Our Latest Thinking

by The Garage Group
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amber1

We are excited to welcome Amber Hallmann to The Garage Group team for the summer! Amber comes to us from Miami University and is an aspiring young professional with experience in consulting, entrepreneurship and communications. Glad to have you on the team, Amber!

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am a “jump in” kind of person. I enjoy a challenge and learning through as many experiences as I can. As a student at Miami University, I have organized and participated in Startup Weekend, am the President of Igoodea Creatives (Creative Entrepreneurship) and have done creative consulting for E.W. Scripps in San Francisco, among many other entrepreneurial experiences. I am a dog-lover, coffee enthusiast, and avid viewer of the TV show Friends. Learning is my passion, entrepreneurship is my mindset and “jump in” is how I will accomplish it.

Something interesting people might not know about you?
I have a creative mindset but also a creative eye. I love to paint, draw, scrapbook and craft. To complement the digital age of design, I have recently dipped my toes into Photoshop, Illustrator and coding.

So, you jumped into The Garage Group. What made you decide to join us?
I love the startup world, but I am also fascinated by corporate companies, and The Garage Group can allow me to learn more about both. The Garage Group gives me the opportunity to remain passionate about learning and also aligns with the values of my personal philosophy of jumping in. The team is passionate and the culture is perfect for me to expand my knowledge in the space.

What does an “entrepreneurial approach to research and innovation” mean to you?
To me, it’s a cycle of clarifying and failing fast. Through my experience with Scripps, I found that it is important to continue clarifying throughout the process, ideate often, test, allow ideas to fail and then elaborate.

What trends do you see in marketing, branding, or innovation at large companies that lend well to a more entrepreneurial approach?
I have been seeing a lot of large companies innovating new ways to connect to the younger generations in the digital world. This is not only on social media, but also through other ad platforms. Bigcos are taking more risks, learning from their failures and developing better ways to connect to the markets; they are starting to take a more entrepreneurial approach.

What’s inspiring you right now?
Cincinnati. Moving to a brand new city for the summer is an adventure, to say the least. New city, new people and a new way of living. I am inspired to be more curious but also to relax, by reading, painting and doing yoga again.

What is something you believe that almost nobody agrees with you on?
It is hard to choose something specific, but the root to which people disagree with me on a particular idea is when they don’t see potential and I do. I am not someone who gives up too easily, and therefore the quote “You will never know until you really try” hangs on my wall. I don’t care how impossible something seems; I refuse to give up, and instead strive to create something better. This drive to make it happen is something that many of my peers disagree with. There is always another way; it may be harder, but it’s there.

Tell me two truths and a lie about yourself.
I have been swimming with dolphins before. I founded and played on a water polo team. I have never been out of the country.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in school so far?
To surround yourself with people who push you to be better and to “jump in.” I have found that the truly impactful lessons have not been in a classroom, but in the environment that I place myself in. In the past year, I have learned who I am as a team member, as a creative and as a friend. I would not have learned these very important lessons without jumping into the ambiguity and surrounding myself with people I care about and who care about me.

What’s your goal for after graduation?
My goal after graduation is to be hired by a company with many opportunities for growth and learning. More important than the work, I want to ensure I am a part of a great culture and team. I believe that if you have a great team, you can do any type of project and still be successful. My goal is not to have a job, but to build a lifestyle around something I am passionate about.

by The Garage Group
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bobby
Please join us in welcoming Bobby Moran to The Garage Group! Bobby brings a unique background in innovation research, consulting and improv comedy. We’re excited to add him to our rapidly-growing team!

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I enjoy thinking differently and creatively. Mediterranean food is choice.  I try to have a positive impact on the world by recycling and reusing. I believe in the power of a smile. I have a large family that means the world to me.

Something interesting people might not know about you?
I paint portraits of people and keep a sketchbook full of doodles with me at all times. I also have double-jointed thumbs.

So, you jumped into The Garage Group. What made you decide to join us?
During my short time on contract with The Garage Group, I could tell that this is a group of people excited by learning new things and delivering them into their work quickly. I have always been a quick learner and a culture that asks people to reapply new learning quickly felt important for continued growth.

What does an “entrepreneurial approach to research and innovation” mean to you?
To me this is simple: Try more. Too often, the research and innovation groups in companies get caught up in trying to nail down the perfect story or chart the perfect strategy. Trying more gives one more opportunities to fail and thus more opportunities to learn.

What trends do you see in marketing, branding, or innovation at large companies that lend well to a more entrepreneurial approach?
Companies like GE and Samsung are utilizing concepts similar to Kickstarter to generate interest and start the crowdfunding of projects.  They complete work on the product when there is sufficient interest and funding. Testing ideas quickly and trying often are essential to an entrepreneurial approach.

What’s inspiring you right now?
Mindfulness; in a world full of so much external stimulation, it is important to cultivate what is truly important for you.

What is your spirit animal?
A dragonfly.

What is something you believe that almost nobody agrees with you on?
This is a hard one… I had to go back to a college theoretical physics class and a discussion that I raised at the end of class: Basically, I was the only one who believed you would not have to turn a plane around that was being flown through a theoretical tunnel dug through the Earth’s axis. Everyone else said you would have to make adjustments or that you would wreck when the gravitational pulls reversed near the center of the Earth. I still believe the plane would fly straight through.

Tell me two truths and a lie about yourself.
I once lived outside and did not shower for 16 days. I have completed a triathlon. I have been to 49 of the 50 states.

So, you do improv comedy. What are some lessons from improv that translate to innovation/our work?
I am hot off the presses of Annoyance Theater and Second City in Chicago. Improv is at its best when there is no judgement. I believe improv games and practice drills can be integral to guiding someone into the desired mental space for innovation, thinking big and responding even quicker. In ideation sessions, there can be a lull when the group is asked to confront and ideate against the problem. I believe improv is crucial to energizing groups around a problem to work collaboratively. Improv drills facilitate finding a place of energy where one is trusting quick responses without judging thoughts. And it is downright fun.

What’s one thing you’ve learned from working at The Garage Group so far?
Groups work most efficiently when they are built on a culture of iterations and feedback… and foosball shots are best hit at an angle.

 

by The Garage Group
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Our team had a blast at The Front End of Innovation Conference last week! Ann Thompson led an insightful panel discussion on how bigcos can keep the pace and creativity of startups. Five amazing leaders from The Garage Group (Ann Thompson), Nike (Dave Cobban), Liberty Mutual (Vera Murton), Wayfair (Nancy Go) and KnowledgeHound (Kristi Zuhlke) came together to talk about how they’re enabling startup-driven innovation in their organizations. We captured the entire discussion and are excited to share the top insights with you. Great perspective on:

  • Thinking smaller and faster
  • Reframing leadership’s role & expectations
  • Approaching problems like a startup
  • Organically building startups
  • Sourcing top entrepreneurial talent

Which lessons can you apply to your own business challenges?

The Garage Group helps corporates innovate and grow like startups.

by The Garage Group
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omni1

Customer expectations are simultaneously pulling retailers in opposite directions. The demand for speed and convenience, as well as curation and experiential service, makes it difficult to invest and even harder to predict the path a customer will take. Customers are choosing to spend their time both online and in-store, and expect their experience–whether on desktop or mobile, or via a quick visit or all-day in-store shopping session–to connect. To anticipate these needs, brands are shifting their strategies from multi-channel to omni-channel, and businesses that have not taken the first step are already falling behind.

Note: omni-channel is not the same as multi-channel. A brand that offers purchasing options across multiple channels is multi-channel; it only becomes omni-channel when those channels integrate seamlessly, picking up where another left off. Here are five points to consider when moving from a multi-channel to an omni-channel strategy:

1. Don’t reinvent the wheel
Implementing an omni-channel strategy doesn’t necessarily mean employing an entirely new business model. If the current business model is working, an omni-channel strategy can be added on as a natural extension to make improvements to the user experience. To move toward an omni-channel strategy, data services and APIs need to be updated, but that doesn’t mean replacing the entire business model (unless, of course, the current model is not effective).

2. Make it a win-win experience for both customers and retailers
When introducing an omni-channel strategy, it’s important to get both the buyers and the sellers on board. If the strategy is not easy for the sellers to implement, it’s not going to be used effectively to provide the customers with the best possible experience across channels. For example, say that a customer uses an app to find out whether a needed item is available in a nearby store. The app says that it is in stock. The customer goes to the store to purchase the item, and… they’re actually out of stock. This is not the best experience, and it happened because the retailer neglected to update the inventory across all channels. In order for an omni-channel strategy to work, it needs to be as seamless for retailers to implement as it is for customers to use. The easier and hassle-free the technology, the more customers will convert into sales–and the more money the retailer will make, creating a virtuous cycle.

3. Test quickly, fail early and often, and then iterate
Using MVP testing to find stumbling blocks along the omni-channel path can save a lot of time and money in the long run. There’s nothing worse than rolling out a major strategic initiative, only to find a small, but fatal flaw that undermines the entire system. Seemingly obvious patterns might not reveal themselves until the system is actually being used, so mock up a system prototype and test with consumers before hitting the market.

4. Get long-term buy-in from leadership
Once you go omni-channel, you never go back. Imagine being a customer and getting used to accessing a seamless experience across all of your channels. Then, suddenly, that effortless experience disappears and is replaced with the old clunky, frustrating, non-integrated system because a higher-up in the company decided to ditch the omni-channel setup in favor of other priorities. Wouldn’t you be likely to look elsewhere to meet your needs as a consumer? In order for omni-channel to work for an organization, it has to be committed to and then built upon as the market continues to evolve.

5. Forecast for the future
Building for the “now” is great, but proactively designing for what’s coming next is the only way retailers are going to keep their heads above water. Today, omni-channel is largely being built around optimizing and integrating the mobile experience. However, there are upcoming technological developments that should also be considered as part of an evolving omni-channel strategy. For example, what does omni-channel look like when applied to virtual reality or reality augmentation systems? What about advanced video game consoles, or centrally-located, integrated kiosks? Additionally, businesses should solve for how to integrate metric measurement in the implementation of these new digital experiences to gauge customer behavior and service performance.

Omni-channel is happening now. Are you where you need to be?

The Garage Group helps corporates innovate and grow like startups through fast, iterative methods that respond proactively to consumer needs.

Photo credit: Unsplash user William Iven

by The Garage Group
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bike

Last week, we attended the Catalyst Cincy Conference, a conference for leaders and change-makers. We are so fortunate to have experienced such an inspiring event in our city, and we left feeling motivated to push our thinking and leadership to the next level. One of our favorite standouts was this video, in which a young man describes the reason why he decided to ride his bike from Oregon to Patagonia. How will this inspire you in your work today? What routines can you break and re-shape to create a new frame for your business and your life?

Photo credit: Unsplash user Chris Becker

by The Garage Group
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sprint1

When we heard that Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz (the guys from Google Ventures) wrote a book on innovation, we knew we had to get our hands on it immediately. And, it didn’t disappoint.

Sprint is a five-day framework for smarter, faster, more efficient idea implementation. Relevant for startups and bigcos alike, it’s easy to read, digest and employ for almost any innovation challenge. We’re excited to see how it compares with our own thinking when it comes to building and testing ideas. Below are some of the key lessons we pulled from the book, but we’d highly recommend picking up a copy for yourself to get the full explanation of the framework and process.

The Takeaways:

1. Concrete ideas are better than abstract ones. How many times has someone tried to explain something to you–a picture, a movie, a book, etc.–and it turns out completely differently than expected when you finally get to witness it yourself? When discussing big ideas with a group, it’s crucial to speak in concrete terms whenever possible to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Vague, ethereal ideas can be twisted to fit the interpretation of each individual team member, setting everyone up for false expectations. To make sure everyone is on board with the vision, teams must learn to sketch.

2.You can say it better with a sketch. What the authors mean by this is to diagram an idea, possibly with boxes and stick figures, to get a point across. Humans are visual creatures, and we often need to physically see an idea take shape in order to conceptualize it properly. And no, you don’t have to be an artist to sketch. In fact, sometimes, some of the best ideas are born from sketches done by non-artists. In Sprint, the authors showcase an instance from a session with Blue Bottle Coffee, where one of the team members in particular expressed concern that he couldn’t draw. However, by the end of the session, the idea that the team ended up moving forward with came from a sketch by the very person who expressed his concern about “not being an artist.” (We would highly recommend picking up Sprint to check out their four-step solution for sketching an idea from rough concept to blown-out solution–it’s a game-changer.)

3. Anything can be prototyped. When it comes to actually building out the first iteration of a product, it doesn’t have to be 100% fully-baked to test with consumers; as long as the bones of the concept are there, consumers will still be able to give excellent feedback. A prototype should be “goldilocks quality”–not too roughed out, but not too polished and sterile. It should be just real enough to elicit an honest reaction from the target audience. For example, in Sprint, a company had an ambitious idea to prototype a working robot that could dispense toothbrushes to hotel customers. The team attached an iPad with expressive animated eyes on its screen to a basic body prototype. This elementary model was enough to delight all of the consumers in the testing phase; the team knew that they would get an even better response when they refined the product.

4. We need much less feedback than we think. The Sprint authors have consistently experienced diminishing returns after interviewing just five consumers about a given prototype. Seem pretty low? Think about it: In a lot of cases, the problems with a product or service are obvious when watching just a handful of consumers struggling with a prominent issue. In Sprint, the writers give the example of watching video footage of families entering the lobby of a prototyped family clinic. After seeing several parents struggling to shove their strollers over the door ledge, it was obvious that the ledge was too tall and that the lobby design had to be changed. The researchers didn’t need to watch 500 people hauling strollers over the ledge to glean that insight and fix the problem; just two or three instances were enough.

5. Reframing challenges = more effective brainstorming. As part of the Sprint framework for building out solutions, the authors recommend using “How might we…?” phrasing during brainstorms. For example: “How might we improve the navigation of our website?” vs. “Our website is clunky and hard to use.” This positive, open way of approaching challenges helps avoid time-sucking downward spirals of negativity. Instead of highlighting all the looming problems that need to be solved, this phrasing opens up a more opportunity-focused dialogue while forcing the team to pose questions in a unified, digestible format.

6. Inaction is not an option. We’ve already talked about this, but it bears repeating: sitting and debating ideas for days (or weeks… or months) is a recipe for missing a crucial window of opportunity to get to market. It’s better to ship a product and then iterate later than to be bogged down in minutiae. Make the decision, ship, and don’t look back.

There are so many more actionable details in this book that we haven’t even touched on, and the five-day framework will change the way you think about building ideas. Go check it out, and start making, testing and breaking things.

The Garage Group helps corporates innovate and grow like startups through fast, iterative methods that cut down the time of traditional innovation pipelines and quickly get product to market.

Photo credit: Unsplash user Tim Gouw