A pinch of naive is the price to innovate

One of my responsibility is “creating and implementing sales improving initiatives”, i’m new to this responsibility, so i’ve been called inexperience and even naive.

For me, the inexperience part is inevitable since i’m still quite young, but naive part, is really, a deliberate option on my part.

Business was good in 2008, from 2006 to end of 2007 the Indonesian stock market show a good rally; so layman and housemoms , believing that the rally will last another year, oblivious to the US financial crisis in late 2007 and implication of so many large banks teetering, come in droves to our branch and bought products distributed through us.

The strategy is pretty much “open more access points and let them come pouring in”. Operational issues at sales force and institution level are somewhat ignored, why waste time on fixing what’s running great. Or seemingly running great.

The boom went bust in September 2008, from September to December that year, the Indonesian stock market index tanked. I join my current employer at this “exciting time”.

About 1 month in my job, my boss assigned me to do assess how we can improve business operations. He is astute in understanding that this down time is a great time to do the much needed housekeeping, he had his other project manager putting out fires and me to understand how we can improve our game.

I did an extensive roadshow, met and interview lots of people. Come up with 41 potential initiatives, my boss select 13 to be explored.

Some of these initiatives got lukewarm response to say the least.

I’ve met people who said “if only we had the regional heads support, the business would grow” , i said nothing, but i thought


one, if we know that, then have we done enough to please them;

two, what a lazy ass approach to business, the cheese had move, we can talk about ‘if only it hadn’t move’, but the fact is it moved and now we need to go out and do things to find the cheese again;

and third, i do not believe that the entire retail banking force is robots, unhumans whose heart cannot be touched and motivated to support you, undettered by poor operational capability of their sales counterpart, and that they would risk their job and personal safety just to fulfill the spoken command of their supreme commanders”

To me, improving sales is a multidimensional opportunity, to some people improving sales is insisting on few points of leverage, thinking that past success comes from these points of leverage while it’s actually market euphoria that allow past result.

I outlined a work plan for these 13 initiatives, and my boss agreed to continue with many of them.

One of the first things I did was developing and deploying consequence management system for the sales force, learn a lot from that, learned that people don’t trust that you have good intention unless you talk with them, again, again, and again. Make some stupid mistakes, lovely, you learn even more from stupid mistakes.

Then I also work on developing the recruitment program for the sales force. My roadshow indicates that the branch diminishing support comes from having their customer being served by weak sales force, so a trio of consequence management, recruitment, and training are necessary to improve the branch support level.

Just as I was readying myself to implement the recruitment improvement program, my boss asked me to work on the training program.

Some say that that task is downgrade, c’mon, doing training programs? that’s like the bull shittiest job of all time, it ranks right there with consulting.

I approach the job with a lofty goal: “make training with a visible and measurable effect on sales”.

The steps are: assess existing program, develop robust monitoring and measurement program for ongoing training, develop programs that can support sales achievement.

I keep my lofty goals during the entire process, I know that training can easily descend into a “we have this budget to spend” thing, but I think I rather be the naive guy who still believe that training can make visible measurable impact on sales.

A good part of the time my boss thought I was doing nothing, truth is like all good buildings, you need to build the foundations right, i need to ensure that my staff can implement the program smoothly and that have the discipline to do the monitoring and measurement process even if I forgot to ask.

Early January we decided to do a pilot on a huge training event for our frontliners, it’s a complex project, typically done with the support of event organizers. I don’t want event organizers for this pilot, this things is so complex, it’s bound to be a good learning opportunity for my staff, it will stretch them unlike anything they done so far. “Naive” some say. My goal is to see whether this program will rally the frontliner so that sales would increase. “Day dreams” some say.

The event was done in February, it went good in terms that we identify and successfully avoid large stupid mistakes, it went not good in terms that it’s impossible to make everybody happy since you simply don’t know what expectation they have in their head. “The hotel’s interior is not good”, “the gifts are few”, “the food is not ok”.

I’ve met strangers in hallways saying the training program failed due to the above type of criticism. To me, the above complains can be easily improve with more money poured in, but the larger issue at hand are whether sales improve due to the event.

So there I was, waiting for January sales data, and strangers are telling me that my event failed when many of them have never done an event without the support of event organizers. I was itching to say “dude, you’re losing the forest for the trees”

Several days ago, the January sales data comes in, and indeed, sales for the pilot region beats the mean sales achievement by more than 50 percent, being one of the only 2 (from 12) region to overachieve their sales target. This despite the region being the most mature (heavily milked out) and no other special program are done to that region that are not being done to other region.

I was filled with joy, my lofty goals on “sales with a visible and measurable impact on sales” are achieved.

Plus, now I have the evidence I need to come to my boss and say “I think we can ask for more money from our partner for these events”

I love being a bit naive, it allows me to explore areas that are not ventured by others because they think they seen it all and know it all, so why bother.


Expert consensus can say “this work, that doesn’t work”, in such times, go look for data, and come up with things that you think will solve the issues that are shown by the data. If the process of keeping to develop the new solution force you to stay naive, then be a bit naive

Being naive is the price to innovate.


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