About this Author
Gwen Smith Ishmael, Sr. Vice President of Insights and Innovation at Decision Analyst in Arlington, TX, has led marketing and new product development activities in the CPG and technology industries since 1986. She also conceived and developed ground-breaking Web-based promotional vehicles, two of which are patent pending. Gwen holds an MBA in Marketing and is a featured speaker on insights and innovation around the world. Her writings have been featured in international text books, most recently in Managing 4 Ps of Marketing FMCG Sector, and Product Innovation: A Strategic Tool for Growth, by ICFAI Publications, 2006 and 2007, respectively.

Founding Author

Renee Hopkins Callahan Renee Hopkins Callahan started IdeaFlow and serves as chief blog-wrangler. She is Director of Innovation Services at Decision Analyst in Arlington, Texas, is a former journalist who worked as an editor and reporter for The Dallas Morning News and the Nashville Tennessean, and was managing editor of D, the Dallas city magazine. She has a master's degree in rhetoric and has also taught college-level English and informal logic.
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline


January 18, 2008

Innovation Of A Tradition

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Posted by Gwen Ishmael

I know we’ve just emerged from the haze of the holidays, but this fun bit of innovation information is worth sharing.

Each year, the American Floral Industry Association conducts a nationwide search for the best-decorated Christmas tree. Photographs of decorated trees from across the US country are sent to Dallas to be judged on their creative use of product and trends, originality, and ease of re-creation.

Beth Simon, one of my colleagues here at Decision Analyst, has served as a judge for the past two years. She and her fellow judges presented the top three winners of this year’s competition with their awards yesterday evening.

Here’s a look at some of the more interesting winners from the last couple of years' competitions:


Lights N' Such submitted a tree with lights on the inside, and leather and fringe on the outside.


Morris County Farms inverted a tree and decorated it with seaweed, shells, blown glass sea creatures. Why an inverted tree? More room for presents underneath!


By pairing Styrofoam with interior lights, Kebbie Hollingsworth Floral Designs created the illusion of snow and ice.


Ambiance Today used yarn, foil, mohair, unusual colors, and whimsical shape to symbolize the child-like joy of the season.


Mention "Blue Bell Ice Cream" to anyone who has lived in Texas, and a look of sheer ecstasy will cross their face! Blue Bell Creameries submitted a tree covered with ornaments made from ice cream containers.

So, how much of this will we see in stores next season? Money says my kids are going to lobby for the inverted tree!

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Creativity

January 7, 2008

We Hear Them, But Do We Know What They're Saying?

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Posted by Gwen Ishmael

Voice of the customer/consumer… I think I was first exposed to the term in the early ‘90s when TQM was the bandwagon of choice. Businesses large and small were worshipping at the altar of the consumer, the customer was king, and no one made a decision without first consulting a customer advisory panel. (I recall attending a planning session once where a sales colleague showed up in her old high school cheerleading outfit – complete with a megaphone labeled “VOC” hanging around her neck – and firmly announced, “I am the voice of the customer, and you should listen to me!”)

Companies launched countless strategies and initiatives designed to develop new products, improve quality, and enhance customer service – all based on what they believed customers and consumers were telling them. And most of those efforts failed or were discontinued because they fell far short of expectations. Over time, VOC went the way of most bandwagons, and people would roll their eyes at the very mention of the term. Not because the concept was invalid, but because it had been so poorly applied.

Well, VOC is back again, and possibly stronger than ever. And what I see is reminiscent of the past: organizations exerting great efforts to conduct focus groups and quantitative research to elicit input and guidance from its customers and consumers, and then not quite understanding how to use it once they have it.

Personally, I’ve found it useful to stop thinking about VOC and start thinking about MOC – Mind of the Customer/Consumer. It’s not enough for me to hear and see the words that customers use; I need to understand the myriad of drivers that underlie those words – emotions, rationale, motivators, fears, etc.

Here are some simple things I’ve found helpful to me in terms of trying to understand MOC and tapping into it as a source of innovation. I’d be interested in hearing what others are doing as well:

- Listening with more than the ear. What customers/consumers say is important, yet equally important are the things they offer that are not words – images, sounds, gestures, objects all have stories to tell, and they play a key role in better understanding MOC. If this sounds like Qualitative Research 101, it is! But it’s something that is seldom practiced successfully because it takes time and effort.

- Blur the lines. I’m finding there are times it’s helpful to use idea generation techniques when I’m conducting customer/consumer research, and vice versa. Introducing tools such as SCAMPER or mind mapping into a discussion can help consumers be more introspective and expressive. Also, I’ve begun to kick off innovation projects with traditional qualitative research as a way of identifying what I call “Innovation Springboards” – themes or areas of opportunity around which to ideate. It’s a great way of creating the parameters in which to do idea generation.

- Use of word association. Memetic analysis is my new favorite tool! It helps unveil how customers/consumers feel about brands, companies, products, etc. through the use of word associations and the analysis of the relationships between those associations. I’ll share more about memetic analysis in a later posting.

- Look at what they’re doing. I’ve taken what Clayton Christensen advocates to heart – it’s much more informative to examine what customers/consumers are trying to accomplish rather than simply listen to what they’re saying. Actions speak louder than words when it comes to understanding MOC.

- Pause and wonder, “Why?” Again, this seems simple, but when I continue to peel back the layers there’s almost always a discovery that can serve as a platform for great innovation and strategy.

So what do you think? Is MOC different from VOC? And how do you go about knowing what customers/consumers are saying?

Finally, on a different note… thank you very much to Renee Hopkins Callahan who very generously has transferred IdeaFlow to my care. I had the good fortune and honor of working with Renee for more than five years, and she truly is an amazing individual and a great friend.

Gwen Smith Ishmael
SVP Insights & Innovation
Decision Analyst, Inc.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Customer Co-Creation

August 1, 2007

Farewell from Renee -- but check out the new IdeaFlow blogroll!

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

It's been very quiet on this blog for a long time, because I'm transitioning into a new job and a new blog.

I've said sad farewells to my colleagues at Decision Analyst, and joined Sentient Services, a start-up knowledge studio in Austin, Texas. That has meant getting used to doing things differently and doing different kinds of work. It's been fun!

A couple of last-minute notes for long-time IdeaFlow readers: I've updated the blogroll on the IdeaFlow home page, which now has a very robust list of the best innovation and creativity blogs around. When I started IdeaFlow in 2002, there were not many blogs on these subjects. Now there are dozens, some focused on very niche areas of the subject. All those on the blogroll are thought-provoking and worth checking out.

Gwen Ishmael, Decision Analyst's Senior Vice President, Insights and Innovation, will be blogging here at IdeaFlow as she has time. You can find me posting on marketing, innovation, and virtual worlds at Awareness Is Everything, a brand-new blog.

Thanks for sticking with IdeaFlow, especially those who've been reading this blog since 2002. Good-bye!

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IdeaFlow

May 14, 2007

Supernova 2007 blog conversation: It's all about innovation and value

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

badge_contributor.gifIdeaFlow readers may find of interest a blog conversation I've joined leading up to the June 20-22 Supernova conference in San Francisco.

Of particular interest: A great post by Irving Wladawsky-Berger on what he calls the "grand challenges" of the future:

"All these Grand Challenge problems share a few key characteristics. They are very, very difficult, requiring heroic breakthroughs from groups in multiple disciplines working closely together around the world. They must have a significant scientific, economic and/or social impact. But, perhaps most important, they must capture our imaginations, so we become enthralled by the possibilities and find within ourselves something that lets us achieve the near impossible."

The challenges: "applying technology to human-based organizations of all kinds - thus transforming the very nature of enterprises, economies, and work itself"; information-based healthcare; learning in the knowledge-based age; the search for clean, plentiful energy; and the "Long War."

These are the kind of challenges that could potentially be addressed by the evolution of what Supernova organizer Kevin Werbach calls in this post the New Network:

"If the starting point is a broadband Internet, with massive aggregation and services platforms like Google, AOL, MSN, and Yahoo!, and a host mechanisms for linking data in powerful ways, what appears now that couldn’t take hold before? The New Network is broader than [fill-in-the-blank] 2.0, because it’s less about comparisons with the past, and more about describing the future. Developments like virtual worlds, social networks, federated digital identity systems, search engine marketing, microblogging, zombie botnets, conversational marketing, and data centers in shipping containers don’t have clear antecedents, nor are they just about user control and open standards."

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Supernova2007

April 26, 2007

Innovation Bloggers Virtual Forum cancelled!!!

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Unfortunately, technical difficulties reared their ugly heads, and the Innovation Bloggers Virtual Forum isn't going to happen today. It will be rescheduled. Many apologies from the organizer, Jeff De Cagna, and from me as well. I was looking forward to it. I will post the rescheduled time/date as soon as I know it.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Conferences

April 25, 2007

Join us at the first-ever Innovation Bloggers Virtual Forum, Thursday, April 26

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Tomorrow I am participating in the first-ever Innovation Bloggers Virtual Forum, a discussion on the current state of innovation thinking and practice, as well as the emerging trends that will shape the future of innovation. I will be part of a roundtable panel of people considered (by some, anyway!) to be the Web’s top innovation bloggers.

The event was conceived and is being put on by the fabulous Jeff DeCagna who blogs at Principled Innovation. He promises to at least try to podcast it, but if you are interested, you should dial in.

If you have time and are curious, feel free to dial in. And feel free to send this information to anyone you would like.

Here is the lineup with links to all the blogs. Conference number information is below that.

Morning Forum Roundtable (10 am CST)
Mark Brady, Fouroboros
Renee Hopkins Callahan, IdeaFlow
Dave Pollard, How to Save the World
Jim Todhunter, Innovating to Win

Afternoon Forum Roundtable (1 pm CST)
Dominic Basulto, Endless Innovation
Sanjay Dalal, Creativity And Innovation Driving Business
Mark McGuinness, Wishful Thinking
Joyce Wycoff, Heads Up! on Organizational Innovation

Dial-in information:

In the US call 1-605-475-8500 (long distance costs apply)

Enter Conference Room Number 5877560

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Innovation, General

March 26, 2007

Jack’s Notebook: A Business Novel of ‘Deliberate Creativity’

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

JacksNotebook.jpgJack’s Notebook author Gregg Fraley is the type of person who would ask a Starbucks barista – one he didn’t know – “What is your dream?” When he started researching Jack’s Notebook, he did just that. And, he said in a recent interview, “Not a single person said ‘Oh, I really want to be a waiter’ – they’d say ‘I’d like to start a business,’ or ‘I’d like to be involved in this industry.’

Jack’s Notebook, according to Fraley, is intended for people like that Starbucks barista – people who are starting a business or are new to business world. But that’s not to say it doesn’t have business relevance – Jack’s Notebook would resonate with anyone who needs to deal with change in their lives or their business (which is to say pretty much anyone). Fraley’s examples: Anybody who’s thinking about a career change; anybody who wants to do a better job of problem solving in their business.

Jack’s Notebook is a novel, a business fable inspired formatically by the works of Patrick Lenicioni and Eliyahu Goldratt. Said Fraley, “Narrative brings an emotional component, and when there’s an emotional component, people learn better. Stories are a very human way to learn. People see themselves in the characters…they think, oh, it could happen to me – or thank God that hasn’t happened to me!”

Jack’s Notebook is an elegant balance of imagination and analysis. The imagination reaches out and takes hold of the reader, while the accompanying analysis, which could bog down the story, instead feeds the reader’s curiosity about what the power that this CPS creative problem solving process seems to have. The analysis also could be somewhat comforting for readers who are more likely to be analytical than imaginative.

“It’s the natural tendency of people who are raised in the ‘one right answer’ to focus on analysis,” said Fraley. “We are not trained to be more imaginative. We don’t practice it. We might do art every other Friday if it’s raining – arts and music are all being left behind in favor of other things.

“But you need both imagination and analysis. Business people end up in those jobs because they are great at analysis. But, it’s like Dr. Spock and Captain Kirk – it wasn’t Spock who was the genius with great ideas, it was usually Kirk. You can’t analyze your way to a great idea – you can only see the path in retrospect. I would hope people would spend time developing their imaginative side to complement their analytical side.”

Jack’s Notebook is notable also for presenting the CPS process in a concrete and easy-to-grasp way. A meta-model for thinking and problem-solving that’s been around for about 50 years, CPS has always been considered something that you don’t pick up immediately. It’s complex and requires practice and the very melding of imagination and analytics that Fraley talks about. While there are many consultants offering CPS training and variations thereof, CPS training is most commonly taught at the CPSI conferences put on by the Creative Education Foundation. There, the basic “Springboard” training is usually at least three days long. (Disclaimer: I went through Springboard training at CPSI four years ago, and my company offers a training workshop based on a variation of CPS.)

Fraley, who has led Springboard training at CPSI for many years (though he was not my class leader), sees Jack’s Notebook as similar to Springboard because the characters in Jack’s Notebook go over and through the CPS process many times in solving problems that are critical to their lives. This is much the way Springboard works – small groups go over and over CPS in many iterations solving real-world problems that come out of the group. “Springboard is effective because it’s an emotional experience,” said Fraley.

Some reviewers have commented that in Jack’s Notebook, Fraley deviates from CPS for the sake of the more fast-moving narrative in the last third or so of the book. Not so, says he – the specific CPS model that he relies on is a fairly recent one modeled by Gerard Puccio of the International Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY Buffalo State. “In Creative Leadership, Puccio classifies the steps in the CPS process in a slightly different way,” said Fraley. “He adds a diagnostic step.”

This diagnostic step involves determining exactly which part of the CPS process (Identifying the Challenge, Idea Generation, or Solution Development) you need to be in to handle the specific problem you are dealing with. Fraley’s version of the diagnostic step is what he calls in Jack’s Notebook a “Challenge Triage.” As the plot progresses and Jack becomes more fluent in CPS, he shows a corresponding fluidity with the Challenge Triage (which, like all the CPS principles Jack learns to use, is fully explained in the CPS Quick Reference Guide at the end of the book).

Fraley said he hopes that Jack’s Notebook will “take CPS to a whole new group of people. If you are a product manager, you’ve heard about this, these methods are not unheard of. The barista at Starbucks hasn’t heard of it. They don’t know that they need a better creative process – they only know that they’re stuck behind the bar....I was awestruck by how powerful CPS could be, but I was already 37 when I found out about it. Wouldn’t it be great to know a method for deliberate creativity when you’re young?”

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Books | CPSI | Creativity | Training

February 28, 2007

Models for crowdsourcing -- now, FLIRT

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Sami Viitamaki emailed me this model for crowdsourcing. He calls it the FLIRT model. I like this -- it offers a useful way of viewing many crowdsourcing efforts.

I think what would be fascinating would be some kind of meta-view of crowdsourcing in general. In the main it's not new. And some of the "old" methods have their places, still. And some of the old methods have undergone and will continue to undergo change. For example, marketing research is an "old" method that is scoffed at by many today, but it has its uses even in the crowdsourced world.

And crowdsourcing brokers, as Sami quite rightly calls Innocentive, are serving yet another purpose. I don't think there's any one way that's best for companies to open themselves to customer communities, but discovering all the ways to do this and all the ways Web 2.0 is changing this landscape is immensely helpful.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Crowdsourcing | Customer Co-Creation | Customer Viewpoint | Marketing | Marketing Research | New Products | Open Innovation

February 23, 2007

Happy New Year!

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Yes, I know, New Year's was a couple of months ago, and even the dawn of the Year of the Pig has passed us by. But this is the first time I've posted this year, so I owe you a New Year's greeting!

I should be back with posts several times weekly, focusing on book reviews and author interviews. Not all of these will be reviews of books specifically about innovation and creativity, but in each book I will look for insights that would be helpful for innovators.

I'm also still quite interested in the blooming of customer co-creation and crowdsourcing (or whatever the new buzz term is for this these days). So expect to see more on that in posts to come.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IdeaFlow

December 11, 2006

Chuck Frey's new mindmapping software book

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Chuck Frey of Innovation Tools fame, also author of the Mind Mapping Software Weblog and the ebook Power Tips & Strategies for Mind Mapping Software, has a new ebook out on mindmapping software. This one's about choosing mindmapping software, called Mind Mapping Software: How to Select the Perfect Program for Your Needs. I have not read the book, but as someone who has tried to choose mindmapping software in the past, I wouldl welcome a guide as experienced as Chuck to point out the way.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Mind mapping

December 8, 2006

It's up to CMOs to drive customer co-creation (updated with link)

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Last summer I got involved in a big discussion at the Corante Innovative Marketing Conference about exactly where the responsibility should lie at companies for involving customers in innovation. Our consensus was in the marketing department. We are not the only ones – a new Forrester report on Customer-Driven Innovation concurs: “CMOs need to use their expertise in connecting with customers to lead the way in building bridges between customers and key parts of the organization.”

Customer-Driven Design and Development was prepared exclusively for the CMO Group at Forrester Research, so if you want the whole report, you’ll have to join the CMO group to buy it – however, you can get a free summary brief at this link.

The report includes six case studies of customer-driven design and development initiatives at various companies, as well as:

--Best practices
--Information on common objections CMOs may run into at their companies and how to overcome these
--Specific advice from 25 experts in this space, including both Gwen Ishmael and myself from Decision Analyst, who were interviewed as sources for the report.
--Information on a variety of tactics such as ethnography. online communities and consumer brainstorming (which is, of course, one of the things we do)
--An overview of 18 different vendors (including us!) who can help CMOs with customer-driven innovation initiatives

I have to offer kudoes to author Cindy Commander on this report. She's presented a wealth of information and some thoughtful analysis, including a Customer-Driven Design Maturity Model. Essentially, this is an illustration of how organization progress in their engagement with customers in the co-creation process, from minimal customer engagement through continuous customer engagement. The four stages start at a company-centric orientation and moving toward a customer-centric orientation:

--Stage 1: Customer-tested design and development
--Stage 2: Customer-involved design and development
--Stage 3: Customer-focused design and development
--Stage 4: Customer-driven design and development

If you looked at your company with just this one analytic in mind, what would you find? How far is your company from Stage 4? How close would your company like to be to Stage 4?

If you're serious about customer co-creation, this report would be a worthwhile read. Of course, I've already disclosed that we were sources, but even if we weren't, I would at least take a peek at the free brief!

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Customer Co-Creation

December 6, 2006

Latest customer co-creation trend -- new ways to reward customers

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

My favorite trendspotting source,, reports on what they see as the latest facet in the consumer-generated content trend: Generation C (for content) turns to Generation C (for cash):

If consumers produce the content, if they are the content, and that content brings in money for aggregating brands, then revenue and profit-sharing is going to be one of 2007’s main themes in the online space. It’s not like brands will have a choice: talented consumers are going to be too sought after to remain satisfied with thank you notes. Get ready for an avalanche of revenue sharing deals, reward schemes and sumptuous gifts aimed at luring creative consumers."
Of course this makes perfect sense. We offer incentives to our Imaginators(tm) panelists, and in marketing research offering an incentive for surveys is considered the most ethical and successful way to build and keep a panel from which to recruit respondents.

While you're at the site, it's worth your while to check out 2007 Trend Report. You can buy it for $500, or the download the .PDF "peek" here.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Customer Co-Creation

October 18, 2006

October 17, 2006

Book review: Innovation as magic in 'Follow The Other Hand'

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

A good metaphor is hard to resist, but a bad one is hard to forgive. We’ve all read those metaphor-based business books before and been burned when the metaphor breaks down after three chapters. So I did not want to like Andy Cohen’s Follow The Other Hand – the “innovation as magic” metaphor seemed just too good to hold up.

Fortunately, the “innovation as magic” metaphor underlying Follow the Other Hand: A Remarkable Fable That Will Energize Your Business, Profits, and Life by Andy Cohen turned out to be of the irresistible sort.

The metaphor comes directly out of Cohen’s experience as a young boy hanging around his magician great-uncle and the uncle’s circle of magician friends. Yet when I spoke with him recently, Cohen recalled that he was uncertain that the “magic as innovation” metaphor would hold up if he tried to apply it in a book.

“I was concerned that people would have to get over the obstacle of negative connotations…[of] magic as something that misrepresents, that shifts.”

He worked on the metaphor for a year before writing the book, and it “kept surprising me along the way….because the metaphor is different and unique in its own way, and I make it pay out.”

The way it pays out is that Cohen equates “follow the other hand” with the not-uncommon innovation advice that one should challenge assumptions. And he offers magic as a concrete way readers can test the value of challenging assumptions.

The irresistible part of the metaphor is the part where he also talks about both magic and innovation as processes that make possible something that is seemingly impossible.

In showing the reader a little of how magic makes possible the seemingly impossible, Cohen lays out a structure for not just doing magic, but figuring out how to do it.

There’s an important distinction there. Think of it as accepting that innovation doesn’t just happen, but is a process. That’s what Cohen is saying about magic -- it doesn’t just happen, it’s a deliberate process. He goes one step further and lays out exactly what that process is:

1. The first thing to do in creating an illusion is to identify an effect that you want to achieve.
2. Next, challenge assumptions – the main assumption being challenged, of course, is that the effect can’t be done. In the process of challenging that assumption, you are forced to look at the possibilities.
3. Then you figure out a method.
4. And then, at the very last, you figure out the performance – that’s the part where it *looks* like magic.

Cohen said his next project involves “exploring a straitjacket routine” which of course leads to an exploration of how we restrain ourselves. Now that I know Andy Cohen knows his way around a metaphor, I can’t wait for that one!

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Books

October 12, 2006

The official IdeaFlow BIF-2 Collaborative Innovation Summit wrap-up!

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

I spent several exhilarating days last week at the Business Innovation Factory’s Collaborative Innovation conference (known as BIF-2). You’ve already heard about the blogjam we did from there – eight bloggers all posting real-time on the same blog! For the record, besides myself the bloggers were Allan Tear, Steve Hardy, Jeff De Cagna, Jeffrey Phillips, Lois Kelly, Boris Pluskowski, and Chris Flanagan. And thanks to Jeff De Cagna, there are also podcasts with Tim Westergren (, Larry Keeley (Doblin), Jane Fulton Suri (Ideo), Jeannene Rae (Peer Insight), Frans Johansson (author, The Medici Effect), Jim Lavoie (RITE-Solution), and Alph Bingham (InnoCentive).

Here's a little background on the Business Innovation Factory. It’s a nonprofit started by Saul Kaplan, as a way to “leverage Rhode Island's size and densely connected networks to create a real world laboratory for testing new ideas.” The model is collaborative, as part of Kaplan’s vision is to use Rhode Island as “the perfect breeding ground for innovation.” In particular, Kaplan saw a unique opportunity for Rhode Island to serve as a laboratory for collaborative innovation projects that encourage public/private sector partnership.

Kaplan set the tone at the beginning of BIF-2 by saying “Innovation is about delivering value – it’s not about invention.” BIF, said Kaplan, “is about experimentation, collaboration, getting outside of silos.” So it makes sense that the conference it itself was remarkably un-siloed. The goal was to bring before the audience at Trinity Repertory Theater in Providence a set of storytellers you might want at your dinner party, and then give them each just 15 minutes to tell their story. After each set of four storytellers, there was a 45-minute break for networking, further conversation, and collaboration.

It’s different, but it worked. The selection of speakers was so excellent that the lack of structure was actually OK. The audience, which included a number of people who went to the first BIF conference last year, seemed up to the challenge of using their brains to connect the dots, as opposed to being force-fed with power-bullet-points.

And there was a lot of – for lack of a better word, let me say “intellectual heft” to this conference. (Even though I missed some of the stories due to work deadlines and a lost-luggage crisis!) I tried to write one succinct IdeaFlow post that captured the conference, but succinctness failed me (or I failed it!), so I’m posting a series arranged by the themes I heard the storytellers converge around: Idea, Community, Passion and Intent, and Value.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: BIF-2

BIF-2 wrap-up: Where do ideas come from? And what's an idea, anyway?

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

What is an idea, anyway? What’s the unit of thought that constitutes an idea?

These are not an angels-dancing-on-a-pinhead questions – if you are going to systematically come up with ideas, you need to be able to identify them so that they can be evaluated and built on.

This was brought home to me recently during an online ideation project I was running when a client, a senior product manager at a Fortune 500 company, confessed to me that she could not see “where the ideas are.” Meanwhile, looking at the same output from consumers, I had identified more than 200 ideas, many with multiple builds!

According to BIF-2 speaker Rick Borovoy of nTag Interactive, a single idea is “the one thing it has to be in order not to be anything else.” This may sound simplistic, but it actually is true. Ideation is loose, dynamic, free-flowing (one hopes, anyway), but going back to the output to gather the ideas requires the application of logic. There may be five discrete ideas in one long, complex sentence. They have to be identified and separated so that you can figure out where to go with them.

Another idea-related theme – how does one come up with ideas? Innovation star Ivy Ross of Old Navy, formerly of Mattel, addressed this in her story, which was about how she created an environment for collaborative creativity among designers at Old Navy. This was tricky, because she was new and brought new designers with her. She and the new designers needed to be able to connect with the “old” designers. She described a process of fostering connections and relationships between people to build the necessary “atmosphere of freedom and trust and freedom” for innovation. One way she did this was to hire a documentary filmmaker to create short film “biographies” of each person talking about what was important to them everyone, to foster connection. She also brought in improv companies in to teach people how to build on each other’s ideas. So much of creative output, she said, depends on the quality and amount of information input, because creativity is “taking information, rearranging it, connecting it in new ways and spitting it back out” in creative ways. So people must be given information, context, and time to absorb that information.

One last idea-related theme involved making meaning from the intersection of ideas. This is – where meaning is. For Jane Fulton Suri of Ideo, meaning comes from a blend of rational and intuitive thinking. Suri is at heart a researcher, and since research gets such a bad rap (unfairly, in my opinion), she talked of wanting to redefine research for innovation.

I completely agree with her that research has an important role to play in innovation. Research after all is the gathering of information, or input, such as Ross talked about. Suri spoke of doing “research in a forward thinking way – going out into the world looking at reality and making sense of it” then letting that spark the imagination. The process here is “looking for patterns and themes that take us into looking at possibilities for the future.”

For Suri, too much research thinking is focused on rational thinking models, while too little is focused on intuition. This to me is not just another call to ditch focus groups and do more observational research and ethnography! My take on this is that for a disciplined thinker, the blend of rational thinking and intuitive thinking necessary to use research as a springboard for innovation is possible regardless of the source of the data input.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: BIF-2 | Idea Generation

BIF-2 wrap-up: Innovation by the community, for the community

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

One of the strongest themes at BIF-2 was that of community -- building community and of things/ideas being built/created by communities. Community seems to be to be at the same time too big and not big enough of a word to describe what’s been called “customer co-creation,” “community marketing,” “wisdom of crowds” and “crowdsourcing.” To unpack this theme of “community,” I’ll talk about some of the specific BIF-2 storytellers.

Tim Westergren talked of creating as an interface to connect musicians and listeners, thus creating a community. Part of the greatness of Pandora, though, is that music is always being suggested by the community to the end of bettering the mix of the individual “stations,” and then once it’s in the Pandora database, it’s available for recommendation to others in the community. There are also community stations – BIF-2 had one, and it would have been cool for the facility to have played it during the networking/discussion times. is definitely about service, and Jeanneane Rae of Peer Insight talked about the customer-focus of the service innovation movement. Service is “about experience not product, which is a customer-focused kind of thinking. ….When you buy a service you buy a whole experience – so it must be customer centric.”

Diane Hessan of Communispace talked of creating online marketing communities as a way of understanding the people who buy your product, a way of walking in their shoes rather than assuming you know what they want. There are many ways to do this, but Communispace’s privately built custom communities are probably the most intimate way a company can connect to its customers in real time. If the community is specifically for a company, there’s great opportunity for these customers to share their opinions, thoughts, and ideas in any number of ways that could benefit the company *and* the customers themselves.

An example of how this would work came from Alice Wilder of Think-It-Ink-It, who talked about her work with the children’s TV show “Blue’s Clues”. She said “When you’re making a product, you need to ask your consumer what they think about your product as you make it.” This approach was more about shaping the product in progress – which requires a trusting and somewhat dynamic, not static, relationship between company and its community.

Author Bill Taylor, a co-founder of Fast Company, spoke of “tapping into the brainpower of your customers” by “establishing a platform in which everyone else does the work (!) He called this an “architecture of participation” whose driving question would be “what kind of social system can I create that will bring more smart people into my organization to contribute ideas?” Another driving question he mentioned – “Am I the kind of person that other smart people want to rally around and work with?” And, if the answer to that is “no!” I suppose the next question might be “In what ways might I become the kind of person that other smart people want to rally around and work with?” !!

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: BIF-2 | Collaborative Creativity | Crowdsourcing | Customer Co-Creation | Customer Viewpoint | Idea Generation | Marketing Research

BIF-2 wrap-up: Passion and intent are essential ingredients for innovation

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Passion was the focus of many BIF-2 storytellers. Mark Hellendrung of Narragansett Beer: “Innovate around something you are passionate about,” which he did by resurrecting the old Narragansett Beer brand.

Liz Lerman of Liz Lerman Dance Exchange: “Desperation is an innovation driver…” And of course, desperation is a form of passion.

Mary Pat Ryan of Sirius Radio: “What helps track into the passion for satellite radio is peoples’ passion for music.”

Robert Ballard of the Mystic Aquarium spoke of his passion for the bottom of the ocean. He also talked of the idea-intersection -- Creativity comes out of the difficulty of leaving your native area. You are a land creature trying to explore the sea. How to make that workable? Recreate it as an out-of-body experience by creating a way to explore it electronically.

Along the same lines of turning a problem about which you are passionate into an opportunity, Randy Antik of SWAT Team Partners spoke about aiming high and keeping your focus on your passions because “innovation is the offensive team” (which prompted the observation that perhaps the defensive team the lawyers! ). In focusing on your passions, Antik said you should “keep track of what the actual problems is, and change approaches if one doesn’t work. Use your skills and experience to bring your passions alive.”

Peter Durand of Alphachimp: “Most innovation happens when you’re really, really irritated, and you’re bitching and moaning to your friends.”

Larry Keeley of Doblin told a story of innovating with intent, perhaps even a point of view, which to me can be a focused passion. He talked of innovation in Helsinki around outdoor lighting, critical in a city that’s in the dark so much of the time. “Point of view connects things,” he said. What’s required is not just a general interest in innovation, but actual preferences and intent.

He also said, “We always overestimate the amount of change that will happen in the short run and underestimate the amount of change that will happen in the long run.” I have heard a similar saying before – “Nothing changes everything.” The relation of this quote to the notion of intent seems to be that intent and purpose carries us through the short run, when it doesn’t look like enough is changing, and keeps us focused in the long run, when things change more than we ever envisioned they could.

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BIF-2 wrap-up: Innovation = value

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Saul Kaplan of BIF started the first day off with this comment: “Innovation is about value, not about invention.” Several storytellers echoed this theme.

Ivy Ross of Old Navy, formerly Mattel, talked of having to live in two worlds – in the creative world and the corporate world. “You must get results, but how you get the job done can be creative.” After she self-financed an unusual way to improve creativity in her designers, she measured that their creativity increased 18% – and then she requested a reimbursement for her personal expense. “You have to prove yourself,” she said.

Peter Durand of Alphachimp was the last speaker of the last day. He had spent most of the conference doing graphic facilitation of the sessions, offered the story of his own innovation, which he unveiled right then. This innovation is a website on which he can place his graphic facilitations of events so they can be searched, thus adding value to events.

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October 5, 2006

BIF-2: Innovation Stories

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Posted by Hylton Jolliffe

Quickly jumping in to Renee's space to point readers to coverage of the many "stories of innovation" being shared at BIF-2 by the likes of Dean Kamen, Bob Ballard and a few dozen others. With reporting and analysis from Renee, Allen Tear, Jeff De Cagna, Steve Hardy, Chris Flanagan, and Jeffrey Phillips.

Also be sure to catch Jeff's podcast interviews with four of the speakers: Tim Westergren of; Larry Keeley of Doblin Group; Jane Fulton Suri of Ideo nd Jeneanne Rae of Peer Insight.

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October 2, 2006

12th Innovation Convergence is in two weeks!

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

IC.jpgInnovation Convergence, whose theme this year is Innovation Immersion, is in just two weeks! And it's a new day for this conference -- for the last several years it has been in Minneapolis in September. This year, San Diego during October 16 to 18.

As usual, Innovation Network founder Joyce Wycoff has pulled together an impressive list of events, including the usual pre-conference symposia and workshops, there are 4 Innovation Labs, a 2-part Innovation FastStart workshop, and two deep conversations around Innovating Innovation. Says Joyce, "These sessions provide an opportunity for you to vary your conference experience and take a deep dive into one or more areas of interest."

Conference speakers include author Dan Pink, Fast Company founder Alan Webber, and Jeneanne M. Rae, as well as innovators from Best Buy, Cargill, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Honeywell, Genentech, Wells Fargo, Wachovia, Fed Ex, Gucci, Pitney Bowes, Chevron, Kimberley-Clark, and General Motors.

I am not speaking this year, but I will be attending the conference and hope to be blogging, if not real-time, then daily. Hope to see you there!

Joyce has set up a conference blog, and the official registration site is here. There are podcasts with some of the speakers available (after signup) on the IIR site for this event.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Conferences

September 27, 2006

Three areas of value that result from customer co-creation

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

We know there's value in customer co-creation. If a customer helps you come up with an idea that you can make into a salable product or service, clearly there is value. But is that all there is?

The article My Customer, My Co-Innovator by Michael Schrage in Strategy + Business, talks about two other potential areas of value.

Let's say I call the value I just described in the first paragraph "idea value." This is not news: "Involving customers in the innovation process can add value to new product designs." That has been reported over and over in the stories on crowdsourcing, lead users, customer co-creation, etc.

But here's a second one -- I'll call that "insight value." It does not get talked about as much, and is well worth noting -- by inviting customers into your innovation process, you can learn a lot about what those customers actually want. It's like marketing research on steroids. Schrage quotes Randy Pond of Cisco: “We’ve found that when we share our tools with customers rather than just demonstrate how much we’ve improved our technologies, we learn a lot more."

The third area of value I want to call "trust value." This one has rarely been tied to customer co-creation. It's this: Inviting customers into your innovation process creates an environment of trust and can start a relationship that makes it easier for your customers to buy from you. Letting customers have a peek behind the curtain starts a relationship, and more importantly, implies a level of trust. And trust is persuasive -- people buy from someone they can trust.

So, even if you never gain a single usable insight or see a single usable idea out of the relationship you develop by inviting your customers as co-creators, you still benefit by the relationship because they are more likely to trust you -- and buy from you -- if they know how you do what you do. Here's a great illustration from the Strategy + Business article:

The world’s top investment banks, meanwhile, profitably peddle tens of billions of dollars’ worth of complex financial instruments, such as synthetic securities and derivatives, every year. Even sophisticated customers, such as Fortune 1000 companies and hedge funds, are often understandably reluctant to take a chance on new financial instruments. So the banks now give their customers the same computerized “wind tunnel” and “stress testing” algorithms that their own quantitative analysts have used to design the products in the first place.

“In the early days, we would run simulation after simulation demonstrating that our instruments would help them better hedge their risks,” acknowledges one former Goldman Sachs and Salomon Brothers executive. “But, frankly, they didn’t fully trust either us or our simulations. It wasn’t until we started giving them the simulation tools we used ourselves that they took us seriously.”

These free simulators proved to be the most profitable innovation that the Goldman Sachs derivatives group launched. Soon, clients began asking for custom derivatives and other tailored instruments. “Without the simulators, customers would never have known what to ask for, and we would never have thought to ask,” recalls the bank executive. Yet, despite its success, this innovation appeared nowhere in the bank’s R&D budget or prospectus. It was only a tacit, not an explicit, locus of value creation.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Crowdsourcing | Customer Co-Creation

September 21, 2006

Guidelines for successful crowdsourcing

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Last summer I wrote a post on the "crowdsourcing" phenomenon that started a couple of online and offline discussions. One of the people who contacted me after that post was made was Jessi Hempel of Business Week, who was researching an article on crowdsourcing. That article is in the Sept. 25 magazine, in the second issue of the INside Innovation quarterly.

I've exchanged some email and had a couple of very nice conversations with Jessi, and although I am not mentioned in the article, (making me what we in the media used to call a "background interview!"), I can see the thread of some of our conversations in it.

One thing in particular we discussed was "rules" or guidelines for crowdsourcing. It's pretty clear that inviting the public at large to contribute ideas could potentially result in the proverbial "drinking from a firehose" situation. The best case would be you'd spend a hugr amount of teim, energy, and money sifting through the chaos. The worst case would be that you'd just get lost and net out with nothing.

In Jessi's article, the four guidelines are:

1. Be Focused -- "Vaguely defined problems get vague answers."

2. Get Your Filters Right -- "Companies need effective filters to pick the gems."

3. Tap The Right Crowds -- "Smart companies want to assemble the corwds with the most sophisticated knowledge about their business problems to maximize the impact of the small percentage of idea generators within the crowd." This speaks to a corollary of the familiar 80/20 rule -- except in the case of social networks, it's more like the 90/10 rule. About 10% of the participants create and/or build content, while about 90% passively observe.

4. Build Community Into Social Networks -- "CAsh is key to getting people to participate, but successful crowdsourcing taps into a well of passion about a product that stretches beyond monetary compensation."

My rules were similar. The first two are nearly identical:

1. Focus -- Understand how you want to use these ideas; what's your business objective? how does crowdsourcing fit? Otherwise you are just looking for a needle in a haystack.

2. Filter -- You need some way to filter the ideas coming from consumers, either by setting up a system of your own, deputizing someone in your firm to be in charge of crowdsourcing.

Here we diverged -- my 3 and 4 were:

3. Feed -- Figure out a way to feed those ideas into your company; the method of feeding will depend on what your focus is and what kind of filter you have set up, but without a way to figure out how to move ideas into action, you'll be spinning your wheels.

4. Fund -- Offer incentives to consumers, partly for ethical concerns and partly for business concerns -- it's been proven that reward fuels creativity, and while it's true that intrinsic reward (the joy one gets from creating new ideas) weighs more, extrinsic reward (money, recognition) helps as well and helps avoid a "crowdsourcing backlash" -- the image of your company as a slave laborer.

My "fund" accomplishes many of the same things as Jessi's "build community" although is more pointedly about incentives. But we had a significant divergence on No. 3 that's worth noting. While her No. 3, "Tap Into The Right Crowds," is important, I would include it as part of No. 1, Focus.

Meanwhile, my No. 3, Feed (as in "figure out how you will feed those ideas into your company") is very critical, in my opinion. My experience of working with companies on their innovation projects is that this is a sore point; quite often they really *don't* know how to bring those ideas back into their own fold. The new businesses that are being built on the crowdsourcing meme likely have this aspect built into their business model. However, a business that wants to tap into the power of consumer-generated ideas will definitely need a "feed" process or risk wasting all those bright ideas.

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September 15, 2006

Renee's back, and so is IdeaFlow!

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

211630047_d72c58fdd7_t.jpgHi! I'm finally resettled in Austin, Texas, possibly the only place in the US where you can get a tattoo and dance to two-stepping music in the same neighborhood!

I am still working as Director of Insights & Innovation at Decision Analyst, working remotely. I am also re-launching both this blog and the Corante Innovation Hub I helped start earlier this year.

Part of the Innovation Hub relaunch is a conference blogjam that promises to be lots of fun. The conference is BIF-2, an annual summit held by the non-profit Business Innovation Factory that brings together innovators from across the public and private sectors to share stories about creating change and driving innovation. This year’s summit, the BIF-2 Collaborative Innovation Summit, will be held on October 4-5 in Providence, Rhode Island.

Several Innovation Hub bloggers including myself will be at the event doing a real-time blogjam that can be accessed from the Innovation Hub blog.

Here are more details about the conference itself, if you'd like to go:

BIF-2 will be hosted by Wall Street Journal technology columnist Walt Mossberg and architect, author, and TED founder Richard Saul Wurman. The duo will guide participants through a program that includes Segway inventor Dean Kamen, Nestlé Purina Vice President Betsy Cohen, Gap Inc. Executive Vice President Ivy Ross, Sirius Satellite Radio Executive Vice President Mary Pat Ryan, Anatomical Travelogue CEO Alexander Tsiaras, founder Tim Westergren, and Titanic Discoverer Bob Ballard, Fast Company co-founder Bill Taylor, Medici Effect author Frans Johansson, Seinfeld and Saturday Night Live writer Andy Robin, IDEO’s Director of Human Factors Design and Research Jane Fulton Suri, InnoCentive co-founder Alph Bingham, MIT Media Lab Biomechatronics Director Hugh Herr, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange Founder and Artistic Director Liz Lerman, architect/artist Michael Singer, network guru Peter Gloor, and Director of R&D for Blue’s Clues Alice Wilder, among others.

The Summit format — more conversation than conference — is unique. Presenters have only fifteen minutes on stage to share personal reflections on how they created innovation or catalyzed change. Groups of storytellers are blocked around generous breaks that give participants and storytellers ample opportunity to interact. Most importantly, storytellers fully participate in the two-day event as members of the audience.

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July 28, 2006

Definition of innovation.......!

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan


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So, where's Renee?!

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

In this post I talked about moving to Austin at the end of June, and I haven't yet gotten around to telling you all that the move was rescheduled to the end of August. But the deal's done -- we've signed a lease in Austin and our house is up for sale (any interested parties looking to buy a townhouse in Arlington, Texas?!).

I have also decided to stay on at Decision Analyst (where my official title is Director, Insights & Innovation). I'll be working from my home in Austin starting after Labor Day.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IdeaFlow

June 14, 2006

Updated version of "What Drives Innovation?" available for download

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

We've updated the draft I posted last week of our most recent white paper, What Drives Innovation? A Heuristic Framework for Corporate Innovation. It's the same paper I wrote about here, (and in fact the link to the paper is the same) -- it's just an updated version.

These are the updates we made based on comments sent by those who read the draft I posted last week:

We've made it clear that the heuristic framework for innovation that we put forward in the paper can be used not just at the beginning of the innovation process. That's certainly when you'd need it, but you could also loop back through the questions in the framework at any point in the process that you needed to clarify direction and/or lynchpin drivers.

Also, we included more specific examples of the kinds of questions you would ask at each of the question points in the framework. For reference, these are our heuristic innovation framework questions, and the kinds of questions they might lead to:

Does the innovation fit the organization?

Questions that can be asked here might be: Does it leverage our core competencies? Is it aligned with the mission and vision? Does the current organizational structure work? Is there a cultural fit?

Does the innovation provide a strategic advantage?

Questions that can be asked here might be: Does it help us achieve our goals and objectives (revenue, market share, brand presence, operational efficiencies, etc.)? Does it impact the competitive landscape? Does it shift the customer base?

Is there a demand for the innovation?

Questions that can be asked here might be: Will it address an underserved market? Is it an “up-market” product? Will it meet a stated need? Will it meet an unstated need? What will the adoption curve look like?

How might we pursue the innovation?

Questions that can be asked here might be: Can we build it ourselves? Do we need to partner with some other company in order to produce it?

Is there a clear definition of the innovation’s success?

Questions that can be asked here might be: How do we measure this innovation’s value? Do we use our current metrics and measurements? Do we need to create new metrics?

Will management support the innovation?

Questions that can be asked here might be: Are we capable of making these changes? Are we willing to make these changes? What roadblocks might there be? Is it worth the effort? What needs to be done to gain support?

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June 8, 2006

Innovative marketing blogjam over at Fast Company Now!

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Several of us Corante bloggers are live-blogging the Corante Innovative Marketing conference today from New York as guests on the Fast Company Now blog. Here's the link that will take you to all the Marketing Blogjam posts.

I'll post some IdeaFlow-specific observations later tonight.

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June 7, 2006

Corante Innovative Marketing Conference starts tomorrow

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

I'm in New York tonight, getting ready for Corante's Innovative Marketing Conference (held in conjunction with Columbia University Business School's Center on Global Brand Leadership). Several of us who are blogging the conference will also be posting on the Fast Company blog, in an event we're called "the marketing blogjam". I'll cross-post or link to those posts as we go.

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June 6, 2006

New white paper: 'What Drives Innovation? A Heuristic Framework for Corporate Innovation'

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

What seems like a very long time ago I wrote a series of posts on Innovation Drivers. There was a lot of discussion around the idea. So my colleague Gwen Ishmael and I decided to conduct a research project on the subject. We thought we would interview executives with innovation responsibilities about some of their successful as well as unsuccessful innovations, and then we could analyze these interviews and catalog a whole set of drivers for innovation.

Well, the process of qualitative research often turns the best-thought-out hypotheses on their heads! Once we had done a number of interviews, it became clear that there was something more important to talk about than the classification of drivers. We presented the results at ESOMAR's Global Innovation conference in early May, and now we have just revisited the research and written a new version of the paper, which is now called What Drives Innovation? A Heuristic Framework for Corporate Innovation. So called because that is what we created out of these varied case studies of successful and unsuccessful innovation initiatives -- a framework of six high-level questions that, when asked at the very beginning stages of an innovation effort, help guide you toward identifying the very important one or two lynchpin drivers -- the conditions that will make or break your innovation.

Here's the paper's introduction:

If you ask, “what drives successful innovation?” you are likely to get these answers:

“Desire for growth.”

“Demand for increased profitability.”


While clearly true, these are superficial answers. There’s no clear way to link these answers to the factors that would lead to success in innovation – or the factors that lead to failure. Innovation is still regarded as somewhat uncontrollable and mysterious, though this perception is beginning to change. The idea that there are factors that, singly and in combination, drive innovation (successful innovation in particular) has just begun to be discussed. An effort to understand innovation drivers – those factors that motivate and shape innovation efforts, and in no small way determine their success or failure – seemed to us to be a promising way to discover what factors make for uccess and failure in innovation.

We interviewed a number of executives from across a wide range of industries, who either were or had been responsible for innovation efforts throughout their careers. Our goal was to find common innovation drivers that could be linked to successes and failures.

During the course of collecting nearly twenty highly diverse innovation stories, we realized these executives were telling us about something much more actionable than drivers. They told us about:

• Questions that were asked and were not asked.

• Issues that were addressed and not addressed.

• Decisions that were and were not made.

• Information that strongly impacted the innovation effort, but was discovered too late to alter the effort.

Ultimately, their stories pointed out that it was these things, rather than the initial driver behind the innovation, that led either to a successful or to a failed innovation. We refer to these critical things as “lynchpin drivers.”

A .PDF of the paper -- a version 1 beta -- can be downloaded here. All comments are welcome -- we are planning an updated version within the next several weeks, and would like as many comments as we can get.

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TRIZ update: 'It *is* an equation for innovation'

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

">My post on the BusinessWeek TRIZ article has had a fair amount of comment, including one I will quote here, as it came to me in an email from TRIZ consultant Jack Hipple, with whom I have had a smattering of TRIZ training. Says Jack:

"I loved this quote:

'It seems to me that TRIZ is trying to create an equation for innovation,' says Harry West, the company's vice-president of strategy & innovation. 'I think it's a great aspiration. But if there's an equation for innovation out there, your competitor can do the same -- which means the competitive challenge can easily be lost.' '

That IS the whole point of TRIZ and this guy should be appropriately afraid. The reason we don't have to use trial and error to solve quadratic equations anymore is that algebra was discovered as a mathematical science A lot of fast guessers were put out of business. There is much less mystery than this guy thinks, and when more of the world discovers they don't need a magician (as opposed to a logical process that anyone can learn--ie science and not psychlogy) he will have a rude awakening as others in the engineering world have discovered. Egos are a terrible thing to waste...."

As for me, I'd like to think that there's a middle ground -- there's a little more mystery to innovation than the TRIZ enthusiasts say, and there's a lot more process to innovation than some of the professional creatives think.

You can read the rest of the comments at the end of the original post.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Idea Generation | TRIZ

June 5, 2006

What does 'crowdsourcing' mean for business innovation?

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Wired, the magazine that brought us the meme "long tail" has now brought the new meme "crowdsourcing" to the light of day.

As defined by its creator, Jeff Howe, in a June Wired article and new blog:

"Crowdsourcing represents the act of a company or institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined (and generally large) network of people in the form of an open call. This can take the form of peer-production (when the job is performed collaboratively), but is also often undertaken by sole individuals. The crucial prerequisite is the use of the open call format and the large network of potential laborers.

"For the purposes of the article, we set even stricter parameters: We decided we would only look at case studies involving big established companies (like Getty, Viacom and P&G). For the purposes of the blog, I advocate a slightly more inclusive definition. I interpret crowdsourcing to be taking place any time a company makes a choice to employ the crowd to perform labor that could alternatively be performed by an assigned group of employees or contractors, even if the company is just now putting up a shingle. In other words, crowdsourcing need not require an active shift from current employees (or again, contractors) to the crowd; it can start with the crowd."

The short version: "Everyday people using their spare cycles to create content, solve problems, even do R&D."

The shorter, much more blunt and to-the-point version: "A billion amateurs want your job."

Simply put, this is open innovation on a much larger playing field. Some of us may not yet have made the connection that the revolution in customer-created media -- Flickr, YouTube, etc. -- would extend to R&D. In the innovation media (wow -- it just occurred to me that there is such a thing! and that IdeaFlow and the Innovation Hub are part of it!), we've talked about customer input into innovation and distributed creativity via the Lego's model, for example, and Eric Von Hippel's lead user theory. We've talked about InnoCentive, the website started by Eli Lilly where the likes of Proctor & Gamble and Dupont now post scientific challenges for the InnoCentive community to solve.

Howe's crowdsourcing marries these concepts and describes a playing field for open innovation that includes technology and science -- coding, scientific and engineering problems -- as well as content creation for advertising itself and to sell advertising around.

Here are some of my thoughts about the effect crowdsourcing will have on business innovation:

-- Increased competition: What took you years to build will take your competition much less time if they are able to harness distributed solutions in order to do it.

-- A shift of emphasis from production to filtering: If crowdsourcing means that the cost of solving problems and of generating content will go down, it also means the cost and the need for filtering will go up. You will need to filter not only for what's good vs what's bad, but for what fits your strategy. As Henry Chesbrough says, "not all the smart people work for you." The challenge will not be to find the smart people and hire them, nor to outsource to the cheapest source -- but to find the right sources.

This will require a shift of thinking. For instance -- if you have an idea management program for your employees, is there a way to alter it to include ideas and/or content from the outside? If you are outsourcing jobs to India or China, would it be better to find or build a marketplace on which to offer not jobs but projects to the highest possible qualified pool of labor at the cheapest possible cost? What does this do to your processes for getting ideas into the pipeline? To your development process?

What is crowdsourcing going to do for -- or to -- *your* business?

To give you more to think about, I'll include some quotes of what others are saying:

Comments on "Although 'crowdsourcing' has existed in the open source community for years, the difference now is that the technology has evolved to allow anyone to participate in these communities. Fifteen years ago, you almost needed a computer science degree just to use open source products, not to mention actually contributing to them. With the web 2.0 technology of today, even those with minimal computer skills can join and become active participants in online communities to contribute thoughts and ideas via blogs, photography via Flickr and iStockphoto, and maybe even solve a complex R&D problem for a major company. 'Crowdsourcing,' while not a new idea, is now becoming a mainstream phenomenon.

Techdirt: "It then raises two issues: how does that challenge existing ways of doing business and what types of companies spring up to take advantage of the new possibilities....It's a case where companies are recognizing that sometimes a fresh perspective is quite valuable, rather than assuming that they need to somehow protect their traditional way of doing business. Unfortunately, as with many buzzwords, expect to start seeing lots of new business models that talk up how they're leveraging "crowdsourcing" when the truth will be that very few are actually doing so." (Note: TechDirt also recommends this BuinessWeek article on the rise of the "digital working class.")

ZDNet blogs: "Will crowdsourcing eclipse long tail [as a buzzword]?"

Bruce Sterling in Wired Blogs: "Like Jeff Howe, I also believe that 'crowdsourcing' is indeed a useful neologism. That's because "crowdsourcing" names part of the same elephant as 'Long Tail,' 'Invisible Tail,' 'collective intelligence,' 'folksonomy,' 'search and publish/publish and search,' 'attention economy,' 'collaborative web filters,' 'architecture of participation' and 'commons-based peer-production, among other such. New terminology is boiling out of this realm of activity practically every day now. It is being created because there is a pressing and demonstrable need for it."

And, finally, from the Crowdsourcing article itself: "Technological advances in everything from product design software to digital video cameras are breaking down the cost barriers that once separated amateurs from professionals. Hobbyists, part-timers, and dabblers suddenly have a market for their efforts, as smart companies in industries as disparate as pharmaceuticals and television discover ways to tap the latent talent of the crowd."

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TRIZ makes BusinessWeek!

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

I like TRIZ, though I admit it intimidates me, despite Jack Hipple's best training efforts! Yet as much as I like TRIZ, here's a day I never thought I'd see -- Business Week featuring an article on this formerly obscure Russian idea-generation technique. Yet here it is: The World According to TRIZ --

" With 'innovation' such a hot buzzword in business circles these days, companies are scrambling to find the magic formula for creating inventive products and services. One method that's gaining converts -- and breeding skeptics -- is a 60-year-old theory known as TRIZ."
And just prior to that my blogger friend Olivier Blanchard sent me a link to a post on TRIZ in a blog called Swamp Fox that is associated with the Southeastern Innovation Corridor. According to the post, three-day certification courses in Inventive Problem Solving, which is Ideation International's flavor ofTRIZ, are being offered to entrepreneurs by the University of South Carolina.

The BusinessWeek article doesn't get into much detail, but deftly points out the pros and cons. Pros: it's structured innovation: "This could be a parallel to Six Sigma," the article quotes Insourcing Innovation co-author David Silverstein. Yet the other quotes in the article that support this muddy up the idea of a structure for coming up with ideas -- which is what TRIZ is -- with a structure for developing innovation. Example: "When asked if 'structured innovation" à la TRIZ is a contradiction in terms, Stowell [Davin Stowell, founder and chief executive of New York-based Smart Design, a leading product-design firm] defends the general idea. 'Innovation absolutely needs to be structured to finish a project. Or else you wander all over the place.' "

On the opposite side: "some product-design firms approach TRIZ with caution. One of them is Design Continuum. 'It seems to me that TRIZ is trying to create an equation for innovation,' says Harry West, the company's vice-president of strategy & innovation. 'I think it's a great aspiration. But if there's an equation for innovation out there, your competitor can do the same -- which means the competitive challenge can easily be lost.' "

As usual in these kinds of stories that sum up something complicated by offering quotes from opposing views, the real truth is somewhere in the middle. TRIZ is a great tool for making connections in a structured way that allows you to leave no stone unturned. It will not come up with ideas for you, but it will help you come up with ideas. It won't help you evaluate them, or design a process for developing them into products, services, etc.

And since you must supply the input -- the basic challenge and the "Ideal Final Result" -- it will ikely be different from anyone else's, which will result in different answers. In fact, if you define the Ideal Final Result to the degree of rigor that I've been told you have to do, it will be extremely idiosyncratic to you and the problelm that you and only you are trying to solve. Thus the objection that TRIZ is an "equation for innovation" is somewhat spurious.

I do like the "last word" quote, again from David Silverstein: " 'Look, TRIZ is not the answer to everything. It's just one approach to innovation.' "

If there's anything that will keep TRIZ from wide aoption, it's that it's fairly complicated and rigorous. But that just means there are people out there like David Silverstein, Ideation International, and Jack Hipple, who'll help you learn it and apply it. If they find TRIZ valuable enough, businesses will pay for the service of being guided through the forest of TRIZ.

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