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.


Category Archives

December 9, 2003

Inspirational Tidbits from the NYT

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Courtesy of Hylton:

  • Interesting NYT story about how consumers shape new product offerings in personal technology (reg reqd)

  • Stories of inspiration, invention and design in products and services ranging from the iPod to Song Airlines can be found in yesterday’s NYT Magazine (reg reqd, and make sure you look at 'em this week before the links go away!)

Comments (0) | Category: Commercialization | Creativity | Customer Viewpoint | Innovation, General | Marketing | New Products | Technology

November 26, 2003

Selling To Nonconsumers (IS, Chapter 4)

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

In previous chapters, The Innovator’s Solution authors Christensen and Raynor explored a disruptive strategy of “competing against nonconsumption.” But in so doing, companies are faced with the immediate challenge of how to find and sell to the nonconsumers who can become your customers.  A case study with which many of us are familiar — how Sony scored numerous times with disruptions such as the transistor radio and the Walkman — illustrates the point perfectly.

The Sony case also illustrates another point made in this chapter, which is that disruptive products often require disruptive channels for sales and distribution.  This point is even more pertinent when you use the broader definition of channels that the authors are using: “A company’s channel includes no just wholesale distributors and retail stores, but any entity that adds value to or creates value around the company’s product as it wends its way toward the hands of the end user.” Example: computer makers such as IBM and Compaq are the channels through which Intel’s microprocessors and Microsoft’s operating system reach the end-use customer.

So if a disruptive strategy of “competing against nonconsumption” makes so much sense, the authors point out, why do incumbent companies do the opposite, which is “trying to stretch the disruptive innovation to compete against — and ultimately supplant — established products sold by well-entrenched competitors in large, obvious market applications”? The answer has to do with resource allocation.

Mistake No. 1 is to frame the disruption as an opportunity. Christensen and Raynor’s theory (much of which they credit to HBS professor Clark Gilbert) is that the disruption should be framed not as a potential opportunity for further growth, but as a threat to existing business that cannot be overlooked.  Framing the disruption as a threat allows for top-level resource commitments. Then the disruptive technology should be developed by an “autonomous organization” (another division, a spin-off company) that can frame it as an opportunity.

Mistake No. 2 is to promise big numbers in the future in exchange for resources in the present. “The very effort of trying to articulate a convincing case for resources actually forces the entrepreneurs to cram the innovation as a sustaining technology in the existing market,” because the biggest markets whose size can be substantiated are those that already exist. Then when the results fall short of the promised numbers – because the market of nonconsumers is not being effectively targeted – resources are cut.

The authors suggest that companies that try new-market disruption establish a parallel process in which to evaluate potentially disruptive opportunities, a process in which the go/no go decisions are made based not on numerical rules but on how well they fit the pattern for disruption already explicated by the authors. And even then, the best that can be predicted is that “the initial conditions are conducive to successful growth.”

Disruption is, after all, still a risk.

Comments (0) | Category: Books | Clayton Christensen | Commercialization | Customer Viewpoint | Innovation, General | Marketing | Marketing Research | New Products | Technology

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 3, 2003

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

September 29, 2003

Innovation Convergence Notes I: Idea Management, Customers Are Important - But IP Is Not

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Let’s just get this straight upfront: I am not a real-time conference-blogging demon! For that reason I’m just now getting around to blogging my notes from last week’s Innovation Convergence. But what I lack in speed I hope to make up for in value! I’ve got lots of notes and impressions to share.

First, my overall main impression was that Capital I-Innovation has arrived. Last year’s Convergence had just 70 attendees. This year there were 220, and new conferences on the subject are springing up like mushrooms after a thunderstorm, including this December’s Return on Innovation, at which IdeaFlow contributors Joyce Wycoff and John Wolpert will both be speakers.

Convergence’s very first keynote speaker, Mark Turrell of Imaginatik, referenced a famous (in innovation circles, anyway) Gary Hamel quote that seems to be on its way to becoming reality: “Innovation must become what quality was 20 years ago.”

Turrell sounded another common theme in his keynote, “Measuring the Financial Impact of Innovation: Calculating Your Innovation Gap.” That common theme was to make a differentiation between innovation and creativity, and pretty much every speaker I heard did this. Boiled down to the basics, the difference seemed to be that innovation is a process and creativity is not. Devotees of a process approach to creativity might beg to differ, but for the purposes of this conference, the distinction allowed most speakers a productive platform from which to dive into their take on the innovation process.

My notes on Turrell’s innovation/creativity definitions: Innovation’s a much more corporate thing than creativity, much more of a process. People who don’t get creativity are the ones who control the budgets, the ones you must convince to fund innovation.

Innovation is the process of handling new things; creativity is a one-off, invention is a one-off. Invention and creativity are part of the innovation process.

The main point of his talk was to expound on IOI, or the financial Impact of Innovation. He defined this as the proportion of current and future revenue and profit that is dependent on the company’s ability to innovate, and defined IOI components as revenue growth, revenue protection, productivity, and disruptive change (unplanned activities, or risk).

He then said the innovation gap is the difference between the target level of innovation (IOI) and the current innovation capacity, which is based on the ability of a firm to handle new things.

Idea management is important, because too many new ideas block the pipeline. You could expect him to say that, since Imaginatik is in the idea-management business, but this was another theme that was sounded by many speakers, including the other opening-day keynote, Dr. George Land of the Farsight Group.

First, Land's innovation/creativity definitions: At the beginning of his talk, “A Systems Process for Innovation,” he defined innovation as “organized creativity.”

Land’s Advanced Innovation Method is a process for bringing innovation to a corporation. Most important is the first part, determining what strategic innovation would be for the company. Seventy percent of time and budget should go to the first three steps, he says, which doesn’t even get you to the generating concepts stage. The important first three steps encompass alignment, an innovation audit, and a determination of an innovation strategy. A big part of this is determining internal and external customers’ “deep needs” – what does the customer really want or need in the future? Land says his company actually puts a large number of resources into training a client company’s customers in creativity to get them to articulate their needs. I of course found this fascinating in light of our own consumer-based approach, which has been discussed here recently.

And, connecting to another discussion we’ve been having here lately, this time on the Copyright Wars, Land dropped something of a bombshell early on in his speech by declaring that “product innovations are very easy to copy, and patents are an invitation to a lawsuit.” Sure enough, the first question in the following Q&A was about this assertion. Land explained further: Patents are very easy to go around. The issue is a flow of innovation, and what’s in the pipeline to develop after what you’ve got now has been copied. Always assume you’re going to get copied, and try to discover where you can innovate that it will be invisible. Developing intellectual assets – documented current and past knowledge that can lead to the creation of new knowledge through systematic innovation -- is better than developing IP, which he defined as “knowledge with legal ownership.”

According to Land, only 15% of corporate innovation comes from R&D departments, so that’s not the most important place to be innovative in a corporation. The companies most successful at innovation are stealthily innovating their process, distribution, or some other aspect that’s hard for competitors to grasp and copy.

But in any case, he echoed Turrell by saying, “don’t bust the dam of ideas until you’ve got somewhere for the water to go. Innovation efforts must be targeted or they create chaos. It’s a duty and an obligation NOT to collect too many ideas, to be ruthless with idea management.”

Finally, and this is another theme that was echoed over and over again: The CEO must drive innovation, and financial gap analysis is essential on the front end. You must arm yourself with the facts. Land also felt that a company should have an EVP or C-level innovation executive heading an innovation department that would integrate all functions – marketing, technology, business development, etc. And a company’s biggest barriers to innovation, in his view, are lack of leadership to drive innovation, and lack of strategic alignment regarding innovation.

And this was just the first part of the first day!!! More to come.

Comments (0) | Category: Collaborative Creativity | Commercialization | Conferences | Corporate Climate | Creativity | Disruptive Innovation | Innovation, General | Law & Policy | Marketing | Marketing Research | New Products | Open Innovation | Patents | ROI (Return on Innovation) | Technology