How innovation is like playing defence?

In sports, such as basketball, playing offence requires more talent vs playing defence. Of course there are basketball players who are more talented in defence than others but the truth is that defence is more about willingness & motivation than anything else.

Maybe it is not a conscious decision, but the main edge of defensive players is that they devote more of their energy on defence. Simple as that. Most offensive players would play equally good defence, or better even, if they devoted the same energy on defence.

Dennis Rodman in action, 8 times in the NBA’s All-Defensive Team

The same applies to innovation. Innovation is a process. Starts with understanding what is important, then identifying an issue or opportunity which if resolved or captured would greatly add value. Then ideation comes into place. Then implementation of the top idea. And finally measurement of results to confirm whether value was indeed created.

Innovation being a process means that anyone can follow it. It is a matter of willingness to question the status quo, to push business forward, to dare to try new things. Innovation is a process and as such it can be mastered with practice. Some people are better at following some of these steps, but it is not talent that distinguishes innovative people, it is more attitude than anything else.

Let me repeat this because it is empowering really. Innovation is not so much about talent but it is more about having the right mentality & practice. Why is this important? Well, it means that Innovation – the holy grail of business today – is just one realisation away.

My advice. Make innovation a priority. Find a priority in your business, gather data, challenge everything by asking many questions, experiment with ideas, analyse data, go back and repeat, repeat, repeat.

Innovation is a craft. You get better at it with every effort. And in the end it is a numbers game. The more experiments you do, the higher the chances one of them will deliver results. You only need willingness.

I will be sharing innovations i have contributed to or experienced first-hand in this space, both successful and not – unsuccessful efforts being equally important with the successful ones because one cannot have the one without the other. Failure is just part of the process.


8 top insights from 33 top-selling books


I can rarely remember more than one or two takeaways from a book a month or a year after reading it. Still though these one or two takeaways make reading the book worthwhile. By the way it is not like that with movies. I tend to remember much more from movies, which probably has something to say about the power of the visual image but this could be a totally different discussion.

This year I went through 33 books and I made a point to note down these key takeaways from each one. Here are the best of the best takeaways:



What is the problem you’re trying to solve? This is a deceptively easy question. On the surface, it seems obvious. Yet the reality is that often people on the same team have different ideas of what their actual project 

-Jeff Degraff and Staney DeGraff, The Innovation Code: The Creative Power of Constructive Conflict

I put my team on this test. I asked them this question. Nobody could answer it at first. They had never thought about it. And why should they since it was not clearly defined in the first place. Then as the discussion progressed and they started expressing themselves, the range of answers was so wide I got so disheartened I had to order food to boost my morale.


For the teacher or coach, the question has to be how to give instructions in such a way as to help the natural learning process of the student and not interfere with it 

-Timothy Gallwey, The inner game of tennis

Fewer words & fewer instructions, more questions & more room to practice self-observation. This is a recurring concept I have come across from various sources. Aiding the other person observe their own situation & letting room for him or her find the right way on their own is gold and not practiced as much in my experience. Instead I often see people telling others what to do and then following up to make sure they did it as instructed. Myself included. Gallwey really proposes a better method.


People with growth mindset work harder and can overcome adversities more 

-Carol Dweck, Mindset: the new psychology of success

The idea of growth and fixed mindset is powerful. Me, I realised while reading the book that I have a fixed mindset. I am not sure anymore. This book really shifted my perspective in that respect. Adopting the growth mindset helps with many things, first and foremost it provides grit, as the quote suggests.


When hiring executives focus on the key important strength needed for the role rather than focus on the candidate with the least weaknesses 

-Ben Horowitz, The hard things about hard things

I have not really tried this in practice yet but I have already understood that cultivating strengths is more productive vs. improving on weaknesses, I am inclined to think that this tip is gold.


Invest in the product instead of advertising 

-Seth Godin, Purple cow

You can fool a lot of people for a short time or few people for a long time, but you cannot fool a lot of people for a long time. This applies very well to advertising. Not to say that advertising is dead. It still works in many occasions but so much less powerfully than in the past. People have a hard time changing their habits so it is only logical that companies do not recognise this new reality and adjust their strategy accordingly. Instead they still invest heavily in advertising producing content that the rest of us rush to escape from either by switching channels or frantically looking for the pop-up’s X button.


I have learned to talk to myself instead of listening to myself. If I listen to myself, I hear all the negative thoughts, all the complaints, all the fears, all the doubts, and all the reasons why I shouldn’t be able to finish the race. But if I talk to myself, I can feed myself with the words and encouragement I need to finish the race. 

-Jon Gordon, The carpenter

This difference of listening vs. talking to oneself is the most prevalent difference I see when comparing people that succeed in the goals they set with those that do not. This advise falls under the easier-said-than-done category, but brilliant nonetheless.


Only boxers can understand the loneliness of tennis players – and yet boxers have their corner men and managers. Even a boxer’s opponent provides a kind of companionship, someone he can grapple with and grunt at. In tennis you stand face-to-face with the enemy, trade blows with him, but never touch him or talk to him, or anyone else. The rules forbid a tennis player from even talking to his coach while on the court. People sometimes mention the track-and-field runner as a comparably lonely figure, but I have to laugh. At least the runner can feel and smell his opponents. They’re inches away. In tennis you’re on an island. Of all the games men and women play, tennis is the closest to solitary confinement. 

-Andre Agassi, Open: An Autobiography

This explains why tennis players talk to themselves during games much more than in any other sport I am aware of. I have seen my fair share of  tennis but it never hit me that it is such a lonely sport.


You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven

Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

The above quote is part of the author’s claim that Sapiens evolved over other apes & animals that to his ability to believe in abstract & made up values such as myths & gods. These values laid to beliefs & laws and formed the basis of society. Consequently, this gives new meaning to religions & philosophy. In short religion & philosophy got us to where we are now. Although it is interesting to note that the author believes that it has been a negative progress as far as happiness is concerned ever since Sapiens came down from trees until today.


10 rules to guide you through testing new business ideas

I won’t go into how testing concepts prior to investment or full-blown execution is important. You probably know this already or else you would not land here.
What strikes me as odd though is that i have not come across much material about how to go about testing. So here is a short-list that i have to realize summarizes the most common pitfalls:
1. Test the product’s core statement
Focus on the essence of the service. Strip it down from all possible bells and whistles and try to confirm or reject the basic hypothesis about the project.
Essentially try to answer two questions:
a. which problem is the product solving?
b. is this problem important enough for the target group? (to look for it, to return to it, to pay for it)
If either (a) or (b) are not a 100% YES, then you are sure to fail. No doubt about it.
2. Get more educated on the subject
Assuming that (1) is covered then you need to accept that you don’t know as much as you should about the problem you are trying to solve.
For example, let’s say you want to develop a video aggregation service for sports lovers as there is so much sport in the world. And you go through step 1 and the need for a solution is indeed validated. So let’s say that you develop a vision to create an elaborate algorithm to gather data from various sources and incorporate also machine-learning to personalize the service. Stop. First find out what matters most to your target group. What is it that they are lacking now? You should not answer this based on yourself as this would be the equivalent of running a survey with a focus group of one person.
The biggest risk here is to focus on the wrong features, waste time and energy on developing, let’s say, machine learning technology to optimize personalized ranking of videos to find out that users care about something so specific that could be easily pinpointed without the need of developing a self-improving mechanism. Once you research a bit, then you will be in a position to design and build an MVP.
3. Build a prototype (MVP)
In the example above, just do the service manually. Build a tool to facilitate a person to manually place videos in a playlist. You don’t have the time to do it, hire someone. It will cost you far less than building a machine to do it. Also chances are that the person will do the work better than the algorithm will anyway. Do a small ad campaign and direct traffic to a site showing the editor’s playlist of sports videos. Then you study visitors’ behavior: average time on site, number of pageviews per visit, how many visitors actually return, etc. If the concept is interesting it will show some positive signs. In case you believe that personalization is key to the service and the one-editor-for-all approach does not do justice to the concept, then segment users really finely. In the spots video aggregation example, target fans of a particular team in a specific sport. Then the editor should focus on that team, and safely assume that the playlist would be as good as a personalized one for the particular target group.
4. Design a test for maximum knowledge
The test’s goal is to gather knowledge. Aim for that. Let’s assume you want to launch a new service to a userbase you have access to. Don’t send the invite to users randomly. Segment users based on every attribute you have. And do the segmentation separately. One for each attribute. Separate the userbase in three groups based on each of the attributes: low 50%, medium 30% and top 20%. Whatever the results come out to be, you will be able to draw some conclusions about the userbase and the service’s appeal.
5. Change one item at a time 
Otherwise you won’t know where to attribute the difference. So, for example, if you are testing how different usergroups behave, you need to make sure that you keep everything the same. Send the same email, on the same day and time, keep the same landing page, etc. If you want to test two different email subject lines, the usergroups need to be the same, etc.
6. Segment before time = 0
Segment users before the time of the test, not after. What not to do: run the test to a random sample and then see who participates and analyze that group. This could lead to a number of problems. For example, the test could alter the segmentation, e.g. trigger visits to the site, and hence shift users from one usergroup to the other. Or high users will most probably end up being under-represented if the sample is randomly selected, and according to the Pareto rule those aree the most important people that one should focus on.
7. Define what you are looking at
Carefully define the metrics you will be looking at after the done is done. Make sure you will get the information you will need. Write it down in a table. Confirm that all placeholders will be filled in with numbers after the test runs.
8. Put down actual values before hand
Take the time to predict what you are expecting to get. This is necessary also to budget and time the test but it will also help you to evaluate the end result. It will show show you where to focus your attention to: where your assumption proved to be far off. Do not put down too much data to look at as you risk losing focus. Keep your eyes on what confirms/ reject the primary hypothesis at the heart of the product’s value.
Harold Camping (pictured in December 2002), predicted doomsday to arrive on the following day, May 21, 2011 (
 9. Be fast.
The faster you design, execute & evaluate a test, the faster you will move on with the next one. The more tests you do, the more educated you become and the better the decisions you make. By working fast you are not being sloppy, you are maximizing the knowledge per time you collect. And it is all about knowledge at this point when you are researching.
10. Look out for interferences
Watch out for outside factors affecting the test. For example, if the testing is done via email then make sure that on that day you don’t also send the weekly newsletter. This is something that could affect behavior in a random manner.
Please share any thoughts or personal experiences of new idea typical pitfalls in the comments section. I would be really interested to find out about them now, before hand.