Thursday, April 20, 2017

Thought Experiment: Describe a World Without Innovation

How would you describe a world without innovation? 

We are heading into our annual trip to Boston for the Front End of Innovation conference. And, in honor of our book, The Physics of Brand we’ve identified an appropriate thought experiment.

What would the world be like without innovation? For those of us living, working and thriving in the “innovation” universe, it seems like heresy to even write this thought experiment. We are taught in business school, “innovation is the only sustainable competitive advantage.” We grow used to seeking out the new, intriguing and innovative solution to age old problems. It is the energy source for any organization aspiring to grow, lead or stay out in front of the marketplace.

How could we even consider the idea?

To know how valuable something or someone is to you, consider the world without. What would you miss? What wouldn’t happen? What would you do instead? What would we imagine if we didn’t ponder new solutions to problems? What would we daydream about if we didn’t consider an alternative future? What would the human race be without imagination?

To start, innovation is rarely associated with the “new to the world” but dowsed like salt on an English meal to describe much of the iterative stuff we see daily. The list of history changing “new to the world” innovations includes the printing press, paper currency, the compass, democratic governing, magnifying lenses, transistors, the telegraph, antibiotics and perhaps a few more. The list of what a majority of people describe as innovative would be too long for this writer to type before the FEI conference begins. So, we would live in a more dangerous, economically challenged and unexplored world if innovation wasn’t something we did as human beings.

According to Yuval Noah Harari, Author of Sapiens and Homo Deus, imagination is our single attribute which puts us above all other species. We evolved to dominate the planet and all other species because we imagine. The ability to imagine is the first step toward innovation and we have thrived because of imagination. Though I do wonder what Yuval would say to the iterative innovations like Snuggie for Dogs, Fake Ponytails, Vibrating Ab Belts and Subprime Mortgages. Perhaps these are the inventions for which the human race is not proud. And, if that’s what we consider “innovation” then yes, take me to a place where innovation is no longer an imperative for survival.

Yet, for those who don’t abuse the word innovation, let’s continue to hold it high and reference to our greatest accomplishments as a human race. And, if we consider a world without innovation, perhaps more of us would show up at places where it thrives. We would immerse ourselves in the warm pool of knowledge a conference like FEI offers. We would run to the places where ideas are exchanged, minds are lit up and participants leave with a renewed energy for finding the next solution to a nagging social ill.

Let this thought experiment be a test, as you connect with people at FEI in May, ask them this simple question, “what would the world be like without innovation?” If you get a thoughtful response, then you know they’re a member of a class of human beings with a high standard for what we can accomplish. If they brush it off, perhaps they’ve not thought hard enough about what their work means to the world. If they say, “well then I wouldn’t have to come to this conference” you might want to move on to the next person.

If you’d like to connect and talk more about innovation as a cultural challenge, how thought experiments can be used to inspire or how your organization values imagination, design and innovation, please reach out. We will be at the conference all week talking about The Physics of Brand, design and the stories that inspire us.

Kitty Hart, Lucy Robb and I write for the FEI event blog, please reach out if you have a story to share.

Founder, Capsule Design

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Innovation Interview: Q&A with Keurig Senior Innovation Director

In our Innovation Interview series, each month we talk to thought leaders, inspirers, and innovators in the industry to pick their brains about the state of innovation, trends, and what’s in store for the future. This week we caught up FEI: Front End of Innovation speaker Rachael Schwartz who is the General Manager of Keurig Connect and Senior Director of Innovation at Keurig Green Mountain.

Day-to-day, Schwartz has one mission: drive strategy and flawless execution of Keurig Connect through better understanding consumers wants and needs to provide them with improved, smarter, and more personalized beverage experiences. When it comes to strategy-driven innovation, she is in her element. For nearly two decades, she has artfully navigated innovation for companies in the consumer products, food and beverage, and financial services industries. Today, Schwartz is leading the development of Keurig Connect, Keurig’s IoT platform at Keurig Green Mountain, the $4.5 billion personal beverage system company responsible for changing the way North Americans drink coffee with its Keurig single-serve brewing system and a portfolio of 80+ powerhouse specialty beverage brands.

Here's what Schwartz had to say:

What is the key to transforming ideas into market winning strategies? 

Schwartz: I believe it’s critical to obtain a solid understanding of the unmet consumer needs in the category and ensure your strategy will help make life better for the consumer.

How does design thinking improve innovation?

Schwartz: Design thinking is a good process to make sure the consumer need is matched with the technology capability and the business strategy as all three need to be aligned to have a successful product. Design thinking incorporates many different methods of really understanding the consumer and their needs to map to the technology and business strategy.

How can innovators learn how to work alongside the technologies that will shape their product/service/experience innovations of the future?

Schwartz: Innovators can study the projected trajectories that a technology may take and identify how that could affect the consumer experience with their product.

How does leadership, teams, and the environment help empower and accelerate innovation?

Schwartz: Innovation can easily get stuck in large company processes or killed by large company metrics and never can come to life.  Therefore, it is important for leadership to provide the resources to fund innovation and clear the path, from a process standpoint, to allow innovation to be developed. 

Why is business model innovation a powerful way to breakthrough?

Schwartz: How can companies stop conventional business models from impeding innovation? In today’s digital world where there are much fewer barriers to entry in many industries, every company needs to think broadly about what industry they are in, what problems are they solving for consumers, and who their competitors are.  For example, oil companies are pivoting to become energy companies, car companies are mobility companies, and pharmacies are becoming wellness centers. 

Schwartz: When you rethink the problem, you are solving, you recognize that companies with more diverse business models may be more successful at solving those problems.  That’s why it’s critical to innovate without the constraint of your current model. This, however, is hard to do when you are disrupting your current company.  Therefore, many companies will choose to place bets through investments in companies with the disruptive business model or create arms-length subsidiaries to place those bets.

How can open innovation leaders de-risk external collaborations and usher in more efficient pathways into their organization?

Schwartz: They can enter external collaborations with a clear understanding of what learnings they wish to gain from the collaboration, what are the metrics for success, and what is the path for introducing learnings from the collaboration into the greater organization.

Join Rachael at her FEI session “Journey into Connected Appliances and the IoT” on Wednesday, May 10th at 12:00 PM EST.  Learn more:

FEI takes you through the entire innovation process- from ideation through to execution. Get the tips you need for creating fast, agile & opportunistic innovation teams to turn a great idea into a market winning product. Use exclusive LinkedIn discount code FEI17LI for $100 off a pass to FEI in Boston next month. Buy your ticket here:

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Perfect Business Book

Don’t we all wish it existed? That book that holds within its pages the elusive magic formula that weaves its way from Ideation to Execution and results in a successful venture. I am constantly being asked by clients and participants to recommend IT, The Perfect Business Book, and I struggle with the question every time.

There is no one Perfect Business Book. It’s a bit like parenting, there is no onesizefitsall. Unless you are geographically located in the same place as the author, have the same perceptions, the same upbringing, the same support, circumstances and a myriad of other ‘samenesses’, how can a book that is the sum of one person’s experiences, be the perfect solution for your business or your life? It can’t.

My recommendation is always to read wide. Read chapter headings and summaries of business books. Read authors who have created businesses similar and far removed from yours. Read articles and journals and books and listen to Ted Talks. Read fiction so your creative juices are stimulated. And then adopt and adapt the philosophies that most resonate with what you are trying to achieve through your business and the goals and vision you have set. You have set them haven’t you?

Read to fill the gaps. What are the skills you lack? What aspects of business do you know little about? Are you a control freak? Read The Surrender Experiment by Michael A Singer. Are you an introvert? Read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. The truth is a book won’t solve your problems but it should stimulate you to develop your own solutions.

The most successful business people read (success measured by what makes you happy and brings you a fulfilled life, not by your bank balance). Warren Buffet reads between six hundred and one thousand pages per day. His advice is to, “Read five hundred pages every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest”. 

So where do you start selecting the books to add to your bookshelf? OK, or device.

Books on the list could include The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks, Purple Cow by Seth Godin and Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder. Personal development, marketing and planning covered in just three titles.

And then there’s Blinkist for the lovers of ear buds and audio. It’s a wonderful little app that gives you a 15-minute summary of a book while you’re on that treadmill or pounding the pavement on a sunny day.

Fortunately, there is no magic formula. After all, who wants to be swimming in a sea of sameness? Happy reading.

Christina Gerakiteys is an ideation, innovation and creativity expert. She is the Founder of Ideation At Work, dedicated to opening hearts and minds to possibility. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

It’s All About the Product, Silly!

The seminal Harvard Business Review article, Customer Intimacy and Other Value Disciplines by Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersma, transformed the way corporations approach strategy. The article argues that to become an industry leader, corporations must choose to focus on one (and only one) of three value disciplines.

The value disciplines are Operational Excellence, Customer Intimacy and Product Leadership. According to the article, Operational Excellence means “providing customers with reliable products or services at competitive prices and delivered with minimal difficulty or inconvenience.” Examples of companies typifying this value discipline include Amazon, FedEx and Wal-Mart.

Customer Intimacy, as defined by the article, is “segmenting and targeting markets precisely and then tailoring offerings to match exactly the demands of those niches.” Consider Home Depot, Disney and Starbucks.

The third value discipline, Product Leadership, is defined as “offering customers leading-edge products and services that consistently enhance their use or application of the product, thereby making rivals’ goods obsolete.” Think Nike, Google and Apple.

While the article argues that companies can become industry leaders by going after one of these value disciplines, bb7 dares to argue that there is an area in business where you can succeed at all three value disciplines. That area is (naturally) product development. Yes; it's all about the product!
We believe that, if your product development strategy scores in all three value disciplines, you will achieve market dominance.

Operational Excellence can be achieved through product development in many ways. A major way bb7 helps companies with this focus is through design for manufacturing (DFM). Customer Intimacy can also be improved by product development. We advocate user research; it’s an important step in the product development process for uncovering user needs and developing a path to user-centered designs. Product development is obviously necessary for Product Leadership, and a major way to maximize the impact in this focus is through product road mapping.

bb7’s Kerr dental wand case study is one of many examples in which a product achieved market dominance by hitting all three value disciplines. bb7 worked with Kerr on evolving dental curing wands, resulting in the Demi Plus and the Demi Ultra.

We achieved customer intimacy through user research, which revealed many customer needs and directed the team to focus on improved ergonomics, usability, weight and cleanability for both the Demi Plus and the Demi Ultra. Meanwhile, we upheld Operational Excellence by incorporating DFM at every step - bb7 worked with Kerr’s manufacturing source from the very beginning to ensure feasibility and efficiency.

The team aimed at Product Leadership through product road mapping. While developing the Demi Plus curing wand, they simultaneously worked on its successor, the Demi Ultra. The Demi Plus was advanced but the Demi Ultra was developed to take advantage of future technology. Product road mapping provided Kerr with a first-to-market product - the Demi Ultra curing wand was the first and only curing light to feature two ultracapacitors, which recharge to full power in under 40 seconds. The ultracapacitors never need to be replaced or serviced and allowed the curing wand to be fully sealed (no vents for cooling required).

The Demi Ultra was born from product road mapping to achieve Product Leadership but it also incorporated findings from user-research to achieve Customer Intimacy and DFM principles to achieve Operational Excellence.

If a company approaches product development with concurrent emphasis on user-research, DFM and product road mapping, it can simultaneously target all three values: Operational Excellence, Customer Intimacy and Product Leadership. If a product achieves all three, that company will be poised for market dominance. In short, “It’s All About the Product, Silly!”

About the Author:  Maggie Graham is an accomplished marketer and performer. Target audiences and theatrical audiences need to hold on to their socks – Maggie will knock them off. For more than fifteen years, she has worked across the country in sales, marketing and entertainment. She has worked in product development for over a decade.

Her marketing work has included experience with multiple design firms, a Tony award-winning theater, a market research company and a web development agency. She is responsible for all things marketing-related at bb7: campaigns, events, advertisements, public relations, content and more. Notably, she was the mastermind behind bb7’s website.

Her entertainment career has included acting, ballet, improvisation, standup comedy, film, teaching and puppetry. She has worked with Second City, has been featured in media (print, television, radio, etc.), and was named runner up by the Chicago Reader for best stand-up comedian.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Human Capital Management Just Got Easier

By: Ciaran Nagle, Global Marketing Manager, OND LLC

Managing. Human. Capital. When you ally the word 'capital' to 'human' you start to make people into an asset that can be invested. They begin to be equated with money. And that, I submit, is exactly the way that we should - and now can - view the whole process.

When we invest money in a business we follow up that investment by tracking the share price and comparing the dividend. We look out for news items about the companies we've invested in. Bad news - should we sell? Good news - buy more? We have skin in the game and we pore over all the metrics to find out how our money is doing. We care about our investment.

But when we recruit people into a business, we plant them in their new team and walk away. If they're not salespeople we have few ways of observing their progress and finding out if the investment was worthwhile. We get reports from time to time from their line manager, but these are frustratingly subjective. We have no real way of knowing if we have made the right decision.

Talent investment - a better strategy?           

Talent investment is a new phrase that has the right ring about it. It sees people as valuable items who should produce double, tenfold, maybe a hundredfold their value. When you have an item that has the potential to produce a hundred times its own worth, you look after it, don't you? You watch it daily as it develops and give it everything it needs. You treat it with care and place it in the right environment.
It's the difference between throwing seed on the ground and hoping it springs up and a scientific approach of planting seeds into carefully prepared ground where they'll receive exactly the right amount of light and water.

Now there is a scientific approach to planting people into carefully prepared ground. It involves a detailed exploration of the business team you're about to endow with a new team member (the prepared ground) as well as a perfect understanding of the natural capabilities of that member (the seed).

The new approach works. It is associated with unprecedented levels of employee engagement, productivity of circa 90% of potential and staff retention results that are putting cobwebs on recruitment interview rooms around the globe.

The new approach is embodied in Method Teaming, an established teaming science. It can be taught to anyone. But Method Teaming is especially relevant to those who want their human capital to produce a hundredfold return. You might be a venture capitalist. You might be a hiring manager. Or you might be in HR. But whoever you are, if that's the kind of talent investment you're looking for, you now know how to sow that seed.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Innovation and the Tech World

While the world of Technology has filled the world with tools of productivity and connection, it has its drawbacks. Many people today suffer from the shadow side of technology.

Droves of burned out screen-addicted zombies sign up for Digital Detox weekends. Families schedule a family night without cellphones at the table once a week or only allow their preschoolers to play games after reading. As well, technology has imploded many of the societal norms we once held sacred: look how online dating has disrupted generations of courtships rituals, for example.

Indeed, with culture moving at the speed of a Tweet or a Pin, it’s hard to make sense of it how it all either enhances or distracts from life. Even more perplexing, the lines between our digital lives and non-digital lives blur in so many ways that the fabric of a contemporary life has some pixels, code, cloud uploads, profiles, and updates woven into the overall tapestry.

This week I presented to a room filled with CIOs and IT directors. It was unusual for them to hear about Innovation, as the subject is often heard only by those in Strategy, Marketing, Product Management, or RND.

And yet, it was the right audience. Given the way they work, they were familiar with many typical aspects of innovation. They work in rapid, iterative cycles in Agile development, began user-centered design with personas for software creation, etc.

In many ways Technology was the fulfillment of the Industrial Revolution, making us more efficient and accountable, ensuring we are all billable and productive. Unknowingly, the rush to digital the world of business and culture at large has ushered in a new era: the post-industrial world.

After we mapped the world, shared it online, digitized the office, and reached Big Data’s dream of optimizing supply chains and accounting for operational excellence, a new hope is realized. Technology is here to serve people, not the other way around. Computers and devices that once seemed so monolithic now empower our species to think about our role in a more noble purpose than the Industrial Revolution’s primary objective: the profit motive.

Now, we see how we can positively impact education, the environment, healthcare, and other systems in need of redemption using the these tools. In other words, we are seeing the rise of the human-to-human era where empathy trumps power and a win-win relationship between organizations and people is a preferred outcome to a monopoly.

The most interesting aspect of this human-centered movement is to see technology companies embed innovation practices into their cultures and to see such empathy-based methods as Design Thinking, mindfulness programs, or generative frameworks like Growth Mindset Training be integral to leadership training as such companies as Microsoft, Intel, GE, IBM, aspects of Google, and even at companies such as Citrix.

They know the world has changed and they need to transform and pivot to remain not only relevant, but vital in the human-to-human era. The companies that innovative themselves will innovate the world.

Michael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an innovation and strategic growth firm based in Memphis, TN and the author of Going Electric. Visit to learn more.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Embedding Innovation into Your Organization

It takes two factors to make innovation real at an organization: concepts and culture. Work on both at the same time and the rest will emerge as a by-product of the process.

If you outsource your innovation efforts, you will end up with concepts that will not be accepted by your existing culture. Some concepts might be potent enough to generate a lot of sales. Others will be even stronger, allowing your company to reframe what a category means to consumers and positioning you as the leader—think of the famous examples: Swiffer, i-phone, and Tesla.

However, you will not allow such radical concepts to launch without changing the mindset of the culture itself. Without working on the culture while generating concepts, new thinking and new value-generating concepts will be rejected by the preset filters and default thinking of the organization.

On the other hand if you just work on the culture, but do not produce concepts that resonate in the market, you have created no new value.

Rather you inspire the high-potential or bored troops, give them a format to bring their best to the organization—and then boom; they crash, as there is no method for producing concepts, which gives form to the dredged-up now-awakened creativity. They will leave as soon as they find a place where they can take what you awakened in them and give it form.

Necessary Compliments
Work on culture and concepts must be undertaken at the same time as part of an innovation journey that will assure a positive outcome. You have to work on the people in the business (culture) and on the market ideas (concepts: products, services, business model changes, initiatives, etc.), the inner and the outer, to transform into an organization that drives new results.

Like muscle memory, you have to work on culture and concepts each week for at least 90-days to begin to embed innovation.

How to Start?

Many prospective clients fret about how to start an innovation journey. They know they are missing out on creating new value—and allowing competitors access to the runway to outpace and lap their growth.

Our advice is simple: do exercises and training to change the culture and work on concepts that are consumer- or customer-insight based.

Don’t worry about larger implications such as which department innovation will exist within, metrics for innovation, or how innovation will dovetail with the existing new product development process.

For the first 12-to-18 months keep the approach simple. Host a series of workshops to initiate the culture. Teach your people the methods and mindset of innovation, as tools for complex problem solving. Pick a small, multi-disciplinary team or two to work on a few projects. Generate new concepts that arise from market insights. Repeat.

Then, the right structure and definition for innovation for your company’s unique needs will naturally emerge.

Michael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an innovation and strategic growth firm based in Memphis, TN and the author of Going Electric. Visit to learn more.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Trouble Innovation at Fear-based Cultures

Command-and-control, top-down organizations have the most trouble innovating. In particular, the fearful mindsets that review, align, and sign off on “decks” to be presented to Vice President-level colleagues often edit out the insights and recommendations that have the power to grow the business in new ways.
These well-trained, obedient keepers of the status quo are rewarded for not taking risks and for not thinking outside of the existing paradigm of the business.
When we are assigned fretful, career-minded people to project teams we know that we must spend half of our time reorienting such people. Otherwise, the innovation project will implode under such fears as what will they think, can we give a preview to the VP of No, or how does this effect my bonus?
Notice that all of the above thinking conveys a myopic internally-focused view—and is contrary to where innovations tend to be discovered, namely in the market and with real people. This mindset lacks the exploratory and inquisitive nature required to break new ground and create new value.
Curiosity and openness are key prerequisites for this kind of work. A discovery process must be undertaken. Often, the output of an innovation project cannot be imagined beforehand; the findings can only be unveiled as the journey unfolds. Without open-minded exploration, possible solutions will be suffocated in infancies—and not nurtured to reach their potential.
Equally critical to success, if you want to become an innovative company, your employees will need to be doing some of the work themselves.
You cannot outsource this type of work and expect lasting results, just as your mountain Sherpa cannot actually walk for you and make a movie of the adventure for you to show at home. Your team has to experience the alchemy of change. Otherwise, they—and your organization—will not be able to accept new thinking about the business. This point may sound small, but it is the biggest impediment to developing and deploying innovation. If you are in a rigid and fixed system, innovation by design is impossible.
If you want to be able to innovate on a level deeper than cost cutting, stop with all of the small actions that seek to present only perfection up the food chain. Practice presenting work in different formats and in different stages of development. In other words, innovate how presentations to those in leadership positions are conducted.
To enter this Growth Mindset means to encourage your people to take risks, embrace possible failure, and aim for an ambitious goal. If the whole system of your culture rewards incremental thinking and has a bias for data, change the game. Set up the expectations of the meetings differently. Be and signify change. Remember, if you are tasked with innovation, you are hired to transform, not inform.
Why assign a lion to be a dog? Change, or don’t bother. As it has been said of advertising the same is true in this field: companies get the innovation results they deserve.
 Michael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an innovation and strategic growth firm based in Memphis, TN and the author of Going Electric. Visit to learn more.

Clicky Web Analytics