Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Sign this Pledge, Innovator

Congratulations, you’ve been hired as an Innovator. This is the apex of applied creativity, the rock’n’roll of industry; you are hired to rock the boat. Steady your Warby Parker’s. Hit pause on your Audible copy of Abundance. Check your heart monitor data and caffeine levels. Fill your closets with Robert Graham and PrAna, and get some crazy socks; it’s time to work.

You’ll be outfitted with Apple everything, as long as you mention Apple as the shining avatar of innovation and try to suggest an App accompany every innovation, even non digital solutions.

Open office. Unlimited organic coffee. Bean bags. Whiteboards. Robot pets. Really nice chairs. 3-D printer. Smart, beautiful colleagues who value each other’s eccentricities. Enough Trend data to clog a server. Organic snacks.

While this stereotype bespeaks the many perks of an innovation career, make no mistake. Innovation is fundamentally a sales job. The most vexing point: you will be selling change, a next-generation mindset. Keep these points in mind as you gear up for the inevitable politics of a place.

Many people will feel threatened, question your motives, and protect their short-term bonuses with the wily and cunning nature of an arch villain in a spy novel.

Your more reasoned cases will be questioned with more scrutiny than an Annual Report. Your business model adaption suggestions will gain an audience, but for the wrong reasons. Like a Roman gladiatorial showcase, the spectators line up to see you being fed to the lions. 

Any recommendations transformative of the core business will be dismissed emotionally, even if they are the right recommendations for the organization.

All you can do is quote the insights, point to the size of the opportunity and declining market share, and try and make as many allies as possible.

Everyone longs for change, but the reality of having to change strikes an irrational fear in even open-minded people. Therefore, you must master the powers of persuasion. Why is change positive in this case? What are the steps, the milestones, on the journey, who benefits? What happens if change doesn’t happen?

It is your job to tell great stories that read their audience ahead of meetings and pre-guess similar questions. With your gifts of storytelling, you can help those closed down to change to open up, see a vision rich in possibilities, all while honestly noting the risks at hand.

Selling a plausible path forward in a language that resonates with internal stakeholders is much harder than generating breakthrough concepts and extracting driving insights from consumers. Diplomacy is the real skill set necessary for innovation professionals.

If you are considering a job with Innovation in the title, I would ask you to sign this pledge.

            I, _______________________________, vow to not get dismayed by resistance to new thinking. It is my job to present ideas in ways that resonate with the audience. Even if some people feel threatened by these new models of value creation, it is my calling to be patient, respectful, and kind.   

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.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Innovation Strikes 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, October 24, 2016

Why New Orleans is the ideal location for BEI

BEI is just around the corner. Get ready for the "how we get innovation done and measure it" annual celebration where you'll learn more about making innovation real than any other conference. And, it is in New Orleans this year, New Orleans!

Look for me, the furious blogger. I'd welcome an interview with you about how you help your organization successfully commercialize innovation and the hurdles you face.

Even better, I know some really cooking jazz clubs. New Orleans is the ideal location for BEI for a few reasons and giving birth to jazz is one.
Here are three, of many: 
1. The whole culture of New Orleans is a collaborative experiment.
2. The delicious food of the place is an outcome of the cultural collaboration.
3. Jazz music itself requires top players who play even better when they support one another--just like a strong team from various departments who have mastered their skill sets create something wholly new when innovating.

Come hungry. Come ready to learn. Come ready to experience one of the best cities in 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.

Interdisciplinary Education for Innovation is Tough, but it Pays

FEI Europe 2016 presentation by Dr Peter Purg, Professor in New Media, University of Nova Gorica

The question put to the room, and the focus of the work Dr Purg presented to us, was "is it possible to educate for innovation?"

image from conference presentation
The first programme he described was, where 20-30 children aged 7-10 of age select ideas to go to prototype, with the goal to build innovative products.

As well as the young students, older students and mentors work with them to build prototypes from the drawings.

Some key learnings from the MyMachineGlobal programme:

  • 1. Education for innovation needs to be 'radically transversal' (trans-generational, trans-disciplinary, and trans-cultural),
  • 2. Blended collaboration teams worked successfully across countries, and
  • 3. Limited resources encouraged the students to think creatively and seek out opportunity

image from conference presentation
A second programme described was the IDEATE project ( and the IDEATE programme, an inter-University course on interdisciplinary entrepreneurship. The students meet twice a week and then collaborate online.

Bringing University students from different disciplines and different cultures together has been shown to be tough, but pays, with the students learning how to work together.

For this to work, they have found well-structured processes and programmes run by competent interdisciplinary educational teams are required. The IDEATE toolbox is available here for free:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr Claire McGowan is CEO for SODA Inc. (, a Founder-focused incubator and Wintec company based in Hamilton, New Zealand. Claire has trained as a life scientist, worked in venture capital and investment banking, and built and sold several businesses, including @clairemcgowan @Soda_inc @IPMarket

Collective Insight 2.0 - Moving Towards a Corporate Utility

FEI Europe 2016 presentation by Colin Nelson, Director of Enterprise Innovation Consulting, Hype Innovation

Where once innovation was the focus of the R&D team in an organisation, it is now getting attention across the entire organisation and from the organisation's external relationships. To efficiently capture ideas across employees, suppliers, and customers, organisations are putting in place online innovation management programmes.

image from conference presentation

Rather than problems with innovation, some organisations are now experiencing collaboration and governance challenges. So why do they persist?

Benefits include:

  • Bringing clients, suppliers, and academia in on the innovation conversation strengthens these external relationships;
  • In the Business to Business (B2B) environment, many clients want to feel like a partner rather than just a customer, and this allows the organisation to get a deeper understanding of their client's business, and the opportunity for both firms to improve.

The benefits of innovation are described in the diagram summarising Rowan Gibson's 4 lenses of Innovation:

Such proliferation of ideas has created a significant innovation portfolio that requires active management, and the creation of a new role: The Innovation Curator.

Their key activities include:

  • soliciting for needs, challenges, trends, and problems
  • filter and search the database for ideas, concepts, and projects that might fulfil or contribute to an identified need
  • socialize ideas to interested parties in the organisation
  • run campaigns, and
  • keep the portfolio alive!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr Claire McGowan is CEO for SODA Inc. (, a Founder-focused incubator and Wintec company based in Hamilton, New Zealand. Claire has trained as a life scientist, worked in venture capital and investment banking, and built and sold several businesses, including @clairemcgowan @Soda_inc @IPMarket

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Innovation: When it Pays to Take Things Slow

By: Tom Ewing, Senior Director, BrainJuicer Labs

On Day 2 of TMRE, in the Innovation Track, a case study presentation by Sargento Foods inadvertently illuminated one of the big issues in innovation: the gulf between how we talk about it, and how it actually happens.

The track chairs, Michael Laux and Thania Farrar of Burke, kicked the session off with the former, a chart showing the ever accelerating pace of technological innovation. It was the kind of chart that shows the electric lightbulb and the steam engine as less dramatic advances than the iPad – but it made its point. This is how people in our industry talk innovation – as an ever-accelerating hamster wheel of change on which brands must spin or fall off.

But is that really how innovation works? Michelle Monkoski and Barbara Kilcoyne of cheese giant Sargento implied a rather different view – where patience and timing, not frantic acceleration, are the keys to innovating against consumer trends.

Their case study focused on Sargento’s Cheese Medleys product, a proposed 2004 launch which mixed cheese, nuts and fruit in packs. Cheese Medleys boasted an array of benefits – a high-protein snack with healthy ingredients, perfect for on-the-go consumers. It was a ‘balance snack’, where buyers didn’t have to choose between great taste and nutrition.  But if you’re struggling to picture it, though, don’t worry: in testing, Cheese Medleys was a failure. The benefits simply didn’t connect with consumers.

Sargento cares about consumer trends, though. It has an annual trend day – called Trendscape – whose results feed into R&D, Sales, Category Management, Marketing and Business Development. Through its consumer trend work – based on research and on thinking outside the category box – it could see trends coming down the pipe like a new interest in the health benefits of protein, like ‘snackification’ and greater demand for one-the-go food, and like a rethinking of what ‘healthy’ food is.

This last trend was particularly crucial – it represented a shift in the consumer mindset from reactive health to proactive health. With reactive health, you try to cut out the bad stuff. With proactive health, you try and embrace the good stuff. Ideas of balance, of real and wholesome ingredients, and of freshness came back into play.

An idea whose time had come.

These were exactly the kind of trends that Cheese Medleys had been designed to appeal to. And now they were heading into the mainstream. So, eight years on from the poor performance of Cheese Medleys, Sargento designed and launched Balanced Breaks. The same basic concept, but now the trends it addressed were more familiar and recognisable to consumers.

Sargento left little to chance. Everything from the flavours to the semiotics of the package – designed to remind consumers of a yin-yang sign and suggest balance – was carefully considered before launch. And Balanced Breaks proved to be an idea whose time had come – it’s been a success, outperforming expectations for Sargento.

The philosophy Sargento applied for this successful innovation is a simple but powerful one. You need three things. You need a strong brand. You need on-point trend identification. And you need the right timing and meaningful activation for consumers.

In other words, successful innovation for a mass market brand isn’t always about the headlong rush towards novelty. It’s also a waiting game. You sometimes need to patiently wait until the trends your idea speaks to are sufficiently mainstream and recognisable among consumers for your launch to succeed. As the presenters said, “Don’t be afraid to take a new look at an old space.”

That’s not the glamorous route to innovation at the bleeding edge. But it works.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Corporate Governance and the Mystery of the Double-Crossing Talent

By: Ciaran Nagle, Global Marketing Manager, OND LLC

Some businesses have some scary people working for them.

A long time ago a talent was a unit of currency. More specifically, it was a weight of precious metal, usually silver or gold. It was used to buy and sell goods and to pay off annoying armies camped outside your city wall.

It is said that in 330BC Alexander the Great gave a reward to a Persian shepherd who had shown him a mountain pass that would allow the Greeks to escape encirclement. He gave him 30 talents of silver for his treachery. That event became known far and wide and, later in history, 30 pieces of silver was used very deliberately to label someone else for a huge betrayal. But that's another story.

Somewhere along the line talent lost its meaning as a unit of money and instead came to mean an innate natural strength*. It crossed a boundary. Talent was now understood as a certain indefinable asset that you are born with, which, if you followed its pull, would allow you to excel in certain areas.

GREEK                   LATIN                    LATIN                    OLD ENGLISH
Talanton >           Talentum >         Talenta >             Talentan >           Talent
                                (weight, sum
                                of money)

Fast forward to our industrial age and if you became good at something (music, pottery, clock-making, high explosive manufacturing) people would say 'you have a talent for it'. Natural talent and life fulfilment were closely related.

Then something went adrift.

By the 20th century talent had begun to renew its connection with its original meaning. People began to use their natural talent, not in the pursuance of life in all its richness, but in the pursuit of riches in life. Your talent was measured in the size of your salary check. Talent was gold. Its meaning had crossed back.

The problem for corporations - and particularly banking and finance corporations - was that their controls and systems were devised for a time when developing your talent still meant becoming a great human being. When the ethos changed and sales people were told to forget about finding their inner self and close some monster deals instead, we grew people like Joe Jett, Nick Leeson and Jerome Kerviel. Like a scene from Alien, banks were being torn apart by creatures from within.
Corporate governance is still trying to adapt to the new normal. But like a game of whack-a-mole, board directors and compliance officers are permanently tensed up and stressed out as they tighten their grip on the hammer and watch for the next rogue. Nobody believes there won't be one.

There is a solution to all of this. There is a way to shrink the rib-cracking alien back inside the body corporate so you can return to running the ship. The new human science known as teaming science can accurately place people in work teams where they will enjoy doing exactly what the corporation wants them to do. And nothing more. Almost all compliance issues have been found to concern individuals - or very small groups of individuals - who were disengaged and disaffected. They had lost any emotional connection with their team. Teaming science can, among other great things, ensure that this never happens. It will make sure that only the right people are recruited; that they are placed in teams where they will be engaged and - even more important for some managers - that as they develop their talent and become high performers they are more likely to stay in position and not change jobs.

Recruit, engage and retain. And stay compliant. It's no mystery.

About the Author: Ciaran was introduced to Method Teaming, OND's ground-breaking science for effective business team formation four years ago. Realizing that his marketing skills, honed at GE over 10 years, could help OND break out of their narrow client set (HPE, Big Four Consultancies) into the wider corporate world he was excited to become their world marketing head. He is based in London and can be reached at 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Leveraging Local Innovations to Drive Global Competitiveness and Cost Advantage

FEI Europe 2016 presentation by Harald Gruebel, Executive Vice President of R&D, AVTOVAZ

image from conference presentation
This story started 50 years ago with Russia needing a robust car for the masses, and the Lada 1200 was the result. The Fiat 124 was used as the base car design, and then it was totally reengineered with almost all components changed and improved for the harsher conditions in Russia. At the peak 300k cars were also being exported.

image from conference presentation
The Lada Niva was then designed that basically started the SUV segment. This 4x4 used Russian engineering, global production and was a localisation champion. It is the longest-running true 4x4 and is still in demand in the EU today.

Then something went wrong.

In the 90's and 00's the World, and customers were changing, but AVTOVAZ was not.

However, over the past three years, with some new strategic relationships, AVTOVAZ have built brand new cars, the 'XV. These are completely new products for the first time in 30 years, made possible firstly by the Russian Engineering School. Key characteristics of the school is they:
  1. Make it First - use much earlier prototyping
  2. Agile - stay flexible
  3. Mission: Impossible - thrive on breaking boundaries
image from conference presentation
Then combining the expertise from the Russian Engineering School, with Russian Hi-Tech & Science, and Russian Industrial Might, an alliance has been formed to create a joint market strategy to create scale.

With these new car designs in the Xcode concept AVTOVAZ is looking to create a new Russian success story - Lada is back!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr Claire McGowan is CEO for SODA Inc. (, a Founder-focused incubator and Wintec company based in Hamilton, New Zealand. Claire has trained as a life scientist, worked in venture capital and investment banking, and built and sold several businesses, including @clairemcgowan @Soda_inc @IPMarket

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