November 06, 2023

The Chris Hood Digital Show: Agile Innovation with Joseph Azar

Check out the episode with our CEO Joseph Azar on The Chris Hood Digital Show:

In the dynamic world of business, the only constant is change, and the fuel that powers this perpetual motion is innovation. To stay ahead in the game, organizations must not only embrace innovation but also approach it with agility—a nimble mindset that enables rapid response to market fluctuations and customer demands.

In this episode, Joseph Azar, CEO of Azar Consulting, joins us to discuss the power of innovation and the need to maintain an agile mindset.

Agility: The Cornerstone of Modern Innovation

The concept of agility in innovation transcends mere speed. It encapsulates a company’s capacity to adapt, pivot, and evolve its strategies and products with dexterity. Agility means recognizing that the first iteration of an idea might be flawed and be prepared to tweak, transform, or even overhaul projects based on real-time feedback and changing conditions.

In the past, businesses could rely on periodic innovation to maintain their market position. However, in today’s hyper-competitive environment, where technology and consumer preferences evolve at breakneck speed, such an approach is no longer viable. Companies must adopt a state of continuous innovation. This doesn’t imply a relentless push for new products but a culture where improvements and updates are consistently part of the business rhythm.

Harnessing Data: The Compass of Innovation

Data sits at the core of agile innovation. In a landscape awash with information, the ability to harness data effectively distinguishes the leaders from the laggards. Data-driven decision-making allows businesses to cut through the noise and focus on what truly matters: delivering value to customers.

Leveraging big data and analytics can unveil patterns, trends, and insights that were previously inaccessible. This intelligence guides innovation efforts, ensuring they’re not just shots in the dark but targeted endeavors informed by customer behavior, market dynamics, and even predictive foresight.

Yet, it’s not just about having data; it’s about having the right tools and talent to interpret it. Investing in advanced analytics platforms and skilled data scientists can offer a competitive edge, enabling businesses to anticipate market shifts and customer needs with remarkable precision.

Iteration: The Pulse of Innovation

The journey from a nascent idea to a successful product is rarely a straight line. It’s an iterative process of creation, evaluation, and refinement. Iteration is the heartbeat of innovation, sustaining its momentum and ensuring its alignment with business objectives and customer desires.

Embracing an iterative approach means a ‘finished’ product is never truly finished. Instead, it’s a version ready for customer interaction, prepared to be tested in the real world. It reflects a commitment to evolution, where each iteration is informed by user feedback and operational data, leading to incremental improvements that accumulate over time.

The iterative process also helps manage risk. By rolling out innovations in stages, companies can gauge reception and functionality, making corrections before significant resources are invested. This not only improves the end product but also aligns development with actual market needs, avoiding costly missteps.

Acceptance of Failures: The Lesson Book of Innovation

Failure and innovation are two sides of the same coin. The path to breakthroughs is littered with ideas that didn’t work out—but each of these is a stepping stone to success. The agile innovator understands that failure is not just possible; it’s probable, and it’s a vital part of the learning process.

The fear of failure can stifle creativity and risk-taking, essential for innovation. An agile organization, therefore, cultivates an environment where losses are tolerated and embraced as opportunities for growth. This doesn’t mean being reckless but recognizing that each setback provides valuable insights that can lead to future wins.

To truly learn from failures, companies must have mechanisms for analysis and reflection. What went wrong? What can be improved? How can this knowledge inform future initiatives? By dissecting failures without assigning blame, organizations can turn them into powerful lessons that drive more brilliant, successful innovation.

Agility in innovation is not an option but a necessity for businesses aiming to thrive in a world of continuous change. By leveraging data, embracing iteration, and learning from failures, companies can navigate the complexities of the modern market with confidence. This agile approach to innovation ensures that businesses don’t just respond to change—they anticipate it and lead the charge.

Summary of this Episode

In this episode of “The Dynamic World of Business,” host Chris Hood interviews Joseph Azar, CEO of Azar Consulting, about the power of innovation and the need for organizations to maintain an agile mindset. Azar discusses his experience in the tech industry and his preference for working with startups and smaller companies due to their ability to move quickly and make a big impact. He emphasizes the importance of involving customers in the innovation process and gathering feedback to prioritize features and make informed decisions. Azar also touches on the challenges of validating ideas, protecting intellectual property, and future-proofing products. He advises against blindly following trends like AI and instead encourages businesses to carefully consider how new technologies can truly benefit their operations.

You can read the transcript here:

Chris Hood (00:00):
Hey everyone. Thanks for tuning. In The Dynamic World of Business, the only constant is change and the fuel that powers this perpetual motion is innovation. To stay ahead in the game, organizations must not only embrace innovation, but also approach it with agility, a nimble mindset that enables rapid response to market fluctuations and customer demands. In this episode, Joseph Azar, CEO of Azar Consulting joins us to discuss the power of innovation and the need to maintain an agile mindset. Grab a copy of my new book, customer Transformation. This is your essential guide for adapting to your customer’s ever evolving needs. Available now on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or my website, and to support the show, visit chris Subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast platform. Follow us on social media, or you can email me directly I’m Chris Hood, and let’s get connected.
Connecting access. Granted, it’s the Chris Hoods digital show where global business and technology leaders meet to discuss strategy, innovation, and digital acceleration. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, your Digital Evolution Duck. Now here’s your host, Chris Hood. Welcome to the show. Joe, would you mind introducing yourself?
Joseph Azar (01:43):
Well, my professional name is Joseph, Joseph Azar. I’m currently the CEO and managing director of a company that I’ve founded a few months ago. It’s called Azar Consulting. It’s a consulting business and I’ve been in the tech industry for about 23 years professionally and 27 years unprofessionally. Well, my latest role was CTO for a company called Foresight. We Mass produced the first smart motorcycle helmet in the world. I was there for five years. I helped them take the idea from a napkin idea to mass production, and I thought it’s time for me to explore the world and see what’s out there. I kind of like getting involved with startups and companies and I like being part of that journey that every company goes through. And I think now that foresight is up and running. It’s not, I would say fun for me anymore. I like to be involved in the nitty gritty and getting a company off the ground and that I’ve done that. It’s time for me to do that for other companies.
Chris Hood (03:04):
Yeah, I love the process of building something and then getting that off the ground. It’s very hard when you go to a larger organization and you’re trying to build something new when they have all of their processes and procedures and things in place.
Joseph Azar (03:21):
Exactly that. Yeah, that’s the one thing that I hate about big companies is that they move too slow from my pace. I like moving fast and I like making an impact. With large organizations, you have so many red tapes to go through and getting approvals and signing documents to get something out there. So with smaller companies, it’s quicker and there’s very few people to get involved and get approvals from, and your small incremental changes make a big impact as opposed to big companies.
Chris Hood (04:01):
Yeah, absolutely. And one of the things that I tried to tell enterprises is what are the technologies or the processes that you can put in place to help you maintain that entrepreneurial spirit? Which is again, often hard because most people come to work and this is my job, I’m focused on this job, but when we think about the opportunity to put into place that mentality, that’s also hard, but it can be rewarding for an enterprise.
Joseph Azar (04:37):
That’s true. But I mean, have you had any success with large enterprises? I mean, in my head, the way I view companies is if you’re a small company, you are fast, you’re nimble, you can maneuver quickly. When you are a whale, it’s very difficult for you to move and you have to think about so many aspects of the business. And as you probably know, in large companies, they have a lot of restrictions in terms of legal aspects, infringement on privacy infringement on ip. So that’s why I think the way they move is slower because the chances of them getting sued is higher than a smaller company that nobody knows about or it’s starting off in the industry. It’s very quick for them to get stuff out there, try new things, pivot, implement new procedures, and that’s one of the things that kind of draws me to these companies because I like things to be fast and I like to see the impact that I’m working on kind of materialize faster, which is difficult in large companies.
Chris Hood (05:53):
We’re talking mostly about innovation here. The ability to make change, make impact and to innovate quickly is definitely a benefit of a small and definitely startup. How do you think companies should approach innovation so that they can maintain that perspective?
Joseph Azar (06:11):
From my perspective, it depends on the size of the business and what kind of industry they’re in. If you are talking about innovation, the way I look at innovation is kind of like you look at kids, they have no boundaries. They want to play with everything and they jump from one place to another. So that’s how I look at innovation, because honestly, nobody really knows what comes out of whatever you are pursuing. You could have an awesome idea, you pursue it and then reach a dead end. You could have a very silly idea, you pursue it and then you reach something that could affect millions of companies. So the way I do things is it’s kind of like a playground play with everything, try everything. And then as long as you have that maturity to know what you are playing with and to understand what the impact that something could bring to the industry or the domain that you are in, then you can take that playground or that toy that you’re playing with and then make it into something that innovates the industry
Chris Hood (07:35):
Or we’ve been talking about. You can have a great idea, and that idea gets squashed because somebody in a larger organization says that we don’t want to deal with that right now.
Joseph Azar (07:44):
Yeah, that’s true. Yeah. I mean, yeah, I’ve been in quite a few startups, even though most of them have great ideas, some of them, and I guess I’ve reached the stage in my career where I can choose the companies that I work with, and part of my job is to tell them what may or may not work. And that’s only because of experience. I’m not a clairvoyant. I wouldn’t be able to tell you whether or not your business going to make millions. But what I can tell you based on my experience, what works, what doesn’t work, and how to get to the end goal or let’s say to get to market the fastest way. Because one of the things that I well noticed during my 23 years of experience is that most companies struggle in finding the fastest or the leanest way to get to the end goal.
So they think, okay, if we spend a lot of money on something, it’s bound to be good. And my approach to every company that I work in is try to get to the end goal, the leanest way and the most cost efficient way because you need to always, I don’t know if that’s the correct term, to always be stingy or not, put all of your eggs in one basket. So the way I approach marketing, the way I approach sales is try with a small amount, see what the outcome is, see what the return on investment is, and then once you know that working formula, you can invest heavily into something. So try APOC. Let’s say you’re in tech, try APOC, the most cost efficient way you can. If that works and you see that there is potential from it, then you invest heavily into make it smaller.
So for foresight, the way we did RPOC was sticky tape. We took a camera, we stuck it into a helmet. We glue gun some of our helmets in the early stage. So I think when we launched our first test fest, which was honestly the most amazing thing that I’ve been part of, we sold a thousand helmets. All of the helmets that we showed during the demo were hot glued. They had no working firmware, no working software. We sold them an idea. And then once that idea was validated, then we spent money on delivering the idea that wasn’t actually hot glued, but during the demo and the test fest, we didn’t have anything working. So because we were a small team, we had a lot of work to do, but it was there. They saw it firsthand and they tried it out and it didn’t do the things that it currently does because it’s now mass produced. But we did it the leanest way. We could think of hot glue, bit of firmware there, a bit of software there, and it didn’t cost as much money as large organizations spend on things.
Chris Hood (11:30):
Well, the other thing that you’re touching on here is not only a lean mentality in the process, but you test something, you get a result back, we’ll call it data. You’re making the next decision based on what the data is telling you. Whereas I do think that there’s a lot of companies that get attached to their ideas and then they just start ignoring what the data says. If it’s saying it’s not working, and you have to make a pivot and make the pivot, you can’t just keep investing money in something when it potentially is not working.
Joseph Azar (12:08):
But I mean, can you blame them? That’s the question. Everybody that comes up with an idea thinks that idea is awesome because they came up with it. So how can you then tell them, your kids are not good at school, you better get new kids. How does that work? So it’s difficult to let go of something that you gave birth to, and an idea is the same thing. A business is the same thing, and it’s honestly the most difficult part of my job is telling these companies or these customers, your idea is not working. You better think of a different idea. And well, I would say seven out of 10 would not be happy about it. Only three, maybe less than three, sorry, 30% would actually understand what you’re saying and then think outside the box and get detached. But it’s not easy, honestly. And that’s one of the most difficult things to do, is to let go of something you gave birth to.
Chris Hood (13:18):
Yeah, totally. I’m shaking my head up and down because I’ve been there before. I know what you’re alluding to.
Joseph Azar (13:27):
We’ve all been there, and I think the way I judge ideas, even the ones that I came up with is sleep on it. If you think in a week, that idea is still good, sleep on it longer. If you think in a month, that idea is still good. And I don’t know if self-doubt is a good thing or a bad thing, but it lets you detach yourself from the ideas that you come up with. Because even recently, so I’ve been thinking about an idea for the past seven years and only recently that I’ve decided to do something about it. So I started thinking, okay, well, if I can keep an idea for seven years, maybe there’s something that can come out of it. But even though I started the implementation and I’m probably going to go to market in the next few months, I’m still doubting myself.
What if that idea doesn’t work? What if I’m the only one who likes the idea? So I try to go out, ask friends, ask colleagues, Hey, what do you think of this idea? Does it have merit? Can it work? Because that self-doubt is always there. And I think most startups and companies don’t have self-doubt. They think their idea is the next best thing after sliced bread or they’re going to make millions out of it. And honestly, 99% of them, but because I think the news and the media tries to glamorize startups, everybody thinks they’re Elon Musk, everybody thinks they’re Mark Zuckerberg. I come up with an idea, I make millions. I became famous, but nobody focuses on the other 99% of the companies that came to market and didn’t achieve anything. So that’s the media, but it doesn’t make sense to focus on the failed startups.
Chris Hood (15:43):
The author Stephen King, actually agrees with you. His approach is if he has an idea for a new book, he will go and sleep on it. And then if he comes up and he is still thinking about that idea, if it’s embedded in his mind as something, then he knows it’s a good idea to continue to explore. If he wakes up the next day and is basically forgotten about it, and he knows it wasn’t a good idea. Something else you touched on in terms of validating these ideas, I think it makes sense for all of us to grab the closest person or our parents are right here, or our partners are over here, we’ve got friends. But you could go to your family with an idea and they’re all going to say, oh, yeah, that sounds like a great idea. I support you. Who else can we go to validate those ideas?
Joseph Azar (16:37):
Depends on what kind of family you’ve got. I think I was blessed with a few friends that are kind of blunt enough to tell me the truth, and one of them is my good friend Seb. So I told him the idea, and we have this back and foresight. We have this approach to how we react to ideas. So if it’s an idea worth having, we’ll start implementing it. If it’s a bad idea, we give you a hug. So I always expect him to come to me and give me a hug if I tell him a bad idea. So when I did that, he was like, do you want the truth or do you want a hug? And I was like, please tell me the truth and a hug at the same time. I can’t take this. It’s too personal. And he said, no, I’m sorry. You don’t deserve a hug. This is a good idea and I think you should look into it more. So yes, you are right. Every family member that you approach could tell you you’ve got a brilliant idea, but you need kind of gauge, I guess their feedback and kind of read the way they react to it. A lot of people kind of mask.
And the problem with validating ideas is two things. One, to validate an idea, you have to implement something. Okay? Which means time, effort, cost, at least to be able to show that person that you’re pitching to what this is about. So I’ll take an example. The product that I’m working on now, there is two ways for me to pitch it. I tell you an idea and you can imagine it in your head, or I implement APOC, so APOC could take a week, two weeks, and then I could show you how it works in that POC, right? The second problem is how do you stop people from copying you? If you go to a startup pitch night, you pitch your idea, how do you know that your idea is not going to be out there before you implement it? And that’s a problem that I still suffer from.
How do you, because brilliant ideas can then be picked up on the go, right? If I tell you the idea, then you think, oh wow, that’s an awesome idea and maybe I can implement it. And with the world of tech now, everybody can implement anything unless you are in biochemistry or it’s an idea that requires millions and millions of dollars to implement. But let’s say you come up with an app, come up with a website, you come up with any service, anybody out there can implement it even without any tech agro, right? So how do you protect yourself?
That’s a question that I’m still trying to answer, create NDAs. But NDAs, you can’t just go around and getting people signing NDAs at a pitch mark or with your friends or whatever. So I think select a few people that you trust and intimately or their friends, family, even friends that you trust, pitch that idea to them. And then once you think it’s good enough to go to market, let’s say you are two, three months away from launching and you can start pitching and you can gauge how long it took you to implement it and how long it would take somebody else to implement it. That’s how I approach things.
Chris Hood (20:49):
Well, we have the ideas. What we also find in startups is everybody has additional ideas. We often call it feature creep, right? Because you end up coming up with all these additional ideas or concepts that can be tapped on to whatever the core product or services. How do you think startups or even any organization should be managing those priorities?
Joseph Azar (21:14):
The way we did it in foresight is user or customer consensus. So even before we launched the product, we had our customers involved. We set up a test pilot on Facebook or social media. We got people to give us feedback on the features that we’re implementing. Excuse me. They came along to the journey from the beginning, even before we had a product that we can sell, that the customer was there, even if they didn’t end up buying a helmet, they were part of that journey. What we used to do was because, and the thing is, if you are not a user of your own product, probably a bad idea to get into that industry because you need to understand what your product is about. Yes, you can be in any business and sell products that are not for you, but if you can understand that mentality of that customer.
So for instance, almost everybody in foresight is a motorcycle rider. So we wear helmets on a daily basis. That gets us into the customer mentality. So if I think I’d need something or a feature in my helmet, I would understand that other riders would probably want that kind of feature in theirs. So getting that customer involved in the journey kind of gave us feedback. What is an MVP and what is a nice to have and what is a feature that should be included down the line? And that’s how we did it. And I think that’s a good approach because you get firsthand feedback from the people who are buying our product.
Chris Hood (23:13):
I personally believe it’s an excellent approach. I actually talked about that in my book about how do you involve your customers? There are some people who would argue that you should not be involving your customers that much. Again, I disagree with that, but I think there’s also a flip side to it. You have ideas and you validate those ideas with your customers, but your customers are also going to have ideas. How do you bring those into the consideration as well?
Joseph Azar (23:43):
Yeah, I mean, you are right. It’s two side of the coin. So if you involve them too much and you have 10,000 customers, everybody pitching an idea, you have a queue of a thousand, 10,000 ideas. You need to be the gatekeeper. So you take an idea, you add it on the board. If somebody else comes up with the same idea, you add a tick to it, and then you tally the numbers and you see, okay, this is an idea that 50 30% of our customers are asking for, then that’s a good idea to include in the pipeline. But we got customers asking if we can put aircons in the helmet for hot summer days or windshield wiper in the helmet. There’s a lot of ideas out there. You can’t take all of them and implement them. So you have to be the gatekeeper, yes, involve them, but in the end, the decision is yours. Involve them in the feedback, ask questions. The insights that you get from having your customers as a part of the journey are invaluable, and there’s no service. There’s no company that you can pay to get you that kind of information because you are receiving it directly from those people who are willing to give you their money.
Chris Hood (25:11):
This whole process continues, right? I mean, there’s a feedback mechanism in theory at the end that once you’ve actually iterated on your products, you’re out in the marketplace, consumers are using it. You’re not just all of a sudden ignoring that input and saying, well, we’re done.
Joseph Azar (25:31):
Yeah, that’s right. That’s something that you kind of triggered. Another idea is think of future proofing your product. And that’s something that we can implement in technology. If you are building something like Choose for Women or that kind of product doesn’t give you kind of future proofing, as in if your customer is not happy with it, you’ve already produced the stock and it’s there sitting and people are not going to buy it. With technology, the difference is you can kind of gauge or put mechanisms in place that gives you the ability to update your product, to include features that customers may or may not want in the future. So the way we did it in foresight was we added chips on the boards that weren’t even used. So let’s say an accelerometer or AGPS chip or even though the product when we launched didn’t use these chips, but we thought, what if in the future somebody or we pivot the company into something else or a large amount of customers would require a feature, all we had to do is ship an update over the air update, and that product would have a new feature that didn’t exist before.
And that’s something we can do in tech. If you are making an app, think about, okay, how can I update the app over the year? How can I include features down the line? And that’s easy probably with the app stores. If you’re making a product, a SaaS business, think about, okay, I can bake in features that are turned off now, but maybe they would help customers down the line if they request ’em. And that’s the approach we take with everything, even though the MVP that you ship is limited in features, but always think about, okay, if I need to increase those features set, how do I do it in the fastest way possible?
Chris Hood (27:47):
Yeah. And I want to wrap up with one other final question. Everybody is talking about ai. Is there a place for AI in idea management innovation processes or helping organizations, especially startups go through this?
Joseph Azar (28:04):
I mean, yeah, definitely. With every technology you’ve been in the market probably as long as I have. With every technology that comes out there. There’s a phase where everybody’s hyped up, and I love the idea it’s the best idea that came in 20 years. And then slowly after a few years, you kind of see whether or not that idea was great. Take blockchain, take flash action script, take any product that, even Internet Explorer. So you kind of see the hype, and then when things settle down and the dust settles down, you look and see, okay, has this technology improved my life? And I think personally, I think AI is that, but I think I’ll wait a bit until the hype is done and then I can see how to use it. If you look around, startups are just slapping that AI slogan on their brand and hoping that VCs come and invest money. That’s not the approach to it. AI is awesome, and the potential of it is awesome, but we’re still starting. If your business doesn’t have ai, it’s okay. You don’t need to panic, but just don’t slap the AI brand on it and hope for the best. If your product benefits from AI somehow, great, that’s an awesome idea. But if you’re just adding AI to it to get more money from VCs, don’t do that.
Chris Hood (29:53):
How can people get in touch with you?
Joseph Azar (29:55):
The primary way of getting in touch with me is my website. It’s au or LinkedIn. Just look forward to Joseph Azar. I’m the big guy wearing a black T-shirt.
Chris Hood (30:08):
Thank you so much. It’s been an insightful conversation.
Joseph Azar (30:11):
Thank you. Appreciate it.
Chris Hood (30:13):
And of course, thanks to all of you who are listening. If you like what you heard, please subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast platform and leave a review. Your feedback helps us improve and grow. And if you have any questions, comments, or ideas for the show, you can connect with us throughout social media and online at Chris Hood Show. And please share this episode with your friends, family, colleagues, or anyone else looking to grow their business and start their own digital evolution. Until next week, take care and stay connected.

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