Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Join our new Innovation LinkedIn Group: EPIC Partnerships

EPIC Partnerships, a sister event for FEI has recently launched a new LinkedIn group. In this group you'll find global leaders in R&D, innovation, engineering, strategy, marketing, business development, legal, IP, funders (VCs, PEs, and Banking), entrepreneurs, and deal-makers. This group is for all entrepreneurial spirited that are looking to create new business models for commercializing innovation.

Join the LinkedIn group

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

All I Really Need To Know About Innovation I Learned In Kindergarten

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

Share – share with colleagues. Share with customers. Even share at times with would be competitors. Innovations depend on it. Dare to share.

Create stuff together – collaboration is a fundamental element to innovation success.

Don’t cry over spilled milk – accidents happen. Sometimes great innovations are the result of accidents.

Flush the toilet when you’re done – not everything that you create is useful. Sometimes it’s best to just flush it away and wash your hands.

Take snack breaks – nourish yourself – mentally, physically, and spiritually. It will give you added energy and boost your long-term innovation success.

Make time for a nap – burning the candle at both ends for too long is detrimental to your process. Everybody needs a break at some point to recharge.

Go outside to play – simply sitting behind a desk (or in front of computer) is not an ideal way to learn and create. Change your perspective. Get some fresh air.

You can build great things in a sandbox – iteration and experimentation are keys to a great innovation process. If something doesn’t work, or you and your customer simply don’t like it, knock it down and build something else.

Don’t be afraid to get dirty – whether you deliberately get dirty while finger painting or sculpting with clay, or simply fall down by accident on the playground during some sort of game, don’t be afraid to get dirty. Innovation is a hands-on endeavor. You can always wash-up later.

Learn the bus driver’s name – there are people along your innovation journey that know the way and can take you places. Get to know them.

Bullying is not okay – just because someone might be bigger, stronger, or louder doesn’t automatically make his or her idea any better than yours.

Make friends with the new kids – despite our inherent fear of everything new, new things have much to offer us. Befriend new people and new ideas.

Actions speak louder than words – Innovate is a verb.

See Spot Run – observe what’s going on around you, with customers, with competitors, with colleagues.

Curious George is awesome – I’d not suggest sniffing ether (or even smoking a pipe) as Curious George has done, but don’t be afraid to explore your world.

Following the leader gets you where everyone else is going – if you’d really like to go where everyone else is going instead of forging new paths, feel free to follow the leader. But don’t expect this path to lead to innovation.

Taking care of classroom plants and animals is a group endeavor – innovation, like watering plants and taking care of classroom pets, is everyone’s responsibility.

Learning should be fun – innovation is learning. Have fun with it.

The future is filled with possibility – don’t ever forget this.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bobby Fischer - The Last Lone Innovator

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

“Chess is not something that drives people mad; chess is something that keeps mad people sane.” – international chess master and psychologist Bill Hartston

When it comes to innovation, the idea of the lone genius is largely a myth. Although it’s often easier to hold individuals up as innovators (if only because it simplifies our understanding and makes it easier to communicate), in reality innovation is largely a collaborative endeavor and typically manifests itself as such. Even an innovation stalwart such as Ben Franklin had his version of the local rotary club off which he could bounce ideas and develop concepts. Look deep enough and you’ll likely find another person or persons associated with most of the individuals we deem great innovators. But that doesn’t mean lone innovators don’t actually exist.

A recent internet headline concerning the exhumation of former world chess champion Bobby Fischer made me think a bit more about this idea of “the lone innovator.” By most accounts Bobby Fischer was a head case in a variety of ways and didn’t have many, if any close friends. As American grandmaster and chess writer Isaac Kashdan once wrote, “In a contest for the nicest guy in chess, Bobby Fischer would finish out of the money. But he is definitely the best chess player in the world.” Bobby Fischer was clearly a loner. And he was clearly a genius. I don’t think anyone would deny this. But being a loner and a genius doesn’t inherently make you an innovator. But Bobby Fischer was an innovator. And perhaps the last “lone innovator”. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another that’s come along since.

What made Bobby Fischer innovative was the psychological warfare-like tactics he brought to the game of chess. Some might argue that such tactics were coincidental and merely the result of being a paranoid, egomaniacal nut job, but I don’t think so. Although Bobby had been quoted as saying “I don’t believe in psychology. I believe in good chess moves”, he clearly upped the standards of psychological gamesmanship.

“When you play Bobby, it is not a question of whether you win or lose. It is a question of whether you survive.” – Boris Spassky, world champion (whom Bobby Fischer defeated in 1972 to win the world championship)

In the book Bobby Fischer Goes To War, authors David Edmonds and John Eidinow write:
Faced with Fischer’s extraordinary coolness, his opponent’s assurance would begin to disintegrate. A Fischer move, which at first glance looked weak, would be reassessed. It must have a deep master plan behind it, undetectable by mere mortals (more often than not they were right, it did). The U.S. grandmaster Robert Byrne labeled the phenomenon “Fischer-fear.” Grandmasters would wilt, their suits would crumple, sweat would glisten on their brows, panic would overwhelm their nervous systems. Errors would creep in. Calculations would go awry. There was talk among grandmaster that Fischer hypnotized his opponents, that he undermined their intellectual powers with a dark, mystic, insidious force. Time after time, in long matches especially, Fischer’s opponents would suffer a psychosomatic collapse. Fischer managed to induce migraines, the common cold, flu, high blood pressure, and exhaustion, to which he himself was mostly resistant. He liked to joke that he had never beaten a healthy opponent.

Bobby Fischer brought this innovation to the game of chess all on his own. The Last Lone Innovator.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Creativity is the new style of leadership!

By Connie Harryman, Applied Concepts Creativity
Guest Blogger IIR USA
Front End of Innovation Europe 2010

Competency in creative leadership leads the list for standout CEOs according to the IBM 2010 Global CEO Study. The survey included over 1,500 Chief Executive Officers from 60 countries and 33 industries.

Creativity is more important than rigor, management discipline, integrity or vision. Creativity is identified as the leading competency. Our world is becoming incredibly complex and dealing with ambiguity in this complex world requires creativity.

I listened to a webinar sponsored by Harvard Business Review. IBM’s Saul Berman and Peter J. Korsten shared some insights on standout companies in today’s ambiguous environment.

As we come out of the worst recession in 50 years, the new economic environment is viewed as structurally different, with more complexity, more uncertainty, and more volatility. However, standout companies (the top 25% ) are turning complexity to their advantage with creative leadership.

There are three different ways that standout companies achieve success and capitalize on complexity. They embody creative leadership, they reinvent customer relationships, and they build operating dexterity.

A speedy decision is valued over a correct decision. There is a philosophy of correcting things as they move forward.

Creativity is the leading indicator of leadership quality. Creative leadership drives the change needed in the organization to stay ahead of the market. Creative leaders use different communication styles and tools.

They are more open to experimentation with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media. Standout companies break with the status quo of industry, enterprise, and revenue models.

Chief executives believe that to navigate an increasingly complex world will require creativity. They will co-create with their clients. They will globalize what is possible due to standardization and localize what is necessary and whatever needs local tuning. Think “glocal.”

When creativity is implemented within an organization, then it is better prepared to deal with some of the massive shifts taking place such as new government regulations, changes in global economic power centers, accelerated industry transformation, growing volumes of data, and rapidly evolving customer preferences.

Clearly creativity is the new leadership differentiator for standout companies. You must ask yourself, what tools are you providing to your organization to unleash the creativity of your employees?

Permission to use graphic granted by IBM.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

When Self-Image Gets In The Way Of Innovation

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

I’ve been thinking a bit more about Bert Jacobs lately, Chief Executive Optimist at Life is good®, and a post I wrote a month ago or so entitled Bring It To Your Customers. In that post I basically advocated the idea of taking your products and services to the location of your customers rather than requiring your customers always come to you.

Early in my professional career I worked for a major manufacturer of turf equipment – a successful company with a high-level image and leading brand. Customers included the best golf courses and resorts throughout the world. When I joined the company just out of grad school, I actually joined as a product manager in a small, almost entrepreneurial, upstart division that sold decidedly different equipment than the company’s more traditional offerings. It was a division created because of an acquisition. And rather than golf courses and resorts, our customers were the operators of landfills and compost sites. This particular business required that we figuratively and quite literally get our hands dirty.

What got me thinking again about Bring It To Your Customers was the difficulty I remember us having way back when in simply finding potential customers. We had difficulty bringing it to our customers because organizationally we didn’t know how or were perhaps a bit unwilling to bring it to these particular customers. Landfills and compost sites were inconsistent with the attitude and image the overall organization had of itself. It impeded I believe our ability to effectively identify and reach this audience. We actually developed a variety of interesting innovations for our equipment. But much of our potential audience never heard about them.

I remember telling my corporate colleagues and distributors (all of whom were reared in the company’s traditional businesses) that we needed to do everything we possibly could to find the rocks our potential customers were crawling out from under and be there to shake their hands. For being a small group essentially in a turnaround situation after an acquisition, I’d say we did fairly well to grow the business. We had much going against us though, not the least of which was our own corporate culture and the image of ourselves as an overall organization.

If the image your organization has of itself and the innovations you’re attempting to take to potential customers are not aligned with the customers themselves, you will not achieve the success you hope for. Divest of the business. That’s what we did.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Imperfection Remembered

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

The pursuit of innovation perfection is a team endeavor. It takes coordination. It takes collaboration. It takes practice. Yet even if you and your team do every right, sometimes your efforts still don’t reach this pinnacle. Sometimes things happen that are beyond your control. Sometimes this is for the better.

Of the 20 perfect games pitched in Major League Baseball history, I can name three of them without looking at a list – Cy Young 1904, Don Larsen 1956, and Sandy Koufax 1965. I remember these three (and not the other 17) because Cy Young and Sandy Koufax are simply two of the great pitchers of all time, and Don Larsen pitched his in a World Series. And even though there were two perfect games pitched just this season, I struggle to recall even the names of these pitchers (Dallas Braden of the A’s and Roy Halladay of the Phillies if you’re wondering).

A perfect game in baseball is a fantastic achievement. No doubt about it. But even perfection, aside from those intimately involved in it, isn’t always memorable.

If you live outside the United States or if you’ve deliberately shielded yourself from all things sports – perhaps because you believe (as Karl Marx did of religion) that sports is the “opium of the people” – you probably heard about the blown call on the final play of Armando Galarraga’s (Detroit Tigers) near perfect game on June 2, 2010. On what should have been the final out of a perfect game, first base umpire Jim Joyce called Cleveland Indian’s shortstop Jason Donald safe at first base. It was a call that Jim Joyce should have made correctly. And 99 out of 100 times he would have. But for some reason, not that day. Sometimes things happen that are beyond your control.

Perfection was lost, but imperfection will be remembered.

The way Armando Galarraga (and for that matter umpire Jim Joyce) handled the blown call in the immediate aftermath and days following the game is worth high praise. It was a textbook demonstration in sportsmanship and class. The one-hitter on June 2, 2010 (which is what Galarraga’s game will go down as in the baseball history books) is more memorable for its “imperfection” than it ever would have been if it had actually been “perfect”.

Now I will remember four - Cy Young 1904, Don Larsen 1956, Sandy Koufax 1965, and Armando Galarraga’s near perfect game in 2010.

As innovators keep striving for perfection. But remember this – sometimes things happen that are beyond your control. Sometimes this is for the better. Your products and services don’t need to be perfect. They need to be memorable. They need to be worth talking about long after the moment is over.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Innovation Practice Makes Innovation Perfect

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

I’ve had the privilege the last few years of coaching my son’s baseball team. Each year we win some games and we lose some games. Last week was one of those days in which our team didn’t perform real well on the diamond. Didn’t hit great. Didn’t pitch great. And in particular didn’t field the ball great. And although we actually made it a fairly close game for our competitor – largely because the other team didn’t perform real well either - we lost.

Fielding was our principle difficulty during the game. Kids weren’t getting in front of ground balls. Kids weren’t keeping their gloves and heads down. Ground balls that should have been routine, scooted through into the outfield.

It’s somewhat understandable that the kids didn’t do so well. Our schedule over the past couple weeks was such that we didn’t actually have any practices. We’ve played a couple games, but no practices. It showed.

Baseball is built on fundamental skills and techniques. There are proper ways to hit, field, and throw a baseball. Although some people simply have more talent than others, everyone can benefit from practice and skills development. Major league baseball players didn’t rise to their level simply because they are gifted.

Might innovation be similar?

Can we as innovators benefit from practice?

Sure we can. But how often do we engage in innovation activities except in the moment of necessity? All of us practice giving big presentations. And some of us may even practice things like negotiating. But how often have you had an ideation session simply to practice the process of ideation? Have you ever gotten together with management to practice making decisions? Why wait until game time to see if your skills are what they should be? Take some innovation batting practice. Field some ground balls. Make sure you don’t let that great idea scoot through into the outfield when it counts.

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