Monday, May 6, 2013

Live from FEI 2013: The Sprint to Innovation: Philadelphia Univ and Unilever

Peas + Carrots: The Front End of Innovation 2013 has begun.
Our approach to these posts will be to give you something to take home to your friends, family and colleagues unable to attend. We will provide a perspective on the marriage of design and innovation. Sometimes they may look like a cute old couple sitting on a park bench, other times they may appear to be frustrated parents of unappreciative kids. Either way, there will be some relationship worth noting. 

In the end we hope to give you snippets of what you heard, but from a different perspective or broad brushes from what you missed when you followed a alternative path. Either way, we appreciate the sharing and will do the best to quote those quote approach us with interesting thoughts.


One of the early afternoon sessions was a collaborative effort between education and big business, the University of Philadelphia and Unilever.

Here’s how it went.

D.R. Widder, Exec Director, Innovation, Philadelphia University started it off right with a quote about where our education institutions fit on the timetable of innovation, "we are the front end, of the front end of innovation." Whatever Mr. Widder talked about after this quote didn’t matter much, this writer was hooked, line and sinker.

He went into the merging of their school of engineering, design and business to formulate what they call the Sprint program (wish it had a better “non-tel com” name). This was the foundation for the institution’s philosophy for innovation in education and educating on innovation. This writer has a yet to be quenched desire to see this effort come to life in more institutions, so Mr. Widder was a welcome stream in the desert.

Then, Michael Leonard gave us a view inside the programs and platforms. He talked about teaching in design studio, with business students (any fellow MBA students out there who have experienced this before?). He talked at length about solving problems, how the group included students from all levels (freshmen undergraduate to post-graduate students). The effort was taking on projects, solving problems, project management and working at a higher level with their organizational clients (this one specifically being Unilever). The intensity and brevity (one week ideation) was what surprised a few. It was fast and furious, academic style.

Then, the truth teller got up to keep us all honest. Gail Martino, Unilever R&D spoke as the client / collaborative partner in this case study. As a part of the Unilever Compass strategy the CEO’s directive was to “double the organization’s size while halving their environmental footprint.” A notable effort for Unilever to leap beyond shareholder value and seek much higher values.

So, while Unilever does a fair amount of what one might call open innovation, (including a website to collect ideas from the general public) they are always looking for new channels of collaboration.

This effort was a nice match and the results showed up:

1.    30+ product concepts,
2.    5 taken forward,
3.    3 product concepts taken to second stage.

These were real results and an outcome for education, students and the corporation.

There were plenty of other good nuggets, including how the team dealt with intellectual property and what each group found to be the most valuable outcomes. But, those items for another post tomorrow. Ff you would like we can email further thoughts to you individually.

Thank you for taking the time to read and consider our perspective.

Aaron Keller
Managing Principal

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