Thursday, August 28, 2008

Community Product Design as a Driver of Innovation

The FutureLab blog has released a short series on co-creation, which looks at mass customization, real-time self-service, service redesign, new product co-creation, and community product design. I’m going to focus on there latest post which details how some companies have used community product design in their business models to foster new product development.

Guy Kawasaki gives the example of Threadless, which is an organization that has built their business model solely around community product design. They have a site where consumers can upload their own t-shirt designs. Users can they vote and comment on these designs, and every couple of weeks the most popular designs are chosen and printed on t-shirts.

Other companies like Innocentive ask their communities to solve a particular problem, and then they reward them either financially or with prizes. Community product design can be used for many different purposes as these two companies have shown.

Guy finishes the post with this quote, “the cleverest people don’t work for you.” Inviting participation from your community is an effective way of bringing forth new ideas to the table. What are some examples of community based innovation in your organization?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Confectionary Innovation

With the market for chocolate expected to grow to $18 billion by the year 2011, new companies are emerging by finding innovative ways to manufacture and distribute their own brand of chocolate. Many of these new companies are looking at current trends showing themselves in the industry. The fastest growing segments in chocolate are currently organic and dark. CNN took a look at TCHO, one of those companies, in this article.

Timothy Childs began looking at the cocoa bean from a molecular level. They’re known as a high tech confectioner using Silicon Valley-style innovation, antique German equipment, and their love for the cocoa bean. They’ve taken to selling their bars from their base in San Francisco, by selling their bars with “beta” on the package, and reaching out to their customers through social media via YouTube and other outlets.

They’ve also created their own style of flavoring. Instead of giving the percentage of chocolate, they’ve turned to selling it by flavors such as chocolaty, fruity, nutty, earthy, floral and citrus.

Check out their YouTube video of how they make their chocolate so special:

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Top Finalists for the 2008 EUROPEAN BIOTECHNICA AWARD

This article from Market Watch reports that the three finalists for the 2008 EUROPEAN BIOTECHNICA AWARD have been chosen. The nominated finalist include: Astex Therapeutics Limited, GENEART AG, and immatics biotechnologies GmbH. The prize is valued at € 100,000, and this will mark the 6th year that this has been awarded to the most innovative European biotechnology and life sciences companies, by Deutsche Messe Ag and Partners. Stephan KA 1/4hne, Board member of Deutsche Messe AG, stated:

"Innovation capacity is the driving force behind the economic success of one of the most important sectors of the future. With the EUROPEAN BIOTECHNICA AWARD, we are supporting upcoming biotechnology firms which, thanks to their dedication, make a significant contribution to the development of Europe as a research location”

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Challenges of Innovation

On Friday we posted two reasons why innovation does not happen in certain businesses. On that same notion, Irving Wladawsky-Berger discusses how indifference, hostility, and isolation are amongst the greatest obstacles in organizations today inhibiting the growth in innovation in this latest post in BusinessWeek. Here’s a brief recap of the ideas mentioned in the article.


CEOs and executive management rise up to high positions because of they are very good operational managers. They must not forget though that other skills become increasingly important the higher up the ladder they rise. Executive management must make the transition of being a good manager to becoming a great leader.


Many managers do not actively encourage innovation ideas coming from anywhere but themselves because of indifference. Collaborative innovation is not possible because indifferent managers are not team players. Such behavior is detrimental to a innovative environment. Managers must step away from hostile negative rejections to ideas and instead provide positive feedback to new ideas.


Irving mentions that a collaborative approach to innovation brings forth the energy and support needed to foster new ideas. Working in groups of people with diverse skills and points of view can help any organization’s innovation practices. Isolating people makes it that much harder for a company to innovate since it breaks down communication.

Collaboration does not come natural in an organization, and so companies must make an extreme effort to make it part of their culture. What are some things that your company does to create a healthy environment where employees are not scared of bringing forth new ideas?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Facilitating Innovation: Establishing an Environment of Possibilities

I'm exchanging email with someone interested in establishing a skunk works, and they are asking some very interesting questions about the nature of innovation and the ingredients for an "environment of possibilities" ...

... things are ... [as they are] because someone already tried unsuccessful alternatives ... [This] begs the question: when it is required, how can rapid innovation be achieved?

Rapid innovation comes when the environment allows it and the skill sets enable it.

  • An "environment of possibility" just means that folks are given some time to experiment with new technology, and access to the resources required to play around a bit.

    • Caveat: The challenge, of course, is that many folks expect the employer to allocate x% of their 40 hour work week, and provide training classes and server space to mess around with. Invest a little personal time and capital - in IT, it doesn't take much to build a solid development / test environment and start teaching yourself!

  • I believe that the "innovation skills" are in everybody. But just like any other activity, success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration - individuals / teams / organizations need to build their innovation muscles by doing.

    • Caveat: A critical requirement for this piece is has to be ok to fail. The corporate culture must expect a failure rate for new ideas - remember, if it was easy, we'd probably already have thought of it!

    ... I value both history and future opportunity and am seeking a balance. Is this the same in your experience?

    Well, Santayana was right - "those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it". But history should tell you specifically what tactics to avoid, but not necessarily what strategies will fail. Opportunity will be a mix of many things, and what was true at one time may no longer be true now. Look at imports from China - recent increases in transportation costs are making that strategy a loser for lower valued goods.

    (and now, the "How-To Questions About Skunk Works")

    Process: How does ... leadership successfully position a think tank or innovation team so that it is (a) buffered from mundane corporate operations and politics while (b) it remains sufficiently connected to executive leadership and operating divisions for its ideas to be acted upon? (I'm assuming that the skunk works is outside the normal corporate business structure.)

    Ah, this is an incredibly important question. Skills and environment aside, I've seen successful innovation happen only when the team was sufficiently empowered to get ideas implemented. Sometimes this comes from executive sponsorship from just the right person - but not as often as folks think! The cynical or weak of heart prefer to wait until they are granted permission to work on a project or idea.

    The "drivers" that get stuff done do so because they have all the rah rah stuff (vision, drive, energy, whatever), but they also typically have knowledge of how things work in a company. Sometimes this means a long-time employee, who has relationships with the folks that control the key people, resources, and decisions. Sometimes this means the uber-techie who already knows how the various pieces of process and technology work, so they know how to call out the resistors when obstacles are thrown in the way (no budget! no approvals! too difficult! systems can't do that! it's against policy! yada ...). And you don't have to be a long-term member of the organization to be successful; experiences from multiple industries, organization, technologies, etc. can all be applied by someone with imagination and drive.

    So, leadership needs to stack the deck for their innovation team by ...

  • Carving out time in their schedules; don't just add this to everything else on their plate - take something off!

  • Provide visible executive sponsorship. You need to be able to pull that card out every once in a while (You need to make this change because the CEO said so ...) - not often, but now and again ...

  • Staff the team with a mix of long-term and newer employees

  • Identify a team leader that has the right mix of hands-on technical (this cannot be a administrative role only - they have to be able to do something!), business, and relationship-building skills. They must be able to spot the opportunity through the hype, understand how it translates to business value, and then communicate that effectively and concisely to those who need to support it

  • Hold their feet to the fire - the team should have goals and objectives, it's not a license to play!

  • Let them fail! The most successful baseball players fail 70% of the time!

  • Also, the skunk works must remain connected to operations - they'll have to implement the "big ideas" eventually, and it's always good to remain grounded in reality. Make participation on the team a part-time thing for most; consider rotating different people in from various areas of the company, so everyone has a chance and all remain connected to the base business.

    What lessons have you learned from the skunk works experience that you can apply to the innovation process? What broad, meta-issues and narrower specific issues has your project illuminated and solved (or at least, what questions has it posed)?

    Aside from the organizational and change issues mentioned previously, I have found that innovation efforts often target things that are perceived as issues, but they are actually symptoms of more fundamental behavioral or structural problems. Web 2.0 tools and techniques are often lauded as new ways to unlock the wisdom of the crowds, connect with the new work force, or counter the flight of knowledge leaving the company upon retirement. Unfortunately, some of these efforts struggle due to what I call the Law of Large Numbers, which basically says that what works on the Internet doesn't always work at a corporation.

    Also, it always seems to boil down to "Change Management" - an overused buzzphrase that just says change is hard (especially from a vending machine). There are many ways to address this (education, repetition, participation), but management always needs to understand that corporate operating processes typically don't catch on like consumer products - here today, gone tomorrow (look how fast the Apple iPhone turned over a new version!)

    Previously ...

  • Motivating Maintenance Programmers (January 6, 2005)

  • Moving to Eclipse Ia - Relevance (June 1, 2005)

  • Components, IT Responsiveness, and the Rosemont Horizon (June 22, 2005)

  • My Favorite Paradox (August 13, 2005)

  • Subtle Anarchy (August 22, 2005)

  • The "Army Rangers" model for IT Professionals (January 2, 2006)

  • Guidelines for Success with your Skunk Works project (June 19, 2006)

  • Innovation That Matters - Substance Over Style (January 12, 2008)

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    What keeps your company from innovating?

    In a recent article at Business Week, Sharon Gillenwater reveals two reasons why innovation does not happen in certain businesses. A reader of hers found two huge setbacks:

    1. Employees wonder if they will be fired when they try a new idea and fail.

    2. The setbacks of companies own internal structures. Some aren’t set up to encourage innovation.

    The best way to encourage innovation in these cases, according to Gillenwater, is to start a small pilot project within your organization. When others see that the new ideas are coming in organically from the organization, the changes throughout the company will slowly follow.

    Thursday, August 21, 2008

    $100,000 for Innovators

    As announced in Information week, Intel has issued an Inspire/Empower Challenge, that will award for the amount of $100,000 to developers who come up with innovative technological solutions to improve, education, health care, economic development, or the environment. Winners will be chosen on the basis of the criteria that they show that their technology demonstrates “sustainability and innovativeness”.

    Intel Chairmen and former CEO, Craig Barrett, had this to say

    "Technology is a tool to address some of the world’s most pressing challenges related to healthcare, education, economic development and the environment. No nations or individuals are untouched by these issues. Get involved. Be part of the solution."

    Wednesday, August 20, 2008

    B2B vs B2C Innovation

    Even though innovation between the B2B and B2C environment is sometimes similar, there are some notable differences that businesses must take into account. Steven Shapiro focuses on the ‘’softer” differences between these two environments on his latest post on 24/7 Innovation.

    Businesses want to improve their business by reducing costs, increasing their business, and improving their effectiveness. When studying these needs organization must have a different mindset. Even though focus groups and discussions help, the best way to truly understand a business needs is to observe and map their processes. Only then will you see how your products/services can improve their business.

    Businesses also buy from you because it wants to provide better products and services to its customers. In this case, you could observe your customer interacting with their customer. Another option would be to hire a 3rd party to observe these interactions, and then survey the customers to get feedback.

    Business buyers have different motivation and needs then consumers, and so each environment must be handled with a different approach.

    Tuesday, August 19, 2008

    InnoCentive brings collaboration and innovation together

    InnoCentive has taken collaboration to the heart of innovation. Using their business as a central point of interaction, they work with companies who haven’t been able to solve business problems within their organizations. These companies find other corporations through InnoCentive, and then they work together to generate results. The New York Times recently took a look at InnoCentive. They use an open source model that opens up seekers’ problems to the public and gives out cash prizes to the person who comes up with the solution.

    The company started in 2000 at Pharma giant Eli Lilly. Eli Lilly posted their problems on the internet for users outside the company, seeking ideas on how to fix their dilemmas. This novel and open approach took off that resulted in their spin-off as a separate business. Using collaboration, companies look beyond their own employees when they are unable to come up with answers. This has generated great success for InnoCentive and its customers. InnoCentive’s unique approach allows everyone to succeed, from the companies who are seeking solutions on a current problem; to those who are able to provide the ideas. They have even suggest that by allowing everyone to play a part, someone one day, will have the opportunity to reach the highest level of innovation and possibly win a Nobel Prize.

    Dwayne Spradlin, the president and CEO of InnoCentive, says the company has solved 250 challenges, and has awarded prize money from $10,000 to $25,000. Some of these include a compound for skin tanning, a model for preventing snack chips from breaking and a min I extruder in brick making. They’ve seen solutions submitted from over 175 countries.

    InnoCentive was also recently reviewed by Business Week. Check out their podcast here. InnoCentive also maintains a blog where they give their perspectives on innovation.

    Monday, August 18, 2008

    Invisibility Cloak: Not Just for Harry Potter

    Ever think that invisibility cloaks were for science fiction novels or Harry Potter? Well that may not be the case any longer. According to this article from the associated press, scientists are close to creating “materials that could render people and objects invisible.” Researchers have been able to successfully render “very thin two-dimensional objects” invisible. The exact findings will be released later this week by scientists from the University of California Berkeley, led by Xiang Zhang. As the article explains

    “People can see objects because they scatter the light that strikes them, reflecting some of it back to the eye. Cloaking uses materials, known as metamaterials, to deflect radar, light or other waves around an object, like water flowing around a smooth rock in a stream.”

    Funding for this project has come from the U.S. Army Research Office and the National Science Foundation's Nano-Scale Science and Engineering Center.

    Friday, August 15, 2008

    Market Whitespace Poll

    Our colleagues over at Innovating To Win have recently posted a poll on how people look for opportunities when searching for market whitespace. You might be pleasantly surprised when you cast your vote! Make sure to take a couple of seconds to vote on the poll widget on the sidebar since today is the last day the poll will be hosted.

    Take the poll here.

    Thursday, August 14, 2008

    Benefits seen from Speedo Innovation

    In April, we told you about Speedo’s quest to continue innovation swimsuits to make swimmers faster. Now, we’re in the middle of the Olympics, and seeing what Speedo was innovating for: Olympic medals and world records. Three days into the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the LA Times reports that we’ve seen 10 world records broken in nine events. As of Monday, of the 36 medals awarded thus far in China, 33 of them have gone to athletes wearing the LZR Racer.

    So is it Speedo’s innovation that should get the credit for the medals and the smashing of world records? The LA Times also points out that the swimming pool has changed, increasing a meter in depth and they’ve added extra outside lanes to decrease the turbulence of the water for swimmers in the outside lanes. High tech gutters absorb the waves created by the swimmers. This is also an era of differently trained athletes. But there are still an incredible amount of people pointing back to the swimsuit. So, what do you think is responsible for the astounding amount of world records broken: the innovative swimsuit or the men and women wearing them?

    Wednesday, August 13, 2008

    European Digital Library: Reality this Fall?

    Coming this fall, European books, music, paintings, photographs, and films could be available in digital form according to this article from eGov monitor. This innovative concept could mark a new era of digitized classics available for everyone to view. The European Union Commission has a lofty goal of “making available digital versions of works from cultural institutions all over Europe.” As EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media, Viviane Reding, remarked regarding the benefits:

    "The European Digital Library [Europeana] will be a quick and easy way for people to access European books and art – whether in their home country or abroad. It will, for example, enable a Czech student to browse the British library without going to London, or an Irish art lover to get close to the Mona Lisa without queuing at the Louvre,"

    In order to help member states digitize their works the Commission has pledged approximately € 69, and Europe’s Competitiveness and Innovation Programme has said they will donate around € 50 million. Both organizations are still asking for donations of funds, however, since a project of this magnitude is estimated to have an actual cost of around € 225.

    Tuesday, August 12, 2008

    The SAP Open Innovation Experience

    Companies are beginning to look beyond innovation within its own R&D sectors and are starting to create open collaboration networks of external partners. This latest post on shows us that this is not just a trend by discussing how SAP’s open innovation efforts have spawned much success.

    SAP had previously launched Co-Innovation Lab in 2007 to experiment with the idea of open innovation. It was a open collaboration network for partners to solve industry specific challenges and problems via the SAP platform. What was different about this platform was that SAP’s approach was much more focused. It was sponsored and initiated by HP, Cisco, Intel, and NetApp. By creating a much more private, invitation-only style network it takes away the ability of just anyone contributing.

    How does your company measure up against SAP’s open innovation efforts? Does your company foster a more “private” approach to open innovation?

    Monday, August 11, 2008

    Is your Organisation Haunted?

    Some organisations are haunted. However, the ghosts are not the remains of deceased workers who wander the hallways searching for peace. In fact, these ghosts are ideas. The haunted organisations are those ones which do not have a well-functioning idea- or innovation management system. Ideas turn into ghosts when the employee who had it has tried - perhaps repeatedly - without success to get it noticed by the organisation. As a result, the idea can find no peace, but instead continues to haunt the company and the mind of the person who came up with it.

    These ghost ideas don't appear at midnight or at full moon. Instead, they show up when the organisation starts an innovation initiative. Then, the ghost ideas awake and try once again to be heard.

    Ghost ideas can be a problem in an innovation workshop, because they carry a psychological burden. Sometimes their inventors try to use the workshop as a platform to force them onto the participants or to complain loudly that their great idea has never been accepted in the past. Often, the ghosts are an idée fixe for their inventors, who cannot get them out of their minds and who are often obsessed with them being declared the winner this time. This can also frustrate the other participants ("Not that again!") Ghost ideas are thus a danger to any innovation workshop.

    The ideal solution to this problem is of course to have a well-run idea- or innovation management system installed, which easily accepts all employee ideas and gives fast, transparent feedback on their current status. The goal is that every participant feels that he/she can be heard and is being taken seriously by their organisation. In the case of a rejection - which is ultimately the fate of the majority of all ideas - the reasons must be stated clearly and comprehensibly to the submitter.

    Of course, it is not easy to achieve this ideal solution - and it can certainly not be achieved quickly. Therefore, it is often up to the scriptwriter and the facilitator of the innovation workshop to write and produce an event which minimises the dangers of ghost ideas - without of course discriminating the haunted participants in any way. Besides - perhaps the timing is now perfect for one of those ghost ideas!

    Friday, August 8, 2008

    European Institute for Innovation and Technology Launch

    The European Institute for Innovation and Technology (EIT), has announced that they have approved their first supervisor board, comprised of 18 European experts on subject matter including economics, research, and university education. They will have their first meeting on September 15 in Budapest. As described in this article:

    The supervisory board will be responsible for deciding on the EIT's overall strategy and the selection, coordination and evaluation of its operational centres, to be known as "Knowledge and Innovation Communities" (KICs). These time-limited KICs, each with a different major focus (climate change, energy, IT) and each with members from companies as well as from colleges, universities and research institutions, are "to generate and promote innovation in key areas of economic and societal interest."

    Funding for this venture is estimated at around €380 million with 15 million allocated for administrative purposes. Hungary was chosen after much debate, since they have been a member state of the EU since 2004, and had yet to be home to any EU agency. Other countries vying for the recognition of being the base for EIT included Austria, and Poland.

    Thursday, August 7, 2008

    Alternative Source for Rubber

    Much has been said in the news about finding alternative sources for fuel energy. This article from Discovery News, however, highlights another alternative source, for rubber, which is apparently another resource that is hard to come by. Scientists from The Ohio State University’s Agricultural Research and Development Center in conjunction with the Ohio BioProducts Innovation Center received $3 million in grants in order to start up a processing plant to harvest rubber from the root sap of white dandelion. This dandelion, however, is not that one that many are familiar with growing on their lawns. Instead the particular dandelion the scientists will be using is the Uzbekistani cousin, commonly called the Russian Dandelion. This is a very exciting find since as William Ravin, one of the researchers, stated:

    "No matter how much chemistry we've applied, we still haven't been able to find an artificial substitute for natural rubber. We're still harvesting [rubber] the same way they did 1,000 years ago; by cutting into the tree and letting the sap drip into containers. It's not a very efficient system."

    Wednesday, August 6, 2008

    Innovative Building Architecture is in Order

    The US Energy Information Administration reports that buildings are responsible for nearly half of all greenhouse gas emissions, and that they consume more than three quarters of electricity produced by American power plants. Companies and architects have taken this into mind when developing, designing, and constructing new “green buildings” for the future. The main theme in Matt Vella’s post in Business Week is that building architecture is heading towards a new direction as the need for a greener world has come into play.

    One of the architecture organizations leading this revolution of green buildings is Edward Mazzria’s company. As a design strategist, Mazzria used intricate building plans and the use of alternate materials to design energy efficient buildings. Mazzria has issued a public challenge for the building industry to reduce fossil fuel energy used in new construction by 50% immediately, and an added reduction of 10% starting in 2010.

    We have already seen a boost in the use of solar energy in the housing market, but now it seems as if the building industry is following suit quickly. It will be interesting to see the variety of materials, and the wide array of designs architects will use in the future to battle energy consumption.

    Tuesday, August 5, 2008

    Innovation Hits the Candy Market

    The Gourmet Candy Retailer recently took a look to see how businesses in the candy industry are keeping their products innovative and up to date. The way to keep candy fresh in the minds of consumers can take many forms: changing flavors, re-releasing childhood favorites in different forms and issuing limited edition treats. The manufactures are finding ways to appeal to the now diverse landscape of Americans whose flavor preferences are diverse.

    When it comes to innovating with chocolate, adding flavors is the name of the game. Peanut butter and chipotle are often added to the mix. Ghirardelli is offering chocolate bars with creamy and crunchy peanut butter filling. Personalization is also the other main draw, an example is the Nintendo Wii Controllers are coming in the form of chocolate bars and candy dispensers for Smarties gum. The New Products magazine also shows that collaboration works wonders, as Jelly Belly is teaming up with Cold Stone Creamery to make jelly beans in the flavor of their ice creams for the “Ice Cream Parlor” mix.

    Candy is also finding a way to hit nostalgic minds. Wonka has taken the traditional hard Nerds candy and given them a chewy consistency in the center. Pez is now offering their traditional candy in a chocolate flavor. PopRocks have come out with a PopRocks 2 Piece Mega Bar that both melts on your tongue but continues the memorable popping.

    Monday, August 4, 2008

    New Developments in Harnessing Solar Energy

    Boston Herald reported in this article that researchers at MIT have made another breakthrough in solar energy. In the past, it has been a very expensive proposition to store solar energy for use when the sun is not shining, however Daniel Nocera, and Matthew Kanan from MIT, have discovered,

    “a way to use the sun’s energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. With this technique, the oxygen and hydrogen may be recombined inside a fuel cell to create carbon-free electricity, which may be used to heat a home or light up a building.”

    As Nocera was quoted as saying

    “This is the nirvana of what we’ve been talking about for years”

    In related news here are some interesting facts on solar energy as found in this article from Mckinsey Quarterly.

    - Solar energy is becoming more economically attractive as technologies improve and the cost of electricity generated by fossil fuels rises.

    - By 2020, hundreds of billions of dollars of investment capital will probably boost global solar-generating capacity 20 to 40 times higher than its current level.

    Friday, August 1, 2008

    Route to Innovation: How Do We Get There?

    Generally, when a person thinks of specific locations around the world where innovation has branched from you think of Stockholm, Munich, Boston, and Silicon Valley. Some of the world’s biggest companies like Google and Facebook were started up by garage geniuses in these great university cities. Still with all these innovation centers around the world there is still no one uniform idea about how to foster innovation.

    This article in the Financial Times discusses how Dubai is a good example of a city, which is ranked 14th in the global innovation index, that fosters innovation in a different way than other locations. Dubai is not known for their internationally filed patents, instead Dubai concentrates on learning from and absorbing innovations from elsewhere. It has achieved this in the past by a mixture of investor-friendly legislation and financial incentives.

    Dubai’s main competition, London, still has the upper hand. London and NY are similar because these cities are considered “knowledge centers”. London has Cambridge that helps create and implement ideas that help London innovate all over the world. NY and Boston work the same way. Innovation-driven prosperity seems to be a popular route for these big cities, but they will have to fully integrate ideas with the rest of the world in the future in order to come out a winner in the global market.

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