Jim Harris is one of North America’s foremost management consultants, public speakers, authors and thinkers on change and leadership.
He has 20 years experience as a professional speaker and consultant and speaks internationally at more than 40 conferences a year on topics including innovation and creativity, customer relationship management (CRM), eLearning, creating learning organizations, environmental leadership, energy efficiency, strategic planning, and creating common organizational mission and vision.
He was one of the first seven Canadians personally trained by Al Gore to present the slide show for An Inconvenient Truth. He was also one of just 12 Canadians who were licensed to publicly teach Dr. Stephen Covey’s work, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
Jim Harris works with leading businesses and Fortune 500 companies. He recently finished a global consulting contract with IBM and a related white paper on how low carbon leadership drives profitability.
His most recent book, Blindsided! is a #1 international bestseller, having hit the top spot on the Financial Times of London’s European Edition of Best Business Books. He is also the author of The Learning Paradox, which appeared on numerous bestseller lists, and co-author of the national bestseller The 100 Best Companies to Work for in Canada.
He is also principal at Strategic Advantage. He previously held positions as a partner at Cleantech Group and affiliate at Covey Leadership Centre.
In addition to his speaking and consulting engagements and books, Jim Harris writes for a number of publications, including The Globe and Mail, Profit magazine and Backbone magazine.
How would you say innovation can help small business owners grow their business successfully?
If you look at all the rapid growth companies in the world, they’re the ones that average consumers would describe as innovative. There is a very strong relationship to innovation [with] growing the top line and profitability.
What do you believe is the most challenging part of being an innovative entrepreneur?
Everyone talks about wanting to innovate and change, but as adults, we like doing what we have always done. We feel uncomfortable, awkward, like a child again, doing things we’ve never done. But, we talk a good game. ‘Hey, we want to be innovative.’ It is in part, our personal reaction to change, that keeps us doing things in the way we’ve always done them. When we were small children, you and I received a vaccination. We were given a very mild form of the disease that allowed our body to build an immunity to it so that when we encountered that actual disease later in life, we were able to resist it because we built an immunity. The good news about change is exactly that. If we embark on a program of innovation and change, the more we change, the more innovative we are, the more we can change. A company or a person, when you begin to engage in small change, you [say], ‘Wow. That wasn’t so bad. And boom, I’m doing it.’ For instance, I use the computer a lot, I am an author and journalist. I type a lot and I use the mouse a lot. My right hand was beginning to get sore and I was beginning to worry about getting carpal tunnel syndrome. I switched the mouse to my left hand. For the first day, it wasn’t very good, I wasn’t very coordinated. But, now I actually prefer my left hand. The point is we often will not change unless we are forced to change. And two, to change is often not as bad as we think. But [for some reason], we won’t actually go through it until we’re actually forced to, whether it’s market share, loss or whatever. When I am working with my clients, I try and help them get to that point before their losing market share and revenue. One CEO said to me, ‘Jim, what you’re really saying is if we were our own competitors and knowing our internal weaknesses, how we slaughter ourselves? ‘. In other words, how do we create a sense of urgency to innovate and change within an organization?
What role do you believe innovation plays when it comes to the success of a business?
It plays a critical role and there’s innovation in many different ways. If you stop people in the street and ask what’s innovative, 75 per cent of people will answer with a product, let’s take for instance the IPhone because it’s in the top ten answers. The IPhone isn’t actually innovative, it’s laggard in the market. There are other companies that are far more advanced, such as Huawei. People perceive Apple as being innovative, but the real point of this is [three quarters] of the answers will be about a product that represents innovation. Similarly, if you go inside an organization, 75 per cent of the innovation effort will be around the product. But, the product is one part of an ecosystem of what drives real value in terms of innovation. There are four other areas that I talk about. One is business model innovation, one is process innovation, one is service or user experience (UX) or customer experience (CX), and policy. Let’s just touch on a couple of these briefly. Business model innovation. Uber? If we have perfected delivering people from point A to point B with an app, do you think we could deliver burgers? They call it UberEats and it’s a $6 million business last year. If we can deliver people and burgers, do you think – or is it too big of a stretch –we could deliver liquor? Could we deliver marijuana? If I am working at the business model innovation as opposed to the product level, I can generate billions of dollars of new business and enter new markets. It’s not about the product, the product is a car and a driver that takes me to A and B.
Process Innovation. There is an insurance company in New York City called Lemonade that has the faster claim settlement in the world’s history at 3 seconds. You can only apply for this insurance from your smartphone. A kid had his parka stolen from a restaurant, he answers all the questions on his smartphone through the claims spot. He takes a picture of the police report, he hits the button to submit, it goes up into the cloud and it runs against 18 fraud algorithms. It comes back down 3 seconds later and says his claim is approved. Compare that to 1990, it took 8 weeks on average for an insurance company to settle your car accident claim and for you to get your cheque in the mail. So, from 8 weeks to 3 seconds, do you think that is innovative? Do you think that has driven out costs? Overhead? Paper pushing activity? Do you think that increases customer satisfaction? Do you think that means it will grow? Do think that’s what’s responsible in part for having the same coverage 65 per cent lower premium than tradition insurance companies? Do you think that will disrupt the insurance industry? Boom. So that’s the process piece. There’s just a couple of different areas of innovation other than the product that can fundamentally change a market.
In your opinion, what are some of the strategies that small business owners can use to increase innovative ideas and projects into their business?
If we want to be innovative, we have to be continually learning on a personal level. I’ve been to TED, it’s now out in Vancouver, it’s $10,000 US, $13,000 CAN. Can’t just go, you have to write an essay as to why you deserve to go and if they deem you worthy, then they’ll let you pay them $13,000. We have a similar conference in Toronto called Idea City, that’s just had its 20th anniversary. It began as a joint venture with TED 21 years ago. So, every year I go to it. 50 speakers, 17 minutes each, over 3 days. So, are you a continuous learner? Are you always scouting the market and trends? Do you read? Every year, Bill Gates has a reading vacation where he takes 20 books and goes away. All he does is read and think. What percentage of your time is spent on things that add value which you should either eliminate, delegate or automate out of your processes as an entrepreneur? It doesn’t mean maybe you don’t do them anymore.
I could go down to the post office and get 5 per cent off if I get $200 worth of stamps. That’s $10. That’s great, but I took a half-hour to do it. When I give a keynote talk their $12,500 in Canada and it’s $25,000 US when it’s in Europe. That half-hour [spent getting stamps], could I’ve sold a speaking engagement? Yes, I can save $10 on stamps better than anyone else in my company. But, is that the best use of my time? Do I have to let go of that, delegate to someone else who is new at negotiation, who isn’t going to save the $10? But, what do I as an entrepreneur have to let go of so I can focus on higher-value [activities]? Someone else won’t do it as well as I do it, initially, but I have to have the patience and the fortitude to let them go through that learning curve, just like I did. Maybe in the end, they’ll end up doing it better because they have more time than I do. Maybe they’ll get 7.5 per cent off the stamps and outperform what I can do. But, I have to allow them to have the developmental time and have the patience not to have them do it perfectly to begin with. These are internal resistors I have within me. As an entrepreneur, I believe I have to let go of 25 per cent of what I am doing this year. By letting go, it doesn’t mean that we don’t do it, but I have to delegate, automate it or think of a different way of doing it without spending my time. That, in turn, gives me the time to do higher value-added [activities]. That discipline needs to cascade through an organization, not just me, but everyone in the company. We have to have an environment that is supportive of everyone evolving.
Do you believe that leadership and innovation go hand in hand together? Why?
Yes and no. If you leave innovation just to people who are focused on innovation, you’ll get the following thing. They’ve created a whim they called the fishcam. They’ll point some cameras to a goldfish tank and you could log in to the web any time to look at where the goldfish were swimming. The technologists thought this was great. If we leave the innovation to just the technologists, that’s what we’re going to get. I’m not saying all loved the fishcam, but this was one of the early applications. Once I’ve seen the fish once or twice, that’s the most I would want to visit that site. We can’t leave all the innovation to technologists. We need them, but we need to apply business models to them. How am I going to monetize this? It’s great you think this is fun and cool. But, here’s an application. What about remote training so that if our company is spread around the globe, we can develop training modules for people to see [each other] remotely. What about remote medicine? Where we can have robotics in the far north of Canada, where you can’t have specialists and someone needs their pancreas taken out. A doctor using high-speed internet from Toronto can operate on someone in Nunavut who is under anesthetic, using a robotic arm that can cut the patient open, take this out, cauterize the bleeding with a local nurse or something. All those things stem out of the fish tank [idea], but we have to apply business models to it for practical, end use-value. We can’t innovate just for the sake of innovation. We can, but it’s not going to help our companies grow and add more value. We do need some fun kind of stuff because it leads to the other stuff, but if we entirely abdicate the responsibility of innovation to technologists, we’re not going to get stuff that helps our company grow, adds more value for customers.
If you could give the top three benefits of being an innovative leader to an entrepreneur, what would they be?
Higher revenue, higher profitability and greater employee engagement and satisfaction.