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Lessons from Four Years of Business Blogging

December 12, 2011

My first blog post for HBR.org went live in February 2008, when the platform was still in its infancy. Here’s what I’ve learned about market demand in three-and-a-half years and (now) 200 posts. While I thought that a reflective post might be a little self-indulgent, I think these lessons transfer to other domains, so I wanted to share them with my readers.

1. Distilling ideas down to straightforward lists can help bring clarity to murky situations. At the end of 2010 the combination of an unusual presentation and work on The Little Black Book of Innovation inspired a post that was a long list of one-sentence answers to common innovation questions. When the post appeared on December 27, I figured it would land in a holiday wasteland. But strong readership in December carried into January, and turned “31 Innovation Questions” into my most popular post.

2. Practicality rules. My second most popular post was a 2010 post on the “4 Ps of Innovation.” The post argued that innovators should avoid numbing discussion with leadership about made-up assumptions on overly detailed spreadsheets. Rather, companies should first determine how big an idea has to be to matter. Then they should see if a plausible combination of an idea’s target population, price, purchase frequency, and penetration rate crosses that threshold. That post has generated a meaningful number of readers every month since its publication.

3. Misery loves company. Dilbert’s lasting popularity is a testament to some of the pain felt by cube-dwellers around the world. Pieces that I’ve written about the challenges facing internal innovators almost always strike a chord. My most popular piece of this genre was an observation that corporations often suffered what I termed “iteration-itis.” That is, they treat innovation as an academic exercise and discuss and analyze ideas to death. I argued that innovators need to learn from active experimentation. This post blasted out of the gate and generated a good dialog among readers.

4. People appreciate a guide to today’s challenging times. Every month, I get a couple of emails asking me for the detailed report on transformation that I mentioned at the end of an April 2008 post titled “6 Drivers of Change.” That post described key lessons I drew from a fascinating panel discussion featuring senior leaders from Dow Corning, Procter & Gamble, and Eastman Kodak. The 265-word post has persisted — drawing a couple hundred readers a month for the past 21 months.

5. Headlines matter. Posts about Apple generate high levels of interest. Surprise! My most popular one was a May 2010 piece on “Three Critical Lessons From Apple” (a numbered list too!). The key messages — focusing on business model innovation, building platforms and pipelines, and taking a portfolio approach — remain important lessons.

I hope my contributions are helpful to readers. If you have any suggestions about areas to explore in future posts, please email me at santhony@innosight.com.

Scott AnthonyScott Anthony

Scott leads Innosight’s Asian operations. His fourth book on innovation, The Little Black Book of Innovation, will be released in early 2012. Follow him on Twitter at @ScottDAnthony.

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