Wednesday, May 27, 2015

#FEI15 Sentient Recap: Disruption from Salim Ismail, Steve Blank, Susan Cain & More

By: Christina Luppi, manager, Sentient Decision Science

Our experience at FEI 2015 was all about disruption: disrupting industries, disrupting businesses, disrupting corporate culture and learning to deal with disruption as an existing business!
We heard from some dynamic speakers who delivered thought-provoking, insightful, and emotional presentations on the changing business environment. Here’s a recap of some of the sessions that inspired us at Sentient:

Exponential Organizations, Salim Ismail

Singularity University’s Global Ambassador and Founding Executive Director, Salim Ismail, started the morning off with an in-depth look into exponential organizations and how they’re disrupting industries around the world. These companies are being driven at a speed far greater than what was previously accepted as the norm for innovators by harnessing the power of technological advances.

“Interesting stuff lies ahead…” says Salim, referencing things like Google’s self-driving car which has the potential to affect everything from road capacity to real estate values, as well as agricultural advances like vertical gardening in drought-stricken areas and crowd-sourcing sites that utilize advances in social media and internet availability to allow consumers to fund the development of products that they want to see in the market.

Dealing with Disruptive Innovation, Steve Blank

Steve Blank, author, professor and serial entrepreneur, presented his business model for empowering established corporations to compete with lean startups by establishing innovation teams within those corporations that act like startups themselves. “What you’re doing is not what the rest of your company is doing,” Steve says of these innovation teams.

Innovators need to focus on the customer development process. Make a hypothesis and then “get out of the building” he tells us. “Talk to customers, partners, and vendors” and begin testing your hypothesis, then be ready to “pivot” when the hypothesis doesn’t match the reality. The ability to take advantage of the agile nature of a start-up is the driving force behind the success of these innovation teams.

Experimenting at the Edge, Carin Watson & Kyle Nel

Carin Watson from Singularity University and Kyle Nel of Lowe’s Labs provided an interesting half-presentation/half-casual discussion of their collaboration and innovative work at Lowe’s.
We learned that Kyle looks for “people who are difficult to manage” to be on his team. Not because they’re bad employees but rather because they’re “all consumed with what is in their head, and they just have to get it out.”

Some of the innovation that his team has produced includes the delivery of an innovation strategic plan to his executive team in the form of a comic book, hardware image detection so customers can hold a screw up to a sensor and be directed where to find it in-store, and 3D printing.

Illuminating the Consumer, Simeon Chow & Matthew Singer

This presentation by Simeon Chow of Altria Client Services and Matthew Singer ofEgg Strategy showed the audience how they utilize passive image capturing (PiC) devices to try to circumvent the “can’t say, won’t say” issue that is inherent with explicit research methods.
The wearable cameras take photos at thirty second intervals and document a day (or days) in the life of the consumer, helping their ethnographers to see the path from purchase to consumption and all of the moments before and in between. This improves over self-guided smartphone “ethnography” which is still subject to a conscious filter with consumers deciding what and when to take photos.

Two issues arose in the discussion around the scalability of analyzing thousands of photos into coherent stories, and the continued reliance on self-reported interpretation of the moments from participants. With such a great passive observation technique, we see potential for adding true implicit measures as means for understanding the motivators behind the behavior being observed.

Disruption for the Greater Good, Taylor Conroy

The CEO of Change Heroes, Taylor Conroy, spoke to an engaged crowd about how he combined the power of social media with behavioral science principles to change the world. “Business is a tool for social good,” Conroy says, inspiring everyone in the room.

Change Heroes provides a platform for individuals to create “campaigns” in which they decide what project they want to fund and where, then they utilize technology and social media to share their campaigns within their networks.

The audience was so motivated by Conroy’s presentation that FEI 2015 attendees decided then and there to start a campaign and build a school in Ecuador, and we achieved our goal less than an hour after he left the stage!

A Quiet Revolution, Susan Cain

Susan Cain, the author of the New York Times bestseller “Quiet” took the stage to teach us how we can empower the introverts in our organizations to make big impacts. Susan began her presentation by reminding us that “There’s no such thing as a one size fits all work environment.”

“In a typical large meeting, 3 people do 70% of the talking… If you really want to know what your people think, give them some time alone,” she says. “We need a mind shift in our culture to make these things more allowable.”

Susan suggests companies encourage their employees to take walks, meditate, and even nap in order to allow the introverts among them the time and space to recharge their batteries and spark new ideas.

#FEI15 Final Thoughts

We walked away from the conference with new ideas for partnering Sentient Decision Science’s implicit research methods with some of the other innovative products and services that we saw throughout the day.

While we heard how difficult it can be to predict what new products will be successful, we also continually heard from attendees how relevant Sentient Prime implicit association technology is as a solution for developing disruptive front end innovation. Perhaps most importantly, our interactions with this creative group and the disruptive ideas expressed by the speakers provided valuable inspiration for the Sentient team.

Big thanks to the IIR team for putting together such an influential group of speakers and organizing this great event! We’re already looking forward to the disruption FEI 2016 will bring!

This post was originally published on

Friday, May 22, 2015

This Week In Innovation: 5/18/15 - 5/22/15

The "What If" Innovation Process: The four parts and how Uber drivers are benefiting

High-Impact Innovations: Game changing innovations that exist today via Mashable

Wasting Money and Time? How to find real innovation

Disruption Is More Than The Buzzword It Has Become: Traveling down the curvy road of innovation

The Future Of Router Security: 30 years old and still struggling to find their footing

Web Trends: Immersive Interactive Design, Animations and Transitions

American Innovation Lies On A Weak Foundation: Innovation has flatlined over the past few years

Open Source As A Path To Innovation: Enabling change and growth

The Role of Technology in Collaboration: A podcast

6 Tools For Improving Your Creative Mind

About the Author:

Ryan Polachi is a contributing writer concentrating his focus on Marketing, Finance and Innovation. He can be reached at

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Live from the Front End of Innovation 2015: A Panel on Creating a Culture that Supports Innovation

We expect you to show up as yourself at work. -- Vaishali Jadhav, Whole Foods

In that statement is one of the secrets not just to Whole Foods's culture, but to any cadre of people looking to innovate. Everyone brings their own frame of reference to their work, and one of the keys to innovation is harnessing that vast diversity and integrating it into a host of ideas. Many of the features that make Whole Foods stores a fun and exciting experience, such as bars and ice rinks, came from employees' putting a piece of themselves into their day-to-day work.

As Jadhav noted, having the proper framework is an essential to creating a culture that is supportive of innovation. For instance, people at Whole Foods don't jut work at a grocery store, they  are "grocers with a purpose," which is a statement that lets each team member create a meaningful work experience by serving the causes and values they find most resonant.

Similarly, W.L. Gore's Dr. Debra France talked about the company's principle of freedom both to be oneself and to support others in their growth and learning processes. Within this framework, failure becomes a genuine opportunity -- after all, when you care about the learning and growth of others, the first response to failure is almost always going to be, "What can be learned from this?" In that sense, "innovation" and "learning" are practically interchangeable words at Gore.

But, one of the most important features of a company culture, along with respect, is trust. France highlighted how the values of Gore have been consistent for decades, and everyone in the company is held accountable for upholding them. When people see that there is reliability and consistency in the living and maintenance of the values, they are willing to try new things, experiment, and engage in the prototyping that is considered essential to innovation.

In short: "Smart, well-intended people will do great things if you don't get in their way."

About the author
Orin C. Davis is a self-actualization engineer who enables people to do and be their best. His consulting focuses on making workplaces great places to work, and his research is on flow, creativity, hypnosis, and mentoring. In addition to being the principal investigator of the Quality of Life Laboratory, the Chief Science Officer of Self Spark, a science advisor at Happify, and an advisor at FutureIdeas. Dr. Davis is an adjunct professor of Psychology and Management at Baruch College and a lecturer in Critical and Creative Thinking at UMass Boston. He writes and speaks avidly about human capital, creativity and innovation, and positive psychology. (@DrOrinDavis)

Fail Fast and The Purple One (Part II)

Immediately following Tom Kelley came Seth Godin. He opened with the idea that, “Golf is the worst spectator sport ever.” Well played sir, with golf your applause is muted, you can’t see the action and the ball is so small that the sport can be tricky to follow. Still it offers a great opportunity to nap, but I digress.

Godin’s true talent remains less in his ability to tell a compelling narrative, but to cheerlead the innovation and creativity within all of us. Packed densely within his discussion were his very greatest hits, a compilation of all the great wisdom and thinking from his library of books:

Turn bats upside down:
If you can see things differently you can turn over how the world thinks, or said another way, “what can we dream versus what do we know?”

Industrialism is not capitalism:

Industrialism works really well to polish out the rough edges. Large companies and managers often want more of what has proven to be successful. Reconfigure the offering, add a new flavor and tell people that the product is “new and improved.” Abracadabra, innovation!

This approach results in average products for average people, nothing more than a race for the lowest common denominator. Godin thinks you should be aiming the fringes, the extreme people who push us forward will evangelize your offering.


People want connection, finding community in others that share common ideals and beliefs. “People like doing what others are doing.” Consider Comic-con or the annual Sturgis bike rally – each are massive events where misfits can celebrate things in life that make them feel alive.


“The guy that invented the ship also invented the shipwreck.” Perhaps an iteration on Kelley’s “Fail fast” mantra but Godin makes this point: in order to be an agent of change you have to get out into the world and make mistakes, absorb the learnings from failure in order to make the next versions find success.

If you happened to miss Seth Godin, you really missed out. His enthusiasm, passion for innovation and wit cannot be captured by watching a Ted Talk on Youtube.

Fail Fast and The Purple One (Part I)

On this last day of the conference FEI saved the very best and brought out the big guns, Tom Kelley of IDEO and writer/entrepreneur Seth Godin. Visionaries, legends and icons are words you can safely use in describing them.

I have not had the privilege of hearing either of them speak but knew of them from Ted Talks and the numerous books and articles they’ve authored. It’s safe to compare the experience to putting on a Rolling Stones album versus seeing them live.

First came Tom Kelley who had a very simple, straightforward prose and presentation. It still remains dense and rich with insight from his decades in the game. He had three very simple points as follows:

1)            Blend tech with humanity

“Seek to understand people more deeply.” This is at the heart of all innovation; human understanding that is genuinely empathetic to the end user that understands the world they live in, what problems they have and where you can fit into that world. This is such a simple concept that innovators all too often forget or take for granted. Understand the problem and use the wonders of modernity to address the issue

2)            Treat life as an experiment

“Prototyping and experimenting quickly accelerates the idea.” Rapid prototyping and fail fast right? I’ll say it again, rapid prototyping and fail fast. As children we learn through experimenting, we learn more through our failure than through success. The quicker, more rudimentary and aggressively you do this, the faster and further down the road your idea will go.

3)            Leverage the power of storytelling

“This is how data comes to life.” When you tell stories laden with emotion and drama you humanize the issue, to borrow from Mr. Kelley, this is the “theater of the mind.” You want the listener to be able to see ice bath from the hastily performed “organ donation” or the tragedy of the loyal dog waiting for his never-to-return master.

This is wisdom from someone who set the track records and has more wisdom because he has been at it longer than most anyone in the design consulting game. People pay thousands of dollars to be in the same room and hear his presentation and for good reason. The only thing I can see missing would be Tom Kelley dropping the microphone as Jay Z might do. Mind blown, thanks Tom and FEI.

Live from the Front End of Innovation 2015: Miki Agrawal on Doing Cool S*ht

I have some good news, and some bad news. Since this is Miki Agrawal's talk, bad news first:

Bad news: You haven't changed the world enough.

Good news: You have the opportunity to learn how you can do more from Miki Agrawal.

Thing 1: Sh*t happens -- now go make something of it.

Miki told a number of stories about the challenges that she faced, ranging from embarrassing moments to pains in the...well, I'd say to use your imagination, but you'd rather not. Of course, that's the whole problem: people are not willing to imagine these pains, and they are not willing to discuss them. Instead of facing pains, talking about them frankly, and coming up with solutions, they just "don't go there." What Miki has done, however, is convene teams and make companies whose products assuage these pains, and our bodies, kids, lives, and environment are the better for it. To guide people on how to do likewise, she wrote a fun book on the subject.

Thing 2: It takes 10 years to be an overnight success.

Eddie Cantor may have originally set the bar at 20 years, but these days things go a bit faster. Even still, you are going to have to hustle for years without making a huge impact, lay the groundwork, do the scut, and believe in a future that hasn't been proven to exist (even though it should). It takes an incredible amount of grit to make this happen (so make sure it's something you can stay passionate about), and this is why so many conservative businesses, though they make money, have not significantly changed the world (and likely never will). But, if you can find something you believe in, and demonstrate that others believe in it, too, you can create a market for your solution to a painful problem.

Thing 3: Bring value first.

A prodigious number of people are concerned primarily with what they get, such as the money they expect to make. This approach may be profitable (even if it does have the potential side effect of making people look like jerks), but it is not impactful. As a consequence, the approach is not that innovative, and unlikely to be as tremendously profitable as a disruption or innovation. If you want to make a difference, you need to begin by focusing on the value that you can bring to others. In the industry parlance, this is about empathizing with customers and clients, understanding their pains, and bringing them value in the form of solutions. Be it in networking or product design, there is a key question that should kick off the conversation, "What can I do for you?"

At no point in Agrawal's talk did she say that any of this was easy, and in fact highlighted just how hard it is. The bad news is that changing the world is not for the faint of heart, but rather for those with the strength to be humble enough to dedicate themselves to a cause that affects both themselves and many others. But, everyone has the capacity to do something extraordinary.

That's good news.

About the author
Orin C. Davis is a self-actualization engineer who enables people to do and be their best. His consulting focuses on making workplaces great places to work, and his research is on flow, creativity, hypnosis, and mentoring. In addition to being the principal investigator of the Quality of Life Laboratory, the Chief Science Officer of Self Spark, a science advisor at Happify, and an advisor at FutureIdeas. Dr. Davis is an adjunct professor of Psychology and Management at Baruch College and a lecturer in Critical and Creative Thinking at UMass Boston. He writes and speaks avidly about human capital, creativity and innovation, and positive psychology. (@DrOrinDavis)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Live from the Front End of Innovation 2015: Michelle James on Applied Improv to Promote Innovative Thinking

You can never go bananas over baguettes.

That was the moral of a story I created with a partner, in which our hero found that a banana is an inferior dueling weapon compred to a baguette.

No, I'm not kidding, and neither was Michelle James when she gave us the exercise of telling stories in which our partners threw in random, irrelevant words that we had to incorporate immediately. Underneath all of the laughs and hijinks of improv exercises were powerful lessons for how to build a team and engage in productive and creative ideation processes.

This is my fourth time in James's improv workshop at FEI, and what amazes me the most is how she is able to highlight different lessons each time. The energy and excitement in the room, combined with the profound change in the crowd over the course of a mere 75 minutes illustrates the stunning power of improv (and our fearless facilitator!).

You can't just jump into creativity -- warm up first!

The workshop began with some basic ground rules, like making everyone look good, that serve as a basis for building trust. But, we can't just take those rules and get into hard core, freewheeling imagination. The story exercise above came last, and we all admitted that it would have been nearly impossible as a first exercise. Over the course of several activities, James warmed everyone up and highlighted different rules that help not just the improv process, but the innovation process (and she had case examples to back that!).

Serve the scene

It's hard to step out of your comfort zone! There's fear of judgment, fear of the unknown, and fear of incompetence, and all three can inhibit creativity. The trick, however, is to recognize that the process is not about the individual; it's about the outcome. If we can keep our focus on "serving the scene," we find ourselves caring not about whether we look bad, but whether the result looks good. In doing so, we become less inhibited and more willing to take the kinds of smart risks that people can build on to make a stunning product.

Trust the process (and your partner!)

In serving the scene, we also learn how to build rapport with the team, and over the course of several exercises, we found that it was increasingly easier to open up and trust our partners not just to give good input, but to augment our contributions and treat them as important (another rule of improv). But, that trust doesn't come immediately -- it builds over the course of multiple exercises as different partners prove to us, over and over, that we are in good hands.

By the time storytelling came around, we were ready to make a meaningful word at a time!

About the author
Orin C. Davis is a self-actualization engineer who enables people to do and be their best. His consulting focuses on making workplaces great places to work, and his research is on flow, creativity, hypnosis, and mentoring. In addition to being the principal investigator of the Quality of Life Laboratory, the Chief Science Officer of Self Spark, a science advisor at Happify, and an advisor at FutureIdeas. Dr. Davis is an adjunct professor of Psychology and Management at Baruch College and a lecturer in Critical and Creative Thinking at UMass Boston. He writes and speaks avidly about human capital, creativity and innovation, and positive psychology. (@DrOrinDavis)

Live from the Front End of Innovation 2015: Aline Wolff on Thinking More Innovatively

How do you think something you've never thought before?

No matter what kind of problem you are trying to solve, the endeavor will go nowhere if you fail to ask the right questions. The challenge, however, is not just coming up with the right questions, but accessing the willingness to ask the sorts of questions that will incite innovative thinking.

Professor Aline Wolff's studio session was a hands-on tutorial on how to accomplish both processes.

What do we really want?

The first challenge was to design a better name tag using any parameters we wished. The lesson to be discovered was how to get past the fixed ideas we have about name tags, which we accomplished by asking what it was we really wanted out of a name tag. By being open and honest, and by being willing to pretend we could invent our way to any feature we wanted, our group designed a cool (we think!) electronic name tag that catered to what we considered to be the key aspects of a conference badge. Looking at the work of other groups, we found many points of overlap, but also something of each group's unique style as a team.

How does A mesh with B?

The second challenge was a forced mashup, in which we had to combine a kiwi and a ewer to design a new product. While many other groups designed as many combinations as they could, our team focused on creating one product that had elements of both the kiwi and ewer, namely a fruit holder that removes peels (using an attachment shaped like half of a kiwi) and prevents people from having to hold fruit with sticky juices in their hands.

Building on this exercise, Prof. Wolff suggested that companies use creative analogies like:
  • A cheeseburger is like the solution because...(Orin's aside: or, if you prefer)
  • If your idea were a lawn, what would the weeds be? How would you remove them?
Think with your hands

The last challenge was definitely the hardest. We were given craft materials (e.g., construction paper, stickers, clay) in order to solve a business problem. At first, we just let our hands "brainhandstorm" and made whatever shapes or ideas appeared. Then, keeping our business problem in mind, and trusting each other to make solid and meaningful contributions, we combined our designs into a "greenhouse" (a structure made of green construction paper!), on top of which we placed a "turbine" that one team member made, and to which we connected the "aqueduct" that I made, and "solar paneling" that someone else made. Our construction, like those of the other teams, became a symbol of the solution that we had to our business problem (in our case: making sure that companies can innovate by creating a sustainable cultural infrastructure [etc.]).

As Prof. Wolff pointed out, the hardest part was getting over our critical mentalities and accessing the non-judgmental and divergent thinking more frequently found on the playground. By trusting that we could converge on a solution later, we were all able to open ourselves up to the possibilities of the question that drives so much of innovation:

What if...?

About the author
Orin C. Davis is a self-actualization engineer who enables people to do and be their best. His consulting focuses on making workplaces great places to work, and his research is on flow, creativity, hypnosis, and mentoring. In addition to being the principal investigator of the Quality of Life Laboratory, the Chief Science Officer of Self Spark, a science advisor at Happify, and an advisor at FutureIdeas. Dr. Davis is an adjunct professor of Psychology and Management at Baruch College and a lecturer in Critical and Creative Thinking at UMass Boston. He writes and speaks avidly about human capital, creativity and innovation, and positive psychology. (@DrOrinDavis)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Summary of FEI Day One

The 2015 Front End of Innovation Conference held at the Boston World Trade Center & Seaport, held from May 18-20, 2015, features innovators and practitioners from around the world. The conference that challenges the way companies think touts a roster of keynote speakers including Seth Godin, Steve Blank, and Tom Kelley.

On day one of the conference, Batterii hosted a panel discussion featuring Anthony Lambrou of Pfizer, Inc.; John Gleason of A Better View; and Daniel J. Sims of Procter & Gamble. The panel, moderated by Batterii CEO Kevin Cummins, talked about how companies can most effectively approach and support global innovation programs.

Here are the lessons your company can learn from their innovation playbook.

1. Focus on culture. 

When looking to harness a culture that could support sustainable innovation, leaders at Pfizer asked themselves the seemingly simple question: “What would a corporate innovation function across the company look like?”

The answer would be in design thinking capabilities, but the real insight in implementation was the not just the tools or the training.

“We’re really focusing on the mindset and cultural shift,” explained Lambrou, who heads up Worldwide Innovation at Pfizer.

Pfizer looks at a number of factors. First, they evaluate how they signal and communicate innovation successes within the organization. Pfizer wants to be able to tell stories that prove out their model. Lambrou explained they see these intentional activities as part of a process to build out success, and build the right culture.

Changing culture is most effective when you build-in what Lambrou called “experimentation learning loops,” something that’s very clear when working at Pfizer. Part of the design thinking framework, this approach allows you to balance risk while enabling short and long-term evaluation of the return on your innovation and capability-building efforts.

“There are ways and steps along the way [to] experiment, and you learn, and you quickly adapt,” Lambrou said. If a form of a “reward structure” is built into the framework of your innovation program, critical learning can quickly occur.

While Pfizer’s innovation model may be driven centrally, it’s distributed and signaled to the organization through a large network—another component that’s crucial to scaling the human-centered principles dependably and in an effective manner. Currently Pfizer has more than 400 design thinking champions found around the world, all utilized to help support the right mindset.

2. Look outside the design function.

Gleason, Founder and CEO of A Better View, has worked on design thinking projects with hundreds of corporate clients. Gleason shared that often the first thing that leadership wants to do is focus solely on the word “design” when it comes to design thinking programs. He looks to ensure leaders see that design thinking is a tool set that is best when used across the company, and across disciplines. “As inept as [design thinking] may be named, is actually a problem solving tool. It’s seeing the world differently, and solving, in many cases, very complex business challenges.”

Both P&G and Pfizer think of design thinking as a problem solving tool and a capability set, one that’s not limited to—or necessary led—by designers in all cases. 

“Design thinking is a way of coming up with solutions you would have never predicted you could have reached,” said Sims, Principle Designer at Procter & Gamble. “I see design thinking as not a specifically ‘design process,’ where you follow steps, but it’s more a point of view where you look at first starting with a very human-centric approach.”

Within P&G, the design function has historically been the key sponsor for design thinking, but design thinking is in no way constrained or limited to that function. “We have trained multifunctional leaders, so we have people who facilitate and run design thinking sessions who are not in the design group,” Sims explained.

3. Leaders must steer the ship.

At P&G and Pfizer, support for innovation is a combination of people, resources, technology and a “do-it-yourself” approach modeled by leaders.

Sims said the role of leadership is a crucial one in implementation of human-centered innovation at P&G. “The role of leadership particularly in design thinking is to be a clear support and sponsor,” he said.
With CEO A.G. Lafley internally and outwardly supporting design thinking as a core component of P&G’s innovation strategy, the company has alignment between the leadership team and the team investing their time on-the-ground in innovation activities. 

Buy-in from leadership is something Pfizer also advocates in its pursuit of breakthrough ideas. “It’s really important for leaders to clearly signal that [support for risk-taking] in the organization,” said Lambrou. “They steer the ship in terms of how people are thinking.”

If people are hesitant to take risks, it’s tough to drive innovation. “The first thing they can do, is take risks themselves and invest in opportunities that may not pan out right away.”

Lambrou had one more argument, bringing the panel to a conclusion with proven advice on how to best scale design thinking: “Get out there and do it. Try it out within your organization, and see what works, and what doesn’t. You’ll find gaps and then you’ll learn more,” he said. “It will be a great signal for people to get into that mindset.”

About Batterii: Batterii provides enterprise software designed to help companies scale innovation. Global 2000 companies rely on Batterii to support the innovation process from research through product validation. Accessible at any time via desktop or mobile app, colleagues across departments, divisions, cities or countries can utilize the platform for research, insights, synthesis, and prototyping enabling a sustainable pipeline of breakthrough ideas. Read more about how Batterii can be tailored to your innovation process at

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