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.


Monthly Archives

October 30, 2003

Tea and Innovation: Reading The Innovator's Solution

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Your hard-working IdeaFlow bloggers have been having a little off-blog conversation about Clayton Christensen’s long-awaited new book The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth (co-authored with Michael E. Raynor). Our conversation went something like this:

Renee: I've got the new Clayton Christensen…Anybody seen it? I'll be posting on it soon, so if you've read it or know the authors, feel free to weigh in.

Joyce: Renee, I'm in the process of digesting and figuring out how to share info about Innovator's Solution ... which I think is MUST reading ... however, it will probably also be fairly overwhelming to most folks because it has so much counterintuitive material ... and there's so much that could only be implemented or changed at very senior levels.

Leslie: Joyce, I agree with you that so much can only be implemented at very senior levels. It was interesting to me to see that, a year ago, a lot of the engineers at Dell were reading Innovator's Dilemma. And yet, at Dell, the innovation is in the supply chain and the manufacturing, not in the software and hardware that goes out the door (these were software engineers). Those folks certainly did face a dilemma. They could not do anything about what they could see.

John: Yeah, totally.

So let’s take a deep breath and start. I can tell you that the first chapter deserves careful attention and savoring. Last night I settled down at a local Starbucks with a cup of Tazo Zen tea and The Innovator’s Solution. Place was quiet except for Lucinda Williams’ CD, World Without Tears, playing on the sound system. I began to read, underline, make check marks, scrawl notes in the margins.

How do I love this book? Let me count the ways: the carefully rendered statement of the thesis, the placement of the starting point for the argument -- and, oh boy, the footnotes!

It begins, of course, with the now-familiar Innovator’s Dilemma: Once a company matures, growth through innovation is a very risky undertaking at which few companies succeed – because the very fact that the strategies used to run a successful, mature company are wildly at odds with the strategies needed to sustain disruptive innovation.

Pretty quickly Christensen dispenses with the top two reasons for this failure – bad management, risk-averse management – and zeroes in on this one: the widely held belief that growth is so hard to achieve “repeatedly and well” because “creating new-growth businesses is simply unpredictable.” The process, he says, looks unpredictable because its results are unpredictable. But “you cannot say, just by looking at the results of the process, whether the process that created those results is capable of generating predictable output. You must understand the process itself.” And predictability, he explains, comes from well-researched theory.

In effect he’s starting out 10 paces behind where most business books start. He’s laying out all the basis on which he’s going to build a theory, not just laying out a theory. And these couple of pages that expound on what makes a theory good and solid are written so elegantly that, like the rest of the chapter, they seem almost buoyant, not nearly as weighty as it sounds when I describe it.

This elegance I attribute partly to the skillful use of footnotes (actually, they are chapter endnotes). These are big, solid, meaty footnotes, filled with arguments that if put in the chapter itself would just bog it down. Yet they are there at the end of the chapter if you want them.

The endnotes are well worth the time it takes to read them. They go off in fascinating directions – reasoned criticism of management research, a collection of references to articles and books on theory-building, a short discourse on the need for anomaly-seeking (as opposed to anomaly-avoiding) research.

I half expected that note to include a reference to Heidegger’s Being and Time (“when something is unusable for some purpose, then the assignment becomes explicit”). Or to semiotics – after all, an anomaly – phenomena the existing theory cannot explain -- could be considered a break in the “code” (the theory). And to a semiotician it is the places where the code breaks in which the meaning of the code itself is laid bare.

So maybe this is going to turn out to be a semiotics of innovation? I suspect not, but it was fun to sit back after reading Chapter One and spend a little time sipping green tea and meditating on the logical difference between correlation and causality. And looking forward to the next chapter.

Comments (0) | Category: Books | Clayton Christensen | Innovation, General | New Products

Upcoming Conference: On Innovation

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

"Return on Innovation: Measuring and Managing Your Innovation Investment," will be held Dec. 3-5 in Coconut Grove, Fla. On the agenda:

  • Learn to achieve sustainable growth and increase your market share through proven innovations.
  • Link innovation to tangible results to prove the value of your investment to upper management who might not see innovation as a priority.
  • Learn the latest tools and techniques for measuring innovation from innovators at: IBM, Americredit Financial Services, Motorola Labs, Intel, Hewlett Packard and Georgia-Pacific.
  • Saving the best for last: John Wolpert and Joyce Wycoff of IdeaFlow will be speaking!

To register, go to or call 888.670.8200.

Please note: IdeaFlow is a media partner for this conference. That means we're involved with the conference, though no actual money is changing hands! If you register because you saw this, please let them know.

Comments (0) | Category: Conferences

October 28, 2003

John Wolpert, Live From Australia!

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

John sent this link to a videotape of the 10-minute speech he delivered on Oct. 15 to the Australian Parliament and 250 scientists at the Parliament Building in Canberra. When you follow the link, John is the "First Presenter." The "Final Speaker" link goes to shows a senior official commenting on the concepts from the speech. John's specific topic: how to accelerate corporate innovation, what we can do to build national economic growth by bridging barriers between firms, and how "intermediated innovation practices" might work.

Comments (0) | Category: Bridge Project | Commercialization | Innovation, General | Open Innovation | Technology

October 25, 2003

Fear and Resistance, Again

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Posted by Leslie Martinich

The Wall Street Journal carried an article on their front page today about the Department of Justice’s examination of the National Association of Realtors’ Internet policies. My friend Russell Capper’s company, eRealty, as well as other Internet-based real estate companies are challenging the way real estate business is done.

Why is this interesting? Not just because Russell is a friend of mine! It is interesting because it exhibits classic symptoms that almost all innovations display, primarily resistance and fear. Of course realtors do not want to see their business move to an electronic model, but it is only a matter of time before much of the real estate business is done through the Internet.

The most analogous industry is airline ticket sales. Travel agents didn’t want to see their business move to the Internet either. But end users want to do their own searching, identifying the flights they want to purchase. Some of them still want the services of a travel agent.

The move of the real estate business to the Internet is simply slower because users trade real estate far less frequently than they purchase airline tickets. But ultimately it is customer demand that will force this industry to move more completely to the Internet.

The activity of the Department of Justice points out another classic issue for innovations. A society’s flexibility enhances its ability to prosper from innovations. That is why countries with common law systems are more prosperous than countries with civil law systems. Attempts to make rules arbitrarily constraining innovations is not a good thing for prosperity.

Comments (0) | Category: Commercialization | Innovation, General | Law & Policy | Open Innovation | Technology

October 23, 2003

Say 'G'day' To Open Innovation

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Well, now we know why we haven't heard much from John Wolpert lately. He's been in Australia, busily spreading the Open Innovation gospel. He surfaced today long enough to email us a link to an interview he did with the ABC radio network (the Australian equivalent of NPR). While in Australia, John also addressed the Australian Parliament and the Innovation Exchange about Open Innovation. When he gets back we'll twist his arm to get him to post some of his impressions!

Comments (0) | Category: Bridge Project | Commercialization | Innovation, General | Law & Policy | Open Innovation | Technology

October 22, 2003

Upcoming Conference: The Human Side of Innovation and Change

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Posted by Leslie Martinich

The IEEE 2003 International Engineering Management Conference will be held November 2-4 in Albany, NY. The IEEE-IEMC 2002 was one of the most useful conferences I attended last year, and I'm expecting another great conference this year.

Speakers include Dr. Rolf Smith speaking on "Diffferent Thinking for Diffferent Results." The conference organizing committee chair is Dr. Lois Peters, one of the authors of Radical Innovation: How Mature Companies Can Outsmart Upstarts, a book that both John Wolpert and I found to be extremely useful.

I'll be giving a workshop, "Unleashing Creativity: Creating an Innovation Focus for Engineering Teams." The workshop will include a discussion of an Innovation Framework as well as the use of InnoMediaries, citing work from both John Wolpert ("Breaking Out of the Innovation Box") and Henry Chesbrough (Open Innovation).

Talk about convergence!! Lots of our ideas will be coming together here!

Comments (0) | Category: Conferences | Creativity | Innovation, General | Open Innovation | Technology

Logic Puzzles

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Posted by Leslie Martinich

What are some of the ways that organizations can foster creativity? There are lots of ingredients; I'll focus on just one in this post. This is one that worked well for me when I was managing a software R&D team many years ago.

I keep a book of logic puzzles on my bookshelf. Two that I recommend are Raymond Smullyan's What is the Name of This Book?, and his more recent The Riddle of Scheherazade: And Other Amazing Puzzles. Smullyan is a logician and set theorist, whose logic books I used in college, and his puzzles provoke some opportunities for clever thinking.

In those informal moments when a few engineers would gather in my office, we would pick up the book and choose a puzzle. We'd consider it as a group for a couple minutes and then go off on our own.

The following day we would discuss each of our solutions. I am very pragmatic, and I would typically find one solution and be done with it. Another person in our group would often return with three solutions and a proof for their correctness! He and I had very different approaches, each of them useful for certain situations.

The results? Over time, we developed a good sense of each others' strengths and ways of approaching problem solving. We had fun. And we developed a strong respect for others' thinking.

And we could solve a lot of logic puzzles!

This is a simple, informal practice that, over time, enhances a group's creative output. There are lots of other such practices. Send me your favorites!

Comments (0) | Category: Creativity | Technology

October 15, 2003

Happy (Late!) Birthday To Us

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

I've been silent these past few days because I was out of town and away from watches and all things digital. While I was gone, IdeaFlow turned 1 year old! The first IdeaFlow post was published Oct. 10, 2002. Here's to our second year!

Comments (0) | Category: IdeaFlow

Upcoming Conference: Voice of the Customer

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

"Voice of the Customer" will be held Dec. 8-10 in Coconut Grove, Fla. This conference, which is the only PDMA-endorsed "Voice of the Customer" event, incorporates VOC findings throughout the value chain, from new product development and brand strategy to product launch in the B2B or retail space.

On the agenda: Professor Gerald Zaltman of the Harvard Business School (author of How Customers Think) and conference chairman Dr. Joseph Plummer, EVP of McCann-Erickson Worldgroup will present - for the first time publicly - their marketing survey findings on the newest corporate top-line priority: Creating Consumer Demand.

Please note: IdeaFlow is a media partner for this conference. That means we're involved with the conference, though no actual money is changing hands! If you register because you saw this, please let them know.

Comments (0) | Category: Conferences | Customer Viewpoint | Marketing | Marketing Research | New Products

October 13, 2003

Notes From MIT's Emerging Technologies Conference

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

If you're not too conferenced out yet, Naomi Moneypenney of gave me permission to share her notes from the recent Emerging Technologies Conference:

Just thought I'd share a few thoughts about the ETC conference at MIT that happened last week, pertaining to innovation and creativity. Speakers included Jeff Immelt, Michael Dell, Bob Metcalfe, Leroy Hood, Rodney Brooks and many other luminaries.

It was great to see the renewed focus on innovation, even from big companies like GM, Pfizer and Intel, though the word 'innovation' did not crop up that much it was core to their new directions.

Nathan Myhrvold had some great ideas on setting up Idea Factories so that people who are great at inventing could just invent, and sell 'ideas' that others could make and sell. Though this seems unrealistic, and the patent systems of our government would probably crack under the weight of a number of idea factories, it does seem a logical progression.

Technology innovations were of course at the fore. And most strongly in pharamceuticals, healthcare and fuel technologies. Interestingly many 'new' innovations had come from two sources: 1) Recombining ideas or products from other sources (like already appproved medications) or building on research inventions; 2) Opening new markets with existing products used in a new way.

I saw less 'step-change' ideas, and more 'incremental' innovation.

I summarized a few trends for the newsletter to subscribers and I'll repeat them here:

- Idea Factories: Leave invention to those who are best at it. Nathan Myhrvold's perspective may not be for everyone, but he argued strongly for specialist firms that do nothing but invent, leaving others to manufacture and market the inventions.

- Reinvent Venture Capital: In line with the previous trend and the failure of so many innovation stage-gate processes or funnels in large companies, the venture capital industry is overdue for a major shake up.

- Learn from Biological Systems: Evolution has had the benefit of millions of years of experimentation. Whether in genomics, nanotechnology, cutting edge work in materials science or using biological algorithms to study social networks or personalize medicines, learning from living systems is a great way to bootstrap our understanding.

- Combinatorics: Once an obscure term in math textbooks, combinatorics is just a fancy word for the process of recombination. No longer bound by mere
network effects(!), recombining ideas, people, products is the way of the future. Indeed, the award for top young innovator this year went to a startup that combines 2 or 3 FDA approved medications to produce new synergistic treatments for major diseases like cancer, diabetes and arthritis. Sounds simple in principle, but exploring the viability of options that thousands of
combinations throw off is a complex task. But those that can solve the multi-dimensional Rubik's Cube the fastest, will win.

- Learn from other disciplines and industries: Jeff Immelt said the 'day of the one-dimensional manager is over'. We've all heard the multidisciplinary sermon
before, but it continues to ring true. The key though in achieving innovation by gaining insights from other areas, is communication. At HP, Stan Williams leads next generation research and put together an elite & broad team by filling it with deep experts in different fields. But he says, it took a whole year before they developed a language that they could all speak.

Comments (0) | Category: Conferences | Innovation, General | New Products | Technology

Guide To Innovation Convergence Notes

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Comments (0) | Category: Conferences | IdeaFlow | Innovation, General

October 9, 2003

Better Innovation Through Neuroceuticals

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

After finding out about this newly discovered link between madness and creativity, I was ready to go have a drink and ponder how close to psychosis I personally might be….maybe just a few IQ points or notches of ability to multi-task and remember! Meanwhile, our ever-steady Corante blog-neighbor Zack Lynch, who’s writing a book on neurotechnology and society, had this to say:

As different aspects of mental health are better understood, more parts of the innovative process will be impacted such as accelerating learning via cogniceuticals to enhancing interpersonal communication with emoticeuticals. As neuroceutical usage spreads across industries it will create a new economic “playing field” wherein individuals who use neuroceuticals will achieve a higher level of productivity than those who don’t.

The resulting competitive gap will be substantial. To put this in historical perspective, imagine the competitive advantage that a team living in the year 2003 with the Internet as their information source has over a group living in 1953 that must rely on the local library.

Disruptive innovation, anyone?! Definitely read the whole thing.

Comments (0) | Category: Brain Chemistry & Creativity | Creativity | Disruptive Innovation

October 8, 2003

Link Found Between Creativity and Madness

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Whoa! I was gearing up to write some kind of wisdom about disruptive innovation, when this morning Hylton sent me a link to a FuturePundit post that dropped a bomb in my brain: Jordan Peterson of the University of Toronto and colleagues at Harvard University have found that decreased latent inhibition of environmental stimuli appears to correlate with greater creativity among people with high IQ.

In a nutshell, this research says that people whose brains are more open to stimuli from the outside environment will either be:

  1. Creative, because their openness to new possibilities and stimuli gives them more, and more various, information with which to make connections and have new ideas, or
  2. Psychotic, because their openness to new possibilities and stimuli leads to overload and mental illness.

So what is the difference between creativity and madness? According to this study, good working memory and a high IQ make the difference. With those assets/skills/traits (whatever they are!) you have the capacity to think about many things at once, discriminate among ideas and find patterns. Without them, you can’t handle the increased stimuli.

This press release quotes Dr. Peterson: "It appears that we have not only identified one of the biological bases of creativity but have moved towards cracking an age-old mystery: the relationship between genius, madness and the doors of perception."

There’s also a role played by stress, though it only comes out in the paper (and in the FuturePundit post), not in the press release. Release of the stress hormone corticosterone lowers latent inhibition. So stress sends the brain into a state where it will examine factors in the environment that it normally ignores, thus allowing for the discovery of solutions to the stress-causing problem - solutions that would be ignored in normal and less-stressed circumstances.

Is this why we sometimes feel as though we're more creative under deadline stress (although studies have shown we’re not really more creative under those circumstances)?

Then, of course, stress overload causes information overload and then presumably psychosis starts. Or perhaps this is where depression comes from? A natural response to an overload of problem-solving stimuli, causing pattern-recognition and discernment responses to short-circuit?

So what is the effect of Prozac and the other SSRI drugs on this tendency for decreased latent inhibition? Would these medications decrease creativity by increasing latent inhibition, or would they increase creativity by increasing ability (or at least restoring your natural ability) to handle external stimuli?

I realize I have more questions than answers here, and I promise I’ll share answers with you if I find any. Meanwhile, you can see a .PDF of original paper here. The study was also published in the September 2003 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Comments (0) | Category: Brain Chemistry & Creativity | Creativity

Upcoming Conference: Return on Innovation

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

"Return on Innovation: Measuring and Managing Your Innovation Investment," will be held Dec. 3-5 in Coconut Grove, Fla. On the agenda:

  • Learn to achieve sustainable growth and increase your market share through proven innovations.
  • Link innovation to tangible results to prove the value of your investment to upper management who might not see innovation as a priority.
  • Learn the latest tools and techniques for measuring innovation from innovators at: IBM, Americredit Financial Services, Motorola Labs, Intel, Hewlett Packard and Georgia-Pacific.
  • Saving the best for last: John Wolpert and Joyce Wycoff of IdeaFlow will be speaking!

If you register by November 7th you can save $100. To register, go to or call 888.670.8200.

Please note: IdeaFlow is a media partner for this conference. That means we're involved with the conference, though no actual money is changing hands! If you register because you saw this, please let them know.

Comments (0) | Category: Conferences | Innovation, General | New Products | Open Innovation | ROI (Return on Innovation)

October 7, 2003

Mea Culpa!

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

I made a serious mistake in transcribing my notes from Innovation Convergence. In recounting the remarks of Dr. Stephen Oesterle from Medtronic, I wrote "tolerance for delusion by investors" when he actually said "tolerance for dilution by investors." Investor delusion may have been a reality in 1999, but not necessarily so today...and in any case that's a pretty catastrophic mis-rendering of what Dr. Oesterle said, as he was rightly quick to point out to me. I've corrected the original post, and I'm including the corrected version of Dr. Oesterle's remarks here so you don't have to go back and see the context:

Stephen N. Oesterle, M.D., Senior Vice President Medicine and Technology, Medtronic, described himself as a “technology scout who has to keep an eye on 2008.” His “yes” challenges: How do you innovate in a company where there’s no tolerance for dilution by investors? and how to keep on top of the convergence of biotech and medical devices that is the future of medical innovation.

Comments (0) | Category: Conferences

October 6, 2003


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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Renee ... you are amazing! Your Convergence notes are a terrific reminder of all the great stuff that went on there.

A friend sent me the following article which should be interesting to this group. The central role of IT as one of the most powerful gatekeepers of innovation should not be underestimated.

"Innovation Interruptus"
Computerworld (09/29/03) Vol. 31, No. 45, P. 41; Hoffman, Thomas

Industry observers report that IT budget cuts extending over the past few years have dampened innovation, but this has allowed other types of innovation to come to the fore, according to experts such as Computerworld columnist Paul A. Strassmann. Some companies continue to boost their annual IT investments to maintain their competitiveness, though such increases are considerably more frugal than in previous years. Wal-Mart declared several months ago that its 100 leading suppliers have an early 2005 deadline to start tracking their shipping pallets with radio frequency identification tags, while car manufacturer DaimlerChrysler announced in November 2002 that it had begun to invest in Digital Factory, an ambitious project to automate the design of its assembly plants. Meanwhile, UPS has invested approximately $1 billion over the past six years to develop "smart labels" that will help customers more easily locate their packages, and has mapped out a five-year, $127 million investment to distribute the DIAD IV handheld terminal to tens of thousands of drivers. The DIAD IV will save drivers the hassle of manually entering a customer's address and related data and scanning package bar codes in order to get routing instructions. Many companies see the budget crunch as an opportunity to move away from investing in new technologies and concentrate on optimizing existing technologies. RadioShack recently completed the installation of a supply chain management system, while senior VP Mike Kowal says the company has hired a consultant to help shepherd further operational efficiencies through organizational and behavioral changes. Still, 70 percent of 106 IT professionals polled in an August Computerworld survey reported that their IT departments postponed or killed "especially innovative projects" in the past two years, primarily because of budget cuts.
"Unleashing UWB"
Electronic Business (09/03) Vol. 29, No. 12, P. 62; Arensman, Russ

Comments (0) | Category: Conferences | Innovation, General | Technology

October 3, 2003

Innovation Convergence Notes IX: Innovation's In Our DNA

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Here’s how you know it was a good conference: A majority of the attendees were still there very late in the afternoon of the last day, to hear the last keynote speech. And this one was well worth it. Louis Geeringh of Deloitte Touche spoke on “Making Innovation Part of the Corporate DNA: How To Capitalize on Disruptive Times.”

What was most interesting about this is that not only does Deloitte consult on innovation, but much of Louis’ remarks had to do with the innovations Deloitte has put in place for its own company. Louis’ division (Deloitte-Touche, South Africa) began a program called InnovationZone and doubled the size of their division in two years. Now InnovationZone is a company-wide effort.

Again, more information on how innovation is a top concern for today’s CEOs: Louis cited the 6th annual global CEO survey conducted by PwC in conjunction with World Economic Forum (2003), which suggests that ability to innovate is the most important factor contributing to future growth. He also cited an Accenture survey in which CEOs acknowledged that innovation is key to competitive advantage, although 50% admitted that less than 20% of their promising innovative ideas are commercialized.

With these comments, Louis launched us back out into the real world ready to innovate:

  • Innovation thrives at the end of the empire. But it’s not about innovation [per se], but about finding the next wave of profitable growth.
  • In an environment of chaos and change, such as we face now, innovation is very important, and flexibility is very important…[at times and in industries] when long-term planning is 2 months, you’d better not cast your strategy in stone.
  • Strategic planning is dead – strategic innovation and discovery are not. Innovation needs to be made a business imperative, part of the business strategy.
  • In order to remain in business it is necessary to master both incremental innovation (which is the responsibility of line management) and disruptive innovation (what you need to get from “normal” to a stretch target). Disruptive innovation is part of senior management responsibilities and is best managed outside the core business, and in fact, a separate innovation process is required to bring ideas to market. You need a focused team, clear revenue targets, measured ROI, to report directly to senior management (“you don’t make friends when innovating”), and the latitude to make decisions.
  • Louis described the innovation gap (see chart here) and asked the question: What is the profitability number you’re chasing? If it’s a substantial increase you won’t make it without breakthrough innovation.
  • The greater the need for breakthrough innovation, the less you’ll find it inside the organization.
  • The very question you can’t answer for a disruptive innovation is: How big is the market?
  • Consensus is innovation’s evil twin, and makes for mediocre ideas. Innovation Boards are unhelpful for that reason.

And, one final thought from Louis to wrap up this entire series of notes: Humans are a breakthrough innovation….radical innovation is in each human’s DNA.

Comments (0) | Category: Conferences | Disruptive Innovation | Innovation, General | New Products

Innovation Convergence Notes VIII: Nerd-Herding, Technology Brokering and Trust

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

One absolutely fascinating talk was by Phil Fawcett, who’s a Technology Transfer Agent at Microsoft. Phil, a 20-year veteran of Microsoft (one assumes he probably doesn’t have to work anymore!) created this job and has grown it to the point where there’s a small staff of people helping him. His goal: Get research and product people to talk to each other. Right now, half of Microsoft ideas get into release. He’d like to increase that percentage so that the $7 billion Microsoft will invest in R&D in fiscal 2004 will be best used.

Phil says technoloy transfer is a fundamentally social process for managing key technology assets, and it’s a process that requires trust. Trust and risk must be balanced using communication processes. And this is where Phil comes in. Much of his talk was about how he fosters communication among his constituencies (researchers, product groups, senior management) to create a development environment suited to product-ready research.

One point that’s a little beside the point but still interesting: Phil says that for Microsoft researchers, failure isn’t fatal. At Microsoft, the real failure is not to document what you’ve learned from a failure.

Just in case you’re curious, here are some of the Nerd Herder Methods Phil says he uses at Microsoft:

  • TechFest – A technology trade show put on by researchers for the rest of Microsoft.
  • Blitz – A 2- to 3-hour session, with new researchers or product groups doing demos every 15 minutes.
  • Offsite – A 1- to 2-day meeting off-campus for the purpose of exchanging ideas about a topic that may lead to awareness of long-term issues, best used before initial product planning when groups are not talking to each other….need to have key influencers and key combatants there.
  • Brainstorm/Collaboration – An exchange of ideas in a 1- to 2-hour meeting session, either to create new solutions or to discuss trade-offs between several alternatives.
  • Heartbeat Meeting – Sessions of 3 to 4 “focused” researchers and product group staffers who meet every 1 to 2 weeks to drive action items within their respective divisions and monitor level engagement between the two groups.

Comments (0) | Category: Collaborative Creativity | Commercialization | Conferences | Corporate Climate | Innovation, General | New Products | Technology

Innovation Convergence Notes VII: Consumer Pain and New Product Development

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

In previous notes I’ve commented that a recurring theme at Convergence was how customer needs play a very important role in a company’s innovation and new product development efforts. A specific presentation on this theme was “Customer-Centric Innovation: Turning Consumer Pain Into Innovative New Products” by Tom Kuczmarski and Scott Lutz (contact info at link isn't current for Scott, but it's a good description of him!).

Tom quoted a 2003 best practices study his company did: 85% of CEO respondents said conducting customer problem/need identification research prior to ideation is the most important driver of new product/service success in their organizations.

A main reason why research for new product development should focus on consumer needs and an understanding of consumer’s lives – rather than product and service attributes – is that the resulting ideas are more likely to be true breakthroughs.

This makes absolute sense to me. If you focus on needs, you’ll come up with new products that meet those needs. These products may or may not resemble current offerings, but at the very least they shouldn’t be so far out in left field (a common problem with unfocused new product development efforts) that they don’t still meet those needs, since that was the objective.

On the other hand, when you focus on researching what consumers do and don’t like about an existing product, the best you can expect is incremental improvement suggestions.

For those in the B2B world, the exploratory research needs to focus around understanding companies and the roles your customers play in their companies, Tom says.

One more point Tom made about starting with pain – your new products are more likely to be profitable if they enable the solution to a problem on which consumers place a “higher need intensity.”

Scott’s portion of the presentation focused on the “evergreen” themes, ongoing consumer needs that many successful new products address: family, health, pleasure, energy, balance and community.

To uncover more focused needs than these, and to drill down into these evergreen themes and uncover specific needs, you need qualitative, not quantitative, research. In my opinion, these qualitative tools – depth interviews, lead-user interviews and ethnographic research – are the best ways to uncover the fears, wishes, anxieties, desires, frustrations and needs by which consumers express their pain. Quantitative research won’t be nearly as revealing, because it’s not exploratory.

Having noted all of that – you may recall that I had a conversation here last month with Andy Hargadon, author of How Breakthroughs Happen: The Surprising Truth About How Companies Innovate, that takes this idea one step further. Our conversation was about how consumers can be an “open source” for new product ideas. I said then, using consumers for ideation, especially those screened for past product category usage, makes sense from the point of view that the consumers have both domain relevant knowledge (as potential users of the new product) and have creativity skills.

Relating this back to Tom and Scott’s presentation – let’s say you start with some qualitative research around discovering actual consumer pain (cognitive dissonance!). You’d use that as a starting point for ideation, as Tom pointed out in the presentation. But then let’s say you are doing that ideation with consumers who have usage experience in that product category. Their own “pain” is the specific domain-relevant knowledge that keeps them on focused on actual usable ideas, and their creativity is the spark that makes the ideas good.

Comments (0) | Category: Conferences | Customer Viewpoint | Innovation, General | Marketing | Marketing Research | New Products

Innovation Convergence Notes VI: Maps And Codes Matter

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Juan Enriquez, director of HBS’ Life Science Project held us riveted to our seats during his morning keynote: As The Future Catches You. With slides of images from Felice Frankel’s Envisioning Science, he talked about what kinds of innovations matter.

Says he: Maps matter. You don’t have to have an accurate map, just a better map than your neighbor’s. And codes matter. Executing the right code matters even more. Literacy in and the ability to map the right code matters a lot. Early maps of the world and the new code of the 26-letter alphabet were once the highest standards of maps and codes. Now the genome map and the DNA code are the ones that matter. Enriquez talked of the "merger between food, drink, biotech and pharma" that will change all of our lives.

It was hard to know whether to be inspired after this or go off in despair because I personally don’t know how to read either the genome map or the DNA code!

Comments (0) | Category: Conferences | Creativity | Disruptive Innovation | Innovation, General | Technology

Creativity and Innovation on the Web

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

This Waypath Buzzmaker is way put in up to five search terms, and get back a graphical representation of the number of links each term has generated on blogs over the past 10 weeks. Below is the result for the terms "creativity" and "innovation." Click on the image and you get the search result links. Thanks to Dave Pollard for the pointer.

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October 2, 2003

Innovation Convergence Notes IV: Trust Us

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

More on Convergence: I’m going to write now about a session I didn’t actually attend (there were tough choices to make!), but I heard great feedback on it from several conference attendees. Also, the subject was trust, a topic crucial to innovation, and one we’ve discussed here before.

Jim Mikula and Ruth Ann Hattori led this session, and most of my comments here are based on their white paper, "Collaboration, Trust and Innovative Change," which was part of the session handouts. If you are concerned about the need for setting up a relationship of trust for a collaborative innovation venture, it’s well worth reading.

Basically, Mikula and Hattori spell out these four attributes of trust:

  • Authenticity
  • History of fulfillment
  • Ability to fulfill
  • Commitment to the relationship

Individuals or companies are said to be “highly invested” if all four attributes of trust are present in their relationship. And, “this highly invested state is one necessary precondition for collaborative innovation.” Of course, whether or not these trust attributes are present in the relationship, or could be developed, is a matter of opinion. Mikula and Hattori are simply offering the suggestion that this opinion should be based on a careful assessment rather than gut instinct, and their framework offers a structure with which to make this assessment.

Another good point regarding trust assessments: they are domain-specific. Their example: You may trust your organization’s controller with finances but you may not trust him or her to create an outstanding training class.

Comments (0) | Category: Collaborative Creativity | Conferences | Innovation, General | Open Innovation

October 1, 2003

Innovation Convergence Notes III: Sandbox Wisdom, Innovation Bloggers

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

The theme of Convergence may have been innovation, but that’s not to say that everyone there was up on the latest innovations. Not only had many people I spoke to not heard of IdeaFlow, most had never heard of blogging, either!

But there was at least one other blogger there besides me and JoyceTom Asacker, author of The Four Sides of Sandbox Wisdom: Building Relationships In An Age of Chaos, Complexity, and Change, who was the Monday lunch keynote speaker. Tom’s blogged Convergence impressions, including photos (none of me!), are here.

“Innovation is how well you flow around the obstacles,” Tom told us, which reminded me of something I heard folksinger Chuck Pyle (best-known as the writer of “Jaded Lover”) say in a recent concert: “Life is short, but wide.”

UPDATE: I just found out that Imaginatik, featured in my first Convergence installment, has a blog too. Anybody else who was at Convergence have one? Let me know!

Comments (0) | Category: Blogging & Innovation/Creativity | Collaborative Creativity | Conferences | IdeaFlow