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Slide Notes

This talk was presented at Sabre as part of "Bring It," their employee-led innovation series.

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Published on Nov 06, 2015

How we challenge the norm, and why -- from a lecture on innovation, part of the Sabre "Bring It" series.



This talk was presented at Sabre as part of "Bring It," their employee-led innovation series.

Photo by iNelsonRocha


Just a little bit on my background.

The common threads: extreme user focus, brand authenticity, creativity and resourcefulness.


(Figure A)
I've worked for and with a lot of companies, large and small, and I think there's a consistent desire to try to corral innovation into a neat, orderly process.
Photo by incertitumbre


(Figure B)
In my experience, however, it doesn't always happen quite that way.

I have to be honest that I'm not even sure what this is a picture of, but when I saw it, it was like YES! This is what innovation looks and feels like to me. It's colorful and kind of messy and a bit unpredictable.
Photo by @Doug88888

"It doesn't take rare skill or astonishing talent.

It doesn't have to involve huge expenditures of time and money."
I've also noticed that big companies like to think of innovation as a *big* thing, with big teams and budgets.

Many of the things I'm going to share with you here are more what Seth Godin would call soft innovations -- smaller things that turn into bigger things. (Read more about this in "Free Prize Inside,": http://www.amazon.com/Free-Prize-Inside-Make-Purple/dp/B001QXC4MC)

From my experience, one of the biggest challenge of working in a big company like Sabre (or Microsoft, or Hasbro) is to allow the scrappy, innovative, entrepreneurial type of innovation to flourish. So today I'll be sharing some ways that a big company might think and act more like a small company.

Photo by Mirka23


The topic we agreed on is 10 ways we challenge the norm and why, and I'll share some frameworks and examples we've used to infuse Haiku Deck with innovation, and to build our community in innovative ways, over the past year.

{For more about Haiku Deck, visit http://www.haikudeck.com.}
Photo by kevin dooley


So, I love founding stories, and Haiku Deck has a really unusual one.

The company's original incarnation was called Giant Thinkwell, and their first product was....a themed social game based on Seattle local celebrity Sir Mix-a-Lot.


The launch was a big success -- we actually got a ton of press, but even though the game was very beautifully and cleverly designed, it turned out nobody actually wanted to play the game, and they couldn't get any more celebrities to be interested.
Photo by anarchosyn


They were following Eric Ries's Lean Startup Methodology, which advises you to take what you learn from a failure and iterate on it, and they did a series of pivots along those lines.

First, inspired by a killer Sir Mix-a-Lot DJ session on Turntable.fm during the game launch they tried social video watching, which unfortunately proved to be incredibly popular only with a hardcore group of Duran Duran fans.

Next, they tried a white-label solution for the social video platform they had built, but they couldn't find enough customers quickly enough.


They were running out of money and time, and in the process the team imploded and one of the co-founders -- who happened to be the one with all the design skills -- left.

The two remaining co-founders were left trying to put together an update for their investors, and struggling to make slides that didn't look like, well, crap.

It was in this deep dark moment that they had the inspiration for Haiku Deck. With all the powerful tools we have at hand, why was it so hard to produce good-looking slides? And did it really have to be so hard?


This was more than a pivot; it was a complete change in direction.


The more they investigated it, the more they realized that there had really been very little innovation in presentation software for more than two decades.

What's more, though everybody they talked to used the traditional tools, nobody truly enjoyed them.

The tools offered lots of functionality, but the output had become tedious, uninspired, and monotonous.


The opportunity felt really exciting all of a sudden. Why not completely revisit the experience of creating and sharing presentations, based on how we work and communicate now?

Where are the true pain points?

As you're considering innovation in your own organization, my advice is it to focus closely on the true pain points, especially ones that are vivid to you. The struggle of trying to create a beautiful presentation was a very real pain point that was worth solving.


And so, Haiku Deck came to be.

And in the process we rallied and built a team around 3 key things which I'll call our innovation touchpoints.

Most of the ideas I'm going to share with you start from one of these.
Photo by Petra Maček


The pain of bad PowerPoint is something every single one of us -- and, I'm sure, every single one of you -- has experienced. We have lived and breathed it and stayed up late messing around with line spacing and animated bullets, and we totally believe we can make this whole experience exponentially more awesome.

Photo by Gulfu


We are a small, scrappy startup, so the constraints of time and budget and people inspire innovation in a different way. We consistently need to be resourceful, and to turn small things into bigger things.

(Side note: This idea is also fundamental to Haiku Deck itself, and to the product's name. We believe that constraints actually inspire creativity and unlock deeper, more poetic expression.}


  • Simple
  • Beautiful
  • Fun
We've also built our brand around three guiding principles -- simple, beautiful, fun, and we come back to these words often.

The simple and beautiful were always part of the equation as we developed the messaging and the underpinnings, but honestly, it took a outsider to point out that the experience was fun. That was kind of an "aha" moment for us -- sometimes you get too close to a thing to really see it.

A common question we ask is...how could we make {this thing} more simple, more beautiful, or more fun?

You can read more about our philosophy at http://www.haikudeck.com/about
Photo by Reini68


So, let's talk about personality a little bit.

In the productivity category, I'd say that expectations are generally low. You're kind of expected to be straightforward and businesslike ("Clippy" aside...)
Photo by clickykbd

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We look for ways to inject personality (and fun) throughout the experience of Haiku Deck. We want the whole experience to feel more vibrant and vivid.


One example: Haiku Deck includes a built-in keyword image search that gives you access to millions of free, beautiful Creative Commons photos. We can almost always find you an amazing image to illustrate your words, but if for some reason we can't, we don't return a generic error message; we show you pictures of....sad clowns. "These sad clown represent how we feel."'


For our one-page handout that we take to conferences and events, you can actually fold it into a colorful origami Haiku Deck crane. It *is* beautiful and fun, though truthfully, I'm not the best at origami and we could do a little better on simple.


We also look for ways to make our customers feel really celebrated.

If you publish five Haiku Decks (or do something else awesome), you'll get a handwritten note from us. People love these! They tweet and post about them all the time.


This is especially important because these kinds of details are what drive word-of-mouth recommendations, which are by far the most trusted form of communication.

These numbers are from a Nielsen study that came out very recently; you can read it here:

What brand touchpoints are missed opportunities?

To fuel your own innovation, take a look at every single brand touchpoint and ask how you might inject a little more personality, or make that experience a little more special and memorable, or get people noticing and talking about it?


On criticism -- I've worked with a lot of companies, big and small, and one thing I've seen a lot, especially with the big ones, is fear of, or at best, indifference to, criticism. There's a fear of people saying something negative, and they kind of close their windows to seal it out.
Photo by nic0

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I actually believe you can learn a lot from criticism, and that it can be an awesome source of innovation.

I like to keep our windows pretty wide open -- after all, every piece of criticism you get is an opportunity to learn and improve.
Photo by tranchis

Conversion Tactics

  • Could you tell us more?
  • Would you like to beta test it?
  • Would you like to guest post?
I'll share a few conversion tactics I've developed over the years. I've seen these work really consistently.

One is just to make people feel heard. If you don't respond, they're going to just shout louder. If you show that you listen and that you value their input, they'll often soften their response and you can have a a constructive exchange.

The next is to invite people to participate in the building or testing process. If they are complaining about how your software works, see if they'd like to be a beta tester. They almost always say yes.

If someone is critical of your overall approach, another effective strategy is to invite them to guest post on your blog or share their expertise with your community. I've developed some great relationships this way with people who started out being a bit critical of what we were doing.
Photo by abdul / yunir


Perhaps the most common criticism we have gotten at Haiku Deck is...why don't you make it for Android, or iPhone, or (fill in the blank).

We've been able to channel that feedback in a really positive way by integrating a way to request a new platform right into our site. In the process we've also built a list of thousands of people who we know want Haiku Deck on a different platform, and we've collected helpful data as well to help guide our prioritization.

{You can request a new Haiku Deck platform yourself here: http://www.haikudeck.com/#device-survey}


A common thing that I see a lot of companies do is to try to scale, outsource, and automate customer service. A lot of the focus seems to go into how to bring down the time and cost.

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I believe that keeping customer service close, however, is a great source of innovation and great brand practice. I like to think of our service as a homestyle breakfast buffet, where you can get what you need and come away feeling warm and happy.

We learn so much by keeping customer service front and center -- who are users are, what they love, what they struggle with, what we could do better.
Photo by kimubert


I have never understand the "no reply" email. If someone has a question or a complaint, wouldn't you want to know that?

When you download or sign up for Haiku Deck, you'll get a personal email from our founder -- and although of course the delivery system is automated, Adam does actually read and respond to the mails people send back. They are often really surprised -- but the feedback we get, and the opportunities that arise, and the insights into our community's needs, and the relationships we build as a result, are worth that high-touch effort.
Photo by jev55

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One day Adam got a response from a Dutch design blogger, who had just downloaded the app and was having a hard time figuring out how to adjust the text screen behind the words. He helped her out within a few minutes.

She went on to create an absolutely amazing Haiku Deck that she delivered as the keynote a big design conference in Berlin. She later embedded the deck on her blog (as did a couple of the attendees), and The Mini Company -- the very first deck she had ever created -- has since become the most viewed Haiku Deck of all time, with more than 270,000 views.

(Check out The Mini Company here: http://www.haikudeck.com/p/3lPrPiiFr5/the-mini-company)

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This same mindset about service also led to one of my favorite social media innovations.

I think the norm when you're considering a new social media program is to think about what it can do for you -- how much traffic it can bring you, and so on.

We started our Pinterest presence because we saw something helpful we could do for our customers -- specifically, the ability to group different kinds of decks and case studies. (See our collection here: http://www.pinterest.com/haikudeck)

Over time, we've built out a collection of more than 80 boards and 2,000+ pins, and if we know one of our customers is an entrepreneur, or a realtor, or a teacher, we can quickly share the most relevant examples and content.

This customer-first approach also scored us an awesome, unexpected hit on a top EdTech blog, "76 Ways to Use Haiku Deck in the classroom" (http://www.freetech4teachers.com/2013/07/best-of-2013-so-far76-ways-to-use-...)

Incidentally, Pinterest is one of our top 10 traffic referrers to our website, so it turned out to be a win-win.


So I think an important innovation question is -- what can you do for your community? How can you make their experience faster, better, easier, and just more awesome?


Another topic I wanted to touch on is influencers. Everybody wants influencers on their corner, and I think the most common mindset is to try to get the attention of the *top* infuencers -- the ones with the highest Klout scores and the most Twitter followers; the brightest lights in the room.
Photo by RobertFrancis

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My feeling is that anybody who is truly passionate about your brand and your product can be an influencer, and this has shaped our brand ambassador program, Haiku Deck Gurus. I have built this in a really organic way to allow for lots of different kinds of lights. Everybody brings something different to the table, and honestly, I don't care what their Klout score it. What I care about is how they love and use Haiku Deck.
Photo by benfff85


OK, this is a silly picture, but here's one of our Gurus, Susan, a school counselor from Calgary. She was one of our earliest users, and I noticed over the first few months how many decks she created, and how she was using Haiku Deck to spread these really powerful, positive ideas to support teenagers.

I invited her to become a Haiku Deck Guru, and she has been an absolute force of positive energy. She has helped spread the word about Haiku Deck through Twitter and through a massive online open course. She visited Seattle recently (and brought us these Calgary Stampede aprons as well as a whole box full of gifts), and during her trip she evangelized Haiku Deck to the entrepreneur sitting next to her on the plane, her taxi driver, and a photographer at Pike Place Market. She is like a dear friend to our whole team.

Read more about Susan and how she uses Haiku Deck here: http://blog.haikudeck.com/compassion-and-connection/


I have tons of stories about our amazing Gurus, but another favorite one took place at one of the big EdTech conferences, ISTE. We couldn't make the trip, but one of our Gurus who was attending, Rafranz Davis, organized this amazing lunch and learn session, and a whole bunch of educators and Gurus came together to share how they were using Haiku Deck in their classrooms. There was so much buzz about it on Twitter that people were writing to us to ask where our booth was, and we weren't even there.

This is what happens when you find your real influencers and empower them to own your brand.

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I should add that our Guru program is very much influenced by this incredible book, one of my all-time favorites.

You can and should read it:
Photo by ChiMoose


When you find and empower your influencers, you can innovate together in a really powerful way.


One more topic I'd like to address is competition. Now it's very important to know what your competition is doing, but I believe that if you get too focused on that, or get stuck in trying to imitate what they're doing, you're not really opening yourself up to the possibility of innovation.
Photo by mortimer?

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We try to spend *just* enough time keeping tabs on what our competitors (existing and emerging) are doing, but really, we're thinking more about where productivity in general is going, and how we can change people's expectations and experience altogether -- again, guided by simple, beautiful, and fun.
Photo by rocketlass


Many of our customer requests are asking for things they can do with other tools -- and we do take those seriously -- but we also carve out time to think about truly transformative experiences that make sense for what productivity looks like now, and how it will change.


When you're a startup, the convention is along the lines of develop a concept, build a prototype, take on funding, and then commit to a plan of action. And then you have to deliver on that plan.

But even within those confines, it's important to recognize when the plan you've laid out needs to be adjusted.
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In fact, in a startup, things can change and grow very quickly as new opportunities arise, or realities become clear.
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In short, our innovation story continues to unfold. Thank you for the opportunity to share it with you!
Photo by @Doug88888


I welcome your questions and feedback, and I invite you to join our creative community (and be part of our innovation story) -- you can download the free iPad app or sign up for our Web App at http://www.haikudeck.com.

Photo by iNelsonRocha