Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Come here, Innovation, I want you

This past weekend's Financial Times offers a 13-step process on How to Innovate. David Bodanis provides a few interesting suggestions, viewed through the career of Alexander Graham Bell, less well-known as a tutor to deaf youth in Boston. His motivation as an inventor could also have been his pursuit of one of his students Mabel Hubbard, and the connections or wealth the Hubbard family offered.

Spoiler alert: Bell may, or may not have invented the telephone. German inventor Philipp Reis claims to have a similar device built as early as 1863. But Bell got the girl and married Mabel in 1877 -- a year after patenting the telephone in the U.S.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Moving Ideas To Action

Thanks to the nice folks at the BBGM blog for recapping a BioIT World presentation where Pfizer (an Imaginatik client) gave 'idea management' another nudge into the common vernacular. They get it. Just having an idea isn't enough -- ideas have to be merged with existing knowledge and then move to action to test or implement to see how the audience responds.

Having a shared language is key to bringing new concepts alive -- defining concepts and goals, removing uncertainties and setting out clear expectations (even if that means keeping an open mind for the unexpected -- remember, Viagra research began as a heart disease remedy). At Imaginatik Research, we're reminded of this daily.

We tackle the challenge daily of joining clients, co-workers and partners around the world and asking them to share technical jargon about rapidly changing corporate concepts. And without the entertaining, IT double-speak of "mission-critical innovation" or "Web 2.0 solution provider."

Send two boxtops and an e-mail if you need a decoder ring. . . .

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Yesterday's Failure = Tomorrow's Breakthrough

A recent PBS show on the challenges of the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable contained a historical factoid that shows how long it can take good ideas to germinate.

One challenge was having a boat large enough to carry such a huge coil of cable that would span the thousands of miles from the Irish coast to Newfoundland in Canada. After a massive ship, the Great Eastern, failed as a British tourist vessel designed for luxury travel to Australia, it was chartered 'for 2 percent of its construction cost' to unspool the trans-Atlantic cable in 1865.

Now for the payoff: The ship was the largest in the world -- six times larger than any rival -- when initially built and had a double-hull construction that would be "rediscovered" a century later as a way to make ships safer against hull damage (from, say, icebergs. . . .) and to make oil tankers more secure against leaks.

Talk about your lemons into lemonades.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Pimp my Ride? Nope, Smell my Phone . . .

One really interesting session from the Front End of Innovation included a scented all-natural plastic from the Innovation Lab at Eastman Chemical Co. Gaylon White, director of Design Industry Programs at Eastman, demonstrated a plastic made from wood pulp that has the feel, sound and quality of wood – yet is bio-degradable as a plastic so it wins points from environmentalists.
Auracell – this is where the smell comes in – resulted from efforts with two other companies to add scent or deliver anti-microbials to avoid infectious disease. White has a Razr phone cover that smells like pina colada from Fone Gear – one of five available flavors.

In 2005, the innovation lab itself ran into a wall when several of its champions left the company. Some executives wanted to return to less innovative approaches, including supporting the sales process through trade shows and handshaking instead of more visionary or disruptive methods.

Creativity always meets resistance and we’re no different than anybody else in that sense,” White says. “Externally, innovation lab was a hit but even our employees didn’t know what we were doing with our materials. The biggest mistake we made was that there wasn’t sufficient internal communications, a bigger splash, more frequent and closer communication,” he said. “The resistance was the mar/com group which had traditionally been reliant on trade shows -- they saw us as taking away money from things they could be doing.”

His message: “We’re transmitting, you’re not receiving” was aimed at both executives and sales people who weren’t open to changes that support and sustain innovation. White suggests taking extra care to ensure your mission and message can be clearly understood within the company, among consumers and stakeholders. Any confusion can lead to reluctance or, worse, efforts at undermining change – especially if it means a loss of prestige or resources.

One solution included reorganizing the innovation lab’s website to serve audiences inside Eastman and to engage customers outside. The plastic samples White once gave out as small chips have been reborn as yin-yang shaped ‘pebbles’ that have become collector items -- all 22 different scents, colors, finishes are eagerly saved among designers or packaging executives.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Get to Know CECOR

General Electric could do for innovation what Ford did for factory production or Motorola did for process in developing Six Sigma.

Patia McGrath, marketing director at GE detailed specific tools, techniques and approaches to continuous corporate-level innovation. When CEO Jeffrey Immelt challenged GE to deliver 8 percent annual growth, it meant producing a $10-12 billion in value – roughly the size of Nike or British Airways. That doesn’t happen with a single Eureka!

You’ll be hearing more about CECOR, acronym for the process Calibrate, Explore, Create, Organize, Realize. CEC is strategy and OR is commercialization. Not an easy match when creativity has to play nicely with strategy and commercial development.

CEC can be repeated to refine learning and approaches. The entire spectrum is question-based: asking for information instead of listing assumptions and to-do lists. It’s important to recognize how much you don’t know and can’t predict.

“We take the opposite view when people say a giant company can’t be nimble,” McGrath told the Front End conference. GE uses a toolkit – including Idea Central – that combines idea markets, processes and events to support “Imagination Breakthroughs” or IBs.

With more than 100 IBs in the works, GE has also gotten comfortable with the idea that some initiatives fail – a very different approach than during the Jack Welch era.

TRIVIA ALERT – GE is the only company continuously listed in the Dow Jones Index since the index began in 1896.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Talking to a Blog -- with unexpected results

Jott From Boris Pluskowski (Involved the new service www.jott.com). You call and speak a message that is recorded and can be sent via e-mail, convertedfrom speech to text. This post required a fair amount of editing -- even these few sentences didn't make it clearly into the blog's HTML.

Instead of listening to customer problems and having them send solutions -- a favorite example of Open Innovation -- you might focus instead on the customer experience since THEY are the ones who have a problem YOU can solve. Following the 'voice of the customer' sounds like you're getting close to your consumers but often leads to the wrong issue and, thus, the wrong solution.

After all, the customer can't really innovate or solve issues in YOUR company without knowing more about the reasons why things happened the way they did. They see the events and perceive causes and effects very differently than employees or executives

Hope you'll check back for postings and updates from the Front End of Innovation conference in Boston, today and tomorrow. Instead of 'track back' perhaps you'd like to 'talk back' . . . .

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Is 'Attention' Innovation?

A "Fashion Journal' column in the WSJ makes extensive use of the I word (innovation) in lamenting that upscale, luxury retailers are neglecting clients and less prestigious, but more service-focused, offerings are taking the place of traditional luxury.

The idea is that once luxury sellers (Tiffany, Starbucks, American Airlines and other carriers that began in the golden age of aviation) go mainstream they lose their cache and risk being viewed as no longer innovative. Yet companies that offer creative and targeted services can SEEM customer-focused (Virgin Airlines, Target, Apple) even if they are not luxury brands. A company that interacts with its customer and, even better, identifies them as special through events, groups, services can break out in a big way.

Being seen as cool (W Hotels, Apple, Mini) may be more valuable than the perception of a luxury brand (Ritz-Carlton, Cadillac) if those brands get associated with older, mainline rivals. At the Imaginatik User Group Conference coming up next week, we'll ask about the role innovation plays in creating the 'cool factor' (see also: "Boss" "Hip" "Phat" "Stylin" and "Neat-o").

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Big I and Little i Innovation

Wharton Prof. George Day advises that big and little innovations are critical to sustaining corporate growth. His thoughts on how to close the 'growth gap' appear in a Knowledge@Wharton article (free registration required) describing how a portfolio of long-term and short-term objectives need to be identified, along with the change management route for incorporating ALL these factors when planning ahead.

Successful companies look to repeat the very thing that delivered results, one example of how even risks that pay off can turn an organization cautious and incremental. Conversely, a company in decline - seeing a widening gap -- may take an excessive risk, hoping for one 'massive I' that saves the day. Somewhere in-between the two is a prudent set of large and small bets -- a good strategy for this weekend's Kentucky Derby wagering as well.

Day points to GE and McDonald's (both Imaginatik clients by the way) as prime examples of robust corporate innovation management portfolios. Both companies have learned from big initiatives, some occasional duds but a persistent innovation strategy which has led to market leadership positions.

One could (and should) also argue that corporate innovations extend beyond the concept of little and large. Both big and small I should be spread out across all the innovation dimensions - to ensure that not only variable sizes of innovation, but to spur innovations in all aspects of your organisation. The more dimensions employed in innovation, the more competitive your edge can be in the long run (or the home stretch).