Friday, July 31, 2009

Ed. Dept. Gears Up for 'Innovation' Grants

Within the next few weeks, the U.S. Department of Education expects to unveil the criteria for school districts to compete for the “Invest in What Works and Innovation” grants, created as part of the larger American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus package passed by Congress in February. Though the $650 million innovation fund is markedly smaller than the $4.35 billion Race to the Top fund for grants for states, it’s nonetheless a coveted pot of money that will pit districts against one another in a contest to see which can be most creative with a relatively unrestricted slice of federal stimulus money.

Instead of asking to school's to compete, would it be better to spread the stimulus money more evenly to all school districts?


Ed. Dept. Gears Up for 'Innovation' Grants

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Should CEOs also serve as Chief Innovators?

According to this article in Business Week Honda CEO Ito Takanobu has taken on not only the president and CEO role at Honda, but also Honda’s director of research and development in an effort to align the direction of business and technology as early as possible.

Honda is not the only company that includes its top executives in the design and engineering process. Apple CEO Steve Jobs is heavily involved in the design of the company’s products and Research in Motion’s co-CEO Mike Lazaridis is a top engineer for the company. Both of these companies have announced high profit margins for the past quarter. A Honda veteran mention, "In an economic downturn, the available resources and our development capacity [have decreased]. We need to make a good selection. [Doing both jobs] is a very good and rational solution."

Do you agree with this process?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An in-depthy look at biomimicracy

Sara Stroud recently gave Reuters an in-depth look on biomimicracy, and how it is slowly creeping into our creation of the buildings and designs around us. Biomimicry Venture Group was founded in 2008 by former FEI Speaker Janine Benyus and Paul Hawken. This style of design, which takes nature and then mimics the designs in the creation of man-made items, has started to generate more interest within the past two years.

The article looks at the website Ask Nature, one of the initiatives of the Biomimicray Venture Group, and states:
[Ask Nature] is part social network, part library. The site matches nature's solutions to design problems, and lists ways such concepts could be applied to the human-built environment. It also provides a forum for people to contribute ideas and share information. Not to mention, it's visually stunning.

Have any of your recent innovation initiatives taken biomimicracy into innovation?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Social Media Is Beyond Cool

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

There was a time when simply having a corporate website was cool. Think back to the early nineties when all things online began to coalesce then explode. Corporate websites were cool. They were at first simply a visual expression of corporate identity. They then evolved into much more. But simply having one in those early days, even if it actually sucked, meant your company was in some sense on the cutting edge. Corporations hadn’t yet realized the true power and potential of a corporate website, but it didn’t really matter. Websites were cool. You were innovative. Not having one meant you were uncool.

Now virtually every company, however big or small, has a website. It has less now to do with being cool (although there certainly are some truly cool sites out there), and more to do with traditional corporate identity, information dissemination, and human resource recruitment tactics. Now not having one doesn’t necessarily mean your company is uncool. It probably simply means your management sucks and your business isn’t likely going to survive much longer.

Corporate websites are beyond cool.

Today’s social media is not unlike those early days of corporate websites.

There was a time for instance when simply having a corporate blog was cool. Think back just five or six years ago. Corporate blogs were cool. They were at first a written expression of corporate identity. Simply having one, even if it actually sucked, meant your company was in some sense on the cutting edge. It was suggestive that your company had something important to say (or in reality perhaps that people within your organization simply had too much time on their hands). It almost didn’t matter what you wrote, and maybe still doesn’t. [No one was probably actually reading it on a regular basis anyway. I mean really, who has time to read esoteric blog postings like “Social Media Is Beyond Cool”?] But blogs back then were cool. And your company was innovative.

In its short history, even corporate blogs have evolved. Email newsletters, information alerts, guest bloggers, podcasts, webcasts, and the proliferation of white papers are all second cousins to those early corporate blogs. Now not having one doesn’t necessarily mean your company is uncool. It might mean you ran out of intelligent things to say and your business is dying because you no longer have innovative thoughts. Or maybe you realized blogs are a pain in the butt to maintain. Quality content that doesn’t continually sound like a sales pitch is sometimes hard to generate. Maybe your company was smart to never have started blogging. That being said, blogs have become an important marketing tool. But they’re not necessarily for everyone.

Corporate blogs are beyond cool.

There was a time when simply having a corporate Facebook and Twitter account was cool. Think back about a year ago or so. Myspace may have seemed too juvenile for anything corporate other than bands looking to connect with fans, but LinkedIn and Facebook were coming into their own. Twitter was hot and ripe for exploitation. Simply having a corporate LinkedIn or Facebook account, even if you had no idea how to actually utilize it, meant your company was in some sense on the cutting edge. You were innovative. And more importantly, cool.

To honestly suggest corporate Facebook accounts are beyond cool at this point might be an overstatement. The rapid pace and evolution of social media strategy makes such a suggestion premature. And if marketing history gets rewritten, it may in fact turn out that corporate Facebook accounts should never have been considered cool at all. Consumer backlash on what people might perceive as personal (albeit virtual) space may force corporations to rethink their social media strategies. For now though, corporate Facebook accounts are cool. But I imagine not for much longer. If you don’t yet have a social media strategy, I’d suggest your formulate one. Be ready for what’s beyond cool.

Green Wineries Embrace Innovation from the Fields to the Bottle

Anna Clark of Reuters writes about the innovations that wineries are implementing as they seek sustainable practices for their product. From solar panels to a tributary restored by native vegetation, much is happening in the world of fine wine.

Clark writes:

Michael Honig, who sits on the board of directors for The Wine Institute, is taking the Institute's Sustainable Winegrowing Program to the next level by establishing a certification to offer over 1,100 wineries and related businesses a roadmap for going green. The Sustainable Winegrowing Program helps wine producers establish eco-friendly practices from ground to glass by developing guidelines and training to promote alternative energy, ecosystem management, composting, recycling, water conservation, and corporate citizenship. Through this effort, Honig is helping elevate the prestige of the entire region in the global wine market.

Learn more about innovations of wine on the original article.

Green Wineries Embrace Innovation from the Fields to the Bottle

Monday, July 27, 2009

All New FEI Rewind

If you didn't get a chance to come to the Front End of Innovation Conference this past May, here's a look at the best of FEI over the past couple of years. You'll find testimonials, videos, and images from attendees and keynote speakers such as AG Lafley, former CEO of Procter & Gamble, and Dean Kamen, Inventor, Segway PT & Founder, DEKA & FIRST. Enjoy!


Two Free Upcoming Innovation Web Seminars

The Innovation Immersion Conference is putting on a series of webinars in anticipation for the event in October. First off here's the link to the archived webinar that took place last week, Is LEADER spelled with an I?" Searching for Innovation in the World of Talent Development. Make sure to take some time out to view it if you didn't get a chance to see it or if you want a refresher. Below are two more webinars that will take place next month in August.

The Duality of Effective Interactions on Teams: Know Yourself and Know Others

With the pressure to get things done, we often forget that a deep understanding of your own personality allows you to more effectively connect with others. But it doesn’t stop there. That’s only one half of the equation. You also need to spend some time getting to know others on your team. This is the duality: developing another level of self-understanding so you can extend yourself outward and know others better.

The two presenters in this webinar have extensive experience working with corporate teams during the economic downturn and have shown that working this duality actually increases the efficiency and effectiveness of teams. During this webinar, we are going to share with you a brief summary of a personality assessment tool and how it’s transformed individuals and teams during this economic downturn. Our main emphasis is sharing stories of how teams used the duality of knowing self and knowing others to enhance the team. Stories will include how teams became:
• More Efficient and effective
• More Engaged
• Appreciative of other’s strengths
• Appreciative of differing managerial styles
• Better able to influence others, including key stakeholders

Featured Speakers
Mary Ellyn Vicksta, Creative Innovation Pioneer, Kimberly Clark Corporation
Dave Labno, Director, Organization and Team Effectiveness, Innovationedge

Date: Tue, Aug 11, 2009 2:00 PM - 3:00 PM EDT
Register: Mention priority code G1M2118W3BLOG
https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/312831137

Yes You Can Use A Hammer for More Than Pounding in Nails: Maximizing your Creative Skill Development Tool

Adam and Eve probably had some creative thinking tools in the Garden Eden. The Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans had them too. Lenny and Mickey during the 1500s had them. Vincent, Tom, Albert, Alex and Sid all had and created creative thinking tools. Today you can find creative thinking tools around the globe. They come in all colors of the rainbow. There are mental/intellectual tools, physical tools, emotional tools. There are individual tools, tools for pairs, teams, entire audiences or crowds Tools can be rational, systematic, holistic, playful and mind expanding. They can range from the serious to the silly to down-right strange or bizarre.

This 1/2 day session is designed to provide the participants with on going, fast to slow paced experience with a wide variety of creative thinking tools to use from messing around with challenges or dreams, finding facts, examining problems, generating a few ideas to thousands or millions of ideas, to selecting the best ideas to turning ideas into a successful plan.

Bring you tool belts, tool kits, tool boxes and learn a bunch more tools you can use immediately.

Three things you will get:

- experience using multiple types of tools
- exploration with tools to use in varied sitations for specific purposes
- a virtual tool belt, tool kit, tool box bigger than they already have

Featured Speaker
Robert Alan Black, Ph.D., CSP

Alan became obsessed with creating, collecting, using and teaching the use of tools from before a meeting starts, throughout any type of meeting or speech, to afterward. They range in use from breaking ice, connecting, bonding, developing teams, finding challenges and generating wishes and dreams, developing, collecting, organizing FACTS, producing PROBLEM STATEMENTS, sparking, discovering, generating IDEAS, narrowing down long lists of ideas into the best to use and for assembling workable plans that will lead to creative SOLUTIONS.

Date: Thu, Aug 20, 2009 2:00 PM - 3:00 PM EDT
Register: Mention priority code G1M2118W2BLOG
https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/985108497

Friday, July 24, 2009

Knowledge's effect on innovation

A very interesting article at Bloomberg recently posed the question as to whether knowledge can have a negative effect on innovation? The article states that certain people have a great amount of knowledge about certain topics, and therefore assume that others have the same amount of knowledge about the topics. This may blind management in terms of opportunities available and threats that could hurt their enterprise.

What's the best way to overcome this? The article suggests spending time with your customers. Listen to what they have to say, and continuously ask yourself if you are looking at a subject from your viewpoint or the customers.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Yin and Yang of Improvement and Innovation by Dr. Phil Samuel

Lately, the contest between innovation and efficiency approaches like Lean and Six Sigma has become a topic of heated discussions among corporate leaders and management consultants. On one hand, we are asked to focus on efficiency, optimize processes, and improve productivity and customer satisfaction. On the other hand, we are directed to explore new paradigms and identify new growth potential for the organization.

Sometime ago, Business Week magazine’s cover story – 3M’s Innovation Crisis: How Six Sigma Almost Smothered Its Idea Culture – posed a picture of a face plastered with post-it notes containing such messages as “Six Sigma,” “DMAIC,” “y=f(x),” “ANOVA” and “CTQ Tree.” The feature story inside the magazine was titled, At 3M, A Struggle Between Efficiency And Creativity: How CEO George Buckley is managing the yin and yang of discipline and imagination.
Apparently there is a controversy, but not really, as the yin needs the yang and the yang needs the yin – undeniably, if you know anything about what this symbol means in Eastern thought and culture. The ancients observed two phases of constant cyclical change. Yin constantly changes into Yang & back into Yin again. This can be seen in the changes throughout a single day. This principle is what it takes to consistently operate and grow a world-class company.

So what is the issue? It turns out that almost every corporation is on a pursuit to outperform its rivals in two key business activities - improve the performance of current business, and create the future for the business. It sounds a lot easier than done. Only a few organizations are adept at delivering superior performance in both of these dimensions, and these organizations are often referred to as “ambidextrous.”

It has almost become a cliché to explain how businesses should become ambidextrous; but cliché’s aside, it’s true. As a customer-centric company, we must deliver on our promises to the customer – flawlessly. This means we must recognize and act on our promises and value propositions to our customers; we must manage, improve and optimize key processes and systems; we must reduce variation, uncertainty and risk for our customers. This requires disciplined and systematic approaches to reduce variation and eliminate waste from our processes.

On the other hand, we must find new sources of revenue and long-term growth. This involves searching for new paradigms and charting unfamiliar territories, discovering new ideas that lead to better and newer promises to customers. It requires risk taking, exploration, and high tolerance for failure. Therefore, we need an entrepreneurial mindset and flexible systems, and a business model for successful exploration and innovation.

However, the problem is that the processes, systems, and approaches that foster efficiency appear to be at odds with innovation. The yin and the yang tend to conflict, at least at the conscious, superficial level.

Sustainable market leadership goes to the ambidextrous

Upon deeper view, we can simply relax into the paradox of preservation and evolution. As per a landmark Harvard Business Review Article (O’Reilly, C., and Tushman, M., The Ambidextrous Organization, April, 2004), preservation refers to improving current performance, while evolution refers to creating the future. When you are ambidextrous, you balance the two activities of preservation and evolution in a way that meets short-term process imperatives and realizes long-term strategic objectives.

It’s the ambidextrous leader, manager, worker and organization that embraces the paradox of preservation and evolution, and that rectifies the apparent dilemma between the need for stability and the drive for never-ending change.

Although they started as separate approaches for improvement, Lean and Six Sigma methods have evolved considerably, especially over the past 15 years, to become an integrated approach for productivity and customer satisfaction. While Six Sigma was started as an approach to reduce operational variation and defects, Lean enabled elimination of waste and reduction of cycle time. Six Sigma and Lean are the twin forces that fuel any organization’s drive for operational excellence. As they work hand-in-hand enabling preservation activities, an organization enjoys their combined benefit on the top and bottom lines.

As the organization matures, it improves the synergy between these components. Through a systematic framework for problem solving and identification of key value levers, a Lean Six Sigma approach enables an organization to also evolve, not just improve. The yang of operational excellence galvanizes the yin of change, and helps push an organization to and through new frontiers.

Here is what Lean and Six Sigma have taught the management community about innovation: Traditionally many companies have depended on happy accidents or certain individuals gifted at generating ideas and inventions in order to fuel the innovation and growth pipeline. However, if innovation were to become repeatable, scalable, and systematic across the enterprise, we must build processes and approaches that everybody can follow. These processes and systems include many factors, some of which are described below:

- Building a balanced portfolio for product (or service), process and business model innovation.
- Innovation teams with diverse cognitive style and level
- A framework for innovative problem solving, incorporating convergent and divergent thinking.
- Tools, techniques and metrics that align with convergent and divergent phases of problem solving.
- Governance structure.
- A climate and culture that fosters innovation.

Many of these factors are similar and dissimilar in nature to improvement approaches like Lean Six Sigma. For example, one aspect of the climate and culture for innovation is encouraging risk taking and experimentation. Generally speaking, Lean Six Sigma culture promotes risk reduction and convergent thinking for optimizing the process. Unless managed carefully, these approaches may appear to collide with each other. On the other hand, innovation and Lean Six Sigma shares the basic notion of generating, managing and refreshing a diverse-yet-integrated project portfolio.

Dow Chemical has effectively integrated Lean, Six Sigma, Design for Six Sigma and Innovation into an ambidextrous system. Sometimes the company implements pure improvement projects, while other times it implements pure innovation projects – the former taking about five months to yield results and the latter about nine months. Perhaps most interestingly, Dow uses various innovation and creativity approaches within its DMAIC Six Sigma format at times, thus effectively binding the left hand of analytical rigor with the right hand of creative breakthrough.

An ambidextrous person is capable of doing seemingly opposing tasks well. A baseball player is said to be ambidextrous if he can equally hit lefty or rightly. However, it doesn’t mean he has to do both in each game to be called ambidextrous. He can pick and choose which way to hit depending on many conditions - anything from his mood to whether he’s facing a right-handed or left-handed pitcher. He might bat right for an entire game and left for the next; he might switch with each at bat; or he might switch in response to the other team’s change of pitcher. The point is, organizations need to first develop the ability to bat both ways, then practice both, then strategically decide which skill to use when.

How Should Government Spur Small Business Innovation?

Robb Mandelbaum of The New York Times asks, in his blog, You're The Boss, just how should government spur small business innovation? The Small Business Innovation Research program, which is set to expire on July 31st unless Congress acts to reauthorize it could be a powerful vehicle to spur innovation within America's small businesses--but it seems that the S.B.I.R. may fall behind other initiatives within the Government's agenda.

Mandelbaum writes that, "Now Congress faces the difficult task of reconciling two visions of how the government should harness the power of small firms to innovate, and the competing interests are choosing sides. The bills pit companies with venture funding against those without it — and research institutions against them both."

So what should be done to get the American small business environment moving? Should the government expand the availability of grants to small business owners? Is privatization even an option?

How Should Government Spur Small Business Innovation?

Web Seminar: Yes You Can Use A Hammer for More Than Pounding in Nails: Maximizing your Creative Skill Development Tool

Here’s a web seminar that is being put on by one of our sister events, Innovation Immersion, that I thought our readers might be interested in. It is taking place on Thursday, August 20th from 2:00-3:00pm EDT.

About the webinar:
Adam and Eve probably had some creative thinking tools in the Garden Eden. The Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans had them too. Lenny and Mickey during the 1500s had them. Vincent, Tom, Albert, Alex and Sid all had and created creative thinking tools. Today you can find creative thinking tools around the globe. They come in all colors of the rainbow. There are mental/intellectual tools, physical tools, emotional tools. There are individual tools, tools for pairs, teams, entire audiences or crowds Tools can be rational, systematic, holistic, playful and mind expanding. They can range from the serious to the silly to down-right strange or bizarre.

This 1/2 day session is designed to provide the participants with on going, fast to slow paced experience with a wide variety of creative thinking tools to use from messing around with challenges or dreams, finding facts, examining problems, generating a few ideas to thousands or millions of ideas, to selecting the best ideas to turning ideas into a successful plan.

Bring you tool belts, tool kits, tool boxes and learn a bunch more tools you can use immediately.

Three things you will get:

- experience using multiple types of tools
- exploration with tools to use in varied situations for specific purposes
- a virtual tool belt, tool kit, tool box bigger than they already have

Featured Speaker
Robert Alan Black, Ph.D., CSP

Date: Thursday, August 20, 2009
Time: 2:00 PM - 3:00 PM EDT
Find out more and register here: http://bit.ly/ygs5U
Use Priority Code: G1M118W2BLOG

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Innovation - Do you do it? Does your organization do it?

By Dan Keldsen - Co-founder and Principal at Information Architected

What are the best practices of innovation?

What are the worst?

We'd like to hear about your organization's approach to innovation as a business practice.

Do you manage innovation?

Who owns innovation, in your organization?

Completing the survey takes less than 10 minutes of your time, but you will get back a wealth of insights.

Benefits of participation include:

  • Insights into where you stand in innovation - are you a leader, laggard, or somewhere in-between?
  • Early access to a FREE copy of the research findings when published
Access to the survey is open to any and all, take a few minutes to complete the survey now at:
http://innovationmanagement.questionpro.com/?custom1=fei

Thank you in advance for your time, insights and participation.

Federal CTO Says U.S. Lagging In Innovation

Informationweek.com reports that Federal CTO, Aneesh Chopra has said that the U.S. is lagging in innovation. Chopra said, "We have failed to translate the power and potential in our nation's capacity to compete in a more globally competitive marketplace," he said in a keynote address to the Open Government and Innovations Conference in Washington, D.C. "Our public policy has failed to keep up with all we have around us."

Chopra does have a sunny outlook for the U.S., with the advent of the Web 2.0 and beyond, the U.S. may soon catch up with the rest of the world with regard to innovation.

Informationweek.com reports, "Among the pillars of that innovation, Chopra said, are open data standards, research and development investment, and preparing the workforce for jobs of the future. For example, in terms of the smart grid and health IT, the government is working with the private sector to figure out what should be standardized and why. "

How long do you think that it will take for the U.S. to be the leader in innovation--or is this unfeasible for the nation? What steps can the U.S. take to promote innovation?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Successful Failure is an Option

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

Unless you’ve been hold-up in your basement without access to television or the internet over the last week or so, you’re probably already aware that July 20, 2009 marked the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing. As I write this I can see the iconic image in my head of Neil Armstrong stepping off the Lunar Module onto the moon. And whether or not you’re one of those people who still wonder whether Armstrong actually misspoke by saying “One small step for man…” instead of “One small step for a man…” you have to admit the moon landing was a monumental achievement.

For those of you that have read some of my previous entries, you already know I’m enamored by the moon landing as a significant innovative achievement (see Innovation Trifecta). But as much as I marvel at the Apollo 11 mission, the Apollo 13 mission is perhaps an even more compelling story with its own lessons for innovation.

For those unfamiliar with Apollo 13 might I suggest you go rent the movie by the same name starring Tom Hanks, or read the book Lost Moon by Jim Lovell (Apollo 13 Mission Commander). In a nutshell, the mission was mired by various problems. Life threatening problems to be exact that ultimately forced the team to abandon its attempt to land on the moon.

Despite abandoning the moon landing, Apollo 13 was considered a “Successful Failure” because the crew was brought back to earth safely.

In our efforts to innovate, it is often thought that “Failure is not an option”. Failure is bad. Sometimes careers hang in the balance. Promotions can be granted or denied based on the success of a new product or service. The stakes can be high. I’d suggest however that failure – or rather “successful failure” – should be considered an option. An important one at that.

I imagine most of us working on innovation do not find ourselves in life-threatening situations as was the case with Apollo 13. This mission however highlighted two important ideas of “successful failure” that we should all strive to apply to our own efforts.

1) When We Fail Matters – in the analysis of the Apollo 13 mission, it has been suggested that the timing of the oxygen tank explosion, which initiated the problems to come, actually mattered. Although the explosion forced the team to abort the moon landing, it fortunately occurred on the way to the moon, which meant the Lunar Module (LM) was still available to the crew with its full complement of consumables. Had the explosion occurred after the landing or on the return to earth after the LM had been jettisoned, the crew would not have returned safely to earth.

Although the oxygen tank explosion was an accident, it’s suggestive of the premise that we in our own efforts should attempt to fail early in the innovation process. By doing so you can minimize the costs and risk associated with your projects.

2) Whether We Learn From Our Failures is Important – there were lessons to be learned from the Apollo 13 mission. An obvious structural improvement was the creation of interchangeable components used between the Command and Lunar modules. For those that have seen the movie Apollo 13 you likely remember the dramatic moment during which the cube-shaped Lithium Hydroxide canisters from the Command Module (used to scrub carbon dioxide from the air) were jury-rigged to fit into the Lunar Module’s circular canister sockets, thus making the air in the Lunar Module breathable. Because of structural changes that were later made by NASA because of what happened on Apollo 13, such adaptations would not be necessary on future missions.

It may be obvious, but I’ll say it anyway. We must learn from our failures. Should we not, we’re condemned to repeat our mistakes of the past. This will cost you time and money.

Innovation failures I believe are unavoidable. Whether your failures are successful or not though, is up to you.

Financial "Innovation"

Felix Salmon at Time Magazine took time yesterday to look at what "financial innovation" really means. Salmon looks at financial innovation as merely something to mask the risk associated with new banking tasks. Ezra Klein at the Washington Post looked a bit further into financial innovation, and found it to be something new to the field, whether it be a new ATM machine or a new price for something. Klein also pointed out that innovations in other fields related more around technology, not just a higher price on the good.

What do you think about the definition of financial innovation? Do you agree with the statements of Salmon and Klein above?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Open Innovation: Effective When Focused

This article in the NY Times highlights how recent cases and research suggest that open innovation and crowd sourcing models might not succeed if the model is not carefully designed for a specific task, or if the incentives are not tailored to attract the most effective collaborators. The article goes on to give an example of a custom-based team or researchers and and engineers that worked on a Netflix contest to win $1 million. The team tried for about a year and was unsuccessful in their attempts, and so they went looking for people with other skills and perspectives. Only when they got new help from more statisticians they were able to win the contest.

Henry Chesbrough, executive director of the Center for Open Innovation at the University of California mentions, "In business, it’s not how many ideas you have. What matters is how many ideas you translate into products and services."

Do you agree with Henry's observations?

Stay tuned for the all day symposium on ‘GENERATE PARTNERSHIPS: Make Open Innovation & External Collaboration Work’ at FEI Europe 2010 that will be held on Monday 8 February at the Hilton Amsterdam.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Innovation alive among small business owners in Canada

The Vancouver Sun recently wrote an article highlighting the large amount of innovation small business owners are investing in innovation and research and development.

An impressive 13% of the 500 business owners surveyed said they will spend more than 10% of revenues on innovation or research and development this year; 10% expect to spend between 6% and 10%; and 28% plant to invest 1% to 5%.

Many of those surveyed also stated that they were forced to innovate due to the recession. Reasons included attracting a better staff and keeping a competitive edge.

Read more about what Canadian entrepreneurs are doing to keep their edge here.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Web Seminar: "Is LEADER spelled with an I?" Searching for Innovation in the World of Talent Development

Here's a web seminar that is being put on by one of our sister events Innovation Immersion, that I thought our readers might be interested in.

About the webinar:
The success of leadership development, leadership transitions and leadership integration vary widely across industries, organizations and individuals. Why? In a recent research review, most executives expressed doubt that new leaders can step into new roles and deliver positive results. With all of the investments being made in talent management today, there are expectations that greater outcomes will be achieved. Please join Dr. David Yudis and explore some paths of possibility.

Featured Speaker
Dr. David Yudis, Director, Global Learning and Development, Disney

Date: Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Time: 2:00 PM - 3:00 PM EDT
Find out more and register here: https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/501492696
Use Priority Code: G1M118W1BLOG

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

American Manufacturing - Hidden Innovators?

By Dan Keldsen - Co-founder and Principal at Information Architected

Several weeks ago, I spent 5 days in Portland, OR, most of that time spent working and learning along side a scrappy group of people from a ~150 person manufacturing company.

The topics we were wrestling with? Innovation and creative problem solving.

Now, these days, particularly in the United States, two dirty words/phrases are manufacturing (due to close tie to automotive manufacturing sector) and banking (’nuff said). So, color me surprised to meet some of the most innovative, and frankly, incredible people in a company who may be the most incredibly well poised for current and future success of any team I’ve ever encountered.

Theories Don’t Do Diddly… Action is Required...

More at full post on "American Manufacturing - Hidden Innovators?"

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Fallacy of Voice of the Customer by Dr. Phil Samuel

Revenue and profit growth is at the top of the agenda for most corporations. Growth is primarily achieved through either mergers and acquisitions or organic means. Innovation is the key approach to drive organic growth. However, the process of innovation and organic growth has been considered messy, risky, and unpredictable. We know that organic growth is achieved by creating a new value proposition for customers with unmet needs. Within the last few years, companies have placed greater emphasis in collecting voice of the customer (VOC) data to accelerate their innovation efforts. In spite of all the advances made in voice of the customer research, companies still bring products and services to the market place that ultimately fail.

While customers have a key place in formulating our innovation strategy, many voice of the customer gathering processes are flawed or misdirected. Most companies and customers are good at articulating what they are familiar with, which leads then to focus on the functions of the existing products and solutions. As such, the literal voice of the customer usually centers on the useful and harmful functions of existing solutions. For example, let’s say that a lawn mower manufacturing company decides to conduct a focus group to gather the voice of the customers. These customers are likely to tell the lawn mower manufacturer that they need to make the lawn mower more fuel efficient, easier to push, less noisy, less polluting to the environment, easier to maintain, easier to store, occupy less space, cut grass faster and uniform, and weigh less. Sophisticated customers might indicate that they would like to see lawn mowers in different colors and styles that appeal to human emotions. On the surface, these would appear as true customer needs based on the voice of the customer (VOC).

On the other hand, if we ask the lawn mower customers why they are using lawn mowers, they are likely to answer that it is for cutting grass. If we ask them again, why they need to cut grass they are likely to say that it is for keeping the grass beautiful. The reason for keeping the grass beautiful could be to have aesthetically pleasing surroundings, conform to Homeowner’s Association regulations, or to increase the value of their home. While most lawn mower companies such as Honda and John Deer are focused on improving the lawn mower, another company is working on eliminating the need to cut grass. They are trying to bring about a new generation of S-curve to satisfy the need of keeping the grass beautiful without the need for mowing it regularly. It is interesting to note that most incumbent businesses are not good at commercializing the next generation of S-curve. It was not the candle companies that commercialized the light bulb nor did slide rule companies commercialize the calculator. The failure is not because the incumbents are not collecting the voice of the customers, they are not focusing on the underlying customer need. Professor Ted Leavitt of Harvard Business School once said, “People who buy power drills don’t necessarily want to buy a quarter inch drill. They want a quarter inch hole”. The underlying customer need is called a Job To Be Done. A Job to Be Done is the reason customers are hiring or using our products and solutions. Companies good at innovating, always focus on this higher purpose (called Job to Be Done) for which their customers buy products, services and solutions.

So do we stop collecting voice of the customers? The answer is no, instead we should convert customer’s input into useful information regarding what job they are trying to get done and their success criteria. If we analyzed what lawn mower customers are telling the provider, most of their voices are regarding success metrics regarding how they want the job done. When customers say that they would like more fuel efficiency from their lawn mower, they are implying that they would like to minimize the use of resources (such as fuel) when getting the job done called “cutting grass”.

This input, along with others can be used more effectively to innovate the method of cutting grass. In the long run, the provider must think of eliminating this job altogether and move up the chain and address the higher purpose called “keeping the grass beautiful”. Otherwise, somebody else stands to disrupt our business by moving ahead of us.

Innovation Does Not Go On Vacation

C. Engdahl

The Big E of Big E Toys

Innovation does not go on vacation. People do though. I'm out of the office this week and will return with my regularly scheduled smattering of innovation observations and ruminations next Tuesday. Until that time, I leave you with a quote about ideas that I particularly enjoy.

"Ideas fly through the air, but they are conditioned by laws which we cannot understand. Ideas are infectious, and an idea which might be thought the prerogative of a highly cultured person can suddenly alight in the mind of a simple, carefree being and take possession of him." - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Monday, July 13, 2009

Where can innovation come from?

In a recent news article at the San Angelo Standard-Times, they look at how employees can contribute to the innovation process. With the standard minimum wage rising to $7.25 at the end of the month, many smaller companies are going to have to find a way to make up the costs in an already cash-strapped economy. The new article suggests looking to these employees for innovative ideas. Those who are receiving minimum wage are often the ones who work with the customers and hear feedback frequently about the products and services they are selling. They could have a plethora of ideas that could lead to new, innovative products or procedures that could be innovative options for your company.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Where Does the Knowledge Go After Turnover?

We are going through the largest generational turnover businesses have ever experienced. Senior executives and employees are leaving companies and taking valuable knowledge with them. So what are companies doing to combat this? I came across this poll on the Innovating to Win Blog which closes today. It's entitled, What initiatives are your organization using to manage the outflow of corporate knowledge cause by generational turnover?

Take a second to cast your vote here.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Enhancing Small Business Research and Innovation Act of 2009 Approved

The Enhancing Small Business Research and Innovation Act of 2009 was approved on a vote of 386-41.

The bill reauthorizes the Small Business Innovation Research program and the Small Business Technology Transfer program. Those programs deliver nearly $2.3 billion to the country’s small businesses.

Joseph Morton of the Omaha World Herald reports,

Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., wrote the rural-priority language in the legislation. Smith said rural areas could use greater consideration in the grant process. Smith said, “This is important to areas such as my home state of Nebraska, which tends to have low participation in the programs but are nonetheless home to entrepreneurial and innovative small business owners.”

As Morton reports, this could mean great things for America's struggling farmers. What innovations may we see in the next few years as a result of the government boost?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Finding the Open Water

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

You can observe a lot just by watching.” - Yogi Berra

The morning lake was calm and disserted. This past weekend at our cabin a little less than an hour north of Minneapolis my family was enjoying a morning boat ride. The transitory July 4th crowd had not yet arrived. The only ripples in the water were formed by the wake of our craft.

As I captained our boat across the pane of watery glass I needed not worry about other boats. There was no one around. I was able to thoroughly enjoy the breeze in my hair without worry. I figured any floating birds in my path could easily fend for themselves.

Later in the day however, the lake was an entirely different scene. When I took my kids tubing after lunch there were boats of various shapes and sizes all about. It was a crowded affair. Piloting the boat now took much more active psychological effort. I had to avoid anchored boats, sporadic jet skis, and cruising speedboats, while simultaneously keeping an eye out for downed water-skiers and swimmers from other craft and hidden logs beneath the watery surface. Not to mention making sure I didn’t inadvertently leave my own kids stranded in the water away from our boat after not noticing they’d fallen off their tube. The water was much choppier from all the activity.

As we headed back to our beach after the tubing fun concluded, I continued to scan the water. This certainly wasn’t a monumental epiphany, but it occurred to me in that moment that our efforts to innovate require the same type of activity.

In our attempts to innovate, we obviously aren’t literally looking to avoid downed water-skiers or hidden logs, but the fundamental premise is similar. Innovation requires scanning. We must look left and right, near and far. Not simply to avoid some sort of organizational disaster or crash, but also to identify the open water into which we can explore and expand our businesses. Those that don’t deliberately and actively scan run the risk of a crash or missed opportunity, or worse yet, running aground.

The waters of innovation are crowded. A pane of care-free watery glass we do not ride.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Seeking Common Ground in Conversations Can Stifle Innovation and Reward the Wrong People

SmartBrief Insights writes, "Given the choice between discussing mediocre ideas from a well-known colleague and a brilliant new approach by an unknown, most people would prefer to discuss the ideas from the familiar figure, new research shows. Charismatic thought leaders can stifle innovation, say Stanford Graduate School of Business researchers, because they crowd out better ideas from less efficient self promoters."

Seeking Common Ground in Conversations Can Stifle Innovation and Reward the Wrong People

"In our research, we found that people are most likely to talk about things they think they have in common with others, rather than topics or ideas that are more unusual or striking," said Nathanael J. Fast, a PhD student at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

How can businesses effectively get the innovation machine rolling--without big personalities getting in the way? Perhaps brainstorming sessions, blind votes and even blind idea sharing.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Two Pathways to Innovation by Dr. Phil Samuel

Innovation is the act of generating more value for the customer and business by fulfilling a Job To Be Done better than anyone else. A Job To Be Done (a problem to be solved) is the purpose for which customers buy or use products and solutions.

There are two pathways to pursue innovation. The first pathway is about finding new solutions for a Job To Be Done for which no good solutions exist or customers are unhappy with existing solutions. A number of years ago customers struggled to sell stuff they owned and buy stuff others wanted to sell. Consumers resorted to Garage sale, Saturday Flea markets, and classified ads to get this Job done. However, all of these solutions were ad-hoc and many customers were unsatisfied with these solutions. The true innovation for this Job To Be Done came from eBay, where buying and selling process is made much more efficient with the help of electronic tools and business rules.

The second pathway to innovation is about identifying a capability, phenomena or technology and then discovering a Job that can be done leveraging this capability at hand. Almost all accidental innovations take place through this pathway. A number of years ago a scientist at 3M discovered a new compound while searching for a new glue.

Unfortunately, the new compound did not possess the adhesive strength characteristics of typical glue. Not knowing what this compound could be used for, it was left in the shelf for a number of years. Several years later, when Art Frey was in church with his choir group, he was frustrated with his inability to mark certain songs while flipping through the songbook without making a permanent mark or damaging the book. It then occurred to him that what he needed to get this Job Done (making a temporary mark of the songs without damaging the book or permanent alteration) was a glue with very poor adhesive strength. He realized that the compound that has been waiting in the shelf could be used to solve the problem. Thus the Post-It-Notes was born.

The best way to execute the first pathway to innovation is to spend a good amount of time understanding and scoping the Job To Be Done (i.e., a problem to be solved, an innovation opportunity). The biggest mistake many teams commit is to generate ideas first. Our ideas have better chance of success when we have spent enough time exploring what problem we want to solve. Once the problem to solve is clear, we can explore ideas within and outside the paradigms. We can use techniques that range from Classical Brainstorming to Imaginary Brainstorming to Biomimicry towards this.

The second pathway is the path taken by accidental innovation. For example, Viagra was born this way. In the late 1980’s Pfizer was experimenting with a drug for reducing hypertension and angina. After the end of clinical trials, Pfizer could not demonstrate statistically significant improvements from the usage of the experimental drug. Therefore, Pfizer asked the participants in the clinical trails to return the unused medicine. Then they realized that many men were not returning the drug since it was the answer to some other problem to be solved, namely erectile dysfunction disease.

The question for us is to figure out how to increase the frequency and quality of happy accidents. The answer is to systematically follow the pathway two. First, spend enough time to understand the characteristics and features of the capability at hand. Then ideate around what Jobs could use this capability at hand. To demonstrate this principle, I often distribute paper clips to my audience and ask them to identify two dozen new uses for the paper clip. Often my audience would surprise me with innovative uses for the paper clips. That is essentially the directed approach to innovation pathway two.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Venture Capital: Innovation, or Big Business in Disguise?

Tim Berry, President and Founder of Palo Alto Software wonders: Is venture capital new, innovative small business, or just big business disguised? Berry is responding to an article by Steve King at Small Biz Labs about venture capital and government-funded Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants and we thought we'd bring the debate to you.

Berry writes, Last year 3,600 smaller companies got about $2.2 billion in first-stage grants provided by 11 federal agencies. The basic idea is funding research, particularly from new innovative companies that aren't getting money from larger corporate development budgets.

We encourage you to read the rest of Berry's post here.

What do you think?


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