Friday, January 29, 2010

VW innovates by looking back


No, not another New Beetle. VW has just launched a viral marketing campaign based on the popular road-trip game of "Punch-bug" *(also known as "Punch-buggy" or "Slug-bug").

In case you don't know, the game works like this: when you spot, say, a red VW Beetle (or "Bug" as they're sometimes known in the U.S.), you punch the person next to you in the bicep and say, "punch-bug red," or whatever color the car is. I've been playing since I was a little kid, and have the bruises to prove it. That means the game has been around at least 40 years (Wikipedia notes that consensus has it invented in the 1960's)

Now VW claims to have found "Sluggy," the inventor of the game. They even have an "interview" with him that documents the game's creation. I found it amusing.

I wonder who will claim to have found the inventor of "shotgun," the rule-based game that determines who sits in the front passenger seat?

The lesson? When your offering has some cultural value attached to it, apply some creative thinking to see what you can do to leverage it. While the campaign is too new for us to know if it will work, consider it stimulus for you to answer these questions:

1) What are some unusual ways people relate to our brand/offering?

2) How might we leverage perceptions of our brand/offering?

3) In what ways might we have some fun to get some attention?

4) How might we get people to blog about our campaigns?

What other learnings can you glean from this marketing innovation?

Encouraging Small Innovations

John Baldoni of Bloomberg.com writes that in the wake of Apple's iPad reveal, many companies may be working to find the next "big" thing while not focusing on smaller innovations that could make a big impact.

Baldoni says that the more employees are encouraged to think creatively and apply that creativity, the more flexible in practice and nimble in responsiveness a company becomes. When you take pressure off people to come up with a "big" idea, you encourage the creativity that can bring about incremental innovations. As a result, a new service or product offering may emerge, but it's more likely that you will optimize your operations for cost, quality, efficiency, and speed.

Baldoni offers further sound advice for encouraging smaller innovation throughout your company. We encourage you to read the rest of his post.

How to Encourage Small Innovations

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

FEI Track Spotlight: Perform Creative Execution

Today we're focusing on the Perform Creative Execution track.

Innovation within an organization is not only about the 'ah ha' moments but it’s about developing a sustainable practice that can compete in today's rapid moving marketplace. Although innovation itself is somewhat unpredictable, you must create a repeatable and scalable process that drives measurable results.

This track will cover everything from portfolio planning ‘dos and don’ts’, to a framework for driving innovation throughout your organization as well as methodologies that will ultimately increase your bottom-line impact.

Some of the companies speaking on this track include Herman Miller Inc., Plantronics, and Reed Elsevier just to name a few. Make sure to download the brochure for a complete run-down on topics covered. Hope to see you at the Front End of Innovation Conference in Amsterdam this February!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Culturally Significant Innovation

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

I was a bit too young at the time to have seen “Star Wars” during its original theatrical release back in 1977. I do vaguely remember though being in the car when my mom dropped my older siblings off at a local theater. And because I was so young, I’m sure my mind made the scene an even bigger spectacle than perhaps it actually was. It seemed like such a big deal at the time though.

I have a few recollections from the summer of 1980 watching “The Empire Strikes Back” in a theater with friends Tony and Jimmy. Apparently I was so captivated by the movie that my facial expression when it ended was one of emotional distraught. I must have wanted to know right then and there how the story would ultimately be resolved. I don’t remember feeling as such, yet I remember being briefly made fun of during the car ride home (Tony’s mom picked us up) by Tony and Jimmy because I had apparently become more emotionally enthralled by the movie than was socially acceptable for a boy my age.

When school let out for the summer of 1983 “Return of the Jedi” had just been released. I don’t recall the exact number, but I figure my screenings of Episode VI during that first week of summer must have hit at least double digits. I walked to the local theater every day for more than a week. And I’m sure I sat through two or three screenings at a time on some days.

More than 25 years later my affinity for a good sci-fi visual spectacle has not abated. My wife and I saw “Avatar” (in 3D) earlier this month. I thought it was a technical and visual marvel. And although the overarching narrative was relatively conventional, I thought the underlying premise and the details of the story were outstanding. I walked out of the theater thinking “This is my children’s Jedi. I want my kids to see this movie.”

My desire to have my kids see “Avatar” (in a theater in 3D) stems from my belief that this movie represents a culturally significant innovation. It represents a sort of turning point in our cultural consciousness. It’s not a historically significant innovation like the wheel, printed word, atomic bomb, airplane, polio vaccine, or machine gun, but rather culturally significant innovation like television, the electric guitar, “Star Wars”, the World Wide Web, and Napster. I think there is a difference between historical and cultural significance, but I’ll not try to describe this distinction here. Let’s just say I think the techniques and technology used to create “Avatar” will have a lasting effect on our cultural identity. It marks a moment in time that we as a society will remember.

Do you think anyone ever sets out to create culturally significant innovations?

I think James Cameron did.

I think Shawn Fanning did.

I think Steve Jobs did.

As an innovator, does cultural significance play a role in your innovation thought process?

My wife and I talked about it and decided we were willing to allow our slightly pre-teen kids (not our preschooler) to be exposed to some PG-13 violence and language. “Avatar” (in a theater in 3D) was an experience we wanted our kids to have. Given the fact that “Avatar” has taken in more than $1.8 billion worldwide to date and is on the verge of surpassing the domestic and international receipts record held by another Cameron flick called “Titanic”, I’m thinking there are a few parents around the world that made the same decision.

Last week I took my older kids to see "Avatar". They loved it. But I’m not sure they understand yet its cultural significance.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The 2-minute Innovation Check Step

Will your innovation stand up to this 2-minute test?

In the last couple of years I’ve been repeatedly reminded of an essential, yet all too often overlooked, step in the innovation approach. This is my plea for you to blend commercialism with your creativity!

As a brand communication and innovation consultant working globally in the Food & Beverage sector I am privileged to see many innovation approaches. Naturally, there are a huge number of routes to new ideas and many contributing success factors.

But when I’m asked to consult on failed launches, to ‘pick up the pieces’ of a failed new product, I find there is usually 1 question I can ask to get to the root of the problem – and asking that 1 question is the missing step in too many innovation processes:

It’s the question, “Why?” ... “Why launch this?”

If the reason is "To make money." Stop. It’s not enough. There must be a ‘Consumer WHY’. The reason to buy. When I see product failures it’s often because there was no consumer need or want. Too often we are caught up / mesmorised / blinded by the newness / excitement / technology / thrill of the innovation and we forget that we must have a Buyer for our creativity.

So think of your current innovation project (you know, the one that's taking all your time right now) or your next launch (the one that your career is riding on) and take this 2 minute test - "the Innovation Check Step":

Who really wants it?
Is it genuinely distinct from what's already available? (in the eyes of your consumer?)
Is it different enough for your prospect to bother to switch from her current solution?
Will enough people actually pay for it? (and that means exchanging their hard-earned cash - and hopefully more than once!)

If you don't have good answers, I suggest you think very hard before going to market. Creativity alone is not enough. Great innovation is commercial too.

Friday, January 22, 2010

FEI Track Spotlight: Foster Organic Growth

Today we're focusing on the Foster Organic Growth track.

During challenging times most organizations focus on short term revenue and place long-term strategies on the sidelines. For those organizations that do not take a seat, the current economic crisis proves to be catalyst for new growth opportunities.

The companies that plan ahead 5, 10, 20 years out are proven to come out on top. When the market comes back will you be ready?

During this track you will be inspired to re-examine your core products and services. You’ll discover methods to identify relevant trends, how to incorporate long-term strategies within your corporate culture and how to reinvent an older product segment by implementing state-of-the-art technologies.

Some of the companies speaking on this track include Zimmer, Powerwind, Time-matters - a Lufthansa subsidiary, and Kaefer Aerospace just to name a few. Make sure to download the brochure for a complete run-down on topics covered. Hope to see you at the Front End of Innovation Conference in Amsterdam this February!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Complimentary Web Seminar: The Search for Meaning in Fuzzy Data: Can Advanced Statistical Techniques Be Applied to Qualitative Research?

Thursday, January 28
11:00AM - 12:00PM EST

Space is limited.

Reserve your Web Seminar seat now at:
Mention priority code: MWS0019BLOG

Join us for a free web seminar on new analytical techniques for qualitative research. This is NOT a technical presentation and is designed to show what is possible.

Can Advanced Statistical Techniques Be Applied to Qualitative Data?
• Are you familiar with factor analysis?
• How about color analysis of images?
• Have you ever applied quantitative analysis to qualitative or projective techniques?


Traditionally, online research has been purely quantitative and focused primarily on numeric data. While qualitative research highlights thematic and sub-conscious learning, sometime fuzzier findings or unstructured data. However, as qualitative and projective techniques are used online with more robust sample sizes, new ways to analyze the data emerge. Sometimes you get surprising results.

For nearly 10 years, BuzzBack has been pioneering innovative online qualitative techniques, developing award-winning ways to collect and analyze online qualitative data. Our techniques, including eCollageTM and Verbatim ViewerTM, have been recognized by today’s leading research organizations.

Through a case study approach, this webinar will highlight new ways you can analyze unstructured data – even applying traditionally quantitative approaches. You’ll learn:
• What factor analysis is and how it’s traditionally used
• How factor analysis can be applied to qualitative findings
• Ways color analysis can be applied to online collaging


Join Allan Due, VP Research Analytics of BuzzBack, and explore new ways to find meaning in fuzzy data.

Featured Speaker:
Allan M. Due, Ph.D. VP, Research Analytics, BuzzBack Market Research

Allan has over 10 years’ experience in Marketing Research. Prior to working at BuzzBack, Allan was VP, New Products and Databases at Ipsos-ASI where he planned, developed, and implemented New Product initiatives including Next-Idea; An Online Kids Test to measure ad effectiveness and Online Modeled Reach Measures. Allan was also responsible for all Online testing methodologies at Ipsos-ASI. Prior to that Allan was a professor at Fordham University for 6 years where he was the Director of the Psychometrics program. Allan completed Ph.D. programs in Psychometrics and Counseling Psychology at the University of Minnesota.



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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Prose Not Taken

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere pages and pages hence:
Two prose diverged in a book, and I –
I read the one less eyeballed by,
And that has made all the difference.

- liberties taken with the final stanza of the poem The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

A few years back I saw marketing guru and best-selling author Seth Godin speak at an event in Minneapolis. It wasn’t a high profile appearance by any means. I don’t actually think such a thing is possible in Minnesota. That being said, Seth was as always entertaining and somewhat provocative. After his official talk I was even afforded the opportunity to chat with him a bit. During the discussion I asked him a few questions, one of which was simply “What do you like to read?”

Seth pondered my inquiry, then responded. But he didn’t actually answer the question. Instead he told me something I already understood.

Each year there seem to be a certain number of business books everyone is reading, or should be reading. In most circles, these books are referred to as the New York Times Best Seller List. I vaguely remember a book a few years ago, the name of which actually escapes me because I never actually read it, which was all the rage. It was classified as a business book but seemed to transcend this genre. I recollect the book (apparently not the name but rather the spirit of it) because I distinctly remember a conversation I had about it with an acquaintance of mine. This person was genuinely excited about the book. About how insightful it was. About how it could change what people thought about and how they thought it.

“You’ve just got to read this book.” The endorsement couldn’t have been more ringing.

“But if everyone is reading the same book about how to think differently, won’t people simply end up thinking the same?” I asked.

If you’re trying to be unique and innovative, if you’re trying to think differently, might it make some sense to travel a slightly different cognitive road? The reality I suppose, or rather duality, is that we need to have an awareness of and appreciation for the innovative ideas, trends, and techniques around us while simultaneously forging new ground. Indeed we must be informed. Yet to what extent should we copy the intellectual roadmap of anyone else? “Innovation Clones” is an oxymoron, isn’t it?

Seth Godin didn’t tell me that day about his personal reading list or literary preferences. Rather, he told me I shouldn’t attempt to think like him or be like him by simply reading what he reads.

In the world of marketing guru-ness I imagine there’s pressure to be perpetually profound. Everything you say, and everything you write must be seemingly insightful. I also imagine in the world of “Seth Godin as a person” versus “Seth Godin as a personality”, there’s a certain guardedness when it comes to sharing personal information with others. The brand must be protected. What each of us choose to read can be very revealing about our individual personalities and perspectives. So I don’t begrudge Seth Godin for not answering my question. But I already understood what he understood. I was simply interested in what he likes to read.

Monday, January 18, 2010

FEI Europe Track Spotlight: Meet Customer Demands

This week we're focusing on the Meet Customer Demands track.

User-centric innovation is a proven method to identify the wants and unidentified needs of your customers. VoC and insight driven innovation can generate ideas for significant growth opportunities and high value white space.

This track will cover the futurology of customer demand, how to use future trends as inspiration for innovation as well as techniques to transferring VoC knowledge from the research teams through to commercialization teams.

Some of the companies speaking on this track include Hilti, FrieslandCampina, and Dow Corning Corp just to name a few. Make sure to download the brochure for a complete run-down on topics covered. Hope to see you at the Front End of Innovation Conference in Amsterdam this February!

Call for Bloggers for FEI Europe

That’s right, we’re offering a few exclusive all-access complimentary pass (a € 2,745.00+ value) to FEI Europe – February 8-10 in Amsterdam!. We’re looking for experienced bloggers who are well-versed in innovation to begin blogging now and also at this year’s event. In return for your posts, you’ll be able to attend educational sessions and training seminars delivered by industry thought-leaders and corporate practitioners on the content areas of innovation. Network and engage with speakers from 3M, Heineken, DSM, BMW, Ericsson, Philips Design, Nestle, Nokia, Johnson & Johnson and so many more world’s only unbiased platform for Front End of Innovation best practices.

To apply to be a guest blogger, simply send your name, title, company and a few writing samples (a link to your blog is recommended) to tdasilva@iirusa.com no later than Wednesday, January 27, 2010. We will review the submissions and contact all winners directly with more details. This opportunity doesn’t come often and we encourage you to apply and join us next month in Amsterdam.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The World's 25 Most Inventive Companies

Businessweek has a great listing of the world's 25 most inventive companies that we encourage you to read. From IBM to Samsung to HP -- Businessweek provides an interesting look into why and how these companies are so inventive.

What other companies not listed are doing amazing and inventive things? We'd love to hear your list!

Learn more: The World's 25 Most Inventive Companies

Thursday, January 14, 2010

FEI Europe 2010 Keynote Speaker Profile: CMO of GE Money, Ian Forrest

Ian has a BA from the Faculty of Economy of the UCLA and an MBA from the Peter F. Drucker School of Management at Claremont Graduate University. He has worked in marketing for 14 years now. His chief experience is in product marketing and product management in leading companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Newell Rubbermaid or Verizon. Before his arrival at GE Money Bank, a.s., he worked as Advertising Manager and Brand Manager for GE Money in the EMEA region and Australia. He became CMO of GE Money Bank, a.s. in May 2007. Since February 2009 he also holds the position of Head of Strategy.

Here's a recent press release from GE Money in which Ian Forrest highlights how bank branches still continue to play an important role for customers even though there has been an increase in electronic banking.

New branch design concept from GE Money Bank promises improved customer experience and convenience

Don't miss your chance to see Ian speak at FEI Europe next month in Amsterdam!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Front End of Innovation USA 2010 Speakers Announced!

The speaker lineup for Front End of Innovation USA taking place this May 3-5, 2010, in Boston has just been announced. The speaking faculty includes innovators from over 90 different companies including James Surowiecki, Author, The Wisdom of Crowds; Steven Johnson, Author, The Invention of Air and The Ghost Map, Creator, hyperlocal media site Outside.in; Joey Fitts, Co-Author, Drive Business Performance: Enabling A Culture Of Intelligent Execution; and Bert Jacobs, Co-Founder & Chief Executive “Optimist,” Life is Good.

See the line up here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The most under-appreciated approach to idea-generation


It's a key source of humor. It makes people crazy. It's scary when it involves your fortune. And it's a great source of new ideas that make people go, "Wow!"

Through the joys of the Twitterverse, a friend told me about "Dictator Goods," which offers a line of "greeting cards" featuring some rather dark quotes from some even darker historical figures. The cover seems normal and benign enough. "Gratitude" it says, elegantly letter-pressed on rich cotton stock. Then you open it up to see the rest of a quote attributed to Joseph Stalin: "...is a sickness suffered by dogs."

"Wow," indeed. That gets your attention!

While I'm not sure I'd send these out as thank you notes to my clients, these cards are a perfect demonstration of the principle of "reversal" that is useful when generating ideas. The reversal principle works like this:

1) Consider your product or category

example 1: thank you note cards

example 2: Dentyne Ice Mints

2) Take an attribute of the product/category

example 1: thank you note cards make people feel appreciated

example 2: Dentyne Ice mints provides cooling refreshment

3) Completely reverse the attribute

example 1: add a quote that makes people feel that appreciation is over-rated!

example 2: and thus were born Dentyne FIRE mints that provides the spicy hotness of cinnamon

Try it for your offering. Put yourself into a divergent mindset (defer judgment, strive for 30 ideas, combine and build on ideas, seek wild ideas). Then think about a key attribute of your offering, and see what happens when you completely reverse it. You may not get a "Wow!" right away, but you never know when you'll come up with something compelling like:

- Powdered drinks

- Bagels on cream cheese

- Chocolate that contains something savory

- Computers that you write on like an actual paper note-pad

- An entire audience cheering for the wicked witch instead of Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz"

After all, remember that when you reverse "wow," you get "wow!"

What's In A Name?

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

“Apples and oranges aren’t that different, really. I mean, they’re both fruit. Their weight is extremely similar. They both contain acidic elements. They’re both roughly spherical. They serve the same social purpose. With the possible exception of a tangerine, I can’t think of anything more similar to an orange than an apple. If I was having lunch with a man who was eating an apple and – while I was looking away – he replaced that apple with an orange, I doubt I’d even notice. So how is this a metaphor for difference? I could understand if you said, ‘That’s like comparing apples and uranium,’ or ‘That’s like comparing apples with baby wolverines,’ or ‘That’s like comparing apples with the early work of Raymond Carver,’ or ‘That’s like comparing apples with hermaphroditic ground sloths.’ Those would all be valid examples of profound disparity. But not apples and oranges. In every meaningful way, they’re virtually identical.”

- from the book Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman

I don’t dwell too often or too long on the story I’m about to tell. For when I do, I get fairly irritated with myself.

Some of you already know, in addition to other endeavors, I operate a small toy company (manufacturer not store) called Big E Toys that specializes in board games. I introduced my first game about six years ago, but have been tinkering with various board game ideas since the early to mid-nineties.

Games in various stages of development take on many forms around my house – some have boards, some are just card games, others involve dice, and some are simply verbal manifestations of concepts being tossed about. And I distinctly remember one of these verbal manifestations - before I even brought my first game to market - for which I was unable to connect all the conceptual pieces. Someone else beat me to the punch. I missed an opportunity and kick myself periodically because of it.

About ten years ago, I was helping chaperone a whitewater canoe trip on the Brule River in northern WI for a bunch of senior high youth from my church. Our overall group was too large to canoe together and we thus broke up into more manageable sized parties. My group consisted of seven high school seniors, and one junior. All boys. Plus our two guides, both of whom were college-aged women.

For anyone that’s been on a camping, canoeing, or hiking trip such as this, either as a participant or chaperone, you understand the necessity to keep yourself engaged in creative ways with those around you. Aside from some designated solitary time in which people go off to explore their surroundings and contemplate life on their own every once in a while, an overwhelming majority of your time – cooking, eating, canoeing, looking for firewood, sleeping, cleaning up, breaking camp, etc. – is a collective experience. Silence may be golden, but it gets pretty old pretty fast if you’ve exhausted all the standard discussion topics and aren’t able to find creative new ways to interact with those around you.

Games, in virtually any situation – whether at home, at a party, at work, or even on a camping trip - can be used as an icebreaker or ongoing mechanism to interact with others in fun and interesting ways. On this particular trip I remember having had a hacky-sack and small football along with which we could toss around with our feet or hands respectively. Such trips aren’t conducive to board games however. And aside from a couple decks of cards and small cribbage board, we made no attempt to lug along any conventional board games.

But this doesn’t mean we didn’t play games. Even without a traditional board, you can always play charades, or gather some rocks and play checkers in a dirt-drawn board. In our particular case, it just meant our games were largely verbal in nature. We could play these anywhere – in a canoe, around the campfire, while eating, between tents while going to sleep, etc.

One game I initiated, which was largely meant as a way for each of us to simply get to know one another better, involved one person verbally tossing out a theme, topic, or phrase around which others would provide a response. An example of a theme could be “Greatest Breakfast Cereal Character Ever” at which point others in the game might verbally respond “Tony the Tiger”, or “the Trix Rabbit”, or “Mikey from LIFE cereal”, etc, etc, etc. The person that threw out the topic wouldn’t provide an answer, and would instead select the “best” answer from all the others and designate a winner for that round. The winner would score a point. The game would continue with someone else providing a theme or topic and would last until someone scored a certain number of points or as long as everyone or anyone stayed engaged.

Topic: Greatest Band Name Ever

“Echo and the Bunnymen”

“Ned’s Atomic Dustbin”

“Electric Light Orchestra”

“Rolling Stones”

You get the idea.

When it came to selecting a winner for each round, “Best” became sort of arbitrary. The winner might have provided the most obscure answer, the funniest answer, or perhaps simply an answer that most closely coincided with what the judge may have been thinking when he or she threw out the topic. There wasn’t necessarily any rhyme or reason to selecting the winner. And this is precisely what made it particularly fun. It created some great interaction, debate and discussion.

With eight high school upper classmen and two college-aged female guides, you can imagine the good-natured verbal bantering, bordering on flirting, that ensued. The guys were all trying to impress – either by being funny, or smart, or gross, or whatever. Each was looking for their own share of attention.

Topic: Most Visually Graphic Word to Describe a Bowel Movement

What’s your answer?

Does this game I describe sound familiar? Many of you may recognize the basic mechanics of this verbal get-to-know-me game as the now classic, widely popular, highly successful, family-oriented party board game Apples to Apples. A game that I unfortunately didn’t bring to market.

I never connected the dots for this concept.

I was relatively young. I was working on other ideas. I didn’t think to myself how to translate the verbal nature of this game into a more traditional board or card based offering. The game was too simple to be a product. I never had the “ah-ha” moment as has been the case with other ideas.

In retrospect I think I made a very simple mistake.

I never referred to the game as anything in particular. I never gave it a name.

Had I referred to it as “Creative Comparisons”, or “What Do You Think?”, or “The Greatest Ever”, or anything for that matter, perhaps history would be different. But as it was, this game remained just something to pass the time. Without a name, it perhaps wasn’t real in some sense. It couldn’t be tested or further developed. It simply was.

Needless to say, I don’t make this mistake anymore.

Most Visually Graphic Word to Describe a Bowel Movement?

The winning answer (which I provided): “Violent”.

At least I scored a point in that round.

Monday, January 11, 2010

FEI Europe 2010 Keynote Speaker Profile: Chief Innovation Officer of Barry Callebaut AG, Hans P. Vriens

Since 2001 Hans Vriens has been the owner of VF&Co. b.v. in Amsterdam, Netherlands, a holding company which invests in and develops new consumer brands for itself and for third-party customers. Activities include the consulting of large multinational companies in the development of functional foods, a partnership selling an energy drink in a new packaging concept, as well as the production and distribution of a functional dairy product.

Prior to this, Hans Vriens served as Executive Board Member responsible for Sales, Marketing and Interactive at EM-TV & Merchandising AG in Munich, Germany. From 1994-1999 he held various functions with Red Bull GmbH, among which Managing Director for Red Bull North America in Los Angeles, U.S.A. From 1989-1994 Hans Vriens worked as Brand Manager for Procter & Gamble in Austria and in Germany. He started his career in brand management and marketing with Mars/Effems in Spain and in the Netherlands.

Hans P. Vriens holds a BBA in Marketing from the Nijenrode Business University in Breukelen, Netherlands, and an MBA in Marketing/International Business from the University of Oregon in Eugene, U.S.A. He is a Dutch national.

Here's an article Restoring the balance: Chocoloate as a good source of probiotics written by Hans that offers scientific evidence that chocolate offers superior protection and a more stable environment for beneficial micro-organisms and as such could be an ideal carrier for the intestinal delivery of probiotics.

Don't miss your chance to see Hans speak at FEI Europe next month in Amsterdam!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Wisconsin encourages agricultural innovation

The Business Journal of Milwaukee recently highlighted the recipients of a grant which is encouraged to boost agricultural innovation. Agriculture is a key part of Wisconsin's economy, and they want to ensure they keep growing it and encouraging their farmers to come up with new innovative ideas that will grow the economy.

According to the article:
Since its inception in 1989, the Agricultural Diversification and Development grant program has generated more than $108 million in economic returns, including annual sales increases and cost reductions as well as other economic returns, according to post-grant surveys. Successful grant projects have resulted in more than 650 jobs created or retained, more than $42 million in new capital investment, and more than 500 new products.

Read the full list of the recipients here. What other programs have you seen that have encouraged innovation to this extent? What other states or countries have notable innovation grants?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Why Corporate IT Fails when Competing with Consumer Tech ... and How to Change the Game

I've been working with internal developers over the past few weeks, experimenting with a treemap / heatmap-style visualization that is quite interesting / insightful when loaded up with data, but very tough to configure and manipulate. We are also struggling with a presentation layer (surrounding this data control) that doesn’t adapt to the size of your browser screen, or behave well when placed inside a frame set or table.

I suspect our primary challenge - typical thinking for most corporate IT departments - is that we only work with the tool we know. The only way to display information in a browser from XYZ's data warehouse is to use their particular Web portal platform. We need to switch focus; let the data warehouse provide beautifully aggregated and accessible data, but go elsewhere for the presentation layer.

Corporate IT needs to develop a sense of adventure, a thirst for new and different ways of doing the same thing, and a curiosity about different presentation architectures (ie. there's more than one way to skin a cat). Manufacture some spare time, and get down to some serious "play", with CSS, HTML, and SharePoint (as previously noted, our target intranet platform); learn all you can about the level of control you have. Note that you probably have more flexibility than you think … but now we're playing with JavaScript, VBScript, or any number of client-side technologies.

Unfortunately, we all seem to get to the same creativity-killing question: "how do I charge my time?". Full disclosure: I'm a big fan of the timesheets and reasonable chargeback systems, quantifying IT alignment with the business - but therein lies the subtle yet significant difference with "the IT guys" and the iPhone / iPod / Kindle / Nintendo / Best Buy expectations of our business partners.

Rewarding Different Behaviors

Corporate IT is measured by and rewarded for projects - specifically, getting things done. In most organizations, that's where it ends; IT is usually not rewarded based on the ongoing use of the project deliverables; in fact, ongoing support ("maintenance") is expected ... a cost of doing business ... overhead ... part of baseline costs ... and, in a manner of speaking: free (no premium is paid).

It’s the exact opposite on the Internet and consumer IT; you are expected to build the stuff for free, and just give it away. You will get your rewards when people come to your website, click on your ads, buy your products, become sales leads. You’re rewarded after the build is complete – but (if you are good), you are rewarded over and over again.
  • Corporate IT – metrics for success stop when the project is complete
  • Consumer IT – metrics for success start when the development work is done
This also helps explain why Consumer IT delivers "stuff" that people like, that is intuitive, easy to use, and just works. Witness the apple iStore – developers earn cash only when they sell their apps, long after the build is complete. But it's not as simple as that - note that even though there are a huge number of apps out there, less than 5% are big successes (>100,000 users). Competition and market dynamics drive quality and innovative, creativity is rewarded when an app rises above the fray. Check out the disturbing collection below; how many different ways can you write the same, silly, popgun program? You'd be amazed ...



... yet five minutes of playing with each of these shooters, and you start to see the subtle variations and evolving methods that applications that get the most return visits.

Hope for Corporate IT - the Anti-PMO

The iGun story tells us about the darwinian action that comes with large amounts of repetition, duplication, and failure. Success can be quantified by your failures - how many failed experiments have you thrown out there, just to see what sticks? On the internet, preferably a lot - because that’s how you learn what works, and how to make the “really cool stuff”.

Corporate IT might stand a chance in an environment where experimentation and failure is encouraged (but not necessarily rewarded - we need to learn from our mistakes). In essence, we need to build an anti-PMO and give permission for folks to do stuff that has no apparent value.

What will it take for you to facilitate a more creative environment? For more ideas on establishing an innovation environment, check out this old post ...

Previously ...

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Special One Week Offer for FEI Europe 2010!

We have rolled back the pricing for FEI Europe 2010
Register by 15 January & Save €200 off the standard rate.

The Front End of Innovation Europe
8-10 February, 2010
Hilton Amsterdam, Amsterdam, NL

This is your opportunity to brainstorm, collaborate and build partnerships with hundreds of innovation experts as they discuss the Critical Factors for Balancing Short-term Profitability with Long-term Sustainability. Take a look at the impressive 2010 keynote line-up.

Below are some of the great companies who have already signed on to attend: 3M, Accenture, AFA Dispensing Group BC, Ahlstrom, Alcoa Architectuursystemen, Antalis, Beiersdorf AG, Berg Toys, BMW, Brabantia S&L Netherlands, Braun, Celanese Emulsion GMBH, Coca Cola, De La Rue Intl Ltd, Dow Corning, Ericsson, Frieslandcampina, GE Money, Heineken, Herman Miller, Insead, Intron B V, ITI Scottish Enterprise, Johnson & Johnson, Kaefer Aerospace, Kraft Foods R&D, LexisNexis, Life Technologies, Logitech, L'Oreal, Mars Foods Europe, Mars Research GMBH, McCain Foods, Med-El, Nestle, Nokia, P&G, Philips, Plantronics, Powerwind, Reed Elsevier, Rentokil, RHI AG, Sabic Innovative Plastics, Sanofi Pasteur, SCA Hygiene Products GMBH, Schweppes, The Hartford, Time-Matters, Tom Tom, Visa Europe Ltd, WAAG Society, Zimmer, and many more.

Download the brochure for more information.

Don’t forget to Register by 15 January to Save €200 off the standard rate.

Visit www.iirusa.com/feieurope for more information

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

FEI Europe Track Spotlight: Design Thinking

FEI Europe has a whole symposia dedicated to design thinking in Amsterdam next month. This all day symposium will cover how to integrate Design Thinking throughout the business. With unique stories and real-life examples, this forum will cover design in an innovation context, the process of leveraging design thinking to solve business problems, overcoming the unique management challenges of this thinking process as well as the skill sets that must be developed.

Some of the companies speaking on this track include Do Projects, 3M, BERG toys, Philips Design, and Waag Society just to name a few. Make sure to download the brochure for a complete run-down on topics covered. Hope to see you in Amsterdam in February!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Flash of Genius: A Movie Review (sort of)

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

“For three-quarters of a century, the auto industry presented a compelling vision of the future. First Ford, then GM did a great job of persuading people that they knew what they were going to want next. And through technical advances and marketing artifice they made people think that the future was coming. But in the 1970s, they lost that ability to conjure up any vision of the future. Their energy went into fighting regulations and lying about what they could and couldn’t do. They couldn’t sweep the harmful aspects of cars under the rug, and they started to appear grumpy and sad rather than happy.”
- Jamie Kitman, Columnist for Automobile magazine

I can’t honestly say the book Flash of Genius was better than the movie. I never read the book. Flash of Genius (the movie) does take its name from the book. Yet it’s worth noting the book itself is actually a collection of “invention” essays (by John Seabrook), only one of which focuses on automobile wiper revolutionary Bob Kearn’s long fight with Ford Motors. But enough about the book.

For those not familiar with the movie, here’s a quick overview. It’s based on the true story of college professor and part-time inventor Robert Kearns (played by Greg Kinnear) and his long battle with the U.S. automobile industry. Bob Kearns invents a device that would eventually be used in every car in the world – an intermittent windshield wiper. Thinking he’s struck gold, these thoughts are dashed after the auto giants (Ford in particular), who originally embraced Bob’s creation unceremoniously, shunned the man who invented it. Kearns however is determined to receive recognition for his invention. He refuses to compromise his dignity and decides to take on the auto giants. The ensuing legal battle takes upwards of three decades, and along the way Kearns’ obsession drives away some of those who he held most dear. In the end, as expected, Kearns prevails. “But at what personal price?” we are left to contemplate.

The movie is essentially a David vs. Goliath story. I found it mildly entertaining yet fairly predictable. As a viewer, you expect he’ll win the court battle (it’s a Hollywood movie for goodness sake). And these expectations are fulfilled. Yet along the way we’re given a glimpse at the personal toll tenacity can take. The story is both inspirational and cautionary.

At times while watching the movie I couldn’t help get more than a bit perturbed at the depicted actions of Ford Motor Company. The cynic in me can’t help wonder sardonically whether the current state of the U.S. auto industry might have been avoided had the big three spent more time developing innovations rather than trying to steal them. Being a small business operator, and someone whose professional existence is largely predicated on developing great ideas and insights, the thought of someone stealing, profiting, and taking credit for someone else’s creation was unsettling. To its credit, Ford did offer to compensate Kearns for the intermittent windshield wiper invention. Yet they weren’t willing to give him credit, and thus in the movie the monetary offer is largely viewed as legal payoff or hush money of sorts.

I’m not naïve enough to think such things don’t actually happen on a regular basis in business (or other aspects of life). And to be honest I don’t really care much if corporations steal from other corporations. This, for better or worse, can simply be written off as “competitive intelligence.” Even Steve Jobs, whom I’ve written about regularly and hold in fairly high esteem for his innovation throughout the years, is unashamed by his (or rather his company’s) appropriation of others’ great ideas. He has oft quoted Pablo Picasso’s now relatively famous (or perhaps infamous) saying “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” Here's an excerpt from the documentary film Triumph of the Nerds.



But I take issue when less than honorable actions become more personal and affect individuals. I’m sort of a sucker for the underdog. Is this a double standard? Probably. Fundamentally there really isn’t a difference. Stealing is stealing, right? But do I feel bad about having such a double standard? Probably about as much as the executives at Ford back in the day felt about stealing Bob Kearns’ idea. Which is to say, not really.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Smart List: 12 Shocking Ideas That Could Change the World

Wired.com listed 12 shocking ideas that we wanted to repost to share with our FEI community.


What other ideas can you contribute?

As we look to a new year and new decade, its important that we as future thinkers continue to keep our minds fresh and open to new processes, functions, ideas and more.

We'd love to hear your thoughts and your predictions for what is to come.

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