Innovation Presenter

This is a follow-on to Innovation Context Management, for being an innovator generally requires story telling.

Story telling is a special kind of presenting with tremendous opportunity for customization and interactivity both of which are immensely useful to anyone introducing new ideas.

I had the good fortune earlier in my career of spending fifteen years at Bose and Apple Computer, two tremendous innovation cultures, each of which was and still is, spectacularly successful at telling compelling stories leading to high margin uniquely innovative world class companies.  The story telling begins (perhaps) unconsciously during the interviewing process both of which were extremely long and detailed, requiring meeting a great many people. Each of these hiring processes ended up including on the order of forty hours of interviews during which many exceptional people were met, and the chance to begin to differentiate myself was put forth. In fact, if one did not rise to that occasion they were not going to get hired. Both organizations were all about innovation, at least in the departments I initially worked in, engineering on both cases. Both companies were all about innovation. That is to say, neither had any interest at all in imitating anyone or anything. You can not charge premium prices without offering something special, that is hard or even impossible to find elsewhere. Yet without those higher than normal margins, a company cannot afford to break new ground as R&D, marketing and the unique people required are expensive.

If you can not quickly make the point that you are different, than you also can not be better. Occasionally Amar Bose used to take two identical denomination bills from his wallet, hold them up and ask, “which one is better” to illustrate this point.  Clearly charisma is a large part of getting ideas adopted.  At Bose and at Apple, the ability to give a really good demo was critical, for are products cost a lot more than our competitors. In fact they cost so much more, that we had to redefine the price performance curve by adding new posts to it not previously present. Of course these needed to be presented by story and illustrated demonstration leading to Bose and Apple factory stores where this could occur more reliably.

There are presentation lessons to be learned from performance artists as well. Jazz was the most popular music of its time for decades. It was clearly different than what came before. When it evolved into Bebop where virtuoso musicians were playing with their backs to the audiences and directing all of their attention at other musicians, they lost their audience to R&B, rock, pop and country.  Being a musician’s musician does not provide a monetizable popular market, but does work better in the classical world. The same is true for being an inventor’s inventor. What Bose and Apple did extremely successfully, was to find easy ways to present a story. The basic Bose story was simple – big sound in a small box. Since people who care about size in living rooms (woman) clearly tremendously outnumbers audiophiles (mostly men) it was a slam dunk, but took years for Bose to become larger than all of their competitors combined. Apple also eventually had a clear story – emotionally relevancy – it was (and largely still is) simply easier and more fun to use Apple products. Evidently enough so to become the worlds largest market cap and hence most valuable company.

The Blasphemous Assertion 

What is one key element of a superior presentation, story framework or context? Say something, that at first blush sounds impossible and then prove it.  At Bose we frequently gave demos that appeared to be very large speakers playing the very large sound people were hearing and then did the “reveal” where we showed the much smaller than imaginable source of the sound. At Apple Steve Jobs was the master of the demo – “we are introducing three new products which will revolutionize communication, computing and entertainment” all turning out to be the iPhone.  If you can say something which truly grabs everyones attention by being seemingly impossible and then prove it, you are well on your way to emotional relevancy and making a sale.

Even performers in small cafes playing for small audiences endeavor to make their performances relevant by providing context surrounding whatever they are doing in the form of introductory chatter. How often have you heard something like, “Anyone from New York here” or something else guaranteed to get a response. This is presentation skills 101. Very basic dialog, but important especially if you are going to do something different or unexpected. Set the stage for what follows. Think about flow.

Even a company as revolutionary as Tesla must use a lot of pizazz and sex appeal to accompany the world changing vision of Elon Musk.  He is not simply comping out an saying – “hey lets make electric cars, they will be good for the planet”. He is saying “look at how cool and beautiful and wonderful this is, and oh yeah it is also electric”.

To capture attention you have to listen. Before attempting to propose anything, get online, talk to people, or both, to see how much you can find out about your audience so you can customize what you say to make it maximally relevant.

This is part of being a good context manager. No it is not dishonest – it is respectful to your audience, for the greatest gift you can give anyone is to acknowledge (and know) them. This is true for individuals, companies, customers, investors and audiences. Try to listen before you speak! The best sales people listen more than they speak. This can be difficult, especially in a performance situation, but try it. After all, the audience (stakeholder) does not need to be there in person if you are just phoning it in.

Intimacy should be more valuable than bombast unless perhaps one is running for office but as innovators we try to stay as neutral as possible about such things.