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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. 

Via Unsplash

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.

Via Unsplash

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.

Via Unsplash

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.

Via Unsplash

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. 

Via Unsplash

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.

Via Unsplash

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?”

Via Unsplash

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. 

Via Unsplash

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.

Via Unsplash

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.

Tell Better Stories

Not the same stories with more tools, or the same stories on different marketing channels. Better. Stories.

Tell Better Stories

Start with your LinkedIn summary section. Imagine you were asked the perfect question that set you up to tell a powerful story. Try it and answer it. For example, “tell me a story that shows me how much you love what you do.”

If you’re a brand, start with gathering the many stories about you. Discuss what you like about them. Explore them by acting (seriously, act it out) or drawing the story out. Only then see how they come to life with media.

You’ve created a strategy for your brand messaging, but have you created a strategy house for your brand storytelling? Create compelling situations and narratives in which they come to life.

Our brains are preprogrammed to respond to stories. It’s been this way since before the creation of the pen.

You don’t have to create a new story to be effective, simply repurpose one of the existing 7 plot lines: 1. Overcoming the monster 2. Rags to riches 3. The quest 4. Voyage and return 5. Comedy 6. Tragedy 7. Rebirth

Via GoodReads.com

(Source: Christopher Booker, Seven Basic Plots)

One day our team was working on a content calendar for one of our clients. We decided to take one important benefit about the brand, ‘it helps people feel better,’ and we turned that benefit into stories by casting it into the different aforementioned plots: escaping the monster became a journey to run from illness, and rags to riches turned into a story of good luck and good fortune finding the product. This simple exercise transformed brainstorming and list making into imagining and meaning making. The results were far richer.

Before You Go,

The desire to tell better stories is where it all begins. Like the topic, read on Why Your Brain Loves Good Story Telling?

WANT TO TELL EVEN BETTER STORIES?

Want to learn more about effective storytelling? Check out our LinkedIn Live  “Tell Stories Better” : A Live Event Recorded.

Everyone Has a Plan Until…

“Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the mouth” — Mike Tyson

COVID-19 was the punch in the mouth to many of our best intended strategic growth plans. This created new demand for approaches to planning that incorporate agility and resourcefulness. 

Add innovation to your strategic planning

The traditional process of strategic planning involves growing existing revenue streams and scaling what already works in your business. But the uncertainty of COVID-19 demands innovation planning, which, according to Innovation Zen, “creates new business models, is centered on the market and aims to find new ways of value creation”. 

Strategic planning and innovation planning are different because strategic planning works within your existing business model, while innovation planning unlocks new potential and is significantly more agile.

Via Innovation Zen.com

Tips to get started

We know that any type of planning amidst uncertainty can be daunting, but innovation planning really thrives in this context. We have some easy ways to help you get started and make the process enjoyable and productive. 

Adopt an innovation mindset. Unlocking a creative innovation mindset requires embracing the potential to be wrong, becoming comfortable with ambiguity, and remaining consistent in your efforts. This mindset is imperative to innovation planning because it ensures that you will respond dynamically to the inevitable stumbling blocks and developments that will complicate your planning.

 

Via GeorgeCourous.com

 

Try the business model canvas. The business model canvas is a great innovation tool because of its adaptability and simplicity. Treating it like a vision board for your planning helps you think flexibly about your business. It’s also an adaptable tool because that you can fit to your own needs. If the BMC is too daunting, you can start with Kanban.

 

via This is Service Design Doing.com

 

Use the Lists and Choices method.This very simple approach to planning involves making lists by thinking exhaustively, then editing those lists by making choices. Although it may seem intuitive, it can be incredibly powerful as it encourages us to segment our mindset – first to really think creatively without judgement when we brainstorm, then to be deliberate when we evaluate.

By Purnima Thakre

 

Establish decision making boundaries. To make your planning sessions productive, determine ahead of time how final decisions will be made. Will it be democratic through dot voting? Or will there be one final decision maker?

Via Aalpha.com

 

Try it yourself!

There are numerous ways to approach innovation planning, ranging from changing your mindset to experimenting with new tools. Pick a few of the tips to try and test them out. We’re curious to hear how it goes.

P.S.

Want to learn more about innovative strategic planning? Check out our CEO Zach Braiker and COO Purnima Thakre’s LinkedIn Live event for more best practices and simple tips.

Virtual Curiouser & Curiouser: Insights from our July 2020 Innovation Showcase

As quarantine labors into the summer, refine+focus is here for you with fresh ideas to reignite your wonder. We recently held our signature event, Curiouser & Curiouser, which is dedicated to growing innovative ideas and building meaningful new relationships. Read all about the exciting selection of pieces that our team shared below.

Must Attend

Want to meet other innovative thinkers? Connect by attending an event. Our events calendar is packed with carefully curated events and resources to tickle your curiosity.

Check out our curated events and resources calendar.

The Curiouser & Curiouser Event

The Curiouser community came together on July 13 to each share something that intrigues or excites us. As always, we were struck by the range of ideas that people brought as we discussed everything from the fate of globalism to Panera marketing strategy to innovative nail polish packaging.

Here are the highlights:

Barbara Vanaki shared a presentation on machine learning models and how human bias becomes encoded into big data.

David Tames discussed a film that he has been creating which investigates why we segregate ourselves into opposite opinions and how to deal with intractable fanatics.

Purnima Thakre identified innovation in an unexpected place: nail polish packing! She described how her new Olive & June nail polish kit expertly re-engineered the customer experience of painting one’s nails.

Via OliveandJune.com

Joe Macek shared his enthusiasm for his new investment in SpaceX and their innovative work on Starlink.

Jeff Butler pondered how people make big decisions in their lives, inspired by changes in his plans to balance pursuing an MBA and competing in the 2021 Paralympics.

Catherine Cheng shared an excerpt of world-renowned conductor Daniel Barenboim on how to listen to music.

Harrison Yu raised the question of if globalism, as we’ve seen it since WWII, is dead or merely being reimagined.

Katie Martensen offered an innovative marketing strategy from Panera Bread in which Panera used twitter polls and targeted ads to offer free coffee for the summer to those who participated.

Via Twitter.com

Katherine Cruz discussed her passion project addressing environmentalism, the waste of shoes, and her love of running by creating a resource that helps runners in her community recycle their used sneakers.

Eduardo Pujol highlighted two innovative technologies, Exploding Topics which uses an algorithm to identify trends before they take off, and Crystal, a LinkedIn personality test plugin that helps you learn more about how to engage with your connections.

Via ExplodingTopics.com

Zach Braiker closed the evening with contemplation on how sharing literature builds friendships and a few lines of poetry from The Gift by Hafez-e-Shirazi: ‘Even after all this time the sun never says to the earth you owe me. Look what happens with a love like that, it lights the whole sky’.

An Invitation

Want to join our next innovation showcase? Have a new idea that you’d like to share? Reach out to us at hello@refineandfocus.com and we will let you know if a spot opens up.

It’s 2020, Learn from Your Customer

Your customer has all the answers. The art, however, lies in being able to gather those insights efficiently and act on them effectively. 

Why getting it right matters

Sustain growth. If you care about your customer and meet their needs, you won’t need to worry about the competition. 

Save resources. According to research by Vonage, an estimated $62 billion is lost by U.S. businesses each year following bad customer experiences. By understanding your customer and their customer journey, you can optimize your business to provide the best customer experience.

Via Paco.com

 

Build your ability to pivot. If you know your customer inside and out, you will know how to meet their deepest needs even when situations change. For example, Netflix recognized that pre-COVID consumers liked to stream shows and have communal viewings. During COVID, Netflix developed Netflix Party as a way for people to be able to continue to do this despite social distancing.

What to learn from your customer

Learn everything you possibly can (then ask WHY). Learn about their behavior, psychology, likes-dislikes, needs-wants, what they love-hate, what they are trying to achieve and more. Above all, learn the why behind all of those behaviors and feelings.

Via Hyken.com

How to learn from your customer

A mindset change requires breaking down past barriers and starting new habits.

Listen with empathy and objectivity. It’s imperative that companies listen with empathy, not judgement. Learning from customers is best when companies are curious and open to learn, not seeking to justify.

Break corporate barriers and stop working in silos. Empower everyone in your organization to be obsessed with understanding your customer. Not just the frontline of sales and marketing. 

Form new habits to support a culture of curiosity. Insert the customers’ voice in decisions and continue to gather customer insight from objective surveys, interviews, and co-creation. Use Strategyzer’s customer insight cards to capture what you discover.

Want to learn more about the art of learning from your customers? Here is our Live session recorded. 

10X Your Curious Culture

Not all organizations approach continuous learning from the same place. Some industries organically attract curious people and companies must sustain that curiosity. Other times, organizations need fresh ways to inspire the curiosity of their employees to foster a continuous learning community.

Regardless of the starting point, investing in a culture of continuous learning has clear benefits. One study found that curiosity increases job satisfaction, engagement, and innovative behaviors. Further, research published in the Harvard Business Review found that cultivating curiosity develops employees’ adaptability and creates conditions that foster trusting, collaborative professional relationships. 

Here are seven proven tips and techniques for growing a culture of learning to help organizations harness its value:

Start a co-learning Slack channel.

At refine+focus we encourage our team to share any cool resources, articles, or webinars that peak their interest. It’s become a hub of knowledge, discussion, and exploration.

 

Via refine+focus’ co-learning slack channel

 

When onboarding, look for the profile of an intellectually curious candidate.

A report from Merck found that employees who scored high on the curiosity index often viewed themselves as detail-oriented, thoughtful and energetic decision makers who brought positivity to their organization. 

 

Via Merck.com

 

Create a space that incubates curiosity.

Thriveglobal.com recommends creating time for research and reflection, always asking ‘why’, and converting the discomfort of not-knowing into curiosity and excitement.

 

Via TeachThought.com

 

Bake curiosity into meeting agendas.

According to Harvard Business Review, companies can take project agenda items and reformulate them as questions. These new agendas drive engagement and participation by focusing on questions like “how should we prioritize these projects?”. 

 

Via Flickr.com

 

Create a resource catalogue and offer programs that support it.

Novartis offers an extensive training catalogue with a range of upskilling opportunities. The catalogue features resources in multiple languages and includes in-person training programs, online courses, books, audiobooks, podcasts, and Ted Talks. According to Forbes, Novartis also has a program that allows employees to learn and grow for 100 hours per year through employer-paid education. 

 

Via Novartis

 

Have a question of the week and start using #GreatQuestion.

SurveyMonkey holds weekly town hall meetings on the question of the week, selected by employees through a survey. SurveyMonkey also fosters a culture of supporting questions using #GreatQuestion in their Slack channels.

 

Via Teamgantt.com

 

Incentivize and gamify curious behavior.

Workday offers an annual innovation award to foster new, creative solutions while other companies like AT&T hold hackathons and E3 has a peer to peer recognition program.

 

Via AT&T.com

 

There are numerous ways to approach continuous learning. From instituting a new hashtag to building curious spaces, prioritizing and protecting time for curiosity and exploration can help organizations win the fruits of continuous learning. Pick a few of the tips to try and take a conscious, iterative approach to testing them out. We’re curious to hear how it goes.

P.S. Want to learn more about continuous learning? Check out our CEO’s Zach Braiker and COO Purnima Thakre’s LinkedIn Live event on the principles and practices of a continuous learner. 

Curiouser & Curiouser: Insights from Our November 2019 Innovation Showcase

We hosted the last Curiouser of 2019, coming together as a cozy group of colleagues and friends. As the weather gets colder, our excitement for learning and innovation has only warmed. We sowed our curiosity, waiting for it to sprout in the new year. 

The Event

The event brings together people from all walks of life. We talk about our ideas, developing them into powerful insights. Even though all Curiouser events are unique, this event was special for multiple reasons. A smaller group of 8 enabled us to dive deeper — we increased speaking time from 3 minutes to 5 minutes per each attendee. This enabled us to explore ideas at a richer level. 

What We Discovered 

Eduardo Pujol shared an emotionally charged video entitled MENstruation. The short clip, produced by the Thinx company, imagined that all humans had periods–thus destigmatizing them.

Amanda Lewis shared a graciously written note on how communal spaces revitalize communities and integrates people. She specifically discussed the need for public pools in the town of Winchester. As she explained, the absence of public pools stems from discrimination and desegregation.

Hadi Medeiros shared his experience with celebratory gunfire in Lebanon. He warned people to be aware of their surroundings and to quickly seek shelter case if they hear gunshot noises. Hadi also showed off the Hopper app. The A.I. powered platform remembers past trends for domestic and international travel prices, allowing one to book flights accordingly.

Curtis Cook shared the advice he received from his coach: “never be satisfied”. But he isn’t satisfied with the quote either. We discussed balancing the never-ending pursuit for greater accomplishment and self-contentment (which, we clarified, is not complacency) and whether humans can ever achieve a sense of satisfaction.

Johnathan Nichols Based on his travel observations, Johnathan highlighted the need for confessional-like booths at airports and other travel terminals. These would help us deal with the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Ameenah Rashid Shared a short and sweet quip on her journey down the post-apocalyptic “Ok Boomer” meme and the birth of the intergenerational hostilities. We also discussed frictions between generations, and what this means for the future. All of course in good humor, of course. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/29/style/ok-boomer.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/29/style/ok-boomer.html

 

Ole Bondevik showed us one of his favorite advertisements stemming from a Norwegian campaign that encourages people to use seatbelts. He explained that Norway has successfully reduced the number of preventable injuries by promoting seat belts. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=quqlIPZrdz8 (warning: sensitive content).

Arsalan Akhter introduced us to the realm of Vehicle Routing. He explained the traveling salesman’s problem and the use of artificial intelligence to regulate traffic patterns. Check these out:

TL;DR

Our discussion covered everything from technology to work-life balance. As usual, after everyone shared their ideas we  voted for the idea we wanted to hear more about. Unlike previous events, we ended up with a tie between two ideas. We really liked our discussion of vehicle routing, and how this presents challenges and opportunities in A.I. We teased out the work-life complexities of a common but inspiring phrase: “Never be satisfied.” In our discussion, we clearly took this advice to heart.

An Invitation

Did any inspiration strike? Do you have any curious ideas that you want to share? If you are interested in attending our future “Curiouser & Curiouser” events, check out our page to stay in the loop. This was the Curiouser for November 2019, but we’re looking forward to connecting at more Curiouser events in early 2020. Send us a message at hello@refineandfocus.com to keep in touch.

Share this with a curious person!

Cover image by Clay Banks

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