Vocational Training Teaches Entrepreneurship

If Congressional Bill H.R. 610 is about dismantling the public school system, vocational training is an answer to ensure all youth get an equal education. It may not be focused on reading, writing and ‘rithmatic exclusively, but this movement is teaching youths real world skills to build a future for themselves.

Across the U.S., a growing movement is educating kids in the principles of entrepreneurship – what it takes to create, start, and grow a business. The world of work has changed … everyone needs to have an entrepreneurial mentality regardless of whether they create and lead their own company or they work for someone else. Vocational training fills this need. According to Victor Hwang, VP of entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation, “The school system has long taught for industrial jobs: how to find a job, how to fill a job. But the jobs of the new economy are ones where you have to be entrepreneurial.”

This article by Tom Foster, Editor-at-large, Inc.com, “Inside the Schools That Want to Create the Next Mark Zuckerberg–Starting at Age 5“, gives me hope for future generations. Across the U.S. kids are learning how to make and sell their own products. From handmade dog treats to gluten free baked goods and even security software, kids are learning skills to stimulate innovative thinking and hopefully ensure the next Mark Zuckerberg.

vocational training teaches real world skillsSchools over the years dismantled their vocational training programs. When I went to high school, we had classes like Home Economics and Shop where we learned how to cook and sew or how to repair cars and build things. Those programs disappeared as schools tightened budgets to focus on reading, writing, science, and math. While important educational programs, these exclusively left-brain-focused classes didn’t work for students who predominantly learned by physically “doing” something. They needed to make something to learn the concepts of math or science. Classes in shop and home economics did that.

Vocational training programs are making a come back

Now we’re seeing a resurgence of these vocational training programs, not in schools, but funded by the private sector and non-profit organizations. The traditional education program in the US doesn’t fit everyone. Some students just don’t want to get a business degree. Some know they want to work with their hands. And there is nothing wrong with that. Asian cultures have educated their youth this way from birth. Young children are tested at an early age to determine which path they should take. Then their entire education is focused on that path.

On the other hand, we’ve tried to fit all students into the same box in the effort to provide equal educational opportunities to all. And it isn’t working. Our educational system has not evolved fast enough to meet the demands of the new types of work that technological innovation is creating. Witness the outcry of companies like Google, Intel, and Qualcomm who say they can’t hire qualified people educated in the US. They need to import talent from other countries.

Compared to in-classroom courses, “vocational education aims to prepare students for their futures by focusing on the industries that interest them,” according to the Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. Institute blog. The article continues to say, “Vocational education is more like college in the sense that students are expected to be autonomous. This helps to prepare students for the future by encouraging them to manage their own time and take care of themselves. Those who graduate from vocational school may be more prepared to assimilate into the “real world” than those coming out of high school.”

Vocational training, like exposure to arts and science through field study trips, helps to bring classroom learning into the real world. Many of us, whether young or old, learn best by doing.

Vocational training programs teach self awareness, responsibility, time management, as well as specific skills like wood working or animal husbandry or cooking or car maintenance. Math, reading and writing are wrapped up in the learning process as students apply their physical as well as mental faculties to the learning.

They prepare students for the new world of work.

Top Chef Yields Innovative Ideas

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

Takeaways: Innovative ideas come from unrelated areas. Chefs stretch their creative thinking to invent unusual and flavorful dishes. Consumer Trend Canvas stimulates innovative solutions.

Top Chef yields innovative ideas

As I watched a recent TV episode of Top Chef, I thought about how two chefs in particular stretched themselves pairing unusual ingredients from Asian and European cooking to make innovative and flavorful seafood dishes of lobster, clams, and oysters. It made me wonder how we might apply similar concepts to generate innovative ideas with our work with clients.

During this particular competition, the four remaining chefs had to be innovative in their use of ingredients, spices, textures, and flavors when preparing a main dish for four executive chef judges. Of the four contestants, one was eliminated, and the other three went into the final round in Mexico.

Each time the chefs competed, they were given one or more ingredients that must be the featured item in the dishes they prepare. They usually had less than an hour to decide what ingredients and spices to add, how to cook the main protein, and what sauce if any to include. This time also included plating the entrée and then presenting it to the judges.

This particular episode made me think…what can we do to help our clients think more creatively and stretch themselves in their problem-solving? Do the same planning models and tools work for this purpose or can those be adapted to help our clients dig deeper into the issues that are the heart of their challenges? Is there a tool to help them develop innovative ideas to solve critical issues?

Using Trend Canvas to Generate Innovative Ideas

We had the opportunity to test this in a planning project with a large spiritual organization. On the first day of planning, we introduced the Consumer Trend Canvas from Trendwatching.com. Breaking the group into teams of four or five, we had each team use the Consumer Trend Canvas to analyze a critical issue and come up with some innovative solutions.

The beauty of the Consumer Trend Canvas is that it forces you to look outside the organization at what’s driving the changes that affect that particular issue. It also has you look at the basic consumer needs tied to that issue, and the emerging consumer expectations. After reviewing those three areas, you begin to think more creatively about how to address those changes as they apply to the issue you’re tackling. This creates interesting possibilities – innovative ideas – that might not have bubbled to the surface without using the Consumer Trend Canvas.

For this organization, one of the issues was member retention. They were no longer relevant, and consequently, they weren’t attracting younger members or retaining current, aging members. The average age of members was over 70! Without attracting new, younger members, the organization would eventually cease to exist.

We had each team chart their issue, three key challenges, and one to three innovative solutions on a flip chart. Then they shared their solutions with the entire group. This gave the group a list of innovative ideas to pursue further in order to resolve their top critical issues.

We had them prioritize the ideas down to one key idea for each issue. Then we included those ideas as action items under the strategies they came up with on the second day of the planning retreat. This resulted in a manageable list of action steps to pursue to move the organization forward towards its desired outcomes.

Doing this early in the planning session helped them to start thinking creatively as they continued through the rest of the weekend’s planning exercises. It forced them to look outside the organization at global trends that were impacting them now or could do so in the future.

The group successfully completed all the elements of a strategic plan during the two-day retreat. They have written the plan and are now in the process of executing it. In May, we’ll review their progress to see what they have accomplished in their first year of implementation.

What are you doing to be more innovative in your planning and problem resolution? Have you discovered new tools to help you think more creatively and uncover the deeper gold beneath the surface?

Top 10 Technology Trends for 2015

At their Orlando, FL IT/Expo last October, Gartner analysts identified the top 10 technology trends for 2015. Since the 2015 year is half over, let’s see if some of these trends are coming to pass.

  • Computing everywhere. Gartner predicts there will be a greater emphasis on serving mobile consumers. Yup!
    In April Google released an update to its algorithm to give extra focus on mobile-friendly websites. Called #mobilegeddon among other names, the update one of the more significant updates of the year. Search Engine Land offers a mobile-friendly test tool you can use to see if your website passes the Google mobile friendly test. Apple also released its Apple Watch which is basically a computer on your wrist. More wearable devices are on the way.
  • The internet of things. According to Gartner, “The combination of data streams and services created by digitizing everything creates four basic usage models — Manage, Monetize, Operate and Extend.”
    We’re already seeing these in operation with services like Square and Apple Pay, Uber car and bike services, Air BnB, and cloud services such as Google Drive, DropBox and MS OneDrive.
  • 3D printing. Gartner predicts “Worldwide shipments of 3D printers are expected to grow 98 percent in 2015, followed by a doubling of unit shipments in 2016.” Yup, again!
    Forgot your hairdryer in your rush to catch the plane? No problem! Just order a new one online and it will be waiting for you at the nearest Fed-Ex Kinkos in the city of your destination. We may even see 3D printing machines in places like Walmart and CVS similar to the instant photo and card machines today. Just put in your order, go do your shopping, and come back to collect your 3D object. Then pay with Square or your watch or your smart phone before walking out the door.

You can read about the rest of the trends in the gartner.com article online.

Is a Google self-driving car in your future?

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

Is your next car one that drives itself? It could be. We’re already seeing cars that park themselves. That’s a cool feature. No more backing and filling trying to squeeze into a tight spot. The car does all the work for you. This makes me think of the TV series, Knight Rider, where the black KITT car was more of a partner than a vehicle driven by David Hasselhoff.

A  video on Victor Luckerson”s article about Google’s driver-less cars (time.com) shows an example of someone arriving at Costco and walking into the store while the car goes to find a parking space. Does it know when you come out with your basket full of supplies? Maybe you just whistle and the car drives up, opens the trunk, and waits till you load it up. Does it follow you to the shopping cart rack as you return the cart or just wait patiently blocking traffic? Hey! Maybe by this time, the carts will return themselves. Now that’s a feature I can go for!

Self-driving carsDoug Aamoth – Self-driving cars – Time.com

My concern with self-driving cars is that we will become complacent about driving. We’re already there: checking the navigation system in the car and texting while driving. When the car completely takes over, we humans will find something else to do while the car drives us to our destination. Like the commercial of the man driving the RV who gets up from the wheel to enjoy popcorn with his family at the table. We’ll be busy talking, rocking out to music, napping, and not paying attention when something goes wrong with the sensors or the computer system. Then what?

Is there a way we can do both and still be safe? Who will be at fault when a driverless car gets into a serious accident and someone is hurt or killed? Google’s cars have already been in accidents….but they say they were due to human error. That’s all well and good, but I can’t count the number of times my laptop computer has had a brain fart and I’ve had to re-boot. Try doing that with a driver-less car going 75 mph on the interstate!

It’s coming, so I guess we may as well get comfortable with it. Personally, I’m reserving judgement with a healthy dose of skepticism.

But then there’s this article along the same lines that shares two studies which prove driver-less cars (or robot-driven cars) actually cause fewer traffic accidents than those driven by humans! Maybe a robot car is in my future after all!!

What do you think about this new technology?

Innovation Comes from Collective Creativity

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

Takeaways: Innovation is about unleashing the creativity at the bottom to encourage truly innovative ideas and solutions. Rethink leadership roles as those of connectors, social architects and aggregators of ideas. Act your way to the future rather than plan.

Linda Hill, Management Professor at Harvard Business School, shared a TED Talk based on her book, Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation. Over nearly 10 years she and three colleagues observed innovative leaders up close in several countries to determine what it is that made their companies innovative. The bottom line, she said, is that we need to unlearn what we’ve been taught about leadership.

 Invert the organizational pyramid

Innovative leadership is not about creating a vision and getting your staff to implement it. It is about managing collective creativity, amplifying conflict and discourse without unleashing chaos. You have to turn the organizational structure on its head and unleash the creative genius from the bottom up.

Innovation, said Hill, is about creating a space for three capabilities:
Creative abrasion
Creative agility
Creative resolution

Creative abrasion is about having heated, constructive arguments to create a portfolio of ideas. People learn how to actively listen and also how to strongly advocate for their position. Innovation rarely occurs unless you have both diversity and conflict.

Creative agility is about continuously testing and refining your portfolio of ideas. Instead of creating a strategic plan and implementing it, you “act your way to the future” through discovery-driven learning. This includes design thinking where the focus is on running a series of experiments, not a series of pilots. Test and refine. Test and refine.

Creative resolution is decision-making that combines opposable ideas to reconfigure in new combinations that produce useful solutions. It is patient, inclusive decision-making that allows for “both/and” solutions to arise, not just “either/or”.

Innovative organizations like Google and Pixar allow talented people to play out their passions by having multiple experiments running in tandem. Teams form and re-form as needed and everyone has access to the leaders at the top.

“Leadership is the secret sauce”, she says. Leading innovation is about creating the space where people are willing and able to do the hard work of innovative problem-solving. It’s about building a sense of community – a world to which people want to belong – and building those three capabilities described above.

What can we do to make sure all the small voices, the disrupters in the organization, are heard?

As Google has done under Bill Gate, you nurture the bottom up. Be the social architect that encourages discourse, differing viewpoints and multiple ideas, no matter how far-fetched. Bestow credit in as broadly as possible. Pixar, for example, includes the list of babies born during a film’s production in the credits at the end of each film.

Bill Gates encourages people to co-create with him while preventing them from degenerating into chaos. His role, according to Hill, is to be the human glue, a connector, an aggregator of viewpoints.

As innovative leaders we need to redefine our leadership role – not by title, but by function: role model, coach, nurturer. We need to hire people who argue with us, not those who agree with our viewpoints.

Instead of providing all the answers or solutions, leaders must “see the young sparks at the bottom as the source of innovation. Transfer the growth to the bottom. Unleash the power of the many by releasing the stronghold of the few,” says Hill.

If only the multi-state bank and the newspaper I worked for earlier in my career had done this. I recall my first month of training at the bank. I was sent out to a branch office to study how it operated and produce a report. One of my suggestions was to increase the salary of the tellers since they were the first line of contact with the customers and they frequently were responsible for million dollar cash drawers. Yet they received the lowest salaries and had no voice in the way the branch should work with customers.

At the newspaper, I frequently offered ideas which were squashed because that “wasn’t the way we do things around here”, or they jeopardized the power of the few. Never mind that the old ways weren’t working any more. I tried to implement innovative leadership techniques among my own small staff, but that was hard to do when no other departments, let alone other managers in my department, were doing anything similar.

What a breath of fresh air to hear Linda Hill talk about how really innovative companies turn the pyramid on its head! Give your staff at the bottom the opportunity to rethink their jobs, to offer solutions to everyday problems they face, and as Hill says, “create the space where everyone’s slices of genius can be unleashed and turned into collective genius”.

Watch the TED Talk. Buy her book. Change your thinking about leadership.

Consumers Rewarded for Not Using Phones

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

We all know how dependent many of us have become on our smart phones. They’re with us every hour of the day….and in fact, some people (mostly millenials and Gen-Xers) sleep with their phones. You can’t have a meal at a restaurant, go shopping, or walk down a street without seeing people with their phones to their ears or their eyes glued to the tiny screen.

This has led to isolation. People sit together at restaurants and instead of talking, they’re texting or playing games on their phones. Whatever happened to good, old fashioned conversation with eye contact?

Well McDonalds and Coca Cola have partnered to test an app with consumers in the Philippines. Not sure why they chose only the Philippines (maybe they need it the most?). It’s called the BFF Timeout App. Participants are rewarded for leaving their phones alone. At the McDonalds in the Philippines, user scores are ranked on a public leaderboard and prizes include trips to Japan and Singapore.

Here’s how it works.

BFF_Timeout_AppEveryone in the group downloads the BFF Timeout app. Once everyone in the group has opened the app and pressed the big red button, the timeout starts. It rewards each user for every minute they spend leaving their phone alone. The minute someone picks up their phone, the timeout ends. The app is currently only available in the iTunes Philippines store and works on iPhones and iPads only. Imagine the peer pressure if you’re the one in the group who couldn’t leave your phone alone!

It’s hard to believe that games like these are necessary in order to get back to having face-to-face conversations without interruptions.

Source: trendwatching.com

Google Hangouts Used in Creative Way

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

Toyota has launched a creative way to use Google Hangouts to build their brand. Not that brand recognition is necessary for the #1 car manufacturer in the world. But I’ll bet this helps sell more Corollas.

Toyota has taken hangouts to a new level making car buying a fun and easy experience, done from the comfort of your own home. Through their ad agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, they approached Joystick Interactive to create a Collaborator App for use on tablets and mobile phones using Google Hangouts, that would enable people to customize a car. It was launched in November 2013.

Here’s the deal

Using the Toyota Collaborator App, you invite a group of friends to join you in a private Google Hangout and collaborate on customizing a Toyota Corolla. Choose color, wheel rims, interior, and even take it for a test drive.

Launch Collaborator App

Now, think about how you might use Google Hangouts with business colleagues? What kind of a collaborative hangout might you launch?

Perhaps you invite team members to join you on a Google Hangout to resolve a customer service issue. Instead of color and wheel choices, you have service options to choose and vote on. Google Hangouts allow up to 9 webcams live simultaneously, so you can see one another, transfer the screen controls back and forth, and record the session for those who couldn’t attend. Assign someone to take notes, document poll results, etc.

How might you use this to build a product, re-design packaging, solve a challenging issue? How can you make it a fun experience while getting the work done? That’s the secret to what Toyota has created with their collaborator app using Google+ Hangouts.

Of course, they didn’t build it themselves. But wouldn’t it be cool if Joystick Interactive and Google collaborated to make such a tool available for the rest of us to use in our businesses?

Empathic Pricing Helps Consumers Cope

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International  March 20, 2014

Takeaways: Latin American consumers are tired of just getting discounts. They want to know that companies understand and care about the challenges they face. The trends in these countries are applicable globally.

Latin American consumers (in Central and South America) are feeling the pain of economic realities in their countries caused by traffic congestion, diet, work-life stress. A new trend reported by trendwatching.com is Empathic Pricing.

Consumers are tired of just getting discounts. They are choosing brands which help address their pain points with alternative pricing (Empathic Pricing). According to Edelman Brandshare research (October 2013), “87% of Brazilians value brands that help them achieve their goals, and 8 out of 10 consumers say they would purchase from a company that supports good causes and has fair prices, rather than just offering discounts.”

Consumers are tired of just getting discounts. They want to know that companies recognize and care about the pain they are experiencing – and offer assistance in dealing with it. Below are some creative examples. How might you implement something similar in your organization to win over more customers? Would any of these ideas make sense for you?

Pain:  São Paulo – to ease traffic congestion between 5 and 8 pm on central roads, the government instituted a policy that only allows cars with certain license plates on the roads during those times. That means those who have to wrong license plates must wait until after 8 pm to head home from work.
Empathic Price idea: The PlayArte movie theater offered a discount on tickets between 5 and 7 pm to drivers affected by the government initiative.

Pain: 72% of Chileans are trying to lose weight but they don’t have time in their day to fit in exercise.
Empathic Price idea: Coca Cola outfitted a taxi with bicycle pedals as part of the Movimiento es Felicidad campaign (Movement is Happiness). Passengers that use the pedals to exercise while they ride earned a fare discount.

Pain: For Brazilians armed robbery when leaving a restaurant is a real threat because robbers assume they and the restaurants will be holding cash.
Empathic Price idea: The Twister Pub in Rio de Janeiro started offering a 5% discount to patrons who paid with credit cards instead of cash, figuring it would reduce the robbery threat once robbers realized patrons weren’t carrying cash. The Pub’s monthly revenue increased 15%.  

Pain: Growing old is painful. Period!
Empathic Price idea: A Venezuela-based optician launched a 3-month promotion offering discounts relative to the age of the customer – 55% off for those age 55; 70% off for those age 70, etc.

Pain: Brazilian summers can be glorious – or too hot. When it’s too hot, getting cool is the main focus.
Empathic Price idea:  a Brazilian etailer offered daily discounts on summer wear, air conditioners, and other “cooler” items equivalent to the high temperature of the day.

While these are examples of Latin American trends that brands are stepping up to address, they have applications globally. The keys are to recognize the consumer pain points occurring in your own area, and think of creative ways to address them. Get personal with your customers. Ask them for input, and once you start down this path, don’t be surprised if they turn to you again when they experience yet another pain point.

Three Success Factors Affect Innovation

By Jeri T Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International    5/17/2012

Takeaways: Following the three key success factors of finding opportunities, mobilizing support for them, and seizing those opportunities, organizations stay open to change and create a culture of innovation.

In their book, Seeing David in the Stone, James B. and Joseph E. Swartz identify the 12 actions of the great innovators and achievers throughout time.Success Factors: Finding & Seizing Great Opportuniti9esThese are broken into three areas, each with a set of four actions:

  • Finding Great Opportunities
  • Mobilizing Support
  • Seizing Great Opportunities

In Finding Great Opportunities, one of the keys is to differentiate yourself for opportunity. What is meant by this is to understand your passions and talents, and see where the potential rewards might be in those areas. Then search within them for opportunities where all three are high.

Three Key Success Factors:

  • Be passionate about something
  • Be good at it
  • Potential rewards are high

For example, young Einstein became a telegraph operator because he had a passion for that, he was good at it, and it was the latest technology of his time.

Another characteristic of great achievers is that they never stop searching. An example the book cites is the story of Colonel Sanders.

All his life he moved from sales job to sales job and paycheck to paycheck. At age 65 he found his opportunity when he moved to Corbin, KY to run a gas station. To increase sales, he started serving his special fried chicken. Business boomed until a new interstate highway bypassed Corbin.

He decided that his passion was cooking, he made better fried chicken than anyone else, and he loved to sell – Kentucky Fried Chicken was born. He traveled the country calling on restaurants. He would cook each owner a batch of chicken, then sell a franchise. Ten years later, at age 75, he had 600 franchisees. He never stopped until he found a way to differentiate himself from the crowd, and when he did, he found tremendous opportunity.

Another key differentiator is being willing to change the ways in which you differentiate yourself. When one of the three key success factors is no longer valid, you have to be willing to change in order to achieve greatness yet again.

Organizations can become great when they are led by people who themselves have learned to differentiate themselves personally and follow the three key success factors. By creating that focus and being willing to alter course when one factor is no longer valid, an organization can continuously improve and renew itself.