As a sales engineer, you know how vital it is to stay on top of the latest technological advancements. Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the most promising developments in decades.
Incorporating it into your business operations can help you streamline tasks, save time, and boost your bottom line.
That said, it’s essential to approach AI adoption carefully and thoughtfully. NAASE discusses some tried-and-true practices for incorporating AI into your operations as a sales engineer:
How Can AI Help Your Business?
It’s crucial to understand how AI can help your company before you begin integrating it into your business operations. AI can take over repetitive tasks, such as data entry, and free up your time to focus on higher-level tasks like customer relationships. It can also help you make smarter decisions by analyzing large sets of data and spotting patterns that might otherwise go unnoticed.
In today’s fast-paced business environment, it’s no longer a luxury to leverage an automation and AI platform to streamline workflows and boost operational efficiency — it’s a necessity. Look for a platform that offers data integration, analytics, reporting capabilities, and other advantageous features. Consider this option to harness the power of AI and automate repetitive tasks, reduce human error, and equip your team to focus on high-value activities!
Using advanced algorithms and machine learning will help you intelligently analyze data from various sources and gain actionable insights that drive informed decision-making. Plus, robust reporting capabilities will empower your team to monitor key performance indicators in real-time, ultimately helping you stay ahead of the competition.
Determine Your Goals for AI
Before diving into AI adoption, you’ll also want to take some time to establish your goals for this technology. What specific tasks do you want AI to take over? How do you want it to improve your business operations? By setting goals and defining success metrics, you’ll position your team to accurately measure the value of AI to your business.
Experimenting With AI
AI is a relatively new technology, and it’s evolving at a breakneck pace. Therefore, it’s critical to experiment with it to learn its abilities and limitations. Start small by testing AI on low-impact tasks like data entry. That way, you can learn how it works and how to apply it to your sales engineering efforts.
Learning How AI Fits Into Your Internal Operations
Once you’ve experimented a bit, consider how AI aligns with your internal operations. Identify the areas in your sales engineering process where AI could prove most beneficial. This will help you ensure that every department in your company knows how to incorporate the technology most effectively.
Integrating and Testing AI Technology
Now that you know where AI can be the most beneficial, you’ll want to integrate it into your internal operations. Just be sure to test AI technology thoroughly before rolling it out across your entire organization. Analyze your results, and fine-tune your AI algorithms to ensure the best possible outcomes.
incorporating AI into your business operations as a sales engineer can put your company at a significant advantage. Taking a thoughtful, experimental approach to this rapidly-evolving technology will give you the necessary space to learn how to leverage it to its full potential.
As with any new technology, you must establish specific goals, experiment carefully, and test your AI tools thoroughly to position your team for the best outcomes. Keep the best practices above in mind, and you’ll be well on your way to using AI so that it boosts your sales engineering efforts and bottom line!
Would you like to read more helpful content or learn about our sales engineers association? Visit Sales-Engineering.org today!
Thanks to the author of this article Vivek Mukherjee
Over the past week, NAASE has released 2 key tips for new/ aspiring SE’s. One was regarding POC’s, and the other was essentially to fully understand and critique technical marketing literature.
To complete our exercise of offering 5 critical tips for new sales engineers, we offer the following:
There are many tips for successful sales engineers, but NAASE feels that limiting it to 5 is a good starting point for new or potential SE’s.
We wish you good luck in your new endeavors!
Written by NAASE Executive Staff
Quality POC’s are purposeful and lead to the Technical Win.
The following are critical elements of a successful Proof of Concept:
Current State: Describe the current situation that is driving the need for PoC. This should come directly from the customer through Discovery.
Desired State: Describing the agreed up future state of where the customer expects to be within their project timeframe.
Customer Business Initiatives: What are the customer’s business objectives of the PoC, and how will the POC tie back to these.
Proof of Concept Objectives: What are the PoC objectives. Top 3-5 solution workflows we would prove out in the PoC — not features list.
Success Criteria: What will make the PoC successful, why and impact to customer. What does success look like for the customer. This is critical to be able to get to a successful “Technical Closure”.
Scope: Document what should/needs to be ready before we start the POC engagement and call out what will be provided based off the agreed effort. Get agreement from the customer before these kicks off.
Roles and Responsibilities: Define who will own each part of the POC, including when folks from the customer side are needed to move pieces forward.
PoC Deliverables: Any data results, documentation, demo, or presentation delivered from the PoC effort. With hhigh-level timelines of the key milestones.
PoC Closure: Define upfront how you will bring the PoC to a close (technical meetings, executive close meeting, end of PoC meeting)
Since the launch of NAASE about 2 ½ years ago, we have published several articles and interviews about what is important for a Sales Engineer. These were all guest writers and speakers, many being experts and authors in the industry.
Today I wanted to offer a similar but more personal take on this subject. I want to share what I believe are the most key elements of a quality sales engineer. This is from my own experience. I had been a SE for several years, and currently hold a role titled Director of Industry Development & Technical Services.
Without further ado, these are what I believe 90% of top-notch SE’s have in common:
There are of course a few other instrumental points to being a good sales engineer or technical salesperson. However, these listed have always done well by me, and I thought were worth noting directly.
This article was written by NAASE Vice President, Ken Lambert.
Summertime in business can be a little bit quieter than normal, and the same has been true recently for NAASE. That said, we shortly will be announcing much of our Autumn (and Winter) event schedule. We also will be sharing some key information on how the NAASE membership is actually made up- and which sectors are represented in the Association.
As I sit writing this update, I do wonder how the market for SE’s in general (in the USA) will develop over the remainder of 2022 and into the new year. There are certainly some conflicting dynamics.
I’m not an economist, so these are just my personal observations and opinions.
Overall, there is no question that there are more SE’s today than there were 10 years ago. Or 5 years ago. Interest and use of SE’s has been trending up for some time. More companies are expanding their SE departments, and many other companies who never employed an SE or a Presales Consultant have now hired their first one. And this is true across many different sectors. More C-suites see the real and clear value of the SE to their bottom line and their revenue success.
All that said, we may be nearing some sort of temporary ceiling on new SE hires- or at least on SE compensation increases. We do hope that SE layoffs are kept to a minimum, if applicable. SE’s are not exempt from the concerns of the broader economy, and we all can see that many companies and sectors are having some trouble here in August 2022. Year-to-date, the NASDAQ is down 21%, and the S&P 500 is down 14%. Companies are having to make some tough choices, and they are looking at headcount and compensation. And let’s face it, sales engineers are not “cheap”, with an average salary of approximately $120,000. They are generally allocated to overhead as opposed to an Account Executive/ Account Manager whose pay is often directly tied to sales/receivables. Thus, CFO’s are looking at their SE numbers.
Though we are seeing continued high inflation, and a rather stagnant economy, we do hope and expect that the trends that were well evident from 2018- 2021 in the sales engineering space will still continue onward and upwards in due time. Corporations now more than ever are looking to become more efficient, to innovate, and to partner with their clients and their prospects. Sales engineers are uniquely qualified to help accomplish all of those goals.
Best of luck for the remainder of the summer, and as we look to Q4 in the near future!
Vice President/ Founder – NAASE
Recently NAASE hosted a Members-Only ZOOM Forum with noted SE speaker and consultant, John Care. (For members who might have missed it, please request our recording of the call.) There was some great information and advice packed into this 1 hour presentation and meeting, and we thank John for that.
John and his company, Mastering Technical Sales, have conducted some great research into the true value of sales engineers, and also what specifically a client or prospect wants out of their vendor or trusted advisor.
In their list of what customers really want, they provide a ranking of the survey results. #1 is “someone who understands my business”. Having deep technical knowledge is way down at #5.
And what kind of value does a sales engineer bring to the table? This graph says it all:
As you can see by this chart from MTS- the “Technical Team” (which includes the sales engineer, presales, and the technical salesperson) provides the most value to the client/prospect. In fact, they would much rather interact with you than with your company’s CEO or COO, etc.
Know your worth, and also know that right now it is a fairly “hot” market for SE’s out there in the USA that might be looking for a switch. We talked about that a bit also, on our ZOOM call.
For more information on MTS, please visit: https://www.masteringtechnicalsales.com/ .
It’s no secret that time is money when it comes to sales. Every extra minute spent on the phone or grabbing lunch with a potential customer adds to your bottom line so it’s crucial to maximize those efforts.
Unfortunately, sales comes with a mountain of busy work that has to be accomplished to make money. Things like checking and responding to emails, drafting proposals, nurturing your pipeline, and scheduling appointments can quickly eat up hours a day, but the good news is, they don’t have to!
We’ve got four tools that could save you hours of time each week and get you back to the things you enjoy doing – like selling!
Setting aside time to triage your inbox is arguably one of the most hated but important tasks for any sales professional. If you don’t do it regularly, important deals, documents, and updates are lost, but staying on top of your inbox requires time that most sales pros just don’t have.
Shortwave is an email client that integrates directly with Gmail, making sign-up a breeze. You’ll never drop the ball again with Shortwave’s three simple triage actions that help you manage every email in your inbox. Decide if the email is important and pin it to the top of your inbox to take quick action on, snooze the email to show back up at a specific day/time when you will be able to handle the issue, or mark the email as done, removing it from your inbox so you can focus on the tasks at hand.
Shortwave also offers a handful of other features to streamline your email workflow. Control who triggers push notifications so you can prioritize important correspondences, see when teammates or co-workers are online for quick responses, and enjoy automatic organization with bundles and categories like calendar invites and promos that make your inbox easier to understand at a glance. Bonus: the ability to drag & drop and reorder emails lets you turn your inbox into the to-do list it actually is.
Shortwave is offering 3 months of their standard plan (usually $9 per month) totally free to NAASE members by using promo code NAASE.
Even in 2022, the power of physically marketing to potential customers like sending some swag or direct mail is more effective than ever—but who has time to order, package, and send off items as they are needed?
Stay on top of your offline marketing by using Postal.io. With plans starting at just $19 a month, you can take advantage of this platform to send out one-off gifts to customers or upload an entire list for a mailer marketing campaign. The platform is easy to use and doesn’t require a long setup process to get started.
Customers expect a certain level of professionalism when it comes to proposals and contracts, so the document you created in Microsoft Word in 2001 just won’t cut it anymore. Something more custom often takes time that you just don’t have – Qwilr can fix that!
Qwilr creates beautiful templated proposals, contracts, one-pagers, and more, so all you have to do is enter in basic specifications for a particular deal, and out pops beautiful materials you will be proud to share. Qwilr also offers an Enterprise level, allowing the entire sales team to have access to the same templates for uniformity across the entire team.
A sales professional’s calendar is one of the most essential parts of their business. Without those meetings, you won’t have customers, and without those customers…well you get the picture.
Calendly easily integrates with your calendar, allowing customers and co-workers to select times that you set as available. Create custom events with buffers in between every call to ensure you have plenty of time to prepare, set custom times for those calls, and automatically generate links to your preferred communication tool like Zoom or Google Meet.
Gone are the days of email threads going back and forth to find a time that works for both participants. Calendly streamlines the entire process!
For more information about this article you can visit shortwave
An article from our sponsors Vivun
On Wednesday, Vivun VP of PreSales Brett Crane sat down with Oliver Oursin, Elastic’s EMEA Head of Solutions Architecture, for a conversation on delivering powerful outcomes as a data-driven PreSales leader. This blog post sums up some of Brett and Oliver’s thoughts on why an outcomes-based approach to PreSales management is so critical for success.
You get a sense of which results matter most and how to achieve them
Most PreSales leaders have the experience and intuition to understand generally what problems their team is facing, but having the data to back those claims up significantly raises the strategic profile of the team.
However, the first place people tend to look is at how much time the PreSales team is spending on activities rather than what outcomes are being achieved. Gathering data on the latter is much more powerful because it lets you determine whether or not the team is doing the right things.
Ask questions like:
Each of the answers to those questions reveals whether the thing being done (i.e. POCs, solution design, post-sales handoffs) has a significant and positive impact on your team’s success.
Time is ultimately a secondary measure here. Understanding that the PreSales team spent X number of hours attached to deals or doing POCs is helpful for gauging the level of effort required to perform certain work, but doesn’t necessarily indicate whether it’s making a difference.
If you want to secure the technical win in a deal, mapping out a sample of the various outcomes and activities required to get there might look something like this:
Outcomes and deliverables describe results, and how impactful they might be. Activities show how much effort is required to get there.
You’re able to think outside of the box of your existing systems
“The most damaging phrase in the language is, ‘We’ve always done it this way!'”
—Rear Admiral Grace Hopper
It’s something that happens all the time when trying to sell to prospects. Many potential customers simply do nothing about the pain that they’re facing or resort to workarounds, convinced that there isn’t any better option.
Brett and Oliver both stressed that you shouldn’t take what you do today and try to make it better by simply putting it into a new system or platform. If a new technology solution is being implemented, you can use the rollout as an opportunity to introduce and scale process changes based on the ideal end state.
It’s easier to secure buy-in and resources when you focus on outcomes
Everyone knows that a solid business case helps secure the budget needed to get deals done. Describing what your team needs in purely technological terms isn’t a good way to convince people that what you want is valuable.
As Oliver explained, it was absolutely critical that conversations with Elastic’s leadership (in Product and Customer Success) about the value of a PreSales platform centered around the outcomes for each of them:
Showing the kinds of answers that they could get resulted in broader agreement that a PreSales platform was a great thing for the company to have. Focusing on the outcomes other departments can expect from your team helps build consensus across the organization.
If you’re interested in hearing more about how Elastic’s PreSales team uses Hero by Vivun® to create transformational outcomes across multiple departments, read the full story here.
“Never Again”This summary article written with permission of an MTS client. We altered a few peripheral facts to preserve anonymity, but
otherwise “it is what it is”. This is also likely to be somewhat controversial, and MTS was certainly involved in the postmortem fact gathering. Those facts are why my client decided it was worth publishing – to save other SE executives the pain
and heartache that his organization suffered. As they say in the US, “your personal mileage may vary.”
During early 2017, an external Management Consulting organization was tasked with
reviewing and optimizing the sales and presales operations of the European – Middle
East – Africa (EMEA) Region. This resulted in many excellent tactical and operational
recommendations and two key organizational structural recommendations that greatly
affected the presales team.
This led to the consolidation of personnel under the auspices of either country
managers (for larger markets) or Regional Sales VPs for smaller cross-country markets
(such as the Nordics). The primary drivers of this reorganization were financial and
industry best practices. As noted later, neither proved to be the case. The modified
organization lasted for 15 months and was then reorganized back to something that
resembled the previous structure.
2. Financial Benefits:
Twelve SE Manager (SEM) positions were released. Two SEMs gained positions within Product Management, Three filled open headcount as Senior Architects / Subject Matter Experts, Two became Country Managers and Five left the company. The top EMEA SE leader joined a major competitor, as did three of the other SEMs. Assuming full credit for the twelve positions and that existing open headcount was filled, the gross fully burdened savings amounted to €4,000,000.
2. Best Practices:
In researching best practices of other large technical presales teams, both inside and
outside of our immediate market, we were unable to find any organizations that
conformed to the consultant’s recommendations. The list of references we spoke with
was lengthy, including companies with SE teams sized from 40 to over 400 individuals.
1. We estimate the entire reorganization effort cost us 12% of revenue growth and a 32%
reduction in viable pipeline.
2. SE Turnover increased from single digits to almost 25%. That included 8 identified high
potential SE performers.
3. #1 reason cited in exit interviews was “no prospects of career progression/promotion”
4. #2 reason cited in exit interviews was “sales manager had no understanding of the position or requirements.”
5. The loss of the SE VP and three hi-po’s to one of our prime competitors cost at least 4
transactions of > €100,000 monthly recurring revenue.
6. Country managers were unwilling to release their technical resources to help other
regions. Resulting in multiple deals slipping from each quarter and a definite, but not
fully quantifiable decrease in win rate. Most notably in heavy Proof Of Concept deals.
7. After expressing initial support for the change, account executives noted they were
unable to get the right people at the right time due to country/region resource
8. Product training time for SE’s decreased from 5 days/quarter to 2.7 days/quarter due to
sales being unwilling to release time for such training. Caused a 0.8 decrease (on a 0-10
scale) in technical readiness over 12 months.
9. Partner satisfaction decreased by 17 NPS points due to reduction in enablement,
support and general technical sales coaching. (Partner SE’s were reassigned to direct
HIGH LEVEL POSITIVES AND NEGATIVES OF ELIMINATING THE SE LEADERSHIP POSITIONS AND HAVING FIELD SE’s REPORT DIRECTLY TO SALES MANAGERS/COUNTRY MANAGERS (EMEA ONLY)
In the words of our client. “Please tell others about this. It should never happen again. If
anyone, including high-priced consultants, should ever question the value of first-line presales
management then the extreme case study is to examine what happens when the position
entirely disappears. It is a disaster!”
“It is the province of knowledge to speak. And it is the privilege of wisdom to listen”
Oliver Wendell Holmes
This article is written by John Care, Managing Director of
Mastering Technical Sales. For more information on this and other Sales Engineering
topics visit the website at www.masteringtechnicalsales.com.
On January 19, 2022, Alex and Anatoly Agulyansky introduced their product Priz Guru (www.priz.guru) in a webinar to a group of engineer experts and the NAASE.
The co-founders of the innovation and design platform, who happen to be father and son, created a tool which helps organize design and creative thinking and problem-solving processes.
Each innovation and problem-solving process is handled as an individual project with its very own fingerprint in which the user is forced to consider a case over and over again.
In the overall process, the problem is put forth first. Only in a second step, ideas and solutions are sought and analyzed by various scientific tools, all collectively accessible on one platform. The platform itself can be operated either online based or installed on premise, if desired.
The core question “Why do ideas die or do not get realized?” (as happens to approximately 80% of problem-solving ideas and innovations) marks the backbone of the application.
“Problem solving as a science”.
Knowing about the variety of possible blockers, the platform offers a toolbox of best-in-class scientific design and creative thinking tools (e.g. Round Robin Ranking, 5+ Why’s, Cause and Effect Chain (CEC), etc.) and streamlines the overall documentation by collecting all steps and the evolution of each case individually.
Priz’ innovation and problem solution processes incorporate the personal workspace as well as teamwork spaces, allowing easy access to the projects at hand.
Asked for the main value, the creators highlight the enhanced process of an engineering solution or innovation- which can be presented to the manager.
Another highlight is the extraordinary safety and security of the platform, safeguarding proof of ownership and copyrights. Priz Guru grants privacy of all innovation data and thoughts which has been attested by an audit. The owners do not have access whatsoever to any data on this platform.
As co-founders seek further growth and adaption to the users’ needs, exchanging thoughts to further enhance the platform with the expert group proved helpful.
NAASE members are eligible for a discount off PRIZ GURU monthly subscription fees. Inquire for more details.
**This article was written by NAASE Volunteer, Constanze Koch
(This article submitted by PRIZ GURU)– We are excited to announce a recent release of an additional Creative Thinking Tool in PRIZ online innovation platform, Urgency – Importance Matrix (UIM). This tool is built to help you to avoid mistakes, save time in managing tasks priority and make decisions.
The new tool is a practical instrument for task priority management. Urgency – Important Matrix is most effective in conjunction with Roun – Robin Ranking (RRR).
Tasks priority management by Urgency – Important Matrix is widely described in the literature. You can find a lot of relevant information on the Internet. For instance, Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle, How to Master your Priorities with the Urgent-Important Matrix, Prioritization Matrix 101: What, How & Why? (Free Template) and many others.
Here, we are going to describe our vision on the Urgency and Importance classification and also to propose a practical tool for effective management of task priority using the Urgency – Importance Matrix (UIM) tool.
Let’s start with the TASK definition. Do we understand what TASK means? What is a TASK? Try to imagine that you are working in front of your computer already for a couple of hours and you are willing to grab a cup of coffee. Please think and answer: Go to the cafeteria and drink coffee – is it a TASK? Or another scenario: Invite your colleague to the cafeteria and spend some time drinking coffee together – is this a TASK? Another scenario: your manager invited you to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee – would this be a TASK? Do you feel the difference between different scenarios of the same action – drink coffee? Sure you do.
Now try to define which one is TASK out of the following:
Did you find TASKS?
You can find a lot of information about TASK definition, but we choose what we like best, the definition provided by Cambridge Dictionary: “Task is a piece of work to be done, especially one done regularly, unwillingly, something unpleasant or with difficulty.” Excellent definition. It directs us to a very trivial statement: “TASK is something that we do not want to do. We do not want, but we have to.”
Eisenhower’s decision matrix is based on very clear and effective concepts:
The matrix is shown below:
Urgency and Importance are the axes of the chat. There is no continuous gradation of the axes, just binary separation: “yes” or “no”, “Urgent” or “Not Urgent”, “Important” or “Not Important”.
The Right top field corresponds to “Urgent & Important” tasks.
Tasks that are Urgent and Important at the same time will fall into this category. For example, addressing safety or quality issues. These tasks receive the highest priority: “Do First”.
The left top field corresponds to “Important & Not Urgent” tasks.
For example, projects aiming to improve production yield, reduce cost or improve the reliability of the product. According to UIM, all tasks that fall into this category are getting priority: “Do Later”.
The right bottom field corresponds to “Urgent & Not Important” tasks.
For example, participate in a meeting where you are not a decision-maker. It is urgent because the meeting is scheduled to start in 30 minutes, but the importance is zero since you cannot impact the decision-making process. UIM recommends delegating such tasks – “Delegate”.
The left bottom field corresponds to “Not Urgent & Not Important” tasks.
For example, some tasks that are not impacting your current status or the status of your activity at work. Such as analyzing daylight saving impact on some production parameters. Simply drop such tasks, eliminate the tasks or the projects that fall into this category – “Eliminate”.
Both top quadrants are important and have to be completed. Please take into account that “Do First” tasks are typically short term tasks, while “Do Later” are related to the long term tasks. Do not mix them. In case you are a manager distributing the tasks, do not assign short term and long term tasks to the same people. The tasks are very different, and their successful completion depends on the ability of the people to complete a certain type of task. A manager has to define who is more suitable for short term tasks and who for long term tasks. In the first case, for short term tasks, a manager has to seek “firefighters,” people that totally dedicated to a final goal to reduce the harm by any means. Long term tasks are typically performance improvement projects, should be completed by “chessplayer”. There is a very small risk of their mistake, but they spent a lot of time searching for the best move and the best solution.
Do not mix the tasks and assign them to the relevant people.
There is no real customer for Not Important Tasks, no one needs the results, no one is ready to “pay” for completed tasks that are Not Important. Do not waste time on tasks that fell into two bottom quadrants. Do not attend anything that is not important.
How do you classify a task? How can you define if the task is important or not important, urgent or not urgent? How to normalize and standardize the process of urgency and importance assessment?
Urgency level is related to an expectation. The flaw that results in expected harm cannot lead to urgent tasks, while any unexpected harm should be treated as urgent due to its uncertainty:
For example, we all know that even an excellent and very expensive car is not ideal. All the moving parts of the car wear out; therefore a periodic technical service is required. Known ahead of time, scheduled and expected technical service is a task, but this task cannot be urgent. This is a typical Not Urgent task.
An example of unexpected harm could be a noise that suddenly appeared in the car engine. We need to bring the car to the service as soon as possible to reduce the possible impact. This task is not scheduled (unexpected) and should be treated as an Urgent task.
The importance is related to cost. The higher the cost of harm the higher the Importance.
A noise in the car’s engine might be high-cost harm compared to a small scratch on the car door. Therefore Low-cost harm is not important, while high-cost harm should be treated as an Important task.
Urgency and Importance assessment rules are summarized in the table below:
UIM is an excellent tool for tasks priority management, but how to use it? Should we use a pen and paper? How do we keep the information, how do we continue working on the prioritization of the tasks?
We created a UIM tool for your convenience right into ONLINE PLATFORM.
Please, refer to a page dedicated to UIM for more details and usage examples.
For more information related to this article visit priz guru website
Have you ever been in a situation where while discussing different solutions for a problem, you and your group is trying to solve, people finding all kind of reasons why something is impossible or extremely difficult? The arguments might sound like “It’s very difficult”, “This solution is very expensive”, “It’s not going to work!”, or even “This is a stupid idea!”
I am pretty certain you have. This phenomenon, and many more, are part of Psychological Inertia.
Now, let’s dive into the details.
I always like to start with the plain and dry definition. Unfortunately, Cambridge dictionary does not have this definition, so I’ll have to default to Wikipedia:
Now, this is a lot of words in one long sentence. I personally had to reread it multiple times to actually understand what it means, and frankly, without having the background on the subject, I am not sure if I ever could get it correctly and interpret it to the real-life experience.
I’ll try to explain what does it mean in my view based on our experience and real-life events and examples.
For the matter of this article, “It can’t be done” is the same as “It is too expensive”, “extremely difficult”, or any other way to say that some idea is not good enough. I want to come back and expand on the same example I described at the very beginning.
Many times throughout my career, I’ve seen myself and others getting stuck on various reasons why not to evaluate a solution, why not experiment with an idea, and so on. Some might call it excuses or laziness, but the reality is, we don’t really want to do or try something that we don’t believe in.
So, unless there is some outside force, an additional push that can prove us wrong, we will resist a proposed solution we don’t believe in until the end of days.
When we first started to present the idea of problem-solving tools to other people and tried explaining what are they good for, the majority (and many still to this day) were very skeptical about it. Here are a couple of arguments we were getting:
Note: I want to highlight that this skepticism is also caused by psychological inertia. It’s just another version of “It can’t be done because I don’t believe in it!”
Back to Professional Experience…
For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume that the cloud below is the entire, currently available, and continuously growing knowledge and experience.
The experience of our engineers, John, Maria and Bob, are marked with different shapes and colors. Well, of course, they do have different experiences, right? And some of their knowledge overlaps. Great!
The solutions that we are searching for are marked with red dots. If you noticed, one of the solutions falls well within the existing experience of our great engineers. But what about the two others? This is exactly the point where the team starts scratching their heads, searching the web, and trying to come up with different ideas for how to solve this particular problem. It is important to say though, that when they do provide a solution outside of their expertise, for the most part, these are not easily accepted. Why? Again, because people are generally don’t accept what they don’t believe in, what they don’t understand, and what they didn’t experience themselves.
Another point to make, it takes awful a lot of time to provide solutions that fall outside of our expertise. One might say: “Of course it takes more time, to do it, you have to learn something new and, ultimately, expand your experience!” And it is not going to be wrong. Nevertheless, there is another reason – psychological inertia. We are naturally seeking solutions within our experience.
Same as in the previous part, unless there is an outside force that will push us, it is hard to look outside of our own experience. Without such force, the only team’s chance is a lot of trial and error and some luck.
In order to get out there and start digging into the unknown, we need to leave our comfort zone. It is easier said than done. There is a reason why the comfort zone is called the comfort zone. It is comfortable to stay there, easier to operate, it does not require any additional effort to be in the comfort zone. That’s understandable. To get out of it, we have to learn something new, try things we never did before; we need to invest in real work to do so. But we, as humans, are pretty lazy, aren’t we?
An average person will always choose the path of least resistance. But there is a catch… the choice will be out all the options within the available knowledge of that person. There very well might be another, even easier path, which is simply not yet explored. However, to explore that path, one will have to get out of his comfort zone.
I can probably endlessly continue with examples and what our psychological inertia causes. In general, it will all be the same, from a different angle. I do want to switch gears a bit.
Many people we presented our solution to told us: “But humanity is always progressing without any special tools!”. For that, I will answer: “That is simply not true!”. And here is why.
Certainly, humanity IS progressing and IS innovating all the time. Some individuals did and doing it exceptionally well. Take Nikola Tesla as an example. His brain was probably exploding with ideas, he was virtually living outside of his comfort zone all the time. Let’s just say, he was not wired as most of us. Many other notable geniuses are/were thinking differently. They are geniuses for a reason!
An average human being also innovates. But here I want to ask how much effort and how long it takes. Countless examples of innovations that look trivial today, originally took many many years to be discovered and developed, even though the technology already existed (look up the history of a suitcase on wheels – it took over 10 years from the original version to the first accepted once that people actually used).
Regardless of how we innovate and generate ideas, in order to do it faster, we must use some sort of systematic approach. Whatever that approach is. Without that, all we have is the time waiting for revelation.
Before I wrap up, I want to answer the second question in the title of this article: “What is wrong with us?”.
The simplest answer for that is: “Nothing!”. We are just being humans. This is how we are wired and how we think. Try reading more about psychological inertia, you’ll see that this phenomenon is not well understood, including the reasons for it. And to understand that is not the purpose of this article, it will not solve any problem for us as innovators. Breaking out of psychological inertia WILL solve a lot of problems!
Ironically, to break out of psychological inertia, we need to accept that we need help with it. And this, within itself, is bound by psychological inertia. The faster we accept this fact, the faster we can start improving our thinking and become more creative innovators.
Now, that we accepted our faith, let’s start changing it.
Several tools and methodologies exist for that. The simplest is a pen and paper or a whiteboard. Some more sophisticated include different charting tools, idea management tools, project management tools, and so on.
PRIZ Innovation Platform is the only SaaS tool specifically built for one purpose only; to help engineers break out of pattern – out of psychological inertia. At its core, it offers various problem-solving tools. And as a reminder, innovation is a solution for somebody’s problem.
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