Grow your business (but never lose the startup mentality)

Here’s what we know for sure. As any business starts to have success, it grows. And the bigger it gets, the more people are brought in. More people = more bureaucracy, more meetings, more layers, more rules, a slowdown in movement and, well, a marked increase in B.S. If you’re not careful, this all drives you further away from the passion and kick ass mentality that was fueling your success in the first place. So how to avoid this?


Avoid the complacency that comes with growth with a DISTINCT (NOT EMPTY) COMMITMENT to preserving a start up mentality (even if you are not a startup). What does this mean?
This means committing to (and expecting) a push for innovation in areas beyond just your core product or service. As you grow, your organization’s DNA needs to push to find innovation and efficiencies in every facet…day to day operations, logistics, processes, accounting, IT, sales, etc., etc. This is just as important as core product innovation. So push for it. Expect it. In every nook and cranny of the organization.
This means genuinely encouraging people to question the status quo. Allow people to question processes if…but only if…they have a take on how to make things better…or a passion to find a solution.
This means making sure everyone (not just key people) has a constant touch with the outside world…with customers, constituents and what’s actually going on in the world. An out of touch team leads to an out of touch business.
This means eliminating unnecessary meetings (but keeping key collaboration and communication)
This means keeping teams small and nimble and then staying out of their way.

In support of the above, this ultimately means carving out time for people to actually think and learn and act. As in a startup, people must be allowed uninterrupted blocks of time to formulate new ideas and approaches that make the organization better and more efficient. This increases individual job satisfaction, drives collective morale and ultimately helps the business continue to thrive. In other words, you can grow the entity out of startup mode, but never, ever take the startup mentality out of the entity.

About the author: Eric Greene is a principal at Elevation (it’s different up here). Elevation is an innovation firm that specializes in A-Z new product/service/growth strategy development (including guerrilla research, opportunity I.D., brainstorming, concept development, industrial design, prototyping and engineering). To learn more, go to:

Need to rethink? Head to Monkey Town.

If you’re feeling the urge to rethink any aspect of your business model, product or service, you should head to Monkey Town ( Monkey Town is dinner-tainment (my word, not theirs) re-imagined for the electronic age, complete with cutting edge modernist cuisine, computer-generated animation, multichannel video and other software-centered art. It’s a moving venue that started in NYC and that now relocates itself approximately every 3 months into different vacant warehouse space in a different city before moving on again – bringing world class chefs and virtual artists along for the ride. In doing so, it reveals a lot about rethinking our own business models, creating intrigue and demand. How so?


Monkey Town is all about re-thinking the status quo and creating output unique enough to stand apart, yet scarce enough to stimulate its own demand (it’s here…and then it’s gone. It’s cool…everyone’s buzzing about it…but you better get in on it while you can).

If your business (or product or service) needs to reinvent or stimulate new demand in any aspect, there’s a powerful technique you can us to RETHINK in much the same way. It’s called the Great What If Game, and it works like this:
1. Generate a truly random “What If” list approximately 30-40 items long, as in what if we: make it more modern, make it more colorful, add an element of mystery, make it more digital, make it more mobile, make it fit a narrower target, make it cooler, make it simpler, re-position it, add features, make it more swank, create value add, etc., etc., etc.
2. Then, simply apply the list to your situation in order to re-think everything.

In the case of Monkey Town, such re imagining of the status quo (breaking rules along the way) might yield just such results as described above. The question is: are there any elements of your own business model that could use similar re-thought? If there are, define your own status quo – and then make a monkey out of it.

About the authors: Eric Greene & Keith Poulson are principals at Elevation (it’s different up here). We are an innovation firm that specializes in A-Z new product/service/growth strategy development (including guerrilla research, opportunity I.D., brainstorming, concept development, industrial design, prototyping and engineering). To learn more, go to:

Lessons from a lone goose

You know how geese tend to run (and fly and gather and poop) in flocks? Well there’s one goose in the field along the road by my house that does things differently.  While the other geese have been hanging out nearby in groups of 10, 20, 30 or more, “Gandolph Goose” (as I’ve named him) just wants to stand alone.  And in doing so, Gandolph the lone goose has taught me some unexpected lessons about innovation and marketing.








Gandolph has been hanging out solo in the field for a couple of weeks now.  Rest assured, he’s healthy, no hurt.  He can fully fly, function and take care of himself.  Yet still he chooses to stand apart from the nearby flock.  And in doing so, the damnedest thing has happened.  I notice him.  Everyone notices him.  People stop in their cars to notice him.  They snap off pictures.  Somebody fed him bread crumbs.  I saw someone else roll down a window to say hi.  There was a little kid who tried to chase him.  even other geese from further down the field stop by to visit. Gandolph lets them hang out for a few minutes, but then moves several yards away to be solo again.

The punch line here? The mere act of separating from the flock…and staying separate…has resulted in our lone goose GETTING NOTICED AND GAINING OUTSIZED ATTENTION while nobody looks twice at the geese in the larger flocks. Doesn’t this same insight apply to your products, services, strategy, marketing, sales efforts, communications, website, user interface, app, promotions, whatever? The mere act of standing apart and staying apart makes you much harder to ignore. And what’s good for the goose is good for your business.





There’s something about Abe Lincoln

What is it about Abe Lincoln? He pops up everywhere and is referenced all the time. Think about it.  Not a day goes by where you don’t see honest Abe referenced somewhere, somehow.  Sure, on President’s Day and because of money.  But that just scratches the surface of our Abe obsession.  He pops pretty much every day in all kinds of expected and unexpected ways.  On billboards.  In quotes.  On TV.  In books.  Movies.  Parodies.  As a vampire hunter.  In costumes.  To settle bets.  A.k.a. he is the Elvis of ex-Presidents.  Honest Abe is one of 44 U.S. Presidents (albeit one of our very, very finest) and has been deceased for 148 years.  So why are there seemingly more Abe Lincoln references than those of all other non-sitting presidents put together? And what does this have to do with innovation, design, research, new product development and marketing?

Read on…

Blog 2-18-14 Something about Abe-1So what does this Abe phenomenon have to do with innovation, design, research, new products and marketing? It’s this.  All Abe, all-the-time is a real thing.  But it’s the kind of thing that most people would never consciously notice.  Most anybody can catch the obvious things.  You need someone…yourself, a leader, an employee, an agency person, a researcher, but someone…who is able to notice the offbeat things, the emerging, the next, the heretofore unseen wave that leads to big ideas.  And if you don’t have such a person, you should find one. Honest.

Frankenstein Your Innovation

Is the mad scientist really mad? Not when it comes to innovation.  Because one powerfully effective path to success is to create a monster.

Or for that matter, several monsters. Just to see which version truly gets the intended rise out of the villagers.

By way of explanation: one of the most successful entrepreneurs we’ve worked with was a big believer in experimentation as the most effective means to successful innovation.  It all started with down and dirty experimentation and a whole lot of it. Trying out lots and lots of product concepts in highly informal, grassroots settings.  This meant building a variety of functioning prototypes in all states of being.  And then experimenting on consumers in real life settings to get true gut reactions.   In the end, he sold his household cleaning products company for over $300 million in cash.

Why did this “Frankenstein” approach work? 1) Trying real products in real settings forces consumers into a true gut reaction – they either love your product or they don’t, 2) you get incredibly vivid feedback to evolve your ideas – far beyond the surface level, and 3) it is faster and cheaper than conventional R & D methods.  Plus, let’s face it.  If you throw enough darts at the wall, a few are bound to stick.

So if you want to fast track your innovation, get crazy and create a few monsters. It’s downright scary how well it works.

What Voodoo can teach us about Innovation

Have you heard about Voodoo Doughnut? If not: these doughnut shops, founded in Portland, Oregon, are where people literally line up around the block day and night to get in on what they are serving.    There’s no end in sight to their long lines…or their nationally expanding business.  What makes Voodoo Doughnuts so kick ass? Why are they killing it where so many other doughnut shops struggle? The answers to these questions teach us some key lessons about innovation.


The secret to Voodoo Doughnut’s success? They draw familiar, beloved ingredients from other walks of life and bring them to the world of doughnuts.  Things like bacon.  Oreos.  Cap’n Crunch. Cocoa Puffs.  Peanut Butter.  Nutella.  Etc.  And now…you can love all those ingredients…in some extremely indulgent, unbelievably delicious, unexpected, totally original doughnut combinations.

BApplied to innovation and new products, this technique is called Parallel Universe.  It’s juxtaposition.  It’s familiar and at the same time it feels totally fresh and new.  Architects do it.  Fashion designers do it.  And so do some very sharp new product innovators. Do you?

Want breakthrough innovation? Be very, very contrary

Don’t think innovation can be forced or pulled out of thin air? Au contraire.  Seriously.  Au contraire.  One simple and HIGHLY EFFECTIVE way to achieve innovation is to be very, very, very contrary.  How?

A GREAT innovation tool we’ve used over the years to achieve real results is called The Great “What If” Game.  Essentially, this brainstorming exercise forces you to look at your situation (product or service) in very contradictory ways by asking a series of “what if” questions.  For example, in looking at your situation, what if we:

  • Modernize it?
  • Make it bigger? Make it smaller? Change its shape?
  • Substitute in something new or unexpected?
  • Make it more hip/cool?
  • Beautify it?
  • Simplify it?
  • Make it thicker?
  • Make it lighter?
  • Make it sexier?
  • Make it more fun?
  • Make it more powerful or potent?
  • Combine it with something improbable?
  • Make it healthier?
  • Make it more indulgent?
  • Make it more personal?
  • Make it more upscale?
  • Etc., etc.

You get the idea.  We challenge you to dream up your own large number of “what if” questions for your product or service. Then, see where it takes you.

Skeptical and don’t think this can really work? Au contraire – here is just a smattering of real world examples of where it has worked (by creating juxtaposition vs. the status quo):


The moral of the story? Use the Great “What If” Game to zig where others zag, go up to their down, be yin to their yang.  And watch what happens.

Let’s brainstorm! Have any favorite techniques you use to think contrarian or get outside the box? Please share them over here in the comments.