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Author: Basant Kumar

Innovation You Can Eat

At refine+focus, we believe in the power of storytelling. Sometimes, all it takes to tell an impactful story is the right analogy.  

It’s a simple tool that can instantly create clarity by bringing together unexpected ideas and spotlighting the connections between them. One of our favorite analogies combines two of our passions: cooking and innovation.

 

Our Story

We at refine+focus are not just experienced innovators—we’re also proud foodies. We love traveling the world to eat, discovering the best restaurants and learning about the unique cultural traditions that inform different cuisines. Most of all, we love bringing what we’ve learned to our own kitchen. 

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One of the most important elements we bring to the kitchen is our innovation mindset. Our very own Purnima is an accomplished amateur chef, and she uses her innovation skills to craft dishes that often fuse elements from different cuisines. It’s at the point of fusion, where different traditions, practices, and ideas intersect, that unexpected value can be found. That’s as true of business as it is of cooking. 

@oneglobalchef on Instagram

Innovation You Can EAt

All the things you do in innovation can apply to your approach to cooking great meals, and vice versa. Here are just a few ways how:

Planning with flexibility. Like cooking, innovation requires planning. But in both cases, it’s important to embrace the potential to be wrong—you’ll need to make room for change in your plan in order to respond dynamically to the inevitable stumbling blocks along the way.

Test and learn. Both cooking and business innovation are a test-driven blend of art and science. Whether you’re developing a new dish or a new product, you’ll need to go through many iterations and learn from your mistakes along the way to be able to improve your skills and get the results you want.

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Combining elements. In the same way that standout chefs create new dishes by experimenting with flavors and techniques, business innovators develop novel business models and value propositions by blending original ideas and practices with existing ones. In both cases, it’s the spirit of fusion and experimentation that leads to unique and unexpected results. 

Catering to audiences. Customer satisfaction is one of the most important aspects of both innovation and cooking. You’ll need to profile your audience in order to create dishes and products that resonate with each customer’s unique palate and sensibilities. Their feedback is just as significant to improving your results and creating a memorable experience.

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try it yourself

By using cooking as a mental framework to think about innovation, it’s possible to open up a whole world of new ideas and connections. It also makes innovation, a term that many find daunting, more accessible and digestible. We hope this analogy encourages you to gain inspiration from unexpected places and enriches both your cooking and your business practices.

hungry for more?

We find innovation in unexpected ways. Last week, we explored one of those ways: innovation in the kitchen. Check out our latest Lunchtime Live session to hear Zach and Purnima discuss favorite dishes, finding new ideas and delight and surprising your audience. Then, discover how this applies to our business & yours.

From Plan to Action

You’ve done the research, planned the plan, and developed a strategy. You’re ready to move into the action phase—and here’s how you ensure your success.

From Plan to Action

Pay attention to the handoff. The people involved in the planning phase aren’t always the ones involved in the execution phase. That could result in misalignment and varying objectives. Prioritize communication between different folks in the project so that all parties have a realistic understanding of the budget, timeline, and ability of the people on the ground. Remember that the baton is best passed when both people are running.

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Embrace the unknown. Assume that the world is going to change as you carry out your strategy. De-risk your plan by building uncertainty into it and being thoughtful about what’s coming ahead. When you lean into change, you turn it into a positive force and make room for learning along the way.

Keep the big picture in mind. When moving from strategy to action, you might be tempted to just focus on the bottom line. But the strategic context of the plan is just as important as the tactical action steps it outlines. Imagine a good plan as a connected system: it doesn’t just tell you what to do, but provides a map for the project’s greater vision. You formed your plan within a greater context, with a specific goal in mind—now let that guide your execution. 

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Benchmark your progress. Stay focused on what matters by benchmarking your progress against your strategy. Use it as a point of reference for any new insights you gain from the field, so when you find yourself faced with “What-if’s,” you stay grounded and maintain your clarity of vision. 

Celebrate milestones. It could be a PowerPoint submitted at a particular stage, or a key decision made at the right time. Establishing milestones, whether big or small, will bring people together and create clarity to keep your project on track.  Aim to develop milestones that have momentum behind them by paying attention to their framing—it should be more about bringing things to life rather than checking the boxes.

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try it yourself

The road from plan to action doesn’t have to be a rocky one. As you turn your strategy into execution, try these tips to refine and focus your process. Having trouble? Let’s figure it out together—shoot us an email at hello@refineandfocus.com.

want to learn more?

Churchill said, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” You deserve a beautiful strategy, that works! Check out our latest Lunchtime Live session to hear from Zach and Purnima on best practices in turning thoughtful strategy into effective execution.

Ask Better Questions

There are generic and overused questions, and there are questions that resonate, excite, and cut through. Asking the right questions can stop people in their tracks and even lead to a transaction or a new business opportunity.

We at refine+focus have seen firsthand the power of a good question to transform and enrich communication. Whether it’s in a business or personal setting, here’s how you can enhance your questions to get the results you want.

 

Ask better questions

Aim to evoke emotions, recall memories, and pique interest. Set up imagery and context that asks respondents to use their imaginations—more space for creativity and consideration leads to more meaningful and unexpected insights. 

Imagine you’re a DJ trying to improve your set. Which of the following sparks more curiosity: “What makes a great DJ?” or “When is the last time a DJ played a song you loved?”

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Determine your intention. It’s not always the case that the question with the highest response rate is the most valuable—it could be that the one with the least responses has the highest conversion rates. That’s why you need to know your intention before you set out. 

Ask yourself, who is my audience? What’s the real reason that I’m asking my question?

Tailor your technique. Asking a question is the just first step in a series of engagements. Having a conversation with someone is much more about them than what you’re trying to achieve through them. The more background you have on a person, the better you can refine and focus the questions you’re asking. 

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Our step by step method

1. Start with the result. If you have a very small window with someone, you need to know what your end goal is. Once you’ve determined that, move on to step two.

2. Consider what you need from the person. Ask yourself, what are the various reasons why this person might be inclined to help me achieve my desired result? It might be shared histories, similar backgrounds, or a favor owed to you. Keep this in mind for step three.

3. Formulate your questions. Cater to your audience. What gets them excited? What questions can you ask in this window of time that will get them most inclined to take the end action you want them to take? 

4. Design a sequence. Start with something direct, immediate, and easy to answer. Build off of that as you get more clues about the person and as you build a rapport with them. The order in which you ask your questions is just as important as the questions themselves.

5. Make your ask. Asking targeted and evocative questions will create the ideal conditions for your desired results. Remember that the best answers come from a place of engagement.

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try it yourself

Questions are the mechanism you can use to get you to a better place. Start collecting questions—the ones that make you think, that ask you to use your imagination, that get you eager to keep the conversation going. 

Create a list of the questions you think will excite your audience. What do the people you reach actually want to answer? What kinds of questions will motivate them to respond? Don’t stop at 5 questions—go for 50. 

These tips may be familiar to you, but we’re inviting you to actually try them out. Let us know how they go for you—shoot us an email at hello@refineandfocus.com. We’d love to hear from you.

 MORE ON asking better questions

Are your questions helping you gain clarity? In our latest Lunchtime Live session, Zach and Purnima go over practical situations from a new perspective and introduce helpful approaches to asking better questions. Learn how better questions lead to better answers, better outcomes, new insights, deeper learning, and more meaningful connections in our latest video.

Why A Few Succeed At Innovation When Many Fail

Every so often we have been asked questions like how to survive crises or how to adapt when circumstances change so quickly.

The answer is simple. You learn to innovate, continuously and consistently. You may be great at tech innovation, but if you don’t consistently learn to match your tech innovations to changing market needs, you cannot succeed continuously, especially not during crises.

To survive changing and adverse circumstances you need a well developed muscle of business innovation.

 

become a serial innovator

Like cooking, business innovation is a test-driven blend of art and science. It takes trial and error, testing multiple times at a small scale, learning from failure then doing it on a large scale. It’s easy to learn but difficult to master, and it’s even more difficult to make money from it. 

Many people think they can innovate, but few are real chefs. Those are the serial innovators. Over the past sixteen years we at refine+focus have learned what distinguishes their success from the failure of others.

We’ve come up with a checklist of the five key ingredients you need in your innovation kitchen, so you know exactly what it takes to become a serial innovator.

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five key innovation ingredients

A culture of forgiveness, not fear. Innovation involves failure. It’s a key part of the test-and-learn model. When people embrace the potential for failure, they feel unafraid to make mistakes and learn from them. Your team needs to feel empowered to make decisions, take actions, and come up with new ideas—which is why an environment of mutual trust and respect is so important.

No silos, whether industrial or internal. Hierarchy should only exist on paper or in principle not in ego and attitude, especially not in ideation. Successful teams are cross-functional, they support each other, they learn from each other. They never say “it’s not my job.” Same attitude has an even bigger impact in companies that work without industrial silos. They adopt models from other industries. If others in your industry aren’t learning from other industries, this is the biggest advantage you can have over your competition.

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An environment of curiosity and learning. Building an innovation muscle takes consistent exposure to new and different ways of thinking. Create space for continuous learning in your organization by striving for efficient people and time management, so employees have the time and energy to dedicate to learning. In short, everyone doesn’t have to be present in all meetings, and every tiny decision shouldn’t need big meetings.

Teams where everyone is an outsider in some way. Diverse teams are the most innovative. You cannot solve a problem the same way and expect new results. The best teams bring a multiplicity of perspectives together to unlock creativity and generate new ideas. There’s a range in race, age, gender, skills, background, and industry experiences. Don’t rely on surface-level definitions of diversity to guide your efforts; strive for authenticity and a genuine appreciation for differences.

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Consistent Investment. It’s not enough to invest in innovation in the short-term. Aim for smaller, long-term, consistent investments over huge one-time investments. Just because one project failed one time, doesn’t mean you should cut its funding. Consider review-learn-improve instead. Innovation requires investment even through crises, when it seems unnecessary or when the project didn’t succeed. The serial innovator works through failure, is comfortable with ambiguity, and stays adaptable under all circumstances.

 

GET STARTED

Do you have all the ingredients you need to become a successful serial innovator? Missing an ingredient? We are happy to talk to you and help you find that ingredient. Send us an email at hello@refineandfocus.com—we’d love to chat.

 MORE ON serial innovation

Check out our latest Lunchtime Live session to hear from Zach and Purnima on how to build a strong innovation muscle.

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