Are men more innovative than women?

Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg

The answer is no. The common mistake in this debate is to solely think of innovation as inventions, new businesses and new ideas. When you think along these lines, men like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Richard Branson immediately spring to mind. However innovation can take many forms and we must not pigeon hole ourselves into thinking that these public figures of entrepreneurship, mean that men are the more innovative sex. What about Margaret Thatcher? What about Anita Roddick (founder of Body Shop)? What about the 88% of female primary school teachers and 62% of female secondary school teachers who are generating innovative lessons for our leaders of tomorrow? What about the mums who every day of the week innovatively stretch budgets to go further in the home? Are men more innovative than women? The answer is no. The definition of innovation is so broad, that neither sex can claim victory to it.

www.7billionideas.com is still very much in its infancy and hasn’t collected enough interactions to be able to put forward a scientific opinion to whether or not there is a more innovative sex. In order to do this, the more profound question of, what is the definition of innovation, would need to be answered. We did however pass another major landmark this week – 17,000 ideas. What we do know, is that 64% of the ideas have come from men and 32% have come from women, with the rest coming from our growing group profiles.  Men have contributed double the amount of ideas, which isn’t altogether a surprising statistic. From my experience, men are more vocal. They share ideas quicker than women do. They might even prefer quantity over quality.  If innovation was defined as – Who generates more ideas? On the evidence we have, this would state that men are clearly more innovative. However, as I pointed out in my opening paragraph, innovation is not and should not be defined like this.

Is innovation just about idea origination? Or is it about the contribution and thinking behind it, which takes an idea and makes it a better one? Of course it is. In September 2012, we introduced the ability to comment on ideas and have now racked up 7,000+ comments. Although I do not know the gender split, I would be very surprised if it was comparable to the amount of ideas contributed. I predict it to be more towards a 50/50 split, as our females users have contributed often through the ability to extend on ideas. E.g, Mrs Arding’s, ‘Quality Street Tins’ – http://www.7billionideas.com/idea/1721 – ‘You should be able to take the tins back and get some money or a discount on your next purchase’. This idea, led to 13 comments. The idea evolved to giving the money to charity, to scrapping the tin and making them out of cardboard, to a full on money back scheme. 70% of these comments came from females. They helped make a good idea, a better idea. This is just one of countless examples on 7billionideas, but where else have female’s made an idea, a better one?

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, is a great example. Mark Zuckerberg is accredited with the origins of the idea behind Facebook (although I am sure a couple of famous twins will have an opinion on this), however, Sandberg has been instrumental to making Facebook the giant it is today. After meeting Zuckerberg in 2007 and spending some time together at the World Economic Forum in January 2008, she soon left Google for Facebook. She carved their strategy to focus on profit for the first time, something, which despite their turbulent valuation is something they have achieved. Sandberg now oversees the firm’s business operations including Sales, Marketing, Business Development, Human Resources, Public Policy and Communications. Arguably, she is the CEO of Facebook. Arguably she is more innovative than Zuckerberg himself. Arguably, women could be said to be more innovative.

Are men more innovative than women? The answer is no. Although countless men easily spring to mind of great innovative people, so do countless women. We must not brush off the fact that innovation can take many forms. We must not ignore that innovation isn’t just about idea generation. We must not be oblivious to the fact that innovation is not just about the quantity of ideas. Neither sex can take victory in the debate of innovation, but can continue to look for ways to contribute to the global search for more innovative ideas, more innovative business and more innovative ways to live our everyday lives. I believe by sharing and interacting on every day ideas, all of us will gradually think and become more innovative in everything we do. I believe the problem is that many people do not understand how innovative they are, because they consistently forget their ideas or do not understand what innovation is. If you haven’t already, please do check out www.7billionideas.com today. You can start becoming a little more innovative by contributing to other people’s ideas with a like, dislike or comment. Whatever you do – Don’t forget your innovative ideas

 

Standard

Finding time to develop your ideas

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Ever since 7billionideas began, people have been intrigued about how we developed our business. After sharing our story with them, they have always reflected on their own big business ideas and revert back to time being the biggest reason as to why they don’t progress their ideas. Is time the biggest blocker to entrepreneurship? Or is it our biggest excuse?

Why do people feel they never have time? One reason is because life gets in the way. School studies, work, family responsibilities, friends and other commitments. Life always presents us with a long list of activities that need to be done. Time minus work, minus family responsibilities, minus friends, minus other commitments equals = reduced amount of time in our day. To do all of these things properly you also need to find time to rest. So life is one reason we feel like we never have time.

Another huge reason is marketing. If you stop and think for a second, the majority of businesses out there are producing a product or a service that saves either you, your family or your company time. They make things easier. They speed things up. Meals in a packet, known as ‘Ready Meals’, were invented for those who don’t have time to cook. Starbucks makes us our coffee because we don’t have time to make a flask. Email is a must have on your phone, because we don’t have time to do it all at work. You could argue that I am exaggerating slightly, but marketing does add to the impression that we need certain products to help each of us claw back some time. This constant advertising drive, adds to people’s perception that time is swallowed up with all our daily chores.

A combination of life and clever marketing has developed this myth. But how are some people seem more productive than others? How do some people get the time to develop their ideas? Does Father Christmas bring them an 8th day as a present every year? No. It is how people choose to spend their time and it is also people’s misunderstanding of how much time is actually needed in order to develop an idea and what can be done in that time.

You don’t have to go far on the web to find so many statistics around how people spend their time. One article I came across, suggested the average American spent 35 hours working each week and 35 hours pursuing social activities. It equated to 5.1 hours a day split between reading, socialising, playing sports, playing computer games, relaxing and watching TV, with the average person spending 2 and a half hours in front of the box. An even more staggering statistic is the length of time people now spend on facebook – 15.3 hours a month, equating to over half an hour a day.

There are over half a million minutes in a year. If the above figures are correct, over 10,000 of these are being spent on facebook. Anyone who claims they don’t have time to progress their ideas is oblivious of the time they are wasting. We all have time. It is just how you choose to spend your time. If you could claw back 1% of your time (15 minutes a day) and re-direct it towards developing your ideas, you will be impressed at the progress you can make.

The second misconception I referred to earlier, is about what you need to do with your extra time. I think people think starting a business is all about finding a quiet space and drawing up a complicated big business plan, which then begins to sound like hard work. Most entrepreneurs do not spend all their time doing this. Developing an idea can come in many different formats. It includes thinking about your idea. Researching your idea. Talking about your idea.  Great developers then keep all their notes, plans, and sketches in one place. As the idea begins to mature, then their attention goes to answer two questions – Will this work and provide a return? How can I take it forward from here?

Only when you start taking your ideas seriously and finding the time, will you ever be able to progress your ideas. You do not need hours a week, but only minutes a day to make significant progress. I am a young man, without a family at the moment, but I still believe EVERYONE can find 1% of their time to progress their ideas. It is never too late to start. We all live once. Don’t regret not trying to find the time to work on your dreams and ideas. Start finding time today, to nudge your ideas forward. Remember – ‘Time waits for no man (or Surbiton High School students!!!)’.

Standard

Is there such thing as a bad idea?

 dreams8

Nope. There is categorically no such thing as a bad idea. It might need reworking. It might be disliked a little in its first instance. It might seem so extreme that it isn’t possible, but what is for sure, there is no such thing as a bad idea. Every idea – good or slightly unusual, are all important in the journey of producing really great ideas. Without the deemed to be ‘bad’ ideas, which I like to describe as unusual, uncommon, unexpected, unnatural, unorthodox, unfamiliar, unique ideas (basically anything that is starting with an ‘un’), debate is not sparked, new ideas are not suggested and good, practical, real ideas are not created. I could finish my blog here, but I believe there is a much deeper point behind this question.

Too many people believe that they come up with bad ideas. They are not idea generators. Their ideas are not worth being heard. Why? For countless years they have been shunned. They have been rubbished. They are told things are not possible by people who do not know what possible is. They have brought their ideas up at the dinner table and been told by their brother to keep quiet. They have suggested an idea either at school or work and not received any feedback

. Granted, this isn’t the situation in every environment, but there are countless people who will be able to relate to this. Our attitude to ‘unfamiliar’ ideas needs to be more adopting. We must embrace them. We must let these ideas be heard. Why? Without the ‘unusual’ ideas being heard, ‘real’ ideas will continue not to be created. Idea bullies need to be found, caught and sent to this blog to start changing their language when people around them suggest unique ideas.

I believe the reason we got into an economic mess over the last 5 years and the only way we will continue to get out of it is by our culture of innovation. Innovation is the life blood to any successful economy, but we don’t embrace it. Innovation is the creation of new business models, new management methods, new products and new ways of communicating. It isn’t just the creation of new businesses. Innovation can take place in existing businesses. Old businesses. Successful businesses. Struggling businesses. As the tide turned against many businesses years ago, including our big banks, they looked for short-cuts. They followed non-innovative methods. They looked for quick wins – they borrowed more money, leant more money, wasted money. Short-Cuts + non-innovative methods + quick wins = an underlying problem in any business. It demonstrates that they did not have a sustainable model and it caught up on them. Why did they look for quick wins? Because they lacked an innovative culture. They lacked the culture that embraced abnormal, unfamiliar and unusual ideas. They didn’t let sustainable, long term, well thought ideas develop. Unique ideas weren’t embraced, so consequently unhelpful and unthoughtful ideas were implemented.

I started this blog with an intention of putting to the bed the question of whether bad ideas existed. Half way through I’ve ended up solving the economic crisis! We have to embrace innovation at all levels and in all environments, starting in our homes, schools and offices. People are not born innovative, they become innovative. At home, children should experiment at meal times, deciding what ingredients should be used to make a tasty meal on a cheaper budget. At school, let children be heard (Surbiton High School is brilliant for this!). Let discussions flow. Illustrate to them that their first idea, led to the creation of a collaborative improved idea. For those parents reading this blog and who go to work, have regular think tank sessions. Let your office colleagues finish their ideas rather than jumping in to correct them. Invite all levels of employees to share their ideas.

All – It’s time we stamp out this ‘idea bullying’ that exists at dining tables, office water coolers and school playgrounds across the globe. We must embrace the ‘unusual’ ideas, debate them and produce something much greater. So – the next time you listen to someone come up with an idea, which you believe is a ‘bad’ idea, stop, think, remember this blog and join in collaboratively with that person to develop the idea into something much more than it was when it started. There is no such thing as a bad idea. It might just need a little extra work!

 

Standard

The Lost Art of Listening

Students of Surbiton, have you ever tried to listen to every single word of a song? How far did you get? My prediction is that you wouldn’t get very far at all, unless you like to tell porky pies. Why? Because your concentration levels are battling with so many distractions (even if you think there are none) that trying to listen to every word of a song is extremely hard. If you have never done it before, try it.

The next time you are driving (or being driven), turn on the radio and listen to a song and try and listen to every single word. Line 1 will pass with ease. Line 2 with satisfaction. By the time you hit Line 6/7, the vast majority of you will find your mind wandering to distractions in/outside of the car or distractions in your head.

Why? Because listening is hard.

Research on listening indicates that we spend 80% of our waking hours communicating: 9% writing, 16% reading, 30% speaking and 45% of our day engaged in listening. Listening can take many forms – conversations, music, TV and radio to name a few. When you stop and think about it, these statistics are not terribly surprising; although I am sure we can all name a few individuals who do their fair share of ‘speaking’. What is surprising though is how actively engaged we are when we are listening. The prediction is as little as 25%. We become pre-occupied. We don’t pay attention. We aren’t listening. Why? Because listening is hard.

One of the factors influencing this statistic is that the average attention span for an adult in the United States is 22 seconds. It is not surprising that the length of television commercials is usually anywhere from 15-30 seconds. Following this, most adults will then remember only about 50% of what has been said. A few hours later, we will only remember 10-20% of what has been said.

Why? Because listening is hard.

I find all of these statistics very disappointing, but could they be improved? Of course they can. You could argue that the reason these statistics are this way is because people are not speaking, presenting or producing content that is engaging enough to keep someone listening. I am sure this is the case in many situations. However, this is pointing the finger solely on the content producer rather than the listener. Content can be improved to be more engaging, but so can people’s listening skills.

Nowadays, you will rarely go through any interview process without the employer testing your ability to communicate and often the preferred testing method is seeing if someone can present. Whether you’re at School, University or in employment, presenting is something your teachers, lecturers or bosses are always keen for you to improve on. It is seen as the top communication skill to have, even though 45% of our time communicating is spent listening. However, less than 5% of us have ever concentrated on developing our listening skills. Why? Firstly, because people view listening as such a basic skill that we take it for granted. Secondly, people are reluctant to admit to themselves that they aren’t great listeners, even though the majority of us fall into this segment.

Why is it so important? The art of listening is critical to building successful relationships. These relationships can be in the home, with friends, with clients or with your colleagues at work. If someone is talking, it is usually because they want to be listened too. If the statistics above are accurate, we spend 36% of our waking day listening, but only 25% of this time listening properly. I predict the split between when you are listening properly versus when you are not listening properly is parallel to those you do have good relationship with versus those that you don’t have a good relationship with.

Now imagine if you flipped that on its head and you were listening properly 75% of the time. What would be the effects? Simple – 1) You would hugely improve relationships for sure (inside and outside of school) 2) You would learn a huge amount more 3) You would be so much more aware of your surroundings.

Could you listen better at School? The answer is a big YES but you need to find ways of working on it. I am trying to improve this very quality myself. There are plenty of self help books out there and countless blogs on this topic, however if you want somewhere to start, my tip is to do two things (1) Ask yourself – Who is the best listener I know? What can I learn from them? (2) When you know you’re not listening, remember this blog and actively engage yourself back in the conversation/presentation you are meant to be engaged in. If you keep doing that, you will begin to get into better and better habits as time goes by.

I’ve learned a huge amount on my journey of becoming an entrepreneur. When I engage with other entrepreneurs now on a daily basis, the biggest thing which has become apparent to me, is that successful entrepreneurs are the best listeners. They’re always listening, watching, learning from others, as they seek to improve themselves.

I am not expecting everyone to be engaged 100% of the time, but I really believe if you concentrate on improving your listening skills and improve as little as 10%, you will see a massive effect on your family and work life. As I am often reminded, we were born with 1 mouth and 2 ears for a reason. Use them to listen and start practicing in your lessons today.

Photo Credit

Standard

Where do good ideas come from?

The concept of ideas, how they start and where they come from, fascinates me on a daily basis. What makes an idea good? What makes an idea bad? Why do some ideas develop and others do not? The question of “Where do good ideas comes from?” has been queried before. Many people try to build and replicate environments which encourage innovation and idea generation, all in the hope that new good ideas would be generated. As you can imagine, being the founder of 7billionideas, I have an opinion on this big question.
Recently I came across an article which estimated that only 2.5% of the UK population have innovative minds. What a ridiculous statistic and what absolute rubbish. Anyone who has ever had a shower, sat on a bus, gone for a run or simply laid in a bed, has come up with an idea. I have no doubt the students of SHS come up with ideas all the time while at school. This means everyone has the potential to be creative. Everyone is innovative. The problem has always been that people do not remember their ideas, or indeed act on them. To act on an idea takes courage, to have courage can take years to develop.
One of the most interesting books I have read is Steven Johnson’s ‘Where do good ideas come from?’ He has spent a huge part of his life looking to address this big question. Johnson concludes that good ideas come from a collection of hunches. Hunches being, ad hoc ideas which are logged in the brain and then a moment comes when they are all added together to create the idea. He sways away from the ‘lightbulb’ theory of world changing ideas coming to people on the fly, but argues strongly, with sense, with logic and with examples, that good ideas come together when hunches collide. The challenge people have is that they don’t have the tools or environment to build ideas and allow hunches ‘to persist and disperse and recombine’.
I believe in a simple ideas formula – If you share, note down and read enough ideas, good ideas will come together in your mind. Because of all the ideas you’ve shared, noted down and read, over the years the vital ingredient of having courage to act on your ideas will come to you. Courage doesn’t come in a sealed envelope from the post man. Courage comes from years of learning. Years of mistakes. Years of thinking. It’s never too late to give something a try. Johnson is quick to add that an idea is never finished too, it is always developing. You will never really know where an idea could take you, until you start the journey of developing it.
In an effort to conclude on his theories, the closing words Johnson uses in his book are words of advice on how to generate more good ideas. It summarises the brilliant 246 pages before it – ‘Go for a walk; cultivate hunches; write everything down, keep your folders messy, make mistakes, take on multiple hobbies, visit coffee houses and other liquid networks (I like this one!), follow the links, let others build on your ideas, borrow, recycle, re-invent. Build a tangled bank’ – To those students of Surbiton High School who have ambitions of starting a business one day and becoming an entrepreneur, let 7billionideas become your ideas bank. Remember – No idea is silly, it just might be disliked. If you share, read and note down enough ideas, one day your hunches will collide and you really will begin to form more good ideas! Start today.
If you have 20 minutes, do check out Steven Johnson’s TED Speech on Youtube

Standard

Everyone is a Managing Director (MD)

Everyone is a MD - Maybe not of a business, but definitely yourself!!!

Everyone is a MD – Maybe not of a business, but definitely yourself!!!

One of the first things which needs to happen with Young Enterprise (after the teams are formed), is to have a student emerge as a Managing Director to begin to guide and lead their team to success. It’s a difficult job if you’ve never done it before. Your mind can never stop. Often the buck lies with you and it’s a privilege that some people never want, but others strive for every single day. Personally, I love it, but this exercise at Surbiton High school of selecting the leaders of the teams got me thinking – Surely everyone is actually a MD, maybe not of a business, but of themselves.
After my kick off presentation to the year 12s taking part in Young Enterprise this year, I was asked a brilliant question ‘If an MD is always giving out jobs – What does the MD actually do?’ What struck me most about this question is that it would probably hit most MD’s for six, often always in control and leading their companies, but a question like this quickly gets you scrambling for an answer as you begin to justify your grand title and responsibility. The truth is, an MD leads, they orchestrate, they think 6 steps ahead, they bring vision, energy and deep routed values to a company. They are the face of the company not only in the good times, but also in the bad times. They have a responsibility to their clients and employees to keep delivering success and value. They’re often crucial to the success or failure of a company.
It’s quite something to think that 1 person could have such a big effect on the movement, mood or success of a company, but why not? It is their leadership style and their DNA which will spread through their management team, their employees and onto their clients. This is why big companies spend a considerable amount of time searching for their next MD even when the current one is doing such a fantastic job. There are countless examples of companies taking a turn for the worst when an influential MD moves on and they find them extremely hard to replace. Can you imagine how difficult it was for Apple to replace the charismatic and inspirational Steve Jobs?
So if an MD is responsible for leading, delegating, planning, thinking things through, selling themselves and building relationships, isn’t this a responsibility that we all have to ourselves when we plan our careers or when we work on our ideas? In fact, isn’t everyone actually an MD of themselves? The answer is yes. You, yourself are a business, an enterprise, an idea. No idea will be successful if it stands still and the one thing I’ve learnt in my life is that standing still is boring.
With Young Enterprise you can only have 1 MD per team, but each student whether or not they take this role is actually an MD of themselves. A successful Young Enterprise team will have not 1 but 15 MD’s all taking responsibility for their role in the success of a team. They each have to conduct themselves as if they are an MD for their particular job role. They must lead it, be innovative, think outside of the box, delegate to others and also help other MD’s with their roles, not just be narrow minded to do their job and think that’s the end of it. I guess this is another important point that yes an MD can be competitive, but they also know how to collaborate, share lessons and learn from each other. I hope this can be the case for the MDs of SHS Young Enterprise in 2014/2015.
Personally, I think being an MD is the greatest job on the planet (apart from being a husband!!!), but it’s a job that I share with 7 billion other people all across the world. Each and every single one of us has a responsibility to be an MD of ourselves and help others be the MD of themselves. You, yourself are an idea. Build on that idea. Develop it, but most importantly own it. Be the MD you can be. For the students of Young Enterprise, remember each of you are MD’s and help each other out!

Standard

Executive to Entrepreneur

What a fantastic way to start my time at Surbiton High School as the Entrepreneur in residence by attending the awards and recognition evening at the King’s Centre in Chessington. I couldn’t help be inspired by the 3 words that I consistently heard – Inspire, Encourage and Empower. These aren’t words just plucked out of the air, but words with deep meaning and represent exactly what Surbiton High School is all about. These words also describe exactly what I intend to do when I interact with every single student – It is the essence of Surbiton High, my company and myself.

As I sat watching and listening to the outstanding achievements of the school over the last academic year, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own journey since I sat 10 years ago in my school assembly room picking up my A Level certificates. I never could have imagined being a business owner in my twenties. I always thought it was something that would come to me, but never knew when and never knew how.

After securing the A Level results I needed for the next adventure in my life, I went to Sheffield University and studied History. Although it was never my best subject, I always had a philosophy that if I picked subjects that I enjoyed, it would lead me to the right path. I went on to learn about the American Revolution, wartime Germany, the difficulties in Russia and then found my specialised subject in my final year, when I spent a whole year dedicated to learning about British Secret History (MI5 and MI6). I absolutely loved it. I remember after all the fun nights out, I would be up early, down to the library and literally spent the day reading about spies!!! It was such a fantastic period of my life, I always look back on my time at Sheffield with a big smile on my face.

As my University days were ending, my mind began to turn to what’s next. This is often a conundrum for many students, but I applied a little logic, which ended up paying off. I knew I wanted to get into a big company and be a ‘businessman’, but I didn’t really know what that actually meant at the time or exactly what a ‘businessman’ did. I decided to print off the Forbes 100 list of the top companies in the world and look at the sectors which kept coming up – Energy, Finance, Retail, etc, etc. I quickly crossed out those which didn’t appeal to me and found out one stood out – Technology. I liked the idea of working for a technology company which was always changing and evolving.

The next thing I did was google ‘Business Organisations’ and began to get a feel for all the different kind of roles in a business – Operations, Finance, Marketing, Human Resources, etc. Again the same thing happened, one stood out – Sales. I loved dealing with people and I loved the idea of representing a company by becoming a seller. From nowhere, I worked out I wanted to go into the technology industry and become a seller. So I aimed high and it paid off. I applied to IBM, went through 6 interviews, was made an offer and 4 weeks after graduating I was on the path to becoming a professional seller working for the biggest technology company in the world. I couldn’t believe my luck – I actually had a job and a decent one too!

I then spent the next 7 years developing my expertise and becoming a senior sales professional for IBM. I loved it and learnt so much along the way. IBM had an appreciation that selling wasn’t just getting someone with the gift of the gab in to do a job, but it was also a professional. IBM understood that a seller needed an abundance of qualities – Negotiating, presenting, hardworking, communication skills, etc. I worked with small companies and graduated to closing multi-million dollar transactions dealing with the biggest companies in the world. I was even promoted to become the youngest Band 9 (which won’t mean anything to any of you!) in the world. However the thrill of walking into a board room to negotiate a $10m+ deal with some of the biggest businesses in the world is hard to match – That is, unless the core DNA in you is to be an entrepreneur.

882261_10100470425201532_414947078_oAbout 3 years ago, my life changed forever when we generated the idea to create www.7billionideas.com. After a glorious bank holiday weekend, spending the day talking with my friends in a pub garden, it became apparent to me how often ideas were discussed, forgotten and never followed through. My co-founders and I decided to build a platform which would solve this issue and no idea would ever be forgotten again. That decision changed my life. We began by building a social media platform and eventually it evolved in to becoming something with a much deeper impact – An Ideas Company.

We believe that there are 7 billion people on the planet who need help connecting with their own ideas. We formed 7billEDUCATION to inspire students to think big and dream big. We formed 7billBUSINESS to work with entrepreneurs and small businesses to push their ideas forward. We formed 7billCORPORATE to help more established organisations capture the innovation which takes place in their company daily. We’re a long way since our initial conversation in the pub, but what a journey it has been.

Despite being on IBM’s Director Fast Track scheme, they allowed me to go part time approximately 18 months ago. I used this spare time, all of my annual leave, evening, weekends and about every spare minute I had to develop my business and my dream. In August his year, I finally made the jump from being an Executive to being a full time Entrepreneur and the feeling is brilliant.

I now couldn’t be more excited about what the future entails and working with the students of Surbiton High. I live in Surbiton and I’m very proud to now be associated with such a fantastic school. 7billionideas will inspire the students. We will encourage them to think big. We will encourage them to dream big. We will encourage every single one of them to become ambassadors of the word innovation – Meaning that the entrepreneurial DNA which exists in every single one of them is unlocked and developed. Students, parents, teachers, governors, please contact me, use me, challenge me, ask me questions, I’m here to make a difference and ready to get started.

Standard