SOBCon 2012 Preview: Sammy Haroon, Accurate Electronics
This week weâ€™re previewing SOBCon 2012: Chicago. The event runs May 4-6, and if youâ€™ll be in Chicago, thereâ€™s still time to register. We contacted some of the presenters and asked them to share their insights about their individual industries. The answers were so interesting to review and reveal that Liz Strauss and Terry St. Marie have put together an amazing group for this yearâ€™s event.
Todayâ€™s Q&A is with Sammy Haroon, the COO of Accurate Electronics, a wireless products and services company he has grown by 600% in revenue in FY2011. He developed and executed the company strategy for operations, client services, and business development capturing GE and Toshiba as marquee customers. Sammy is also the founder and Director of The RBR Group, a business and technology innovation company.
1. Sometimes familiarity can make it difficult to see new opportunities. What do you recommend someone do to keep a fresh eye and remain open to seeing something new in the familiar?
I have discovered that individuals have different levels of tolerance for stress, yet it is under a certain level of pressure, some level of irritation with “something” that drives creativity. You hear that traffic is backed up in your direction, you quickly try to analyze other routes and even tend to explore roads you may not travel on. Why?
Another way of looking at it is the impact of change. Change creates the breaking of “comfortable” behavior, to explore the new and then design an adjustment.
For myself, I have always created change if it were not emergent, discovered what I am unhappy with, and envisioned, let’s say, a bit of an implausible future I would love, yet one I have to fight for. I collaborate with different people to deliver, find support from existing great minds in my network, and discover new people to add to my network to gain knowledge from. All these opportunities provide me with the creativity I need to move toward the future I want.
There is no simple answer to your question. Each individual is different. One thing I know works is to create change, drive change, and make people own change. It is better to drive change oneself rather than it be forced upon one.
My belief is that the big bang of improbabilities creates a universe of possibilities. The question one has to ask is, “Am I willing to look at the possibilities or be burdened with the what cannot be?”
2. Continuous innovation sounds great, but what does it actually mean for businesses, particularly small businesses with more limited resources?
This question puts a smile on my face. You just asked if familiarity hides the new possibilities. So, if we make innovation a process, do you believe it will then become familiar and hide the new opportunity?
For startups, entrepreneurial businesses, innovation is about technology first, process second and then finally the people. This is in contrast to Global Fortune 100 companies, for example, where innovation starts with influencing, aligning, and collaborating with people to drive a transformative process creating new technologies.
So, back to the small business. Small businesses usually have a single focus. The resources are few so they wear multiple hats to get the product or service built and pushed out the door.
I recommend two approaches implemented in parallel or separately. First, as multidisciplinary individuals are doing multiple things trying to get the product out, they are able to look at the same “thing” from different angles and envision solutions, applications of the product or service, that are unique and have not been considered before. Capture these wayward thoughts and just keep capturing them. But in a way that it does not distract from the core mission.
Once the product is getting close to being on market, take these ideas and develop a mind map wall of these crazy ideas and just let everyone work on making the ideas “realizable,” and stay away from showing why they won’t work. New solutions, new products, and new applications of the product or service will emerge that can be part of the existing product or service, value-adds, new supplementary or ancillary revenue generating products or services, etc.
The second approach is to enlist clients who are most willing to try new things and ideas. Run the alpha, beta versions of the product or service through the client’s hands, let them use it, but only observe them by “living” with them. Start to think like them. This type of immersive and experiential learning can bring breakthroughs and a-has to feed back into the company’s products or services.
3. We have amazing opportunities to learn, and many of them may come from sources not connected directly to our area of expertise. How do you identify new learning opportunities that can benefit you, but that may not be obvious?
Essential to making your desire in this question come true is an “active” approach to lateral areas of learning, for each discipline it may be different; to “not judge” quickly, but to let the different or new permeate a bit within the mind; listening; and asking questions, which is like clearing the neural channel that has gotten stuck due to missing information. A key ingredient I feel people miss is multicultural human networks, even ones where language is a significant barrier.
I believe today individuals have to enable themselves to become innovation portfolios. Let’s take a person, for example, who is working in social media. Her portfolio is anchored in her core competency, say entertainment and media. Yet the innovation portfolio must contain continuous engagement with academia, perhaps research in the area of digital capture of consumer data and its mathematical analysis answering hard questions. It must interact with non-compete, adjacent sectors, for example, fast moving consumer goods, to comprehend the impact of billions of products on individuals. The innovation portfolio needs to stretch past cultural boundaries to leverage personal networks, providing insights that are divergent for the core competency, like the role of women in Scandinavia versus the Middle East. There should be the nonprofit aspect as well, because I believe that incorporating the behavior of serving to enable gain for others provides an inverse approach to our linear way of thinking.
Such an individual innovation portfolio will enable continuous learning by being being in touch with the emerging trends; yet, most importantly, it will push through the opportunity that cannot be seen or may slip past.
A special thank you to Sammy for taking the time to share his thoughts. We look forward to hearing his interview with Emily Harris during the Friday session.