innovation process

Unleashing Innovation in New York


When I first had the pleasure of Chairing and speaking at an international conference on innovation, all the talk was about the stage-gate process.  Literally, talk after talk summarized the steps to market and (figuratively) why seven was better than five but twelve must be way too many.  Interesting, but hardly enough to hold a senior executive riveted for three full days.

Fast forward just a few years later and my how the world has changed.  Unleashing Innovation in NY spoke to the great diversity of innovation approaches.  Yes, stage-gating was still a topic for discussion but added to the agenda was a strong mix of crowdsourcing, innovation through acquisition and a focus on intrapreneurship.

Full disclosure, as an entrepreneur, intrapraneurship fascinates me and dominates my innovation practice.  Simply put, it’s about embracing the ideas of your employees – be they 300 or 300,000 strong.  Sounds simple.  Should be intuitive.  But, it’s been slow to emerge (at least for my liking).

Maybe this will get your started. A recently co-authored article by the Disney Institute and McKinsey offers this important insight, “The secret to delighting customers? Put employees first.” That’s encouraging. Delight your employees and they will delight your customers with “new, better and improved” products and services.

Intuitive, really. Who better to recognize product, service and process opportunity than those on the path to the customer?  And what better way to motivate and engage your workforce than to listen to them and respect their insights.  This was, in fact, the single biggest focus of the conference and made for great discussion, insights and debate.

Borrowed from the pages of the conferences’ overview, “Savvy leaders shape the culture of the company to drive innovation…design interplay between company’s strategies with the ways people actually relate to one another. “

Other insights from the conference include:

  • Large companies are striving to emulate a small company’s entrepreneurism
  • Customers are consistently being put at the front of the process
  • Focus has shifted from process to people emphasizing integration, culture and organization transformation
  • The challenge of ingraining innovation into the culture is a difficult one facing many companies
  • Unconventional partnerships are being forged to speed up the innovation process
  • The majority of companies are grappling with the vulnerability of risk taking
  • Walking the talk with regards to encouraging risk taking is still proving to be difficult
  • The answers are within your organization, you just have to ask your employees

Unleashing innovation needs to embrace all forms of innovation from the traditional top-level stage-gate approach through to inclusiveness of intrapreneurship.  But, as we learned, getting started can be as simple as listening, sharing, collaborating, empowering and engaging with purpose, a positive attitude and a culture of belief.

I’m in.

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Product Development for Brand Managers

Win-novation™: The Missing Link


Join me in NY at the HBA Global Expo on Tuesday June 19th as I join a panel to discuss Product Development for Brand Managers: Understanding Technical Thinking: Extraordinarily successful innovations mask the complexity behind them. Be it in business, the arts, engineering, or the sciences; when well executed, it all looks so deceivingly simple. We just intuitively “get it”. Success is maximized when a product’s “push” matches the market’s “pull”.  The “what”, “how”, and “when” to launch is a strategic discipline that requires alignment across several disciplines around a project. Just because “we can” doesn’t necessarily mean “we should”. Members of the team need to be reciprocally influenced by the overall team’s skills and insights.

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Use big ideas to get your mojo back

Originally published as a Special to Globe and Mail Update on March 21, 2012

the globe and mail canada

Mea culpa.

As a relentless cheerleader for innovation, I have harped on its importance as a stimulus for competitive advantage and organic growth. What I may have forgotten to tell business owners is that innovation is also fun.

It’s the coconut-cream pie after dinner. It’s the trip to the toy department after buying socks and underwear.

Spending time with entrepreneurs has taught me that they share a desire to create something new. An essential strand in their DNA compels them to cause a disturbance by shaking up their marketplace and filling a void. But my sense is that some entrepreneurs tend to lose that killer instinct as their role evolves from disruptor to operator and manager. They spend more time and energy doing what they have to do rather than what they are wired to do.

Instead of guilting business owners into embracing innovation, I’m going to remind them that their instinct for discovery and disruption is the reason they became entrepreneurs in the first place. Big ideas made them happy. And big ideas can put the bounce back into their step, and the rev in their revenue statements.

It’s never a bad idea to do what you’re best at, and what you love to do.

To all the entrepreneurs chained to their desks and baffled by their own bureaucracy, my suggestion is simple: offload a bunch of operational responsibilities onto someone who loves them, and focus your passion on the next epiphany or invention that’s pinging around in your right brain.

Even if an idea doesn’t turn into a full-fledged profit centre, the discovery process will energize you and infect the people around you. Once you reassert yourself as your company’s chief innovation officer, you’ll inspire your team to start thinking about possibilities, rather than simply punching in and out.

We all know what innovative cultures can do. You’ve seen companies such as Google, Apple and Virgin thrive and grow under the leadership of original thinkers. You’ve seen upstarts such as Under Armour and Spanx shake up the stodgy underwear industry, with the leaders of both companies recently vaulting onto the latest Forbes magazine “billionaire’s list.”

Give yourself and your people permission to imagine and explore new ideas – even if they’re only process improvements. Questioning the status quo is always beneficial. By rediscovering your own eureka muscles, you can lift the spirits of your people and your business’s bottom line.

You’ll have more fun and your people will feel more invested in the company.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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