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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Leadership Vacuums and Overcoming Barriers to Innovation

by Robert F. Brands with Jeff Zbar

Leadership Vacuums and Overcoming Barriers to InnovationYou want to innovate. You want your company and people to embrace new ideas, get ahead of the curve - and competition. You want to be progressive, thoughtful and creative.

But you're stymied by barriers to innovation that get in the way. They bog down your team, repel creativity and leave the organization wanting for more. Projects can't get started. Initiatives don't leave the gate. There's a general failure to launch.

For some organizations, innovation is the much sought-after Holy Grail of thoughtful, productive creativity. Yet for those where innovation ceases to exist, the organization itself often is at a loss to identify the culprit.

In reality, the barriers to innovation often are the same barriers that prevent other progressive initiatives from taking root. In a recent survey, innovation blogger and consultant Braden Kelley asked readers, "What is your organization's biggest barrier to innovation?"


Braden Kelley poll on barriers to innovation
Tops among the 550 (and counting) responses, some 32 percent of respondents said 'organizational psychology' - as Kelley put it, "the way people think in the organization, the culture - fear of failure, risk aversion, etc."

Next, 26 percent of respondents said an absence of an innovative strategy.

The rest, in order, were Organizational Structure (15 percent), Level of Trust and Respect (13), and Information Sharing (11).

Yet in all my years, I've found one essential barrier not mentioned by respondents here but which supersedes them all, and if well placed and respected, can eliminate most if not all the barriers mentioned:

Leadership - thoughtful, progressive, inclusive leadership. A CEO who sets the vision for the company, establishes policies for innovation, and encourages his team to embrace all in kind.

Leaders of innovation embrace corporate entrepreneurship. They encourage people to step out of their cubes and beyond the safety of just "doing their day jobs." They expect workers - from the executive ranks to the reception desk - to push back and explore beyond the boundaries of their comfort zones.

They define innovation; after all, it can mean different things to different people. Let people retain their respective, personal definitions. But for purposes of the organization, innovation and the goals sought must be defined from the top. They then must be encouraged to welcome the challenge and inspired to rise to the occasion.

Research around "Most Innovative Companies" (Updated April 26, 2010 Edition) from BusinessWeek and Boston Consulting Group backed up this intuition.

When asked "Who is the biggest force driving innovation at your company?" some 44.5 percent of respondents said it was the CEO (see slide No. 9). Interestingly, only 3 percent answered the vice president of innovation.


Innovation Leader
http://images.businessweek.com/ss/06/04/in_bigpicture/index_01.htm


In order to blow through the myriad obstacles that thwart innovation - whether a lack of innovative strategy, structure, trust and respect, sharing of information, or even organizational psychology - the impetus starts in the C-Suite. To be sure, the structure has to be in place, and the organization - and its people - have to know who they are and what their mission is.

Only with the right leader, will the environment and enablers be in place, the resources be made available, and the roadblocks be dismantled. The barriers will be removed. Innovation, in the end, will have the fertile grounds to launch and take flight.


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Robert F BrandsRobert Brands is the founder of InnovationCoach.com, and the author of "Robert's Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival", with Martin Kleinman - to be published in March by Wiley (www.robertsrulesofinnovation.com).

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ten Innovation Imperatives

Interview - Robert F. Brands

Interview - Robert F. BrandsI had the opportunity to interview Robert F. Brands, author of "Robert's Rules of Innovation" recently.

Here is the text of the interview:

1. When it comes to innovation, what is the biggest challenge that you see organizations facing?

The first and most important challenge is to understand and realize that innovation is not optional, it really is : Innovate or Perish. As a result of the traditional product lifecycle it is a phenomenon that once past the "growth" and "mature" phase, any product or service will ultimately decline. So for any thriving business one has to reinvent itself and add new products or services over and over. Once convinced of the importance, it all starts with the leadership. The CEO supported by the leadership team has to create a vision mission and strategy that is all in support of and in line with the innovation efforts. As a result resources would be budgeted, measurements and reward systems created. It has to be a holistic approach since no individual elements like just having a new product development process or great ideation will ultimately create sustainable innovation. The larger the organization the bigger the challenges and the most important tip is to have a simple and clearly stated innovation objective so that all involved will work towards the same objective, this can be as simple as "one new product per year".


2. For you, where does innovation begin?

Innovation begins with the Chief Executive Officer who has to be the Chief Innovation Officer. His or her vision, mission and strategy supported by the executive leadership team is really where it all begins but the most important first step is for any organization to define innovation so that everybody is on the same page.


3. Are there any of the ten innovation imperatives that are more important than the others?

To create truly sustainable innovation, no imperative is more important than the other. However it is essential to have a solid New Product Development process as well as Ideation process in place since both will create, feed and guide the product concepts through the organization.


4. What are some of the most important parts of an innovation culture that must be maintained for innovation to be sustainable?

Inspiration is one of the most difficult elements of the innovation efforts to maintain according to a recent survey by InnovationCoach.com. This is kind of a surprise as it is the chief executive that should continue to inspire, stay focused and involved. In looking at the parts to make this happen, communication is absolutely key. It is really important to share with the organization as a whole the intend, the goal and the focus and as a result one should communicate on a regular basis to share the initial victories and wins, challenges and focus. The second element that comes to mind is "Openness" of Innovation; start internally, eliminate silos and the anti-bodies and cooperate to win. This will create an environment where by Open Innovation from the outside can be accepted and welcomed which can help you accelerate your efforts.


5. Why are patents and the new product development process so important to innovation?

The book spends a complete chapter on the importance of intellectual property and patents and how to go about it. Patents are important since they create protection and allow a greater return on investment, it helps you carve out a specific proprietary area of protection that can help you build market share and create stakeholder value. It is proven that those companies with a strong patent portfolio creates much more value to their stakeholders than companies without. Airspray, the case study focused on in the book (the company that brought instant foaming dispensers like hand soap to market) was sold at 15 times EBIT which proves the point.

The New Product Development process helps you take a product or service from concept to launch. It enables you to do multiple tasks, simultaneously, by different departments, so that all elements come to completion and fruition at the same end date. This can be done by way of a simple matrix or complex detailed process but it is essential to prioritize and track the concepts through the process and have clear go/no-go stage-gates with teeth.


6. If you were to change one thing about our educational system to better prepare students to contribute in the innovation workforce of tomorrow, what would it be?

Making sure that the innovators of tomorrow are skilled in project management, ideation, and teamwork. Leadership will come naturally to those able, but regardless of whether you are a leader or contributor these three skills are essential to cooperate and deliver the new products and services of tomorrow.


You'll find our book review of Robert F. Brands' book "Robert's Rules of Innovation" here.


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Braden KelleyBraden Kelley is the editor of Blogging Innovation and founder of Business Strategy Innovation, a consultancy focusing on innovation and marketing strategy. Braden is also @innovate on Twitter.

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Book Review - "Robert's Rules of Innovation"

by Braden Kelley

Robert's Rules of InnovationA few weeks ago I received "Robert's Rules of Innovation" by Robert F. Brands with Martin J. Kleinman in the mail. "Robert's Rules of Innovation" is an approachable 200 pages, and is an easy, and pleasant read.

Robert F. Brands is a consultant, speaker, contributor to Blogging Innovation, and former CEO of Airspray N.V. - manufacturer of the ubiquitous foaming pumps on soaps of all kinds.

The book lays out a self-described 10-step program for corporate survival as a set of ten 'innovation imperatives' that are as follows:
  1. Inspire
  2. No Risk, No Innovation
  3. New Product Development Process
  4. Ownership
  5. Value Creation
  6. Accountability
  7. Training and Coaching
  8. Idea Management
  9. Observe and Measure
  10. Net Result and Reward

The book highlights the importance of an innovation audit before your innovation efforts begin, and includes sample innovation audit questions in the book and a more complete version is available on the supporting web site.

If new product development processes have not been formalized sufficiently in your company, the book devotes a significant portion of the text and appendices to new product development process flow charts and other resources and information.

There are many different definitions and quotes about innovation and there is one mentioned from Bruce Sauter in the book that is an interesting one to think about:


"Innovation is a holistic strategy for building organizational culture, empowering the passion to create, developing creative environments that can execute effectively, and creating the potential for market leadership. Innovation is not just happening in the front end of the business development process - it needs to be pervasive throughout the entire value chain."


Robert reinforces more than once in the book the importance of the CEO to innovation. In fact you might infer his perspective to be that the Chief Executive Officer should be the Chief Innovation Officer for innovation to be successful.

At the same time, numerous pages are allocated to the subject of teamwork and the delicate tension between giving "creatives" enough separation to have freedom to create and feel safe to push the boundaries of failure, without separating them too far so that resentment builds or the engagement of other employees falls.

Taken all together I found "Robert's Rules of Innovation" to present a clear approach to innovation for managers looking to begin their innovation journey or for people looking to read up a bit more on the topic.


Please also see our interview with Robert F. Brands.


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Braden KelleyBraden Kelley is the editor of Blogging Innovation and founder of Business Strategy Innovation, a consultancy focusing on innovation and marketing strategy. Braden is also @innovate on Twitter.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

World Innovation Forum Contest Winners Announced

Chance to Win a Free Ticket to World Innovation ForumSeventeen people answered all five scavenger hunt questions to enter the contest and have a chance to win some great prizes including a free ticket to the World Innovation Forum in New York, NY on June 8-9, 2010. This is a $2,200 ticket to an event that often sells out.


Here are the winners as drawn randomly by my five-year-old out of a hat:
  1. (1) complimentary admission (a $2,200 value) to the World Innovation Forum

    • Mauricio Bastos of Brazil

  2. (1) complimentary admission ($99 value) to a Seth Godin webinar on April 15, 2010

    • Matt Podgorski of Germany

  3. (1) HSM DVD on Innovation from HSM's DVD Master Series (a $79 value)

    • Jim Sabogal of Pennsylvania

  4. (2) signed copies of Robert F Brand's new book "Robert's Rules of Innovation"

    • Shawna O'Reilly of Minnesota

    • Karen Pineda of New York

Thank you to everyone who participated!


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Braden KelleyBraden Kelley is the editor of Blogging Innovation and founder of Business Strategy Innovation, a consultancy focusing on innovation and marketing strategy. Braden is also @innovate on Twitter.

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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Chance to Win a Free Ticket to World Innovation Forum

Chance to Win a Free Ticket to World Innovation ForumHere is your chance to win some great prizes including a free ticket to the World Innovation Forum in New York, NY on June 8-9, 2010. This is a $2,200 ticket to an event that often sells out.

This year's World Innovation Forum lineup includes:
  • Seth Godin, Michael Porter, Chip Heath, Biz Stone, and more.

So, how can you enter to win?


Simple. We're having a five item innovation scavenger hunt.


Starting tomorrow, each day from April 9-13, 2010 we will post a new question (five in total) that can be answered quickly from information publicly available on the internet. Individuals who answer all five questions correctly will be entered in random draw for the following prizes:
  1. (1) complimentary admission (a $2,200 value) to the World Innovation Forum

  2. (1) complimentary admission ($99 value) to a Seth Godin webinar on April 15, 2010

  3. (1) HSM DVD on Innovation from HSM's DVD Master Series (a $79 value)

  4. (2) signed copies of Robert F Brand's new book "Robert's Rules of Innovation"

Robert's Rules of InnovationIn the event that not enough people get all five questions correct we will progressively draw from the groups of four correct answers, three correct answers, etc. until all five prizes are given away.
  1. Challenge Question #1
  2. Challenge Question #2
  3. Challenge Question #3
  4. Challenge Question #4
  5. Challenge Question #5

You only have until midnight GMT April 13, 2010 to submit your entries by email to scavenger [at] blogginginnovation [dot] com.


Or, if you would like to skip the contest and attend the World Innovation Forum, we have negotiated a $200 discount for our loyal readers when you register with our discount code "INNOVATE".


Editors's notes: The winner of the one (1) World Innovation Forum ticket is still responsible for covering their own travel costs. The prizes for this contest are being provided by HSM Global and Robert F Brands, not Blogging Innovation, and are conveyed at their discretion not ours.


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Braden KelleyBraden Kelley is the editor of Blogging Innovation and founder of Business Strategy Innovation, a consultancy focusing on innovation and marketing strategy. Braden is also @innovate on Twitter.

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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Paradox of Open Innovation: Internal or External?

by Robert F. Brands with Jeff Zbar

The Paradox of Open Innovation: Internal or External?What came first, the chicken or the egg? This paradox has perplexed philosophers for millennia.

In the progressive workplace, a similar dilemma confounds executives. In the pursuit of open innovation, what comes first: Innovation created internally, or innovation developed beyond the organization?

People talk about open innovation. It's the mantra of leadership experts and workplace counselors across the business landscape. But internal versus external innovation also presents a dichotomy. Often conflicting in nature, many proponents of open innovation get tripped up on why external innovation can fail to take root.

In my opinion, the paradox is easily answered: External innovation is destined to fail if the imperatives of internal innovation have not first been developed, deployed and adhered to. Workplace pundits extol the virtues of external innovation, but if innovation isn't alive and thriving internally, innovation itself will fall on the scrapheap of failed initiatives.

Effective innovation isn't about the Chief Innovation Officer or even the CEO mandating from on high what milestones R&D or Engineering must pursue or achieve. In fact, innovation that's required to come from R&D, Engineering or some other Department of Innovation is susceptible to the Not Invented Here syndrome. If it wasn't created by someone who's mandate it is to do just that, it's often likely to be squashed by exactly those who didn't come up with the idea. "Quit meddling in my sandbox," is the complaint.

Those barriers have to be removed. Effective innovation begins with breaking down silos that separate departments, divisions or teams - and encouraging, even welcoming participation from across the organization.

Sure, those directly charged with leading innovation might come up with good ideas. But will they speak to the heart of the organization and how it interfaces with its customers or constituency?

For example, since 1967, Hollywood Woodwork in Hollywood, Florida, has specialized in custom woodwork for use in premier hotels, spas, casinos, country clubs, public projects and corporate offices throughout the United States and Caribbean. Then the recession hit, and the company saw a drop off in its traditional business.

Then the company opened up and solicited ideas from all employees - not just those in Product Development. This led to a simple question: "Can we do church pews?" No deep analysis by skilled research teams or high-paid consultants. Just a simple query that made company executives wonder: Can we?

They could. And now, Hollywood Woodwork does, making many other products utilizing their assets. Building church benches helped diversify the company - and keep it afloat during the recession.

The request also made executives there realize something else: We must be receptive to potential innovation from all internal sources. Not-invented-here doesn't exist at Hollywood Woodwork. Innovative suggestions are welcomed from across its workforce of 150.

With the foundations of open innovation secure within an organization, only then should a company seek innovation from beyond its walls. If you don't have internal innovation down pat, and you haven't removed all the emotional barriers that inhibit the free exchange of ideas, you never will embrace what comes from the outside.

Successful open innovation, then, becomes the preamble to effective external innovation - if it's needed at all. Paradox solved, the entire team can focus on true innovation.


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Robert F BrandsRobert Brands is the founder of InnovationCoach.com, and the author of "Robert's Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival", with Martin Kleinman - to be published in March by Wiley (www.robertsrulesofinnovation.com).

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Inspiring Corporate Entrepreneurship to Fuel Innovation

by Robert F. Brands with Jeff Zbar

Inspiring Corporate Entrepreneurship to Fuel InnovationIt's been said that successful people either are entrepreneurs - or think like entrepreneurs.

Look around your company. Are you surrounded by entrepreneurs? Is your team comprised of people who take ownership of any project or task that comes across their desk or inbox? Do they embrace challenges, possess the process, and take responsibility - for successes and failures alike?

Some may come away thinking that 'corporate entrepreneur' and 'employee' are contradictory. They believe that entrepreneurs take the ultimate risk - ditching the security of the day-job, as it were, and facing the personal, financial and psychological challenges of business ownership.

That's one definition. Another would be 'corporate entrepreneurship'. This realm is inhabited by people who - though they receive a paycheck signed by someone else - see the organization (or at least their small domain within it) as their turf. This is the most valued type of employee.

Innovation and corporate entrepreneurship are inextricably intertwined and fuel well-reasoned risk taking. Especially in large organizations traditionally risk averse, innovation drives leaders and teams to become more corporate enterprising. This process encourages growth from within, which helps set the stage for leadership continuity.

As a business leader, you must build an environment that tolerates such entrepreneurial thinking. It's the leader's job to encourage such entrepreneurial thinking - to exude and build trust, to embrace the risk to fail, and to inspire people to take well-reasoned chances.

In the book, "Grow From Within: Mastering Corporate Entrepreneurship," co-author Robert Wolcott discusses how companies can enable and support 'internal entrepreneurs' to achieve innovation-led growth. Such entrepreneurial thinking drove IBM to realize some $15 billion in new annual revenues from 22 Emerging Business Opportunities, and Whirlpool to realize $4 billion in revenues from companywide innovation efforts - "despite global recession and the steep drop in housing markets," notes one review.


emerging models of corporate entrepreneurship
The authors reveal four models of corporate entrepreneurship laid out on an axis of organizational ownership (on the horizontal) and Resource Authority (on the vertical). Each possesses unique and specific characteristics. The Opportunist (bottom left), takes no deliberate approach to entrepreneurship; the Advocate (bottom right) evangelizes for it; the Enabler (upper left) provides funding and executive attention, and the Producer (upper right) establishes full service groups with mandates for corporate entrepreneurship

Applying Robert's Rules of Innovation, the Advocate, Enabler and Producer can thrive in this environment for each has corporate support. They have executive support, from Inspiration to Net Reward, needed for innovation borne of corporate entrepreneurship to thrive.

Yet for corporate entrepreneurship to thrive, it needs more. It requires the structure and culture. Assuming the right people are in place, leadership must provide divisional and business unit autonomy. How can you lead your organization to a climate of corporate entrepreneurship?
  • Like innovation, Define what entrepreneurship means. The phrase "Corporate Entrepreneurship" must mean the same thing organization-wide. Moreover, leadership must delineate objectives and point the way as part of its vision and mission.

  • Incubate and nurture. Corporate entrepreneurship doesn't flourish without guidance. It starts small - and grows through encouragement. Begin with small projects heavily supported by leadership. Those success stories should be heavily communicated as such. They then will become the lead project to pull the rest of the group or other entrepreneurial-minded teams along.

  • Create a reward system. Risk and reward, when properly aligned, can foster accountability. Rewards - whether in the form of praise from immediate managers, attention from leadership, or the chance to lead future projects or task forces - are powerful motivators. They also can help solidify the creation of stronger corporate entrepreneurs.

So look around your organization. Are you surrounded by employees - or entrepreneurs? The difference may be not only the way they think, but they way they're being nurtured.


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Robert F BrandsRobert Brands is the founder of InnovationCoach.com, and the author of "Robert's Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival", with Martin Kleinman - to be published in March by Wiley (www.robertsrulesofinnovation.com).

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Friday, March 05, 2010

Innovation gone too far? - The Toyota Recall

by Robert F. Brands with Jeff Zbar

Innovation gone too far? - The Toyota RecallOnce upon a time, to start your Toyota Camry, you placed a key in the ignition and turned until the electrical connection was made and engine started.

To accelerate, you pressed the gas pedal, which pulled a cable attached to a mechanical throttle. Assuming the shift had been manually placed into gear - the car moved.

Today, electronics and computers have replacement many of the mechanical parts that once made cars move. To start many cars or place them in gear, buttons are pushed. To accelerate, the gas pedal is connected not to a cable, but to a computer - via electronic circuitry.

In light of Toyota's massive recall of 10 million of Camry, Tercel, Prius hybrid and luxury Lexus models (and that's a shortened list), one has to wonder: At what point does innovation encourage failure?

In other words, has Toyota gone too far? In the interest of fairness, these issues potentially affect any modern automobile. Already, GM is facing recalls related to steering.

The costs - in terms of finances and consumer confidence - can be great. As Toyota mechanics are correcting millions of cars and consumer confidence lags, rival automakers have reported double-digit sales growth.

But the question of innovation for innovation's sake - or for the sake of "technological evolution" - begs to be asked. Sure, innovation of the vehicle and the way it's manufactured cuts costs, including labor and benefits. We continually innovate to cost reduce. But now, cars don't just turn on with the turn of a key. And when they don't roar to life as expected, the corner mechanic must be trained not only in auto repair, but in computers technology (assuming he or she owns the equipment).

This reminds me of a story. It was the 1970s. Two adventurers once were traveling by pick-up truck in northern Mexico when their vehicle broke down. The local mechanic took a look under the hood, grabbed a coffee can of old parts, and fashioned a fix.

How does this all relate to the innovation imperatives? In "Robert's Rules of Innovation", it mentions two key imperatives that seem to have gone awry here. First, Toyota sought the imperative of value creation in pursuit of innovation. Yet, any value created through their innovation-gone-awry is more than lost through the recall and labor costs and lost sales and good will.

Second, who has been held accountable? After first declining to do so, Toyota President Akio Toyoda made a very public appearance on Capitol Hill. He apologized and promised to "do everything in my power" to ensure the malfunctions and tragedies don't happen again. Do Americans buy it? Can Toyota afford to wait and wonder?

To that end, the complexity of the conundrum facing Toyota at one point was belied by the simplicity of their first apparent fix. After spending days in conference over how to remedy the stuck throttle, high-paid engineers came up with a simple solution: Shorten the gas pedal.

To be sure, in the end, the issues facing the automaker were far more complex than nipping an inch off a too-long pedal. But could the issues have been remedied in the designer's or accountant's office years ago - when the company believed innovation would save money?

We - and Toyota - may never know. But we've learned that innovation poorly planned can have the greatest expectations, but the worst outcomes.


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Robert F BrandsRobert Brands is the founder of InnovationCoach.com, and the author of "Robert's Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival", with Martin Kleinman - to be published in March by Wiley (www.robertsrulesofinnovation.com).

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Innovation Perspectives - Shepherding a Team of Opportunists

This is the sixth of several 'Innovation Perspectives' articles we will publish this week from multiple authors to get different perspectives on 'Who should be responsible (if anyone) for trend-spotting and putting emerging behaviors and needs into context for a business?'. Here is the next perspective in the series:

by Robert F Brands with Jeff Zbar

Innovation Perspectives - Shepherding a Team of OpportunistsWhen an entrepreneur creates a new product or company, the result usually is borne by spotting an emerging trend, conceptualizing an innovation, or seizing an opportunity unmet or consumer behavior emerging in the marketplace.

But what happens once the company opens its doors or the product hits the market? Whose responsibility is it to spot the next trend or opportunity? More important, who should be charged with shepherding the behavior of trend-spotting across the organization?

Everybody is responsible for trend spotting. This isn't some cliquey club; limit your people's involvement at your own peril. From the Marketing and New Product Development Departments, to sales representatives in the field, from the CEO to the receptionist or CSRs - trends happen and are spotted everywhere. Therefore, everyone needs sharp eyes and piqued ears for emerging trends.

But trend spotting doesn't just happen. Part mandate, part innate behavior, people have to want to be on the look out for new opportunities. Just as many organizations seek to break down silos that traditionally have separated teams or departments, the same sense of unified, yet independent thinking must permeate any organization that hopes to spot and capture the Next Big Thing.

This cannot be an idle mandate - a sort of set-it-and-forget-it statement from on high. Trend spotting is learned by example, and encouraged or shepherded by senior managers who also focus on innovation. This can be the CEO of a smaller organization, or the Chief Innovation Officer at a larger one.

This kind of lead-by-example encouragement transforms employees across the enterprise into Idea Generators - trend spotters who become champions of their space and sources of new ideas that touch every part of the organization. One who submits an idea is more likely to take ownership of it - and help shepherd it in kind through the research and discovery process

(Whether a trend that is explored and later travels the path to New Product Development is another topic. To be sure, not all trends spotted and submitted to the Idea Hopper for further discovery will blossom - at least right away. Some will, and some must wait for market or company conditions to blossom in kind. And that's fine.)

How can you improve and become more creative in organizational trend spotting?
  • Create a Trend / Idea War Room. Like lighting company Sylvania "War Room" for trend spotting. Yours can be a permanent place where white and dry erase boards, competitive products, and ads clipped from magazines line the walls (see more below).

  • Solicit outside involvement. Do you have field reps, distributors, retailers who are on the front lines of customer interaction? They can help target opportunities by specific geographies or market segments.

  • Tap tradeshows. I've always encouraged aggressive trend spotting at tradeshows. As your people walk the floor, encourage them to envision and cross apply. At Kohler, we would attend design and household appliance shows, and come up with better and trend fitting kitchen product designs for faucets and sinks.

  • Read (with a trend-spotting eye) trade and consumer magazines. See something cool? Tear it out and stick it to the wall. Let the Innovation Team mull them over. Ideas may crystallize.

  • Buy new and competitive products. Tinker with them in a War Room. It's amazing what will emerge.

  • Buy your own service. Experience the process. Where does it shine? More importantly, where is it frustrating? What can be made easier and better?

  • Ask your customers. For customer-facing organizations, customers often are your best trend spotters. When I was at Airspray we convened with multitude of disciplines. But most came from customers via sales, rife with bias and lacking filter.

  • Set an agenda for trend management. Along with feeding the Idea Hopper, plan to manage ideas and attack the opportunities they present.

Trend spotting in the innovative workplace is by necessity a persistent activity. Opportunities emerge for competitive advantage. Competitive forces constantly emerge that require reaction. It's a natural part of a corporate evolution, whether related to new product or services development, or the establishment of new internal processes meant to improve the organization itself.

Aristotle is thought to have said, "Excellence is not an act, but a habit." Replace "Excellence" with "trend spotting." And embrace the mandate.


You can check out all of the 'Innovation Perspectives' articles from the different contributing authors on 'Who should be responsible (if anyone) for trend-spotting and putting emerging behaviors and needs into context for a business?' by clicking the link in this sentence.
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Robert F BrandsRobert F. Brands is President and founder of Brands & Company, LLC. Innovation Coach Robert Brands has launched a new site - www.RobertsRulesOfInnovation.com - to complement his upcoming book.

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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Innovation That is Measured is Treasured

Why Results Require Rewards: Encouraging Action With Incentive


by Robert F. Brands with Jeff Zbar

Innovation That is Measured is TreasuredImagine a company that has taken the time to consider the role of Innovation in the corporate mission. Employees were encouraged to be part of the innovation process but their reward was compensation linked strictly to output.

Does that encourage value-added thought process? In my mind, it encourages work, which should need no encouragement at all.

Now, what if that same company put a reward system in place whose reward system was based on innovation and results, not hours or labor? It aligned reward to patents granted, products launched, or sales achieved? And its reward process was integrated along side its Vision, Mission, Strategy, and Resources/Budget?

I would argue that that organization has asked itself a key question: What motivates your team to excel in innovation? The answer is Net Rewards for Net Results.

Many companies see cash as the ideal motivational perk. This might not be the case. A recent survey from McKinsey found that three non-cash motivators rise above all other forms of incentive:
  1. Praise from managers
  2. Attention of leadership that takes place in one-on-one conversations
  3. The chance to lead projects, teams or task forces.

Such nods and recognition topped even cash bonuses, increased base pay, and stock or stock options - the three top-ranked financial incentives, McKinsey found.

"The survey's top three nonfinancial motivators play critical roles in making employees feel that their companies value them, take their well-being seriously, and strive to create opportunities for career growth," the McKinsey report noted. "These themes recur constantly in most studies on ways to motivate and engage employees."

Though being discussed last in the list of the 10 Imperatives to Innovation, "Net Rewards and Net Results" arguably holds equally high a position as any other imperative. There's a fundamental connection between the two. Rewards must be in alignment with the expectations of the organization and its people. Some organizations seek to innovate, but try rewarding people based on R&D spend. It is a worthy financial metric, but is no guarantee for success.

Incentives should not be about output or spend. It's about "thought-put," and the creativity, ideation and esprit de corps brought to the effort.

Done right, rewards the organization in search of inspiration, motivation, ideation - all the imperatives that drive innovation. It rewards the individual for performing at a high level, and the team for working effectively as a Unit of One.

For the organization that seeks results, incentive is a kind of Reward ROI. By investing in employee rewards as a carrot, think of innovation as ROI derived from the alchemy of ideas-to-money. As we've written before, innovation leads to improved performance, heightened sales, more black on the bottom line. This profit - whether in actual product on the street or improved organizational performance - brings benefit to all stakeholders: shareholders, executive leadership, employees, customers and consumers.

Various perks can drive incentive. Incentives must be earmarked for all participants at the table. This may include the development team itself, to the marketing, finance, R&D, sales, customer service or people from other departments who helped with ideation, market research, justification or any other process that went into creating the new initiative.

For example, in the NPD process, the team or division should be rewarded with a compensation package that includes a percentage of sales derived from new products delivered. The neat thing about NP sales is that success is rewarded and people stay engaged and involved they care post development or launch.

Simply put, the fruits of your team's labor benefit all - and rewards must reflect that. Moreover, this type of validation acknowledges individuals' ability to envision new concepts, help shepherd them through the R&D process (even if the individual is not part of R&D, per se), and play a key role in bringing product to market.

Rewards can enhance valued employees' commitment to the organization, boost morale, motivate future efforts, reinforce positive outcomes, encourage repeat performances and help keep employees' "eye on the ball" vis a vis innovation and ideation. It also strengthens the connection between strategy and results.

In sum, when Net Rewards are based on Net Returns in the innovation process, everybody - the organization, the innovators, the stakeholders and the consumers - wins.


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Robert F BrandsRobert F. Brands is President and founder of Brands & Company, LLC. Innovation Coach Robert Brands has launched a new site - www.RobertsRulesOfInnovation.com - to complement his upcoming book.

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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ownership in the Innovation Process

by Robert F. Brands with Jeff Zbar


"Excuse me, is this yours?"

Ownership in the Innovation ProcessIf someone asked members of your Innovation Team about "ownership" of a current initiative, would individuals reply, "Yes"?

Or would the people involved point to the team leader, the CEO or someone else - someone other than themselves? Would they reply, "No, that's his"?

I spoke recently with a CEO of a consumer products company who expressed disappointment that an idea for an exciting new wrinkle in sunglasses technology had faltered. In doing so, others had beaten the company to market.

Why did this happen? The "Leader" admitted he'd failed to sell the idea. "Others just didn't get it," he said. "Their hearts weren't in it. They were moving forward out of duty, not out of passion. And we dropped the ball."

In the world of Innovation, it's the Chief Innovation Officer's job to marshal forces, to empower, to inspire, and to transform team members into stakeholders of the process or project. In short, it's to create and encourage a spirit of Ownership.

As one of the 10 key Innovation Imperatives "Ownership" ranks up there in importance with Ideation, Risk, Results, Idea Management and all the others.


Ownership = Accountability = Foundation of Innovation


Put as a business equation, Ownership Equals Accountability Equals the Foundation of Innovation. Without accountability, ideas stall. Progress dies on the vine of best intentions. Any real chance at success is lost.

Without ownership, positive results are almost impossible to achieve. A team member cannot point to the Chief Innovation Officer or team leader as a project's or initiative's owner. Every participant along the innovation process's chain must embrace accountability as a champion of the idea, the development process, the success - and the failure - that may come in tow.

To be sure, Champions at the highest level - like a CIO - have the authority and (and should have the passion) to garner organizational respect needed to push Innovation from the idea stage to development and ultimately to fruition. Champions build consensus, convince others to take calculated risks and to work outside their comfort zone.

But Ownership must extend beyond one single Champion. To be sure, a champion at the highest level ultimately drives projects forward. But "ownership" must be claimed by all involved, encouraged by the senior project manager, but wholeheartedly embraced across the organization.

How will you know a project has been welcomed into the hearts of its team? Ask one question:


"Excuse me, is this yours?"


The response will give you your answer.


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Robert F BrandsRobert F. Brands is President and founder of Brands & Company, LLC. Innovation Coach Robert Brands has launched a new site - www.RobertsRulesOfInnovation.com - to complement his upcoming book.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Accountability: Innovation in a Changing Business Environment

by Robert F. Brands

Accountability: Innovation in a Changing Business EnvironmentAs companies and organizations pursue innovation to transform themselves from what they currently are or offer, to what they want to become or provide the marketplace, accountability is the rudder that steers pursuits and prevents a wandering, directionless ship.

Wikipedia defines "Accountability" as part responsibility and answerability, liability and enforcement, blameworthiness and consequences. "Accountability is defined as 'A is accountable to B when A is obliged to inform B about A's (past or future) actions and decisions, to justify them, and to suffer punishment in the case of eventual misconduct."

Whether an independent endeavor or one pursued with the counsel of an Innovation Coach or consultant, accountability within a team is like the principle that guides a group of mountaineers. Each member is tethered to the same length of climbing rope. Each climber lends stability and confidence to the next. But slippage jeopardizes the entire team. One member slips, and while the team is there to catch and recover, the group nonetheless becomes vulnerable.

Accountability is owning up to what's yours - earning kudos when things go right, and shouldering the blame when things go wrong. For the organization in pursuit of innovation, no component is more critical than the trust borne of accountability. It's team members holding to deadlines, having your back, or adhering to schedules so the team can advance as a whole.

How should your organization infuse the concept of responsible accountability throughout the enterprise? The following methods can be highly effective at inculcating a culture of Innovation Accountability in an organization...
  • Give Them Enough Rope To...
  • It's Expected
  • We Know that You Know the Answers
  • Skinner Was Right

In a corporate environment, each team member must feel a responsibility to deliver, to be held accountable, to make good on expectations. This level of accountability is about culture. It's about buy in. It's about people knowing their roles, and the limitless possibilities - and positive personal rewards - of jobs performed in an organization guided by the rudder of accountability.


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Robert F BrandsRobert F. Brands is President and founder of Brands & Company, LLC. Innovation Coach Robert Brands has launched a new site - www.RobertsRulesOfInnovation.com - to complement his upcoming book.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Value Creation: The Ultimate Goal of Innovation

by Robert F. Brands with Jeff Zbar

Value Creation - The Ultimate Goal of InnovationWhy innovate?

Some would argue that companies innovate to achieve a heightened competitive advantage, streamline the organization, or create intellectual property - including patents, trademarks and other protected property - that create value in the portfolio.

Many reasons and rationales can be argued for the pursuit of innovation. Yet no purpose for or result from innovation can be more compelling than Value Creation. This metric is the ultimate measure of return on investment when measuring innovation's role in creating value.

Simply put: Innovation done well drives value creation - for the organization, its customers, its internal stakeholders and its external shareholders.

Successful innovation turns ideas into money. All the processes, creativity, time, sweat, research, dreaming, refining, modeling and retesting transform effort into tangible, valuable results.

This includes innovation that touches all sectors in the company or organization - not just in the creation of a new product or service. Enhancing the business model or networking, enabling a new core process, creating a new channel, brand or customer experience delivery model, or offering a new product system, boosting product performance, or providing a new service each creates value.

Nowhere is this more relevant and apparent than in the acquisition process. If one were to look at acquisitions with and without a patent portfolio, I would argue that a well-created and -managed patent or IP portfolio can double company value. My former company, Airspray, created of the novel packaging and dispensing process that turned liquid soap into foam. It was a company with a typical value of 7-8x EBIT. Yet, the addition of this patent to its portfolio resulted in 15x EBIT paid when the company was acquired in 2006.

This is especially important in today's market. Current economics continue to hold down already devalued corporate stock prices. Companies are challenged to find ways to boost their value to stakeholders - as well as to keep customers and prospects engaged and purchasing goods. Value creation borne from innovation can be critical indeed. As evident in the Airspray example, one item in our patent portfolio almost doubled the EBIT paid at acquisition. This example is not unique, but was the result of painstaking and thoughtful focus on value created by innovation.

Moreover, value creation and innovation done well can immeasurable enhance the corporate brand. Between adding new products, reviving the corporate dress, even launching new marketing creative or advertising campaigns, customer value can be created through the value-added components and enhanced public face of these endeavors.

Of course, it's essential to find that delicate balance between cost, price, and return. Balance is found, in part, by seeking stakeholder input and customer feedback during development of any innovation process.

The arguments for innovation are, frankly, inarguable. Value, brand enhancement, share price and perception among various stakeholders can be elevated by innovation done well. Add to the equation the inclusion of intellectual property derived during the process, and the overall ROI can be well worth the investment.


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Robert F BrandsRobert F. Brands is President and founder of Brands & Company, LLC. Innovation Coach Robert Brands has launched a new site - www.RobertsRulesOfInnovation.com - to complement his upcoming book.

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Saturday, January 09, 2010

Innovation Training & Coaching - Overlooked?

by Robert F. Brands

Innovation Training and CoachingSmart companies often pride themselves on training programs that introduce or enhance employees' knowledge of corporate business practices. They promote mentoring initiatives that pair seasoned execs with rising talent. They create booklets or PDFs on corporate policy - and implore staff to read them.

But introduce a business innovation initiative, and those involved are expected to just know how things are done. They're supposed to possess some innate awareness of the concepts, the best practices, the goals, milestones and targeted end-game.

It doesn't work that way.

Innovation is a learned concept. Training and coaching is the forgotten imperative in the process of innovation. For best practices in the pursuit of innovation have to be shared to be learned - and mastered.

From the Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) to the innovation team to rank-and-file employees who will implement, follow through or carry forth on the fruits of innovation, people don't just know. They're taught.

Organizations whose teams are not trained and coached in its unique approach to the imperatives of innovation are destined to amass a litany of failed projects.

For example, a major multinational launched a new Innovation initiative with the hopes of turn-around renewed profitability and growth. After much initial excitement and visibility, expected results did not materialize - and in the turn-around world, false starts are more costly for an organization than starts or restarts.

What happened? The team involved basic project management training. After a course of such training and coaching, associates had gained a common language and understanding. Progress was realized, and the company today remains on a growth path.

Training and coaching is vital to transmitting the organization's unique approach to innovation - and ensuring people adhere to its practices. Proper hiring, training and coaching is the way to create, reinforce and enhance company culture and mindset. At its root, training and coaching introduces people to the organization's vision, mission, strategy and objectives, and points everyone's compass toward True North.

Training and coaching should cover the lot - from the unique way ideation is treated, to the unique way ideas are cataloged and approached; teams are inspired, formed and managed; risk is assessed; new product development is explored; ownership is encouraged; value is created; accountability is attached; metrics are observed and measured; net results are rewarded; and yes, how teams are trained and coached.

Training and coaching is developed and delivered on a continuum. No sooner are existing policies and best practices discussed, then new procedures are introduced to further the organization's pursuit of innovation.

Continuity is the key. Training helps your team constantly improve its skill set, through new techniques in ideation, process experience and intra-organizational communication of best practices. Ongoing reinforcement helps employees understand their place and aspire to greatness on the New Product Development team (whether that "product" is a product, a service or an internal practice).

This goes beyond the team. Trainers and coaches need continuous training and coaching, as well. Even the CIO at times requires training and coaching on evolving corporate innovation practices.

Alas, training and coaching often is lost or last as companies often believe they have little time and money to fund these efforts. Best of breed companies have earmarked a dedicated budget to training and coaching.

Why? Because they realize the downside of not training - and retraining - their people in the process of innovation is to be mired in mediocrity.



Robert F BrandsRobert F. Brands is President and founder of Brands & Company, LLC. Innovation Coach Robert Brands has launched a new site - www.RobertsRulesOfInnovation.com - to complement his upcoming book.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

The Paradox of Innovation from 30,000 Feet

It's About the Journey, Not the Destination


by Robert F. Brands

Innovation from 30,000 feetIn the C-suites of corporate America, innovation has become a mandate. Executives - from CEOs to marketing officers - believe that to innovate is to embrace the Holy Grail of 21st Century business.

But is innovation alone the answer? Is the end - innovation - capable of surviving solely as a mandate?

Or is innovation a process, journey that seeks a destination refined and polished along the way? "Total Innovation" is a sojourn that mandates a total approach philosophy.

However, to create the Culture, foster Ideation and sustain a focus on thoughtful New Product Development, innovation requires a complex combination of and continued adherence to imperatives that must be introduced, embraced and nurtured. Innovation imperatives must start at the top, the CEO. They must be written into the Mission Statements; "Innovation" must have the backing in the strategic plan.

To thrive, Innovation must have the support of long-term growth objectives and capital support. Beyond support, Innovation must gain Inspiration from leadership, who will create and foster a Culture of innovation and motivate the organization. Leadership must acknowledge the role of Risk, and understand the possibility and benefits of failure.

For without such inspiration and continued communication, Innovation will not survive. It will become little more than a once-promising concept left to wither on the vine of fanciful corporate initiatives that never quite took root.

Therein lies the paradox of innovation. Companies cannot succeed without innovation. Yet few executives understand how to introduce, nurture, or capitalize on the promise of innovation within the organization.

Planned well, the Imperative of Innovation can impact the New Product Development process. It can encourage fertile Ideation, welcoming input from associates to customers and users alike. It feeds the machine, providing methods of collecting, vetting, ranking and considering the Next Big Idea or future new products or processes.

The Innovation Imperative insists on Ownership and Accountability. It requires a Champions - and Chief Innovation Officer, if you will - be named to oversee teams Trained, coached and mentored to shepherd projects through the system, all the while adhering to each Imperative.

The Imperative requires Observation and Measurement of performance and results to ensure they deliver Net Result and Reward, and that they meet or remain focused upon an established set of objectives - and those involved are recognized accordingly.

Ultimately, innovation done well leads to Value Creation - for the organization, its stake holders and customers.



Robert F BrandsRobert F. Brands is President and founder of Brands & Company, LLC. Innovation Coach Robert Brands has launched a new site - www.RobertsRulesOfInnovation.com - to complement his upcoming book.

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Are you crimping your innovation funnel?

New Product Development Requires Fresh Perspective on 'Creative' and 'Structure'


by Robert F. Brands

New Product FunnelNew product development can be a misunderstood concept.

Is the "product" actually a product? Or can it be a process? Is it a mandate from the C Suite? Or can it be a suggestion from the factory floor, the retail showroom, the Idea Box or a customer tip?

How wide is your idea funnel? And how do you treat ideas once they land in the organization's "idea hopper"? (see the blog post on "Innovation and Idea Management" to discover how to handle in-bound ideas).

Answer these questions, and you've placed your finger on the pulse of how your organization embraces new product development (NPD).

NPD best blossoms in that place where creativity commingles with structure - where fresh thinking is fostered in a nursery of structured liberation. Think of ideas as if they were offspring: They should be free to roam and explore, but they need fences - structure - in their lives to ensure safe maturation in a controlled environment.

The same is true for NPD - regardless of whether products are widgets for sale or processes envisioned to improve the organization. For the concepts of "creative" and "structured" are not mutually exclusive. Creativity is the thinking that goes behind the ideation of a new product. Structure helps define and determine the vetting process that NPD must go through.

Keep in mind that each step of this entire process has distinct "sub-steps," if you will, that must be accomplished even before a Go/No-Go decision can be made. These often are done together - and simultaneously. This vetting and completed steps will than determine which products pass the Go/No-Go decision - regardless of the source or even the potential "profitability" of any new product.

These are important distinctions. When creating a foundational NPD process, all ideas should be welcomed from all sources - from the customer service rep to the C-level exec. No short-shrift or free pass here. If the structured vetting process, one established by the Chief Idea Officer and his/her team, gives a Thumbs-Down to a new idea, the source should not spin that determination.

Regardless of whether a product is seen as a revenue source, or just an internal concept or process, that, too, should have little impact on a product's viability or survivability in the organization. Good "products" don't have to result in revenues; they can enhance processes, that in turn, can boost profitability.

As you're pondering your NPD capabilities, consider whether your pipeline accommodate simultaneous multiple product development streams? A new, physical product for sale should not force a process-focused product to be shelved. This level of scalability ensures a wide "innovation highway" - one that is lean, adaptive and flexible, and can handle various products at the same time.

Finally, is your organization prepared to measure the results - not of the new product, but of the process itself? Do you have a system in place to gather, measure and share both the success and the stumbling blocks? Are you prepared to ask yourself, how did the process work?

The truth is, future success can be closely tied into past accomplishments - if you're willing to ask the right questions, create the right environment, and learn along the way.



Robert F BrandsRobert F. Brands is President and founder of Brands & Company, LLC. Innovation Coach Robert Brands has launched a new site - www.RobertsRulesOfInnovation.com - to complement his upcoming book.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Innovation and Idea Management

From Ideation to Collaboration to Execution


by Robert F. Brands

Ideation to Collaboration to ExecutionInnovation: What a great idea!

Innovation thrives on a diet of news ideas. It needs fresh thinking and a different perspective from across the organization.

We've noted that Innovation = Creative x Risk Taking. Setting aside risk for the moment, creativity is a central element to the innovation process. But it must continually be nourished with new ideas from a variety of sources.

Ideation is not a single event. It doesn't originate from a single silo or one person or one department, although it can come from a single source. Ideation thrives in an open environment; think Wikipedia, the open-source, online repository of the world's specialized knowledge. It is the result of a collaborative process that welcomes minds and teams from across any organization of any size.

How can you foster a fertile ideation environment?

Start by creating an "idea hopper." This idea bank is the repository of any idea to be pursued, saved and reconsidered - or at least explored.

In the closing scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Ark of the Covenant is crated and stashed in endless warehouse of similar, non-descript crates. This is the polar opposite. Don't think of the Hopper as a bottomless pit. Think actionable. While this idea database can be managed online or in Access Dbase, Word or Excel, the key word is "managed". Ideas come in and are vetted by the Innovation Team and the Chief Innovation Officer. The CIO will organize ideas in order of importance or relevance based on the organization's current path or needs. Then the ideas then are presented at the next meeting of the Ideation or Brainstorming Session.

About that session... Brainstorm sessions should be held at a regular interval and include a variety of participants from across the organization. This isn't just a place for R&D or the New Product team. Sales should be there. So should Marketing. Include Customer Service. Those who interact with customers and have a feel for the shifting tidings of the consumer should have input in ideation - whether in feeding the hopper or digesting its contents.

The meetings also should be structured. They should be scheduled, with an agenda in place so participants know what to expect, the topics of discussion, and the anticipated outcomes. In this instance, the CIO should defer to a facilitator or Innovation Coach who can lead the session with complete neutrality. He or she (or someone designated for that task) will write, chart, graph or otherwise gather every idea presented. There are no bad ideas. All concepts should be filed, prioritized, validated, for future reference and / or use in combination with other ideation session results. The outcome of each meeting besides feeding the hopper is a prioritized list to be worked in Product Development

Next, feed that hopper. This database needs that constant diet of fresh ideas - especially between brainstorming sessions. Welcome ideas from all corners of the organization - from the C-Suite to the receptionist's desk. You never know where the next Great Idea will come from.

To be clear, new ideas aren't simply about products. Ideas can include process changes, technological enhancements - anything that represents change in the organization.

In ideation, think green. In those brainstorming sessions, some ideas will rise, some will fall. Throw none away. Those that don't pass muster at that moment should be placed back in the hopper and recycled. Some ideas fail based on momentary circumstances: bad timing, market conditions, budget constraints, technological disconnect, conflict with the organization's current needs or vision - any of which can change very quickly. In fact, two ideas discarded today may morph into a better concept tomorrow. Keeping them in the hopper ensures they can be revisited in the future.

The process of ideation isn't inherently a risk-taking endeavor. But it is part of the experimentation equation. As we've noted previously, Risk + Experimentation (+ Failure) = An Improved Environment for Innovation.

The risk here is to break the mold. Open the silos. Welcome input from across the organization. You might come away thinking, "What a great idea!"



Robert F BrandsRobert F. Brands is President and founder of Brands & Company, LLC. Innovation Coach Robert Brands has launched a new site - www.RobertsRulesOfInnovation.com - to complement his upcoming book.

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Monday, November 02, 2009

Inspiring Your Team with a Chief Innovation Officer

by Robert F. Brands


Who is your Chief Innovation Officer?Who inspires your team?

Who develops the ideas, promotes an environment that fosters creative camaraderie, nourishes espirit de corps - and steers the organization toward greatness?


In short, who is your Chief Innovation Officer?

Every organization that grows by creating new products or services or aspires to out-class the competition needs a Chief Innovation Officer, or CIO.

In Robert's Rules of Innovation, 'Inspiration' is the first and most important of the ten imperatives. Inspiration drives everything else - from ideation to new product development to risk-taking itself.

Yet the selection of the CIO, and the definition of his or her tasks in seeing that these challenges are skillfully mastered, can make the difference between innovative success and failure.


Here is what a Chief Innovation Officer does:


1. Shows Support From the Top
  • Ideally, this position is held by the organization's chief executive or president - someone who leads by example and "walks the talk." Alternatively, and in a larger organization, he or she may be a "Crown Prince" - someone hand-picked by the executive leadership to oversee the task of inspiring greatness from within the team. It's important that if the CIO is not the CEO or president, that he or she has the blessing of the senior executive. Otherwise, his or her ideas, inspirations or suggestions might be rebuffed.

2. Communicates Overarching Goals and Progress
  • The imperative should be to overcommunicate and under-promise. Such communication keeps the organization focused on the vision, successes and failures.

3. Builds a 'Communication Corridor'
  • This practice of two-way traffic enables ideas to flow freely for equal consideration and sharing throughout a trusting enterprise. The open-door policy gives every participant a voice and motivation to say what needs to be said - even if they believe the project at hand is a losing proposition. Fear of retribution should never discourage people from speaking their minds.

4. Connects the Silos
  • Better yet, he or she demolishes them. Knock down the barriers that keep silos apart by creating cross-functional teams.

5. Commissions Cross-Group Stakeholders
  • These "champions across projects" should have the authority and budgets to test, learn and lead multiple groups through the process and assure ownership across groups is achieved. Bullies need not apply. These champions should encourage buy-in so innovation isn't stymied or blocked.

This isn't just for Fortune 500 corporations. Smaller organizations have more to gain from installing a Chief Innovation Officer. This helps send the message that the position - and the commitment behind it - are vital to the organization's long-term growth.

Whatever the size of the organization, inspiration is only valid if it's derived from the vision, mission or strategy of the company - and driven by an executive empowered to see it through.



Robert F BrandsRobert F. Brands is President and founder of Brands & Company, LLC. Innovation Coach Robert Brands has launched a new site - www.RobertsRulesOfInnovation.com - to complement his upcoming book.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Creating an Improved Environment for Innovation

by Robert F. Brands

Thomas EdisonThomas Alva Edison was a failure. It has been said that he "went back to the drawing board" more than 6,000 times before finding the right plant to produce a carbonized filament for his incandescent light bulb.

Six thousand times. Do you have that kind of innovative stamina?

It's been said that:


Risk + Experimentation (+ Failure) = Improved Environment for Innovation


Put another way:


Innovation = Creativity x Risk Taking


Innovation is an experiment of sorts. It requires a culture of risk, opportunity and challenge. Moreover, for an organization to benefit from innovation, leaders and team members alike must welcome - and grow from - failure.

Rather than view failure as inherently bad, successful innovation requires that executives and teams commit to learning from each experiment gone bad - and incorporate those teachings into the next endeavor.

The successes and failures borne of innovation experimentation perpetuate innovation. When strategies are emerging, innovators test their hypotheses and gather information to continue forward with their ideas. Whether the innovation is a consumer product, a software application, or an internal process for an existing business enterprise or workflow strategy, the question remains:
  • How will the idea resonate with the target audience or user?

  • What costs are reasonable?

  • Can the audience (consumers, manufacturers, employees) be convinced to shift well-established habits to embrace The New?

Because of a high failure rate, organizations pursuing the practice of Innovation must have a tolerance for failure. Not every idea will win. But each failure must be perceived as valuable in the trial-and-error process as a team seeks improvement. Tolerance for failure must be encouraged, as well as enthusiasm for risk-taking. Without risk, there can be no reward.

To create a culture of innovation, organizations should:


Encourage Well-Reasoned Risk-Taking
  • The pursuit of innovation isn't some fool-hardy flight of fancy. Encourage - or insist upon - a plan to be presented first, to ensure understanding and buy-in across the affected organization. Know your tolerance for risk and failure in the pursuit of innovation.

Test
  • True innovation requires thorough testing in pursuit of success. Testing, measurement, and an accounting of what's been learned - even in failure - brings measurable outcomes from successes and failures alike.

Trust
  • Do you - as a CEO or team leader - trust your people to pursue new ideas on behalf of the company? Build a culture of trust in the individual's pursuits - so long as safety-measures are in place to safe guard against failure damaging the organization.

Most of all, avoid letting a failed concept kill your team's motivation. Every idea should be given positive acknowledgment, every failure should be studied for "what went wrong," and every success should receive appropriate reward. By providing your team with a culture of Innovation, their risk-taking abilities will improve. And, as was the case with Mr. Edison, they eventually will see the light borne from their successful innovations.






Robert F BrandsRobert F. Brands is President and founder of Brands & Company, LLC. Innovation Coach Robert Brands has launched a new site - www.RobertsRulesOfInnovation.com - to complement his upcoming book.

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