Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays from Front End of Innovation

We will be taking some much needed time off for the holidays. We'd like to thank you for your readership and we encourage you to check back with us next year for more innovative thought, perspective and news surrounding the world of Innovation.

We wish you a joyous holiday season!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Hitting the Sweet Spot in Innovation

This post on techdirt highlights an interesting concept that just having an idea alone isn’t enough to make a product valuable. Mike Masnick explains that a lot of experimentation has been done on products in order to hit that sweet spot, and this dates back to early inventions. Tweaks and minor improvements to ideas is a great way to see what works and what doesn’t work in a market, but with our patent system that might be a little more difficult.

The Buy and Sell Side of Innovation

This post on Endless Innovation does a great job of taking the financial services industry as an example of the “buy” and “sell” side of innovation. The “buy” side includes portfolio managers that are handed down huge assets from clientele to invest. The “sell” side includes bankers create and package up products over to the “buy” side. We can easily relate this to innovation. As the post mentions:

Are you the manager looking for some creative ideas to boost your business? Or are you the innovation consultant looking to sell-in your ideas to top managment?

So what side of the equation are you in?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Inspiration, Images, Insight, Imitation, Innovation

Just a quick post on this pre-holiday weekend, with my design-leaning kids out of school / back from college for the holidays, and a general sense of creativity mixed in with the holiday spirit.

Inspiration ...

... can come from many places. Nothing new there, but I like to get inspiration for X from looking at a different kind of Y. Spice up a presentation? Browse a library of web site designs. Capturing a business process? Learn about alternative user interfaces. Brainstorming a new concept? Wander through an image library.


There were more than a few postings over the last few months, regarding Multicolr Search Lab. This site is stunning, both technically (practically defines "intuitive UI") and creatively (very easy to lose yourself in different color combinations). Pick your favorite corporate colors, and even staid corporations could find some interesting CC-licensed photos to liven up their presentations. (Funny, I can't get a decent kelly green option on the site - bummer).


I've posted before about visualization libraries, but here's one I've found since then - A Beautiful WWW is a great site to monitor if you like visualization technicques, and are willing to surf and experiment. This post is a nice summary of libraries - potentially helpful for presentations, applications, even reports. Next time they ask for Yet Another Ledger Report, you be the one to shoot Old YALR, and replace him with a total page featuring a few Tuftettes (sorry, sparklines).


I'm never above a sincere bit of flattery, and often look to other sites for design inspiration. SitePoint and A List Apart will often post about the techniques required to spin your own magic, but they will also refer to plenty of examples - check out this list of 15 sites to browse for some design inspiration (some I've seen before, but PatternTap was a particularly good one!).


The most interesting stuff I've stumbled upon lately are innovative mixes of site design, UI, and search - for images. A result set of similar offerings, really ...
  • Pixolu (via) starts with a keyword, and then lets me pick images that are close to a mental image I'm trying to capture. 
  • A little bit quicker, a little less free-association, is the "show similar images" option over at Live Search. Points for speedy response, however.
  • Today's addition (ibid): Google Image Search (that old stand-by) - a new search attribute that limits the results by image style.
All dynamite stuff, but I think I'll rely on Pixolu for my style of stand-up.

Previously ...

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Is IDEO Still the King of Innovation?

I came across this post from innovation guru Bruce Nussbaum from BusinessWeek in which he answers the question, “Is IDEO still the king of innovation?”

His main thoughts are that IDEO has the advantage of its huge global brand. IDEO is the only innovation consultancy that has a global brand name that is larger than others, so it helps strengthen their position in the marketplace especially in a downturn economy. Take a look at the video below.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Pre-Stealing Ideas

The general theme of Seth Godin’s recent post is that the next innovation might already be in the works, so what’s stopping you from thinking and acting faster than the best? Seth gives an example of how Harry Harrison became extremely upset after Michael Crichton released The Andromeda Strain, which was extremely similar to the science fiction novel Harry had been working on for six months!

The general consensus to innovation, think faster and bolder than the best innovators.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Where to start?

That question keeps popping up in my life... particularly when trying to wrap my mind around the details of our innovation process.

Where to start...

  • as a guest blogger for FEI?
  • when it comes to creating incentive systems for innovators in my company?
  • as my co-conspirators and I work to change organizational culture and behaviors?
  • looking for actionable advice for managing (supporting? uncovering?) innovation?
  • applying resources (time, people, money) when there are so many unmet needs?

While I usually arrive at some semblance of an answer... I end up uncovering a basketfull of additional questions along the way! After talking with peers from other organizations at a recent program at MIT, I was somewhat relieved to discover that I'm not alone. That my company, industry and nation are not alone when struggling to find, filter and apply the right ideas to meet the right needs to create, deliver and capture value.

That's a primary reason I'm excited about FEI Europe next month: I get to listen, talk and spend time with other innovation practitioners. To hear their stories of where they started a particular practice - and the decisions they made and lessons they learned along the way. I'll be posting some of the anecdotes and kernels of wisdom I hear along the way.

I hope to meet some of you there.

Google: Rising Above in a Downturn Economy

Despite the struggling battles many companies are facing to survive, Google doesn’t seem to be too worried about its future. Robert Hof , Silicon Valley bureau chief, recently had an interview with Marissa Mayer, Google VP of search products and user experience, in which she talked about the challenges to Google's power from the government and from the declining economy.

An interesting mantra that is thrown around Google is “Scarcity brings clarity.” Even Google is doing better than most companies it still evaluates processes to see what makes sense and what doesn’t. Mayer gives the example of being frugal with the development of their first gym. During the early years most employees worked 130-hour weeks in a row and so they became very out of shape. Giving less than $5,000, the team was forced to build a luxury gym really cheap.

So if you take a closer look at the luxuries offered by Google, you will see that they are able to do it through really cost-effective ways. How are your organizations staying innovative through this economy?

Read the full interview from BusinessWeek here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Millenial Generation and Innovation

The 2008 presidential election proved to the world that the millennial generation is not willing to sit back and wait for others to act, but that they are ready to take responsibility and leadership for themselves. This article on MarketWatch highlights how the millennial generation, which runs 95 million strong, is ready and able to do whatever it takes to help President-elect Barack Obama.

Eric Greenberg, author of Generation We: How Millennial Youth Are Taking Over America and Changing Our World Forever is a huge advocate for using what he calls “America's greatest untapped resources: the Millennial Generation.” He’s even released a website,, and released this YouTube video to help mobilize and organize the Millennial Generation.

Innovation has always been the backbone of America’s success, and the millenials are seeing this now more than ever:

“Seeing little hope for real change within the current political system, Millennials believe that innovation and new ideas are the only path forward, and they are eager to engage in collective social movements to reshape the world around their own values and priorities.”

The 2009 Front End of Innovation US Conference will have a panel session during the Culture Factors Track on the topic of Millennial Generation and Innovation called, “Why won’t you let me innovate?” Panelists for this session to date include millennial innovation practitioners from Birds Eye Food and Kimberly Clark. We have room for one more millennial panelist during this session at FEI US. So if you are a millennial interested in participating, please contact Jennifer Finer
with a short (one paragraph) proposal.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Bad Economy…A Good Time to Innovate

Earlier this morning I came across this interview on The Wall Street Journal between Clay Christensen, previous FEI keynoter, and MIT Sloan Management Review senior editor Martha E. Mangelsdorf for Business Insight discussing the environment for innovation during the financial crisis and economic downturn.

According to Clay, the economic downturn will have a positive effect on the environment for innovation. Here’s his reasoning behind it:

One of the banes of successful innovation is that companies may be so committed to innovation that they will give the innovators a lot of money to spend. And, statistically, 93% of all innovations that ultimately become successful started off in the wrong direction; the probability that you'll get it right the first time out of the gate is very low.

So, if you give people a lot of money, it gives them the privilege of pursuing the wrong strategy for a very long time. In an environment where you've got to push innovations out the door fast and keep the cost of innovation low, the probability that you'll be successful is actually much higher.

Clay also predicts that we will see more innovation from private companies and that the current economic crisis will force a real solution to the health-care problem. Read the entire interview here.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Innovation at Kraft

According to Kraft, 99% of all American households have at least one of its products which range from Philadelphia cream cheese, DiGiorno Pizza, and Kool-Aid just to name a few. Within the past year, Kraft has introduced many products including Bagel-fuls and Oreo Cakesters. Now with the struggling economy, the company is poised to generate more than $40 billion in profit still. USA Today’s David Lieberman recently interviewed Kraft CEO Irene Rosenfeld in which she shared her thoughts about innovation in her company, leadership, and the economy.

When Irene Rosenfeld was asked what her crystal ball tells her about the New Year taking into consideration the recession, she replied
“The great news is that as the economy has softened around the world, we're seeing people eating more at home. And as they come home, they're coming home to Kraft. So we are battening down our hatches and preparing to continue to compete in a difficult environment.”

Read the rest of the interview here where she goes into more depth about innovation practices at Kraft.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Does Obama get "stim-novation"?

We’ve recently posted on this blog that President Elect Obama has named a “dream team” to lead the nation in its innovation practices, but…is this enough? This article on BusinessWeek highlights how the white paper Building on Success: Reforming the U.S. Innovation System written by Fred Block and Matthew Keller discusses that Obama will have to appoint a cabinet-level Department of Innovation within the next couple of years.

In the whitepaper, Block and Keller make specific suggestions including directing $3-$5 billion of the stimulus package towards non-defense R&D as well as investing in energy efficient activities such as putting an emphasis on solar panels and green materials in housing. They also introduce the term “stim-novation,” which means spending that stimulates the economy while also encouraging the development of new technologies, materials, and medical instruments (and other products).

Do you think the innovation agenda team Obama has named is enough to drive innovation to new heights? Download the white paper below. What are your thoughts?

Download the whitepaper

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Enterprise 2.0 and Innovation

I came across this presentation from Oscar berg on The Content Economy blog in which he discusses Enterprise 2.0 as innovation and driver of innovation in organizations. Take a couple of minutes to browse through the slides as I’m sure you will find it informative!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

American Automakers: A Greener Tomorrow?

The NY Times recently discussed that a deal to rescue the big 3 American automakers is finally moving ahead. Now the real question is what will the auto bailout plan do to spark innovation for these troubling automakers?

Ford might have stepped in front of the other 2 American automakers by taking a stern step towards producing greener cars as mentioned on this post on BusinessWeek. Ford plans to release the company’s first hybrid sedan, the Ford Fusion, early next year. This will be the first of many digitally savvy “green” vehicles that Ford hopes to make during the upcoming years. To help with their new designs, Ford has enlisted the help of the design firm IDEO, from Palo Alto California.

You might remember IDEO from one of our older posts in which we highlighted how the company helped Bank of America listen to what its customers wanted, and helped BOA roll out the “Keep the Change” initiative. In Ford’s case, IDEO conducted extensive research on three dozen driving habits throughout 2006.

Steve Bishop, IDEO's global lead of sustainability mentioned, “Our big finding was that drivers interested in fuel efficiency were playing a game. They want a high score."

Ford has done a couple of things with the dashboard in order to play into research that consumers are looking for a high score when it comes to fuel efficiency. They’ve created prototype dashboard concepts that resemble NASA flight simulators and LCD screens that will feature curling lines with green leaves. This adds a new design element that we’ve not yet seen in hybrid cars yet.

Toyota is still the industry leader in hybrid vehicles having sold more than 1 million Priuses worldwide. It will be interesting to see Ford step away from playing catch-up and really focus on taking the spotlight with these innovative designs.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Dean Kamen’s Home: “LED Nation”

I came across this article on the NY Times in which they describe that Dean Kamen, last year’s speaker at the Front End of Innovation Conference, has transformed his 3-acre island off of Connecticut into what he calls “the world’s first LED nation.”

Just this past June we posted on Dean Kamen’s invention of the human-like robotic arm that will give veterans from the war enough precision to grab grapes, but this project takes innovation to new levels. Dean Kamen wanted to have the island produce its own power through wind and solar, but since energy consumption was high, he had to reduce energy. This is when he decided to turn to LEDs.

With the aid of Philips Color Kinetics, they were able to remove all incandescent fixtures in the house and replaced them with Color Kinetics products. As a result of this, the total energy consumption used by the house went down by 50 percent, and so they were able to take the island off the grid. Prices for LED lighting are still too expensive for residential use, but it is dropping rapidly. I’m sure that it will only be a short matter of time before all households will soon turn to LED lighting to help reduce energy consumption.

Slide Show of Dean Kamen's "LED Nation"

Friday, December 5, 2008

Archived Webinar: Learn New Online Research Approaches to Product Naming

If you missed yesterday’s webinar here’s your chance to view it at your own leisure. Brendan Light, the SVP of Research and Product Development at BuzzBack Market Research presents on fast and effective methodologies that address different types of research goals in naming, specifically name ideation, name imagery and communications, and name selection.

Watch the archive here:

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Bid Farewell to the Old McDonald’s Packaging

This article in BusinessWeek highlights that McDonald’s is preparing to revamp its packaging to step away from the throwback designs of the 1990’s, and to also stay ahead of public obesity concerns. Packaging will include full-color photographs to ensure consumers that burgers like the Quarter Pounder for instance, are made up of real food. To go with this theme, McDonald’s classic white, yellow, and red French fry packaging will also display a peeled potato. Mary Dillon, McDonald's global chief marketing officer, mentions that, “This demonstrates the authenticity of the locally grown ingredients we use.”

More importantly, this will not simply just be different branding for the U.S. markets, McDonald’s will slowly implement these changes across 118 countries that it operates in. What’s interesting here is that McDonald’s consumers and employees worldwide love the current boxes the burgers and fries are placed in, how will customers react to the new packaging? Could we expect the same reaction from consumers as when Coke attempted to change its “original formula” in the 80’s?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Innovation in the Obama Administration

Since I plan on attending the historic moment of the inaugural address this January in Washington D.C., I was quite pleased to hear that Obama has created a team to create an innovation agenda for the U.S. James Toddhunter at Innovating to Win seems to be skeptical of the team named to lead the nation’s innovation efforts, which include Blair Levin, Sonal Shah and Julius Genachowski.

Whether or not we see huge improvements in the nation’s innovation approaches in the upcoming years, this is still a start. Perhaps with this administration the U.S. can catch up on innovation efforts and practices already taking place in European countries. These are exciting times!

(Read the full article here: Washington Post)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Innovator's Dilemma

Stephen Shapiro brings up an interesting point when he mentions how “the crappy and cheap will eventually take over the sophisticated and expensive,” which is an ideal from Clayton Christensen’s book The Innovator’s Dilemma. Later on in the post Stephen also gives us an example of this idea in the computing world. Before the age of the PC, the mini-computer and mainframe that cost tens of thousands of dollars were heavy in production. Now there are talks of how the new $300 netbooks might eventually replace the PC which can be bought today for under $1,000.

The current economy has created this problem where many companies are looking away from innovation and building cheaper developments instead of building faster and more sophisticated technologies. I’m interested to see what companies out there are still looking to innovate through these troubling times.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Will Luxury Brands Innovate Through the Recession?

With the holiday season coming up, many luxury brands are expected to experience a rough patch. Consumers are not spending as much as goods because of the economic situation, and unless these brands do something to address this phenomenon, then luxury brands might become extinct.

This latest post on the Marketing & Strategy Innovation Blog discusses that luxury brands must “innovate or die”, in order to prove once and for all that they can be recession proof. The wealthy will continue to pay a premium price for certain luxuries like iPod Louis Vuitton trunks, but what about the rest of the market? Idris Mootee at FutureLab explains how brands should instead focus on what they do best, and innovate within those categories. What are your thoughts?

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