Stephen Shapiro’s Advice on How to Innovate & Be at the Cutting Edge of the Hearing Care Industry

Written by Claire Dowdall

On October 8th, our ‘Inner Circle’ members were joined by Stephen Shapiro as October’s ‘Expert Guest’ to discuss how to innovate in the hearing care industry. 

Stephen M. Shapiro started his innovation journey when he founded and led a 20,000 person process and innovation practice during his 15 year tenure at Accenture.

Since leaving the consulting firm, he has authored six books on innovation, including Best Practices are Stupid. He also developed Personality Poker®, a powerful card game that helps create high-performing teams. He is a regular columnist for Inc.com.

He has presented to audiences in 50 countries and in 2015, he was inducted into the Speaker Hall of Fame. In his spare time, he geeks out on magic.

Stephen shared with Inner Circle members how to innovate and find ways to be at the cutting edge of the hearing care industry by applying different lenses to the problems and opportunities we face.

Here are some key highlights:

What is Innovation?

Stephen starts by sharing his definition of the sometimes overused word of “innovation”, which for him is mostly about being relevant in the minds of your customers combined with being adaptable.

What it isn’t about is change for the sake of change, novelty for the sake of novelty or ideas for the sake of ideas. It’s about ultimately having a valuable proposition for the market.

What happens when people ask the wrong questions?

Being innovative and relevant is about asking the right questions. And Stephen shares that it’s about asking questions that move us in the direction of relevance. So if you ask irrelevant questions, you get irrelevant answers.

For example, you could ask how you take your hearing care practice virtually. But the more relevant question is “how do we take full advantage and how to we engage people when delivering a service online?”

What happens when you don’t adapt?

We’re primarily wired for survival, so whatever has kept us safe in the past, we feel will keep us safe in the future. This is why businesses are often afraid to innovate and shift their mindset and end up being irrelevant in their market.

For example, the taxi industry became irrelevant when ride sharing came along. And Stephen explains that what really puts us out of business is not responding societal and economic changes. This is what we are really competing against.

The airport baggage example. 

Stephen goes on to share an example where an airport asked their passengers what wasn’t working. Their response was that their bags took too long so they decided to find ways to speed up the bags. They were able to halve the time to 8-10 minutes, but realised that passengers took 1-3. So instead of spending more money trying to speed the bags up more, they decided slow down the passengers, thereby solving the problem – but not the problem they originally looked to tackle.

The difference here was looking at where the problem really was. How can we apply that in the hearing care industry? 

Responding to changes in the marketplace

We know that the industry is being disrupted by the emergence of direct delivery and over-the-counter options. But how do we innovate our way out of this? Stephen uses several of his “25 Lenses” to look at the issue in different ways.

  • The Substitute Lens – how do we change one word in a problem statement? E.g. from competition to collaborator. Look for the opportunities to raise the industry and work together to “grow the pie”
  • The Reduce Lens – how do we make things more accessible?
  • The Leverage Lens – how do we leverage the big manufacturers and brands’ marketing to elevate our own brand? Take and leverage the noise they create
  • The Pain vs Gain Lens – what is the pain we need to solve? For example, use an educated hearing aid wearer to explain why they always go to a hearing care professional
  • The Emotion Lens – what is it that people are missing out on and what are the emotional signals?

Getting away from “you’re old, you’re broken”

The Analogy Lens is recommended by Stephen to assess the stigma around wearing hearing aids. It does this by encouraging us to look at who else – or which industry – has overcome a similar problem or stigma.

A simple switch in language here is referring to people as people and not patients. Because to accept being a patient you have to admit that you’re “broken”. But to use an aid helps you to do the things you want to do.

Who are we really selling to?

You can’t change who the user is, but you can change who the customer is. Because the pain of hearing loss affects more people than the user. So how do we target the people who are being affected by their loved one’s hearing loss and have an influence over that person and may encourage them to seek help?

What are we really selling?

Stephen explains that we aren’t usually selling the physical device or services, rather than the experience and possibility that we are creating. Redefining who the hero of the journey is involves looking through the Result Lens at the entire experience and the fact that the hearing aid is just one part of it.

We’re in the business of protecting future moments and memories for people. So we always have to be thinking “for what and for why”

Why gathering data is key

What if the industry can get involved before there’s a problem? The Resequence Lens gets us to consider what data we can gather and what we can give people access to that acts as a preventative and has people thinking about their hearing before they experience hearing loss.

It’s important to define when that moment is, such as what age, but we can also encourage people to think about it sooner, and then create a clearer laid out post-sale experience.

Taking this further, consider if somewhere like a music store can help people think about their hearing and taking preventative measures. Who are the preventative collaborators in your local community?

Creating a “coolness” factor to hearing aids

Stephen shares some ideas around how hearing aids could be viewed as more “cool” and how we could find ways to produce more proud hearing aid wearers. Could we collaborate with local designers or fashion stores? Local beauty salons? Even better is finding local celebrities who can act as an ambassador.

How do we create ongoing relationships?

The Access Lens encourages us to think about how we can create a longer term access to products and a service that goes beyond OTC. Stephen brings up the example of iPhones where after a point you can no longer update the operating software and the device becomes obsolete, forcing us to upgrade.

Our aim should be to make it a frictionless process to bring people into our service membership, difficult to leave with discounts on upgrades and difficult to keep hold of older equipment.

Using the lenses to tackle problems and be at the cutting edge

Stephen concludes by encouraging us to approach problems by asking “can I apply a couple of lenses to this?” And going forward, using hypothetical trial and error to find new solutions to existing problems.

You can access the 25 Lenses by visiting www.getthelenses.com 

These are just some of the key notes from a 60-minute interview with Stephen Shapiro. The full interview is only available to “Inner Circle” members, but you can view the highlights below.  

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