Saturday, April 30, 2011

Driving Patient Outcomes: Corporate Social Responsibility Unites Healthcare and IT

Fueled by Erasmus Medical Center’s dedication to premier patient care and Dell’s commitment to social responsibility, an alliance between the two organizations serves as an effective strategy vehicle to support social impact and drive positive patient outcomes. In this mission, a physical vehicle – a custom-built research mobile lab, the NeurasBus – facilitates clinical research and treatment development at Neurasmus, a neuroscience research subsidiary of Erasmus MC in Netherlands.

A recent interview ( with Bas Koekkoek, the Assistant Professor at Erasmus MC and Research Leader at Neurasmus, and Renzo Taal, the Director of Healthcare/Life Sciences at Dell, reflects a shared enthusiasm about the potential of the NeurasBus to deliver real benefits for the medical research community and personalized options to the patients.

Bas and Renzo’s comments suggest that Dell not only perceives itself as a socially responsible organization, but also recognizes the growing importance of IT to the mission of healthcare. In making the NeurasBus possible, Dell provided some of the highest performance workstations in existence to support the multi-core power-processing needs of the advanced neuro-research lab. In addition, the workstations and the IT infrastructure are among the most energy efficient, which is in alignment with Dell’s focus on sustainability and reduced environmental impact.

Often, research conducted at medical centers or academic institutions is driven by government funding and marginal revenues from services rendered. With recent economic volatility world-wide, funding for medical research has become increasingly scarce. Consequently, medical centers are forced to seek alternative means of supporting human research critical in continued expansion of knowledge for evidence-based medicine.

Moreover, today’s medical research faces additional challenges of the difficult-to-mobilize aging and disabled, as well as geographically scattered, patient populations; the need for proper monitoring and procedural consistency to ensure patient safety and data reliability; and delays associated with slow trial enrollment, just to name a few. Mobility afforded by a low-cost self-sustaining research lab offers greater ability to conduct research when, unlike in the traditional approach, it is the Lab that comes to the patient and the Lab is fully equipped to handled the above challenges.

Equipment integrated into the mobile lab allows testing and evaluation of medication effects to be conducted directly at the patient’s home, reducing hospital visit frequency and increasing safety and care convenience for the patient. Membership in the European Union expands the political boundaries of the home country with an open road for the NeurasBus to serve patients not only in Netherlands but also in countries of the EU. This ability of a single lab to conduct research with patients in broad geographies adds further advantages through superior consistency of procedures and accelerated clinical trial enrollment.

The example of Erasmus MC’s Neurasmus and Dell collaboration illustrates a natural fit between IT and medical research resulting from a mutual alignment on the mission to improve patient outcomes. In fact, the healthcare industry presents ample opportunities for socially responsible companies to become involved in shaping the future and well-being of our society, and the potential impact does not stop there. Consider the possibilities.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Do Your Customers Experience Your Products Or Simply Use Them?

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

There’s no such thing as an artificial experience.”
– B. Joseph Pine II & James H. Gilmore, from their book The Experience Economy (1999)

This past week for some reason I was thinking about a trip to New York City I took back in February 2005. I happened to be in town that year for the International Toy Fair when the “The Gates” was on display in Central Park. I marveled at this installation.

I know I’m not the most culturally astute person in the world, but I like to think I’ve seen, heard, and studied my fair share of art – whether it be music, traditional painting or drawing, sculpture, dance, etc. But I had never seen…let me take that back. I had never experienced anything like “The Gates.” Christo and Jeanne-Claude (the Artists, with a capital A of “The Gates”) played with my traditional concept of where, when, with whom, and how art should be experienced. They created something of sight, sound, smell, touch, and even taste. (Not that I licked or otherwise consumed any part of the actual installation. But unlike traditional art galleries, I was able to eat at my leisure while enjoying the work. This altered my experience in enjoyable ways.)

It’s difficult to know for certain how you’re customers will react, interact, and ultimately use your innovative offerings. As a board game and toy developer (among other things) I’m constantly thinking about how people will experience my creations. I want them to have fun. I want them to interact with others in meaningful ways. I want them to have an experience that’s worthy of telling a friend.

Strive to create an experience through innovation, not just something that gets consumed.

I’m going to stop writing now and simply share a couple short videos I shot back in February of 2005. (Listen carefully and you’ll hear at the end of the first video a New York native drop an F-bomb on her friend. It was all simply part of the experience. I thought it was great.)

Monday, April 25, 2011

How Fast Company Compiled the 50 Most Innovative Companies List

Guest post by Nancy Cook, Senior Editor at Fast Company, who will be part of the panel in the Business Model Adjacencies... Seize the White Space session at the Front End of Innovation Conference on May 16-18th taking place in Boston. You can follow her tweets at @nancook.

We’re constantly debating the hallmarks of an innovative company at Fast Company. Does innovation stem from the culture or DNA of a place—the tone set by its leader? Or, is it a tangible product built by a team of engineers, software developers, and designers? And, how do long-standing companies keep innovation alive as they mature?

For the last few years, we’ve tried to answer these questions in our March issue that features the 50 Most Innovative Companies. In 2011, some of those businesses included Google, Univision, FourSquare, Twitter, Netflix, Nissan, Intel, and Zynga. Whenever we compile the list (arguing and debating the myriad of choices from our New York City office), we glean lessons from the process. Here are the top headlines we took away:

• Innovation clusters around platforms.

Apple is No. 1 on our list not just for the iPad. It’s also the way the App Store, iPad and iPhone have collectively encouraged and allowed other businesses to innovate. We chose 100 as examples—from Angry Birds maker Rovio to Square, which turns an iPhone into a credit card reader—but there are thousands of Apple-assisted achievers.

• Mobile changes everything.

Apple, Facebook, Google, and Twitter are all both beneficiaries and accelerants of this trend. But there are also more targeted players like Foursquare, which has opened the curtain on what the marriage of GPS and mobile—geolocation—can offer.

• Innovation exists in surprising places.

Syncardia is a medical device maker whose advances in artificial heart technology—including small, portable batteries—not only are a miracle for those awaiting heart transplants today but presage a not-too-distant future when you’ll be able to get a permanent artificial heart replacement, just like you can today with knees and hips.
Mad├ęcasse is a chocolate company, headquartered in Brooklyn, but its true operations are in Madagascar. Africa produces 85% of the world’s cocoa beans, but only 1% of its chocolate. Mad├ęcasse has taught locals in Madagascar to produce delicious top-end chocolate that is now sold in places like Whole Foods, bringing industry, jobs and wealth to one of the poorest spots on the planet.

• Not all technology innovation is in Silicon Valley.

Groupon has illustrated how online-based businesses can explode even out of America’s heartland, as the Chicago-based startup has.

ARM, based in London, licenses low power chip designs for the iPad, iPhone, Kindle and nearly every other mobile device.

Kaspersky Lab, in Moscow, has turned hackers into some of the world’s most sought after computer-security experts.
• Businesses can do good and make money.

PepsiCo is on the list for its ambitious investments into nutrition R&D, using pharmaceutical research techniques to find ways to cut sugar and sodium use without changing taste.

Nissan is on the list for creating the first mass-market all-electric car in the Leaf. Nike is ranked for turning plastic water bottles into World Cup soccer jerseys.

Amyris, a biotech and biofuel outfit, has developed a microbial version of an important antimalarial drug that can be made in virtually unlimited quantities (and will be available as early as 2012).

Kosaka is a Japanese smelting and refining business that harvests gold, rare earth metals and other minerals from old electronics and cell phones.

• Young leaders can grow up fast.

The Social Network may have riled Mark Zuckerberg internally, but publicly he took it like a pro—and rebounded even stronger, as evidenced by his star turn on SNL.

Larry Page handed the reins at Google to Eric Schmidt—and after training himself up, took them right back.

• Innovative companies want to be independent.

True, some innovators are in it for the big exit. But more and more, there are innovative leaders who are resisting going public: Facebook and Zynga on our list epitomize that trend.

• Nostalgia is a trap.

Netflix didn’t fall into stubbornly holding onto its disc-by-mail model, embracing streaming and thriving (even as Blockbuster, which failed to get with the times, filed for bankruptcy).

ESPN, relentlessly rethinking, has integrated new technology into its customer interactions and broadcasts like a startup, despite its dominant position.

• Tech can help not-for-profits have outsized impact., a small outfit in New York, raised $30 million last year for 60,000 classroom projects. If that doesn’t epitomize the inspiring nature of innovation, nothing will.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cracking the Code of Mass Customization: 3 Strategic Capabilities to Make Mass Customization Work

Mass producers have traditionally offered a limited number of standard products because the cost of complexity make more tailored offerings too expensive. Of course, whenever customers are not getting exactly what they need, a business opportunity is created. Mass customization addresses this opportunity by leveraging complexity to drive rather than brake innovation.

We define mass customization as the development, production, marketing and delivery of affordable goods and services with enough variety that nearly everyone finds exactly what they want. But while companies like Dell, BMW or MyMuesli appear to have cracked the code, reality has been harsh for other organizations. Indeed, few firms are actually deploying mass customization beyond experimentation, and in many cases it has simply failed to deliver on its promises.

Consider Levi Strauss. The jeans maker was a pioneer in mass customization when it began offering tailored jeans back in 1994, yet its exercise could not be scaled up to become a sustainable business unit. It was dropped in 2003 when the company entered a period of financial turmoil and never came back.

But despite such failures, our research found that mass customization can be broadly applied to most businesses. The key to profiting from it is to see it not as a stand-alone business strategy that replaces today’s production and distribution systems, but as a set of organizational capabilities that can supplement and enrich an existing system.

What does it mean to mass customize?

Let’s first try to understand what it takes to mass customize. While specific answers are clearly industry or product-dependent, a decade of studying mass customization has led us to three fundamental capabilities needed for a firm to mass customize: solution space development, robust value chain design and choice simplification.

1. Solutionspace development

First and foremost, a company seeking to adopt mass customization needs to understand the idiosyncratic needs of its customers. This is in stark contrast to the approach of a mass producer, which focuses on identifying “central tendencies” among its customers’ needs. Indeed, a mass customizer needs to identify the product attributes along which customer needs most diverge. Once this is understood, the firm needs to clearly define its solution space: what it is going to offer and the dimensions along which the offering can be configured to meet individual customer needs.

2. Robust process design

It is crucial that increased variability in customers’ requirements does not lead to significant deterioration in the firm’s operations and supply chain. This can be achieved through a robust value chain design in which customized solutions can be delivered with near mass production efficiency and reliability.

Two enablers of a robust value chain are flexible automation and process modularity. Although this may sound like a contradiction in terms, automation today is no longer synonymous with rigidity. In the auto industry, for instance, robots and automation are compatible with previously unheard-of levels of versatility and customization.

The BMW factory that produces the Mini enables customers to specify a variety of options unrivaled for compact cars. It does this by integrating individual mobile production cells, called MobiCells, with standardized robot units into existing facilities. In this way, current capacities can be adapted flexibly and quickly without extensive modifications of production areas.

3. Choice navigation

Finally, the firm must be able to support customers in identifying their own solutions, while minimizing complexity and burden of choice. When a customer is exposed to too many choices, the cognitive cost of evaluation can easily outweigh the increased utility of having more choices.

This is the “paradox of choice”: Having too many choices actually reduces customer value, instead of increasing it. As such, offering more product choices can lead customers to postpone or suspend their purchases, and, even more worryingly, to classify the seller as difficult to deal with and hence undesirable.

Therefore, choice simplification is vital to simplify the navigation of the company’s product assortment. A key approach to this consists of assortment matching—having an IT system build the configuration for the customer, who then only has to evaluate it. The system does so by matching the characteristics of an existing solution space, or set of options, with a model of the customers’ needs.

Online jeans retailer does this by taking body measurements of a customer and then recommending the best fitting pair of jeans out of an assortment of many major brands. From users’ perspective, Zafu is offering something a lot like tailor-made jeans, but from a fulfillment perspective, it is merely matching standard inventory with individual needs.

Mass Customization as a Journey

Our experience with companies in many industries revealed that many managers reject mass customization on the simple basis that “it won’t work in my business.” This reaction results from a perception of mass customization as an ideal, unachievable state. However, we believe that pursuing it is akin to moving along a continuum whose limits are mass production and mass customization.

Mass customization, viewed this way, is therefore a process rather than a destination. Small steps can produce big results, even if the organization remains far away from the “pure” ideal.

As no firm can become a perfect mass customizer, the real question for most companies revolves around how solution space development, robust value chain design and choice simplification capabilities can be improved rather than perfectly achieved. Every company can do this, and add to strategic differentiation in the process.

Submitted by Prof. Dr. Frank T. Piller, Professor of Technology and InnovationManagement, at RWTH AACHEN UNIVERSITY, and Co-Director, Smart Customization Group, at MIT SLOAN. Dr. Piller will present "Strategic Positioning and Implementation of Mass Customization: Turn Customer Heterogeneities from a Thread into a Profit Opportunity" in the Storyteller Format at Think Differently Value Room during the The Front End of Innovation Conference.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

On Innovation, Brands, and Failure: Twitter's Iconic Fail Whale

Failure has been on my mind a lot. Failure, from a lens of positivity, which seems counter-intuitive to what we have all been taught to believe it seems.

C. Engdahl's recent blog post Failure Is A By-Product Of Innovation, examines the post-failure phase and how we handle failure. At the Front End of Innovation Conference, this year, a NASA astronaut will speak on why "Failure Is Not an Option: It's a Necessity" when it comes to innovation. The session is part of the INNOVATION CULTURE… CREATE A BEAUTIFUL CORPORATION track, which also got me thinking about companies that embrace failure, internal and with their users.

That idea led me to think about Twitter and it's iconic Fail Whale. During Twitter outages, the company posts the now iconic image with a message about being over-capacity. The Twitter community has embraced the playful representation of this downtime to such a degree that numerous project, websites, stories, fan pages, t-shirts, etc, have been produced about it.

While users maybe dismayed by the downtime, no one really complains or stops using the product. Rather they have accepted the company's issues as growing pains caused by their rabid membership growth rate and managing a billion tweets every week with a staff of 400.

The downtime does another thing, it allows them to maintain the platform so a real major outage rarely occurs. Users know that the Fail Whale's appearance is always temporary. They have developed a relationship built on trust with the brand because of their transparency and the immediacy by which they openly acknowledge their troubles. While the Fail Whale's popularity has grown to epic proportions as has Twitter's user base, it seems they fail often to avert any epic fails and that in itself is innovative.

How has your company embraced its failures?
How much downtime have you built into your processes?
What other companies embrace their troubles and expect them?

Valerie M. Russo is a Senior Social Media Strategist at IIR USA with a technology, anthropology, marketing and publishing business acumen. She is a published poet and also maintains a literary blog. She may be reached at Follow her @Literanista.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Break Through The Mental Barriers Of Innovation

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

No great improvements in the lot of mankind are possible, until a great change takes place in the fundamental constitution of their modes of thought.” – John Stuart Mill

Something pretty spectacular happened in the Boston Marathon the other day. Perhaps you heard about it. Geoffrey Mutai, of Kenya, won the 2011 Boston Marathon on Monday (April 18, 2011) with the fastest marathon time in history – 2 hours, 3 minutes, and 2 seconds. The fact that the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federation) won’t recognize the time as an official world record because of the overall down slope of the 26.2 mile course, doesn’t make the accomplishment any less spectacular in my estimation.

It’s difficult for me to fathom that Mr. Mutai ran 26.2 miles at about 4 minutes and 40 seconds per mile. Wow. The last and perhaps only time I remember running a clocked mile was while training for football in high school many years ago. My single mile time came in at 7:47. Pretty pathetic. I was never much of a long distance runner. My 40 time on the other hand was a stingy 4.6 seconds. Not bad for a 6 foot 8 inch guy.

All this running stuff made me think of Roger Bannister, who in 1954 was the first person to run a sub four minute mile. It was a tremendous accomplishment. One that’s been replicated hundreds of times since. But at the time, the four minute mile was a substantial barrier – as much a mental one as physical. It was considered such a monumental feat that Sports Illustrated selected Roger Bannister as its inaugural Sportsman of the Year in 1955.

Innovation isn’t all that different from certain athletic accomplishments. In order to do or create great things, you have to believe that it can be done - think Roger Bannister’s sub four minute mile, Tony Hawk’s 900, Travis Pastrana’s double backflip, and more. Innovation requires a belief in what is possible - think airplanes, computers, landing on the moon, the iPod, and more. When people believe, and then do, it opens the door for the rest of us.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Seven Words We Should Ban From the Product Development Language

The American stand-up comedian George Carlin had a routine entitled “Seven Dirty Words You Can't Say on TV.”

Here are seven dirty words I’d like to ban from the product development language:

1. process,
2. customer,
3. needs,
4. market research,
5. engineering,
6. product specifications and
7. idea management.

1. Process: the appearance of rigor conveyed by a flow chart representing product development on a wall, disguising a cesspool of messy interactions as a neatly flowing river.

In the classic company-centric view of business, product development people follow a process. In reality, there is no such thing as a product development process. Product development is a series of interactions. To state the obvious, the difference between a process and an interaction is that the latter flows in (at least) two directions. One should therefore not design product development processes, but product development engagement platforms inviting multiple constituencies to participate in the design, with the product development people acting as facilitators of those interactions.

2. Customer: some arbitrary definition of the target population for a particular design, ignoring all the others most likely to kill it long before it gets to that “customer.”

The favorite question of product development people is: “who is the customer?” This is an unanswerable question. If product development is a series of interactions, the next question is “interactions between whom?” At the minimum, these interactions involve suppliers of technologies, the product development engineers themselves, the firm’s marketing people, and the various customers that the company has. And that’s not even counting the regulators, the firm’s manufacturing people, the salespeople, or the citizens with a stake in what the company does. All of these people have an experience of the design, and all are protagonists in your product development story. If any of them does not like your story, you die. Trying to prioritize between them is like asking you to define which of your children should be prioritized.

3. Needs: somewhere between shelter, food and sex lies the need for your new product in people’s Maslow’s hierarchy. So let’s just ask them and pretend their blank stares have deep interpretive meaning.

Customers and other protagonists cannot express needs beyond what they have already experienced, and those are by definition trivial. They cannot know what they have not been exposed to, so all they can tell you is what they do and the experience they receive – i.e., do they like doing those things or not? Fortunately, most of what your stakeholders do today does not involve your company, so there is a lot of room to grow new experiences by developing a company interaction. Your stakeholders spend a lot of time trying to get noise out of one hand clapping, so your company might as well provide the second hand.

4. Market research: an expert function designed to impede the free flow of knowledge between protagonists and product developers.

The problem with market research data is that the cost of gathering data granular enough to be helpful to product developers is prohibitive, leading the approach to fall of its own weight. Also whatever research data exists is usually confined to thick reports or trapped in the minds of third-party “experts,” preventing the information from being delivered efficiently to the point of design.

The problem with market research people is that they often view themselves as experts rather than knowledge brokers between the customer system and the product development community. Engineers should not delegate the formulation of problems to market research people, but should instead challenge them to set up the knowledge platforms that enable a direct dialogue for them. Most market research experts will resist and explain that the target audience doesn’t have a PhD in conjoint analysis like they do.

5. Engineering: an invocation of expertise used as a shield by product developers to resist opening up internal processes to others who know more than they do.

With a few exceptions, engineers should not be functional experts. They should be solution brokers. By interacting with users of their products (possibly with the intermediation of marketing), they should facilitate the creative formulation of problems. By talking with suppliers and other technical people, they should enable the identification of solutions. And somewhere in the middle, they should intermediate, broker, cajole, and coax all sides until a solution emerges. A solution occurs when some emerging formulation of a problem meets an emerging technology.

The problem formulation requires an in-depth understanding of protagonists and their interactions for sure, but problem formulation does not solely come from the protagonists. In fact, it nearly always involves a creative reformulation of the problem by a product development person to meet a solution he/she knows is available or can be developed.

6. Product specifications: the art of converting fluffy qualitative data into hard product data, all the while pretending that one rigorously follows the other when the engineer is in fact quickly updating last year’s design to meet the product development deadline.

Nowadays, products are platforms. They have multiple releases. And users design them as much as engineers. In practice, the product never stops evolving and is alive. We just prefer to think of products as complete because it’s easier that way. “Freezing specs” is an apt representation of the fact that the concept goes back to the ice age.

7. Idea management: a process or software program that assumes there is such a thing as a self-contained idea that can be formulated, packaged and voted off the island.

The problem with the concept of “idea” is that it constantly mutates. Ideas cannot be “managed.” They can only be co-created. Voting an idea up or down is not as helpful as developing the idea, transforming it, giving it new meaning, or adding new players to the group that shapes it. This is the challenge of idea management software.

Most of them use a static definition of an idea, which limits their usefulness to marginal cost-reduction or operational improvement ideas, rather than encouraging the development of new insights. When idea management becomes idea co-creation, we will finally start getting somewhere.

Submitted by Francis Gouillart, President and one of the two founders of the Experience Co-Creation Partnership (ECC Partnership), a consulting firm built to implement co-creative management processes and organizational capabilities with corporate clients around the world.Francis is co-author, with Venkat Ramaswamy, of The Power of Co-Creation: Build It with Them to Boost Growth, Productivity, and Profits.

Francis Gouillart is one of the keynotes at The Front End of Innovation, and will be presenting "Unlocking New Sources of Value to Drive Differentiation and Growth" and in the "Think Differently" track.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Corporate Innovation Groups: Innovator's Paradise or Purgatory?

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of attending my second meeting with the esteemed Association for Managers of Innovation (AMI) – a 30-year-old group of self-proclaimed innovation addicts, consisting of managers from industry, NGOs, advisory firms etc. who are interested in both sharing and gleaning best practices from one another ( Over the course of 2 days, the group runs through a selection of presentations focusing on what’s working and what needs some input in regards to innovation. One of the major themes that emerged from the conversations during this most recent event was building an innovative culture that supports a specialized innovation group.

The notion of an innovative culture has been oft discussed, and I fall in the camp that thinks culture is absolutely critical in support of a growth-minded innovation strategy (rather than a distinct, parallel factor). Innovation groups themselves have witnessed less conversation, outside of organizational walls anyway. Many of AMI’s members are staffed in corporate innovation groups and it’s clear that such groups have an interesting existence within their organizations. With the tension between sustaining the core business and the need for new growth, there is a bevy of difficult questions that come up when such groups are being created. Do we keep them in their places – is it just a role/responsibility change? Or, do we move these guys off-site? Do we build an expensive, completely new facility where they can create and test? How much do we promote this? We want to share what they are doing in the organization, but not say that they are more special than anybody else. How do we convey that what they are doing is unique and creative and unconstrained, for the benefit of the company, and not create envy or resentment in everyone else stuck in the constraints of the core business?

Our friend, Vijay Govindarajan, argues for a “distinct-but-linked” existence, where resources are not competed for between the existing core business and the innovation group, the corporate vision depicts both entities as mutually dependent, values are shared but roles and responsibilities are wholly distinct, and collaboration is encouraged and rewarded between the two. I do think V.G.’s points are well founded, although the larger question I have hovering over me is: “Are they necessary, or even uniquely beneficial?” Obviously, not all major organizations have spawned such groups; in fact, most have not. Furthermore, while many Fortune 500 organizations struggle to reach beyond incremental innovation, there are plenty that innovate well without distinct innovation units. So, maybe I should be asking those companies that produced such groups is, “Why’d you do it?”

While clearly I’ve just built myself a sizeable research initiative to follow up on these latter points, I am curious to know what others’ perceptions of corporate innovation groups are. What do you think?

- Clay Maxwell (@bizinovationist)

Clay is a Business Innovationist with Creative Realities, an innovation strategy consulting firm. He is a frequent contributor to their Innovationist Blog where all things innovation are discussed. You can find out more about Creative Realities at

Are You In? Front End of Innovation (FEI11) R.S.V.P.

Save the date! If you are attending or interesting in attending the 2011 The Front End of Innovation conference in Boston on May 16-18, R.S.V.P. now, put it on your calendar, and see who else will also be there.

Feel free to pass along the invite too!

RSVP on Facebook

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RSVP on Plancast

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Echoing An Innovation

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

Connections mean stories. One person, alone in one place, is a small story. When people connect, when their connections produce new ideas and more connections, things get interesting. Stories multiply.” - from the book Chasing the Rising Sun by Ted Anthony

Although I may reference or allude to the same or similar topics from time to time, I don’t normally write about or mention the exact same thing in any adjacent week. This week is an exception.

For those that tuned in last week you’ll remember I wrote about the original Virtual Choir (2010) and the then upcoming world premiere (which took place on Thursday April 7, 2011) of Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 2.0 “Sleep”. I didn’t get to see the “Sleep” debut in person in New York nor even get to see the live streaming webcast the night of. But since then I have watched the video of the April 7 presentation and Q&A posted on the Paley Center for Media website. I’d encourage you to take a look (if you have time watch the full hour from the April 7 event, not simply the highlight video).

The entire presentation isn’t always totally engrossing, but it’s fairly interesting throughout. In particular it was interesting to see how the Virtual Choir 2.0 project has touched people’s lives throughout the world. People have created a real sense of connection with one another through this virtual choir experience. And innovation, as I’ve said before, is often about taking part in something larger than oneself. In order to do and create great things, we need to feel (and be) connected to one another.

The most compelling moment for me of the April 7 presentation was a statement made at the very end by Chris Anderson, curator and leader of TED. In referring to the overall Virtual Choir 2.0 effort and subsequent video, Mr. Anderson said “It’s magical. It gave me as much hope about the future as anything I’ve seen in the last couple years. I can’t put my finger on quite why, but I hope you [Eric Whitacre] keep doing it, and I hope as more people like you experimenting with this because the web is so much distraction and bad and whatever. This makes the whole internet seem worthwhile and gives people hope for the future.”

Friday, April 8, 2011

Adidas Races Ahead With Process Innovation

“Innovation Destination – Europe” Podcast Series Explores Virtual Value Chain Trek

Editor’s note: This podcast interview was originally recorded ahead of FEI Europe, and is now being run for the edification of both European and US innovation pros in advance of FEI USA May 16-18 in Boston, MA.

What does an athletic shoe have in common with an Airbus A380?

At face value, perhaps not much.

But that didn’t stop Adidas Group’s SVP of global project and process management, Dagmar Chlosta, from seeking inspiration in aerospace.

As her title suggests, Chlosta’s focus isn’t on product innovation; it’s on strategic, cross-functional process innovation.

And coaxing a sporting goods and apparel giant out of its dusty comfort zone is no easy feat, especially when you’re attempting radical process change.

In this episode of “Innovation Destination – Europe," Chlosta discusses her mission to stow Adidas Group’s circa 1980s model in a time capsule, and replace it with something more than just 21st century – an innovation process that can keep pace with accelerating change.

While many companies rely on benchmarking against competitors, Chlosta mined companies in totally unrelated categories and industries known for process innovation excellence.

The results: Chlosta and her team have developed a virtual value chain (a.k.a. “Virtualization”) and a new fast-fashion business model (“NEO”) designed to catapult Adidas to the forefront of global sports fashion.

To listen to the podcast interview click here.

To download a transcript, please click here.

Reminder: Global innovation experts from major multinationals will descend on Boston, MA for the 2011 FEI USA May 16-18.

For more information or to register, please visit

Marc Dresner is IIR’s communication lead for audience engagement. His background is in trade journalism and marketing, most recently as executive editor of Research Business Report, a confidential newsletter for the marketing research and consumer insights industry. He may be reached at

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sustainability: Green ROI - Can It Be Done?

Oil price volatility and supply security concerns, water scarcity, climate change and an ever increasing and consuming population are forming a “perfect storm” of issues, common to all countries around the world, today and for decades to come.

We can either passively wring our hands or we can meet these challenges head on.

For industry, these challenges become opportunities for business growth in applications as broad as buildings, transportation, energy and water infrastructure and general industrial processes.

Our businesses are now uniquely poised to understand the current challenges and opportunities - and to deliver scalable, sustainable solutions for our world.

The business of sustainability is proving, time and time again, to defy our casual intuition as improved methods for determining “what’s best,” as comparative studies of  Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs)  come into common use.

For example, converting traditional materials (like aluminum and steel) to composite applications (using polymers and glass fibers) can enhance energy efficiency and productivity, require less energy and greenhouse gas emissions to produce and use, and also offer additional benefits such as durability, corrosion resistance and added safety – even when traditional materials have impressive single-attribute benefits such as high recycled contents.

We are at a wonderful crossroads in the maturing of the concepts of sustainability, across the economic, environmental and social spectrum, where the scientific methodologies, creativity, innovation and resilience can…and must lead the way!

Submitted by Frank O’Brien-Bernini, who is Chief Sustainability Officer at Owens Corning. You can follow his tweets @FOB_GreenTweets

He will present "Creating Competitive Advantage through Sustainability: Challenges, Opportunities and Rewards of Driving Sustainability in the Corporate Environment" at The Front End of Innovation.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Voices Of Innovation

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

The just less than two million or so views for Eric Whitacre’s original Virtual Choir (2010) on YouTube are respectable but perhaps not necessarily overly impressive. In an online world where Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” YouTube video has more than 30 million views (and oddly the audio-only version has over 57 million views), it might seem that a couple million views for a music video is really not that big a deal. What makes the Virtual Choir pretty amazing though is that its members contributed to the project virtually - 243 tracks representing 185 different voices from 12 countries. The choir never actually got together, but managed to sing together. The song was “Lux Aurumque”. Have a listen.

The effort behind the original Virtual Choir was pretty impressive. But Eric Whitacre, with the help of a few thousand contributors from throughout the world, are looking to top it. On Thursday April 7, 2011 Virtual Choir 2.0 premieres at the Paley Center for Media in New York. A talk by Eric Whitacre will be followed by the unveiling of the Virtual Choir 2.0 video - which represents 2051 videos from 58 countries. The choir never actually got together, but managed to sing together. The song is “Sleep”.
If you can’t make it to the Paley Center for Media in New York on Thursday at 6:00 p.m. ET, then take a look at the live stream on the Paley website the night of.

This virtual choir is I think a pretty good example of and metaphor for innovation.  For innovation is often about taking part in something larger than oneself. In order to do and create great things, we need to feel (and be) connected to one another. Innovation in isolation is largely the exception these days. It’s about community.   And it doesn't really matter whether we find ourselves together physically.

(I can’t help think I may simply be preaching to the choir.)
C. Engdahl is the founder of Big E Toys and creator of several successful specialty boardgames. He is also the principle of Big E Insights, a consultancy that helps organizations make sense of consumer and competitive landscapes.

Friday, April 1, 2011

ReadWriteWeb Poll: Does Your Company Use a Dedicated Idea Management Tool?

 The folks over at ReadWriteWeb created an interesting poll around Ron
Shulkin's, VP of the Americas at CogniStreamer, recent FEI guest post, "Trust me: You do NOT want to go through your company's idea list manually."

We would like to keep the conversation going around idea management and share the ReadWriteWeb poll with our readers - vote here!

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