy to make bad assumptions. Just because a lot of people tell you something is true – that you look like a runner – doesn’t necessarily make it so.

Your startup idea is no different than my perceived ability to run from danger. The only way to prove or disprove your idea’s likelihood for success is to test your assumptions. And whether or not this current idea makes it, you’ll be developing the muscle memory to validate future ideas.

No innovator fails because they couldn’t build their product.  They fail because no one found value in what they built.

Here’s what usually happens when someone gets a new idea:

  1. Their mind starts racing with all the possibilities of what it could turn into, the impact it could have on the world, and all the money it could generate.
  2. Next, they begin executing on their idea.  All of their focus is internal, working hard to come in on time and on budget.  They need to make this product amazing. First impressions are everything!
  3. Then, they work on marketing.  The product needs a catchy name and logo.  It needs beautiful collateral both online and offline. This has to look innovative!
  4. Finally, they take the product to market and, more often than not, get an extremely lukewarm reception.  So they blame marketing, and they blame the product for not having enough features.  Sometimes they bring new members onto the team and start the cycle from scratch.  Sometimes they just run out of resources and the project gets mothballed.

Sadly, this is the typical cycle of innovation.  Most new initiatives fail.

But successful innovators know that they have a very powerful tool at their disposal to significantly decrease the risk of innovation: experimentation.

Experiments are small bets that you make to see if what you believe to be true is actually true - to see if your predictions about the customer and the market are right.   It’s something small that you do today to prove that you are spending time and money on the right things . . . on building something that people will buy.

In All in Startup, the reader meets Owen after he has followed the very process outlined above and wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars and a year of his life building something that wasn’t meeting any of his projections.  What could he have done before he committed his available resources to executing his plan, to make sure customers would be waiting for him when the product was ready?  He should have run some experiments!

But the hardest thing about experiments is running them correctly.

Here are some guidelines about what a good experiment looks like.

To run a good experiment, you need to determine and document these five elements before you begin:

1. The Goal

What is it that you’re trying to learn? Or what are you trying to prove? What are the riskiest assumptions you’ve made about your idea? For Owen, his riskiest assumption was that people would buy half-priced, used bicycles online.

2. The Hypothesis

Your high school science classes taught you what you need to know for this part. This is a statement that you’re trying to prove true or false through the experiment.  The result will be a “yes” or a “no” so you need to phrase your hypothesis appropriately.

For example, a good hypothesis would be based on this setup: “If I do this action, then this outcome will happen.”

The key is to make sure that your Hypothesis helps you get closer to the Goal you outlined above and reduce the risk of your riskiest assumption. The hypothesis can help you test whether you have identified the right customer segment, whether your target customers actually have the pain point you think they do, whether they perceive enough value in your solution to buy it, whether your solution actually solves their pain point, whether you’ve identified the right channels to target your customers, whether your supplier cost estimates are accurate, whether you’ve chosen the right price point for your product, etc.

The biggest mistakes in putting together a hypothesis include:

  1. Creating a hypothesis that isn’t measurable and lacks a clear beginning and end (ex. “People want to eat healthier”);
  2. Creating a hypothesis that isn’t about a specific group of customers (ex. Everyone wants a car that gets at least 30mpg);
  3. Creating a hypothesis that doesn’t help you reach your goal (ex. “If I send this survey to 100 people, 10% will fill it out”); or
  4. Creating a hypothesis that isn’t refutable, meaning that it’s difficult or impossible to prove it false (ex. “Restaurants want more customers”).

Some example hypotheses Owen could have created:

3. The Subject

Who are you targeting with the experiment? How are you filtering who will participate and who won't? For instance, if Owen puts up a landing page to see if people interested in road bikes will want to buy his bikes, what kind of information is he gathering on the landing page to make sure that the right people are seeing his messaging before he decides whether it's working or not?

Tip: If you are having trouble limiting your target subject for the experiment, try first listing out people who wouldn't fit into your target subject. I.e., for Owen it's people who want to buy a $100 bicycle at Walmart or Target or perhaps people who are interested in roadbikes but have never actually purchased one because they think they are too expensive.

4. The Logistics

How are you going to conduct your experiment? What’s the time period? How do we know when the experiment has started and has finished? How many people will you target? Who will carry out the experiment?

A key question to ask yourself here is: is this the least amount of time and effort I can spend to test this hypothesis? Remember, this is supposed to be a small bet you can afford to lose.  Too many people think their experiment is building a lighter version of the final product – taking 6 months to put together.

You should be able to run your experiment in under 2 weeks. I will frequently push my innovators to come up with a hypothesis and figure out a way to start the experiment within 24 hours.

5. The Currency

Something of value that the subjects of your experiment have to give you in order to prove whether your hypothesis is true.

The key is that it be something painful for them to give up in order to demonstrate their sincerity.  This can include anything from money to time to a commitment of certain resources.  Basically anything that demonstrates customers will be willing to part with something they value in order to obtain the product or service you’re offering. You want to make sure that they aren’t just trying to be nice to you or lying about their intent for some other reason.

When you are trying to de-risk an idea, the worst kind of evidence you could gather is a false positive (i.e., perceived interest from people who don’t actually see value in your product) because it gets you excited about moving forward and going All In on the idea. Simulate a world where your product already exists, and see if your customers will give you the currency you think you deserve.

In the Owen hypothesis examples above, Owen is asking for specific actions, a commitment of money or commitment of time to demonstrate whether he’s identified the right customer segments, marketing channels and distribution channels.

6. The Success and Failure Criteria

Before you begin your experiment, it’s important to define what success and failure will look like.  If success is having 25 percent of customers give you currency, what does it mean when only 15 percent provide it? Has your experiment failed?

You need to set up these parameters before you begin the experiment, so that you’ll objectively understand the outcome and not be forced to debate what the results mean with your team.

Additionally, a friend of mine, Justin Wilcox, suggests that innovators write out two separate plans of action to pursue depending on whether the experiment reveals the hypothesis to be correct or incorrect. He emphasizes that this should be done before conducting the experiment.  Some people have such a hard time deciding what to do if an experiment doesn’t go as they had planned that they end up making up a justification of why it was a success and allowing themselves to keep moving forward on their idea.

OK. Those are the elements you need to determine and document before you begin your experiment. And while this experiment framework can seem cumbersome, remember, it is your single greatest asset in reducing the risk that goes with creating something new.

I’ve been thinking about my first motorcycle accident. I’m not counting the time when I drove my Kawasaki Ninja to my friend Eric’s house and, while showing it off, fell over and needed his help to pick it back up. No, this was a lot more serious

I was attempting to make a left turn at a light and I think I must have slipped in something greasy on the ground, lost control and ended up running the bike into the curb. As I hit the curb, I flew off the bike and landed on my head and shoulder. My head was ok, but I really hurt my rotator cuff in my right shoulder. It’s been acting up a lot lately, so I’ve been reminiscing over the accident.

Riding a motorcycle is really dangerous. And some of the navigation is extremely counter intuitive. For instance, if you want to make a left turn while traveling above 5mph, you need to push the handlebars in the opposite direction (to the right) in order to turn left. It feels really weird when you first do it. And it takes a lot of practice to get used to it. I can’t really explain to you why it works, but I know that it’s counter to everything your gut instincts tell you.

We’ve all heard the story about the boiling frog. That if you put a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will instantly jump out, but if you set the frog in a pot of cold water and slowly turn up the heat, it will gradually cook to death. (For the record, this is one experiment I’ve never conducted. No frogs were harmed in the writing of this post.) The frog story is how I think about motorcycle riding and entrepreneurship.

Motorcycles are obviously dangerous. They're like the pot of boiling water. But entrepreneurship can be just as detrimental to your health as riding motorcycles; it’s just a lot more subtle. I’ve seen people lose their life savings, their relationships, and their health struggling to “make it” as an entrepreneur. To some extent, I’ve experienced each of these stresses myself through my entrepreneurial journey. It’s just hard to see when you are in a pot where the water is getting hotter and hotter, where the amount of risk you are getting yourself into is growing and growing.

And as is the case with riding a motorcycle, there are several counterintuitive principles you have to master to succeed as an entrepreneur. Just like pushing the handlebars in the opposite direction of the way you want to turn, there are things you need to do to be successful as an entrepreneur that feel totally unnatural, counter to your instincts, and downright hard to explain.

The most important of these counterintuitive principles is that people buy solutions to their problems, not products and services.

The more serious the pain you can solve, the more it means you can charge for your product. You can bank better margins, enjoy much shorter sale cycles, and spend a lot less on sales and marketing because your customers will be evangelizing the product on your behalf through powerful word of mouth testimonials.

Sounds pretty good, right? But unfortunately, 95% of entrepreneurs don’t follow this simple rule. That number is probably even higher than 95%, but I want you to keep reading and not get hung up on it.

It’s not that most entrepreneurs deny that solving problems is important. It’s that they go out of business because they build solutions for problems that don’t actually exist.

Here’s what usually happens:

An entrepreneur will get an idea and start thinking of all the possibilities of what it could turn into, the impact it could have on the world, and all the money it could generate.
Next, they will build the product. They spends a lot of time and money trying to build the most comprehensive version of it, rarely showing it to anyone because they want it to be perfect before potential customers see it. First impressions are everything!
Then, they brand the idea. They spend time and money developing a catchy name and a logo, purchasing a domain, building a website, creating marketing materials, etc. This has to look professional!
Finally, they go out looking for customers and, more often than not, strike out big time, causing them to realize that something is wrong with the initial idea. They revisit the idea and start brainstorming how to make it better. And then they repeat step one through four all over again, spending a lot of time and money, without making any forward progress.

This is the startup loop of despair. It can last anywhere from a few months to a few years, and it usually ends when the entrepreneur finally runs out of money. When they are fully cooked!

But successful entrepreneurs know that the startup loop of despair is completely avoidable. They know that once you come up with a great idea, the very next step should be to find potential customers and determine if your product is even worth building.

There is only one way to diagnose whether your idea solves a real problem. You have to conduct a Problem/Solution Fit Test.

A lot has been written about this process, but many still have trouble applying it because it’s so counterintuitive. It feels weird and awkward and it’s hard to know when you are doing it right. So I wanted to break it down and try to do my best to explain it.

What exactly are we testing?

Two things.

1. The Problem – Does a specific group of customers have a migraine problem?

2. The Solution – Does my solution solve the problem?

How are we testing these two things?

We actually use different tools for each part of the test.

1. Diagnosing migraine problems is most effectively done through customer interviews. Believe it or not, customer interviews are extremely tricky because both you and the customers are coming into the conversation with a number of biases, so we have to conduct them in a very specific way to make sure we are getting honest feedback that we can use.

2. Solution testing is best done through objective experimentation. Humans are terrible at predicting the future. So we can’t really interview our customers to understand if the solution will work. We have to find a way to simulate the future and objectively test how customers will actually behave.

Conducting the Problem/Solution Fit Test before building your product will guarantee that you will build a product people actually want by figuring out which features and benefits are the most valuable. Above all, this means your startup will actually generate revenue.

But what about Henry Ford and Steve Jobs?

I get asked this question a lot. You’ve heard the quote, Henry Ford once said that if he were to ask people what they wanted, they would have said “faster horses.”

He’s totally right. You can’t ask people what they want. They are terrible at predicting the future and sometimes they plain out lie. But you can ask them about the past or the present. About current problems they are facing. And if Henry asked potential customers if they had pain about trying to find transportation to their jobs or to visit friends or family, they would have talked his ear off about all the different things they’ve tried to solve the problem.

Ok, and what about Steve Jobs? Most people think he never tested any of his products. He must have predicted what we would want!

Yes, Steve Jobs is a genius. There is no doubt about that. He beautifully combined art and technology, but not all his guesses about what the people wanted were right. The original Macintosh that Jobs created was a failure. It didn’t have a fan because Jobs thought it distracted from the calm of the computer and ended up frying all of the internal parts. The Lisa computer he created was also a failure. His NEXT company, created another personal computer that was a huge flop. But he had something like a hundred million dollars from his initial success and the ability to make lots of big bets without going broke.

If you don’t have tens of millions of dollars you can afford to lose just trying out different startup ideas, then you’re not Steve Jobs.

But here’s some good news. You can use the Product/Market Fit Test to significantly de-risk your bets before you go all in. The best way to de-risk an idea is to make sure people want it before you spend too much time and money creating it. If you aren’t solving a migraine problem, you’ll need to spend a lot of time and money educating people about your existence and and convincing them that they can benefit from your product. It’s very expensive to convince people that they need or want something that they really don’t.

When All In Startup first came out, I put together a list of customer interview rules to help entrepreneurs conduct the Problem/Solution Fit Test. You can find the original list here. Since then, I’ve received hundreds of follow up questions. So I’ve decided to spend the next few posts diving deep into the process of interacting with your customers.

Whether you are an entrepreneur with a crazy idea or a large company with thousands of existing clients, the upcoming articles on interacting with your customers will help you significantly de-risk your business.

You will learn:

To make sure you receive these posts when they become available, subscribe here. And please either send me an email or add a comment to this post to let me know specific questions you have about the process to make sure I answer them.

I have a small confession to make. As I thought about the bike accident over the last 15 years, I’ve always said there must have been some grease in the road to slip me up. Some kind of discharge from a car that made the road hazardous. But as I was writing this post and thinking about my experience level at the time, I think that it’s much more likely that I hesitated. That I went with my gut and what my instincts were telling me to do instead of following the framework that I knew would be effective.

I know how scary it is to start something new. I know what it feels like to put everything on the line. I’ve felt the pain of what happens when your instincts take over. My objective is to help both you and me find a way to follow the counterintuitive rules of the road to get us all home safe.

Thanks for reading.

Corporate innovation is all the rage these days. With plenty of money and time at their disposal, employees have ample resources to create the next big thing. But before they commit too many resources to an idea, these intrapreneurs can learn a lot from successful entrepreneurs who operate with fewer resources.

Innovation within a corporation comes down to two factors:

1. How employees generate ideas (problem-oriented vs. solution-oriented ideas)

Do you remember the Segway? The Segway is a two-wheeled, battery-powered machine that makes even the most popular kid in school look like he sits alone at lunch.  What I’m saying is you look dorky riding the thing.  There’s something about you not putting in much effort while standing and gliding down the street that just makes people uncomfortable.

When the Segway first came out, it garnered lots of attention. Steve Jobs predicted the Segway would be bigger than the PC. John Doerr, a prominent venture capitalist who backed Netscape and Amazon, said it would be bigger than the Internet. With this level of hype, the company raised more than $90 million. But it’s grand unveiling was a huge disappointment. It took the company its entire first year in business to sell the number of Segways it predicted it would sell every two weeks.

The company had generated a solution-based idea. The Segway was a shiny, new technological advancement…that nobody wanted. The product didn’t solve a problem for the customer. Most companies that are unhappy with the results of their innovation programs are generating these same kinds of solution-based ideas. They start with a technological advancement or a brain storming session that produce a product, and then they try to figure out who might want it.

They’re so excited to have created something new that they forget that no one necessarily asked them to create it in the first place. They just assume that if they build it, the customers will come. Unfortunately, that seldom happens.  What innovative employees – or intrapreneurs – do differently is come up with solutions inspired by their customers’ problems.

Instead of taking stabs in the dark and guessing what people might like, why not go directly to your customer and figure out for sure? When Paul Buchheit at Google created Gmail, he did just that.  He came up with a problem-based idea. Instead of modeling his email platform after others on the market (looking at competitors to see what features and benefits to include), Paul listed out all the problems he thought the existing solutions created for users.  The existing email platforms had limited storage space, were hard to search through and were slow to load data. By designing Gmail around these problems, Paul created something that generated a lot of value to email users.  He initially designed the gmail platform for his own use, but when others in the company saw it, they begged him to let them have access to the functionality he created.  And when Gmail became public, users flocked to the service because word of mouth marketing was so powerful at explaining its value.

Word of mouth marketing only works when people feel compelled to spread the word – and that compulsion is borne out of feeling that a product has solved a tangible problem. Gmail wasn’t just different to be different.  It was different in a way that generated a lot of value for its customers. So much value that they wanted to tell people about it at school or work.

1. How employees generate ideas (problem-oriented vs. solution-oriented ideas)
Do you remember the Segway? The Segway is a two-wheeled, battery-powered machine that makes even the most popular kid in school look like he sits alone at lunch.  What I’m saying is you look dorky riding the thing.  There’s something about you not putting in much effort while standing and gliding down the street that just makes people uncomfortable.

When the Segway first came out, it garnered lots of attention. Steve Jobs predicted the Segway would be bigger than the PC. John Doerr, a prominent venture capitalist who backed Netscape and Amazon, said it would be bigger than the Internet. With this level of hype, the company raised more than $90 million. But it’s grand unveiling was a huge disappointment. It took the company its entire first year in business to sell the number of Segways it predicted it would sell every two weeks.

The company had generated a solution-based idea. The Segway was a shiny, new technological advancement…that nobody wanted. The product didn’t solve a problem for the customer. Most companies that are unhappy with the results of their innovation programs are generating these same kinds of solution-based ideas. They start with a technological advancement or a brain storming session that produce a product, and then they try to figure out who might want it.

They’re so excited to have created something new that they forget that no one necessarily asked them to create it in the first place. They just assume that if they build it, the customers will come. Unfortunately, that seldom happens.  What innovative employees – or intrapreneurs – do differently is come up with solutions inspired by their customers’ problems.

Instead of taking stabs in the dark and guessing what people might like, why not go directly to your customer and figure out for sure? When Paul Buchheit at Google created Gmail, he did just that.  He came up with a problem-based idea. Instead of modeling his email platform after others on the market (looking at competitors to see what features and benefits to include), Paul listed out all the problems he thought the existing solutions created for users.  The existing email platforms had limited storage space, were hard to search through and were slow to load data. By designing Gmail around these problems, Paul created something that generated a lot of value to email users.  He initially designed the gmail platform for his own use, but when others in the company saw it, they begged him to let them have access to the functionality he created.  And when Gmail became public, users flocked to the service because word of mouth marketing was so powerful at explaining its value.

Word of mouth marketing only works when people feel compelled to spread the word – and that compulsion is borne out of feeling that a product has solved a tangible problem. Gmail wasn’t just different to be different.  It was different in a way that generated a lot of value for its customers. So much value that they wanted to tell people about it at school or work.

Like Gmail, most successful products are built to solve problems. These problem-based ideas can only be found through customer interaction. You know you have a potentially great idea when you identify a group of customers who are ready, willing and accessible. Ready customers have identified a problem and are interested in fixing it, willing customers have taken steps to fix the problem in the past and have a budget to address the problem, and accessible customers are people you can easily reach. When you seek out this trifecta of customer interest for a problem-based idea, your product will practically sell itself.

2. How employees determine which ideas to pursue 

Webvan is one of the most famous examples of a seemingly good idea that flopped. In 1996, Webvan launched an online grocery delivery business on the theory that people would pay money to avoid the hassle of grocery stores. Webvan spent hundreds of millions of dollarsbuilding an infrastructure (warehouses, technology, sales/marketing) based on a business plan that should have worked. But it never took off, and eventually the company went bankrupt in 2001. The online news site CNET went on to name Webvan the worst dot-com failure in history.

The Webvan story follows a plan-based approach to business that is commonly taught in business school. You write a business plan, see whether the numbers add up, and predict the success of a business based on this creative writing exercise. The plan-based approach seldom works because innovation is iterative. Your first business plan won’t be perfect, but most people don’t give themselves enough resources to make necessary pivots. Instead, many companies spend all their money to build a perfect product that is often a failure.

Entrepreneurs with the most positive results, however, know their company will be a success before their product ever hits the shelves. Instead of trying to predict the future, these entrepreneurs try to play detective by using an evidence-based approach to innovation. Theevidence-based approach determines customer demand and value of a product through experiments with actual customers. Simply by using this approach, the creators of Webvan could have launched a successful company or, at worst, abandoned the idea and saved hundreds of millions of dollars.

Zappos, an online shoe retailer founded in 1999, is the opposite of Webvan. Before the company spent a dime on building its infrastructure, it made sure it had customers by verifying a willingness among customers to buy shoes online. In the beginning, founder Nick Swinmurn would take pictures of the shoes available at local stores and post them on Zappos’s website. After a customer made a purchase online, Nick would return to the local store, buy the pair of shoes at full price and ship the shoes out manually. Before Zappos had built a single shipping warehouse, it was able to prove that its business model would work. This evidence-based approach is what prevented Zappos from becoming Webvan.

A few years after Webvan closed its doors, Zappos was acquired by Amazon for $1.2Billion. Swinmurn’s early experiments, while time consuming, obviously paid off. It’s important to verify that customers will actually pay for your product. A customer can easily give you an email address or a verbal agreement to buy your product, but real “currency” is different. When a customer gives you something that pains them, like money, time or an endorsement, you have strong evidence that your product is highly valued.

With everything on the line, entrepreneurs with access to little capital are under heightened pressure to build a moneymaking product on the first try. The best entrepreneurs reduce risk and expense by generating ideas that solve a problem and verifying those ideas with customer-backed evidence. This approach is often used out of necessity by entrepreneurs, but successful employee-driven innovations result from mimicking this method within the corporate environment. A problem-based idea and evidence-based approach is essential for innovation anywhere. Whether you have one employee or 5,000, the pain of innovation can be both eased and energized by following the example of successful entrepreneurs.

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