Hall is the founder and CEO of Eureka! Ranch, an 80-acre "farm" that grows ideas and harvests innovation for some of the America's top companies. Whether the story is fact or fiction, it represents Hall well -- he's a nonconformist who is unimpressed with the price of a tie or the size of an organization.
Hall's inventiveness and rebellious nature have driven Eureka! Ranch's success over the past 18 years. And while you may not recognize his name, you know his work -- Hall's patented scientific system for generating ideas, innovation and marketing has been the genesis for the development of thousands of products and services for clients including PepsiCo., AT&T and Frito-Lay.
With rates starting at $15,000 for one, two and three-day workshops, Hall and his team of innovation gurus boast an almost unheard of 88 percent customer repeat rate. In a nutshell, Hall's process of inspiring and developing business-building ideas that are more effective and measurably less risky works.
A chemical engineer by education and an alumnus of Procter & Gamble, where he was master marketing inventor, Hall is in the business of fostering creativity. Suits are forbidden at Eureka! Even Hall's tax attorneys have to shed the formal wear when they visit.
What started as a creative rebellion against the stifling corporate red tape that can suck the life out of even the most enthusiastic executive has become a revolutionary movement, attracting followers across the globe. That demand resulted in Hall opening an Oxford, England, location to serve his European clients.
For a man who is unimpressed with corporate America's constraints, Hall has created and nurtured a rather large business empire. The difference between him and Corporate America, he says, is that he created a system that's grown by fostering the creativity of a few rather than expanding by adding employees.
Smart Business spoke with Hall about how to step outside the board room and get the creative juices flowing.
What are the best ways you've seen CEOs and business leaders demonstrate innovation?
If I'm talking about CEOs, I think of them as Chief Energy Originators. They've got to be the energy source for change, not the brakes on change. Their primary mission is to anticipate the future.
How? By making sure they're out there making sales calls, talking to customers, understanding the market place and understanding competitors -- not by listening to reports. They have to be [on the] front line, out there doing it.
They also do it by asking their managers the all-important questions, such as what do they anticipate the future will be like in five years? And, if that's where it's going, what are we doing about it now?
We have a tendency to be like Lucille Ball in the candy factory -- fighting today's issues but not looking out and asking, 'Where are we going?'
What's the biggest mistake business leaders make when they're trying to be innovative?
They assume a straight line. They assume that last year's results will be what will happen this year. The second mistake is that they believe the problem is people, not systems. They believe that if they just hire a different sales manager, despite the fact that five sales managers have failed, a miracle will occur.
It doesn't work that way. It's the system, and they are responsible for the system. If they're having trouble with sales, maybe their product offering isn't worth selling. Maybe the marketing message isn't worth hearing. Maybe it's not price.
In other words, if you're not getting the sales you need, yes, there's a problem. Don't beat up the workers; take responsibility for it.
The biggest mistake CEOs make is not taking responsibility for their company. They need to ask how the system is wrong and how to change it.
Who should a CEO involve in the idea development stage?
Every one of his direct reports. So if it's technology related, if it's legal, if it's finance, if it's manufacturing, if it's sales, those are the people who need be involved. [John] Deming said 94 percent of all problems are management related, meaning they're related to the system. And the only people that change the system are those in management.
What's the most effective form of brainstorming?
There's a real science to brainstorming. The old approach was ... everybody gets in a room, and the logical, rational people, which are three-quarters of the people, turn around and become right-brained, free-wheeling creatives.
That's gone. It doesn't work that way. Instead, what we have to do is build systems that leverage all of our people -- the logical people as well as the emotional/creative people -- and we need to bring them together in a system.
That's what the system that we've put together does. It allows us to bring them in. And the simple thing that people can do is make sure they're answering one of three questions: Why should I care? What's the dramatic difference? What's the wow that should get me excited? If it doesn't answer one of three questions, don't bother.
Second, what's in it for me, as in me the customer? What am I going to receive in exchange for investing my time, my money, my trouble?
And third, why should I believe you? There are a lot of snake oil salesmen out there. Why should I really believe you?
So if you go into your brainstorming and you just say OK on a new product and you don't answer one of the questions, you've missed it.
How do you know when you've got a breakthrough idea?
If you're not sure, you already have your answer.
The truth is that many people have never, ever had one that they believed enough in, one they'd be willing to fight to the death for. When you have those, you know it. So if you're asking the question, you already have your answer.
We think shallow. In our USA Today world, our McPaper McMessage world, we don't commit ourselves. The only way you're going to commit yourself is if you truly have a passion for doing something.
When does good marketing start?
Marketing is facilitation. Marketing is the Henry Kissinger of the corporate world. Marketing's job is to build the alliances between the customers' intentions, anticipating the customers' needs, the product development and the packaging. Marketing is there to give the salespeople the materials that allow them to very efficiently accomplish the company's mission.
Marketing is not something that is done to something. It is the hub of the wheel. Done right, it is leadership; not leadership as in telling people what to do, but leadership as in facilitating technology and sales. It's taking the wonders the technology people have and figuring out a way to articulate it in such a way that the salespeople can help customers see its value in an instant.
Marketing is not a separate task -- it's facilitation, a communication, an interpretation role. It is communicating with true integrity exactly that which you are promising.
Who benefits most from idea generation sessions?
Anybody that's trying to sell something. In general, the strongest reaction has been from the more technical community because the system is a system that allows left-brain people to truly get the marketing idea for the first time. It really rocks with the more logical folks as opposed to sales and marketing people, who tend to not want to have that much discipline.
Is it fun to see people get involved and excited for the first time?
It is beyond comprehension how quick and how fast they immediately see ideas. The reason why I'm at a stage where I'm bringing the program up is that the wow is just unbelievable.
This is my heart and my soul. And I truly believe I have a revolutionary heart and that we can change the systems -- we can win and make a difference. But the emperor's first got to be told that he's buck naked.
We have revolution, not evolution. It's not time for evolution. The time for evolution's gone. It's time for the revolution. We have to change our thinking systems radically. And that scares some people, especially people in the Midwest. They either get it or they don't. But survival's not mandatory.
How do you see the innovation process shaking out over the next decade with global competition?
I think we're going to have a death of companies that's beyond comprehension. We're already seeing it; they're all buying each other out. Selling out your company to another one, that basically says loser in my mind.
Maybe it's good for the people in between, but the consolidation that we're seeing today, in the future, I think we're going to see some megacorporations go down. We're going to see a lot more of the bankruptcies we saw with Enron and WorldCom because the larger corporations are propped up right now.
Procter & Gamble says 50 percent of their new products are expected to come from outside the company. Fifty percent. That's one of the most encouraging things for small and medium-sized businesses. So the opportunity for the entrepreneur to create a business, get it running and make it to the seven-to-10-year point has never been better. Then, when they get tired of it, they can sell it off.
I truly believe it will be the small entrepreneurs and this younger generation that are going to have to do it. There are some baby boomers out there that somehow forgot the 1960s. They forgot the concept. They sold out, and frankly, I don't see them being willing to change. They like what they've got too much.
They like their lives and they're not willing to change. So it will be the youth that will have do it.
HOW TO REACH: Eureka! Ranch, (513) 271-9911 or www.eurekaranch.com