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Friday, April 23, 2010

Innovative Brainpower, Social Media, and Business School Transformation

by Dr. Ellen Weber

Increasingly people who pony up tuition, also question current MBAs ability to upgrade business. Yet, within social media's pool of people, prater and performance, business schools too often dig for everything but innovative brainpower with quality paybacks. What a waste of social media's ability to power-up innovation.

I've sensed that novelty, human intelligence, and social media can offer assurance to MBA leaders, like those I teach and mentor, who go for gold. Imagine entire MBA programs joining those prized brainpower strands in social media to stoke dendrite innovative brain cells. With a few social media approaches, business schools could spark brainpower that ignites an entire generation of global leaders.

It means building better bridges between brains, social media and business leaders though. Skilled entrepreneurs intricately weave their wisdom through well crafted social media meetings, and those who'll lead our current creative era, are making mental notes daily about how to find or furnish that next golden thread.

Innovative brainpower rarely pops up by accident, however, nor does it always appear on demand. Over 25 years of building visionary links to brainpower, I've discovered social media dividends that advance new pathways into high performance business minds. It's a bit like polishing a magic lantern, until a genie appears to move original ideas into that winning design for a new era.

For example:

1. Scan the TweetDeck for one big idea to design or kindle. With endless ideas out there - it's often a matter of capturing one to crystallize. Fast Company celebrated the last decade's 14 biggest such design moments, all of which passed through Twitter's collective brainpower where shots of dopamine helped open participants to novelty. Anthony Grace at the University of Pittsburgh describes a feedback loop that involves a chemical and electrical interactions between dopamine and novel or unexpected events. This lively process on Twitter appears to lock in memory, and it also engages the amygdala where the brain processes emotional and socially exchanged information as fuel for increased innovation.

2. Mimic creative people by engaging at their web site. New brain discoveries confirm that you literally adopt another person's unique approaches by observing them at work. It's also true that while innovation may be more vital than ever at your workplace, individuals who think, act and build differently often remain at a premium. That's where social media brainpower can help MBAs, so that more people learn innovative tactics that generate profitable designs. Simply stated, mirror neurons can create innovative cultures from carefully constructed imitation. In this video on mirror neurons, for instance people watch and mirror folks who differ. Consider the consequences if business leaders witnessed how that deep within brain cells await neurons that fire in reaction to mirroring other's talents as they roll into activity. If new opportunities for innovation get stomped on where they work, MBAs can mimic more online innovator's actions, and report benefits from an advantage of mirror neurons in action.

3. Blog opposite ideas to build from polar ends. Too many similar routines in toxic workplaces mentally barricade neuron pathways to creativity for cutting edge projects. To insert risks that increase your ROI - build an innovative culture by linking opposites through a shared blog, in ways that traditionalists often miss. Shared blogs on innovation, will link unique insights across viewpoints from high-performance minds. Online communities open new segues to leap-frog workers over ruts and routines that shut down brilliant people. Traditions tend to breed language for clinging to old approaches, yet when you engage opposing views, the brain's best response may be to tame an amygdala here and there in order to harness unique contributions. Rather than take potshots at people, blogs can build differences into tools for goodwill across cultures. Diversity is to shared blogs what a new neuron highways is to innovative solutions. Engage genius thinkers online, and innovation soon begins to stoke your work community.

4. Run from digital cynics. Have you noticed how stocks rise when people twitter hope? Or have you seen financial markets nosedive when online naysayers spout doom? Luckily pools of innovative brainpower lie beyond the sea of online cynicism. This trend hinges on the fact that hope adds serotonin to spark curiosity and fuel the brain. Cortisol, on the other hand, shuts down originality, and increases fear of failure. Make sense? When cynics spread fear, brainpower shuts down before social media's innovation stands a chance. When creators spark curiosity imagination kicks back delightfully in genius creators.

5. Start social network discussions on YouTube. You might start a back-and-forth on YouTube inventions such as pickle ice-cream, or simply toss around as I did - recent brain facts about multi-tasking that limits innovation. Few people know how multi-tasking works against innovation - because it bottle necks the brain's ability to focus or innovate. Just as all brains wire differently though, Internet discussions allow people view to multi-tasking as it relates to their own innovation. You could say that social networks add new colors and textures to innovative brainpower, because people hold up shared experiences to the rainbow for another look.

6. Build tone tools on Facebook through a climate of creativity. Innovation gets lost in climates where toxins such as bullying or intimidation exist. In climates resistant to change, toxins come faster than lightening strikes an iron rod in an electric storm. Sadly stress or negativity shoot down a brain’s best ideas, and innovators often tell you it's less stressful to hang up their cleats in favor of doing bare routines. Where people tend to kill initiatives, tone tactics act like a vehicle to tug innovation back into play. It helps to google examples of good tone from gentle, or effective leaders, and then discuss online how to offer olive branches back and forth at work. Or why not ask other innovators on Facebook what tone they hear in people's words. Then compare responses to words that convey invention or vision.

7. Pose two-footed questions on LinkedIn. The best way to integrate innovation into your firm's existing practices is to question ways that lead away from creative solutions. Start with stubborn problems, and toss in a two-footed question that probes the solution from angles of fact and interest. I recently presented an MBA course on Leading Innovation with the Brain in Mind, to a university business school, and I plan to challenge change leaders on LinkedIn with a follow-up question: What will innovation look like in the 21st Century, and how can business schools promote creative intelligence through top facilitation of innovative brainpower? What two-footed question would launch your next innovative offering at a LinkedIn roundtable?

8. Reward talent in online networks. Offer a book for a contest winner, publish a blog on the most innovative leader for tough times as Harvard Business leader, Bill George did recently to my online story about Dr Bill Cala. In too many workplaces problems go unsolved while some of the finest minds are left outside of the innovative process. In order to bridge the gap between the multiple intelligences people bring to work, and the problems that need solutions, organizations reward people for refreshing new ideas. As part of that process why not survey your unique intelligences to see which talents you have up and running innovatively. Don't forget to toss out tips for avoiding disagreements that kill innovation in meetings though.

As people awaken innovative intelligences online - for life-changing designs at work, brainpowered teams will rise up to garner the most diverse perspectives. Check out refreshing and profitable innovations that happened this month at Braden Kelley's Blogging Innovation site, for example. It's my prediction that we'll see a finer ROI on our collective efforts there - all because of added social media brainpower.

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Dr. Ellen WeberDr. Ellen Weber is the Director of the MITA International Brain Center in New York and an internationally known innovation leader, speaker, mentor and columnist, who certifies business and university leaders in brain based facilitation approaches. Her blog suggests approaches to accomplish things never before accomplished by using parts of the brain never before used.

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Saturday, April 03, 2010

Creative Destruction In Action

by Steve McKee

Creative Destruction in ActionThis week my hometown is abuzz with the news of a pending layoff of some seven hundred public school employees - administrators, aides, and yes, teachers. The dismal economic situation finally caught up to our school district, leaving it with a $43 million shortfall and precious few options.

It's a tragic situation, but it's where we all find ourselves during this most difficult economic period in recent history. Countless private companies have had to lay off valued employees, and there's no reason we should expect government employees to be unaffected.

As painful as it is in the short term, it also spells opportunity. Those seven hundred people will now energize their interests, talents and creativity in all new ways as they explore their options. Some will even strike out on their own, leveraging the upside of 'creative destruction' to bring to the world something entirely new.

As former U.S. ambassador and author Michael Novak states:

"the distinctive, defining difference of the capitalist economy is enterprise: the habit of employing human wit to invent new goods and services, and to discover new and better ways to bring them to the broadest possible public."

Sometimes there's no way around a tragic situation such as this. But there is a way through, and I'm confident that through creativity and enterprise those affected will find it.

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Steve McKeeSteve McKee is a BusinessWeek.com columnist, marketing consultant, and author of "When Growth Stalls: How it Happens, Why You're Stuck, and What To Do About It." Learn more about him at www.WhenGrowthStalls.com and at http://twitter.com/whengrowthstall.

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Friday, April 02, 2010

The Innovative iPad?

The intriguing use cases that people are missing

by John P. Benfield

The Innovative iPad?I'm in a bit of a moral dilemma. I'm not an Apple fanboi. I've outgrown my habit of buying tech for the sake of tech and I've been studiously staying just short of the bleeding edge for the past few years. The problem is that I'm really excited about the iPad and I desperately want one.

Let me back up a little bit before getting too deeply into this.

Last year, I finally succumbed to the iPhone. When it was released, I hated it. It was typical Apple. Slick, shiny, sexy and hideously proprietary. As much as I hated the cumbersome half-assed attempt at a mobile OS from Microsoft, I had gone down that path 10 years ago and I was riding it into the abyss. I had finally arrived at a decent compromise with a wonderful HTC device. It actually made Windows Mobile usable and allowed me to write code, customize interfaces, tweak the registry, poke around in memory, etc.

Then my world changed when my wife killed her phone.

My wife is a brilliant woman. She can run circles around engineers. She can leap offshore developers in a single bound. She can absorb business processes faster than the people who use them every day and she's a master (mistress?) of the English language. However, put a cell phone in her hand and her IQ drops by an easy 50 points. I've tried for years to get her using a smartphone simply so that she'd manage her contacts and calendars electronically and subsequently, share them. But try as I might, I couldn't get her to use the technology. I might as well have handed the phone to the dog and tried to teach her to use it. The other endearing quality that my wife has is a knack for destroying or losing any device that she doesn't like. I'm sure that if she ever gets tired of me, I'll be found dead, stuffed into the crack of the seat in the back of a taxi.

Anyways, my wife was on her 30th phone (ok, maybe 25th... all I know for sure is that when I place a call to AT&T customer service, they generally can guess why I'm calling). The latest victim was a waterlogged Motorola that was sheepishly turned over to me to fix. Needless to say, this resulted in a shopping trip for a new phone. Just on a whim, I took her into an Apple store to look at an iPhone 3GS. I really didn't expect her to like it, but I was curious how she'd react to the big brick of a phone. A part of me was hoping that it would make her appreciate the phones that she'd sacrificed to the Gods of Telecom. Imagine my surprise when she actually liked it. "I get this! This is the first phone that I've been able to navigate without a manual. I want one."

To make a long story short, we ended up getting her an iPhone. I reluctantly made the switch so that I could act as her Tech Support until the chosen victim died in some new creative way. Surprisingly, the iPhone is still alive, my wife now loves it and I've actually come over to the dark side. I even bought my son an iPod touch for Christmas.

I actually love my iPhone now. It took me awhile to realize that my misgivings were because I had a preconception about what a smartphone should be and how I should use it. I just couldn't wrap my head around a device that I couldn't tailor, tweak, tune and customize. I had equated proprietary with tool of the devil instead of moderated. It's a remarkably flexible and usable device, but it is subject to the control and policing of Apple. This isn't a bad thing, but it did take a lot for me to get used to. Even today, I miss having the ability to write my own one-off apps for the phone, even though I never finished any of the Windows Mobile apps that I started writing.

Now back to the iPad.

I'm really excited about the iPad. I know that puts me in with a questionable crowd of Apple zealots, technology sheep and people with more dollars than sense. But I really am looking forward to getting my hands on one.

The vast majority of people that were disappointed in the iPad announcement fall into a few distinct categories:

Yawn! / "It's nothing more that a big honkin' iPod/iPhone"

That's exactly what it is and that's not a bad thing. One of the major issues that I have with using my iPhone for any kind of serious web browsing or application work is the lack of screen real estate. That and the inability to connect a physical keyboard for when I'm sitting on a plane or at a desk. Many of the apps are there already, but using them on a 3.5" screen is frustrating at best.

Unfortunately, the media and user community made a lot of bad assumptions about the iPad. Speculation at the high end was that it was going to be some weird fusion of a MacBook Air and the savior of humanity. On the lower end, it was going to be a general purpose tablet-based Netbook. (which, in all fairness, it actually is. But people have been trying to turn Netbooks into Laptop PC replacements and the lines have been blurred.) The iPad is something new. It's the tablet appliance that the iPhone and iPod have been striving to become. If Apple got the timing right, it has the potential to be an extremely innovative product (more on that later)

I'd rather have a Kindle/Nook/BillyBobs-e-reader

This is akin to saying "I'd rather have a motorcycle than a car." If all you intend to do is use it as an eBook, then yes, you should buy an . A motorcycle will get you from point a to point b, but it's not going to seat a family of four or get your groceries home. The iPad can be used as an eBook, but that's not what it is or its strength. It's going to bring additional functionality to eBooks, but it’s not going to be the platform that you want to use to read books all day. I'd certainly use it as an eBook (though not a dedicated one) and I'd jump to a Pixel Qi or other hybrid eInk/LCD/OLED display in an iPad, but that doesn't diminish my enthusiasm for this first gen device.

Who's going to carry around a 10-inch MP3 Player/eBook?

See "I'd rather have a Kindle" above. Yes, you can listen to music/watch movies/read books on an iPad. You can also swat flies with a magazine. But it's not the primary motivator when you make a purchase decision. If you want just an MP3 player, buy one. If you want just an eBook, buy one. If you want an iPad, buy one and the digital media player and eBook are built in.

I can buy a laptop for the price of an iPad.

Yup. I can also buy 500 hamburgers, a collector's edition of James Bond DVDs or an electric guitar autographed by Lady GaGa. It's an irrelevant point because the iPad isn't a laptop. Only a few niche applications will end up replacing existing laptops with iPads. Instead, the iPad has the potential to address needs that have never been adequately served by laptops. I'm still on the fence about whether Apple was brilliant or stupid by not positioning the iPad with some clear use cases. Leaving it open may ultimately result in a sort of marketing Rorschach test where people see what they want to see in the device. But it's led to a lot of these false comparisons and a lot of people scratching their heads.

It doesn't multitask

So what. Neither do people. We perform tasks serially and switch between them. If the complaint is that you can't move data easily between apps, that's a different complaint and something that could be handled in the application or in the OS. I'll gladly give up multitasking for stability, responsiveness and a consistent user experience. The OS pieces keep running in the background and I can listen to music, receive alerts and maintain a network connection while running my apps and that's going to hit my 90% satisfaction mark. Yes, it would be nice to have multitasking for some things. But it's a relatively small subset of what I would use a device like this for. (Reminder: It's not a PC)

It's useless as a web platform because it doesn't support Flash

Many will jump on the lack of Adobe's Flash as an impediment to web-based apps and cloud based computing. What they fail to realize is that Flash isn't designed for a touch interface. Mouseover, Mousemove, Mouseout, Hovers, and many other events that are relevant in a PC environment simply don't exist in a touch or tablet paradigm. With Windows on a tablet, the touch interfaces mimic a mouse and creates a less intuitive tablet experience. With an iPod, iPhone or iPad, it's touch-centric at the core. The vast majority of Flash apps simply aren't going to work as expected in a touch environment even if Flash was available. With that said, Adobe has announced an iPhone packager in Adobe Flash Professional CS5 (Creative Studio 5) that will allow flash developers to port and package Flash applications for the iPhone.

Hopefully this will encourage developers to retool for the touch interface and we'll see Flash apps that actually work the way that they should on an iPhone/iPod/iPad. I actually applaud Apple for standing its ground on Flash. They could have allowed it and sat back and watched everything break. Instead they saw the impending problems and prevented users from shooting themselves in the foot.

I don't have a use for it.

This is the most legitimate reason for hating the iPad. (well... apart from the questionable naming.) I don't see there being a huge consumer demand for this device. Between the developers and early adopters, I'd expect somewhere around 2M units to sell. (in comparison, it's been estimated that Apple sold about 8.7M iPhones and 3.36M Macs in the last quarter alone). If this round is successful, we could see a huge uptake on the next version. It already looks like Apple may be planning for a camera in the iPad's future, so there may be plans for a V2 once the army of apps developers have had enough time to provide some real feedback.

With that said, there are a few markets where I think that the iPad has some real potential:


If you've ever seen a doctor or nurse fumbling with a laptop while trying to attend to a patient, you'll immediately see the value of a device like the iPad. The lack of a built-in stylus (no slot or hole to put it in), the oleophobic screen surface and a form factor that's easy to wrap in a sanitary protector of some sort all combine to make a very hospital/exam room/waiting room friendly device. I shudder everytime I see my son's pediatrician fumbling with a PC on his lap, taking notes, checking history and entering prescriptions. The idea is great, but the laptop is a horribly awkward interface for any sort of point of care device. A well-engineered and reliable tablet would be a significant improvement and could provide additional opportunities to interact with and educate patients about their conditions and proposed procedures. The current crop of medical tablets are primarily Windows-based with proprietary interfaces tacked onto them, clunkly and are significantly more expensive than a consumer tablet. An affordable, standard appliance is just what the doctor ordered.

Out in the field, imagine an EMT carrying thousands of electronic checklists in an iPad, gathering all of the information at the scene, linking wirelessly to diagnostic equipment and building up a whole first-response profile that uploaded through the truck radio to the receiving hospital. An RFID or barcode wrist/ankleband could be put onto the patient at the scene and linked to the profile and maybe even a photo taken on the spot. That info could be instantly available as the patient was received into the hospital and any medical personnel could access it in realtime just by syncing the iPad with the wristband code. Medications could be verified in realtime. Logs from diagnostic equipment could be uploaded/downloaded. Equipment could be controlled and read through WiFi or Bluetooth. All of those paper forms, clipboards and other pieces of handwritten data could go directly into a database and be automatically verified and correlated against the specific patient record. Some hospitals have bits and pieces of these solutions, but the iPad is the first really feasible device for bringing it all together. If you read the Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, it's not a big leap to using the iPad as a tool for organizing information and empowering people to use the knowledge and experience of the group to get things done.


One of the biggest issues with eBooks in schools is building the infrastructure to support them. Implementing laptops leads to the inevitable support and maintenance issues associated with different versions of software, variations in platform, personalizations, unauthorized software, viruses, spam, malware. etc. The iPad is a natural fit as a commoditized platform that can serve as an eReader, testing platform, basic productivity and note management tool. It leaps ahead of a basic eReader by also allowing web access and the ability to use interactive applications. If Apple can provide the iPad at a reasonable price point and partner with someone to provide an educational server platform for managing a collective of these devices, the iPad could create a major revolution in educational platforms. From a support perspective, the standardized platform and the lack of true multitasking means that an app is going to run consistently across all iPads regardless of what the students have decided to load on them.

I can also see an easy win by eliminating printers and having an integrated Print to iPad function on the network. Instead of printing out notes, course material, emails, love notes or any other materials, you simply route the printout from your PC to your iPad and have it delivered wirelessly. You'd have the same ability to read, markup and store your printouts and you'd get the added benefit of having them indexed and searchable.

Cloud Computing

I would love to see Google partner with Apple to provide an iPad-optimized Google Apps experience. While I don't envision the iPad as being the primary content creation device for anybody, I do see it as a very valuable supplemental device for use in the field. I'd love to have an iPad at a conference, meeting or seminar where I could use it to take notes, tweet, capture soundbites or to look up content on the fly. Having access to all of my Google Apps documents would just make that integration with my office system much more seamless. I'm not giving up my laptop any time soon, but I can see a lot of value in an iPad as a supplemental device.

I've also successfully used my iPhone with tools like Wyse Pocket Cloud to provide access to a real computer desktop and the associated applications. With services like Skytap providing application virtualization services in the cloud, I can see something like the iPad becoming a very viable alternative to a laptop very shortly.


When you're climbing a telephone poll, reading a meter, in a sewer, etc. you don't have the luxury of unfolding a laptop and setting it on some stable typing surface. There are a number of speciality device manufacturers in this space, but the iPad could be a real threat to them. Tablets, up until now, have been awkward to use, power hungry and bulky. An iPad with the right applications and some sort of protective skin could seriously disrupt this market. Create a standard for shells with speciality devices like thermal cameras, multimeters, oscilloscopes, digital TV decoders, line quality monitors, TDRs, etc. and you could create an entirely new market around the iPad.


Along the same lines as the utilities, the iPad could provide a mobile catalog, order pad, inventory check, product locator and cash register. The Apple Store already uses iPods and iPhones as credit card scanners and order pads. The bigger, more customer-friendly screen could open up a considerable number of opportunities for a smart retailer (and some smart developers).

In Conclusion

So, do I think that the iPad is going to be something that every soccer mom buys? No. I think that the idea is still too new and people aren't really seeing the device as anything more than a substandard laptop replacement or eReader on steroids. We need to have enough saturation with the early adopters that people start to see it as the appliance that it is. A small core needs to embrace the iPad in new ways and use it to change our assumptions instead of trying to fit it into existing molds. After all, isn't that what Innovation is really about?

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John P. BenfieldJohn P. Benfield is an Innovation Advocate for a global Financial Services organization. John has over 25 years of experience fighting the "Commodization of IT" and continually strives to bring IT back to the table as a true business partner and enabler of Innovation, Growth and Transformation. On twitter, John is @jpbenfield

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Video Interview - Judy Estrin - "Closing the Innovation Gap"

Video Interview - Judy Estrin - 'Closing the Innovation Gap'
by Braden Kelley

I had the opportunity to interview Judy Estrin, a serial entrepreneur and author of the book "Closing the Innovation Gap" at The Economist's conference "Innovation: Fresh Thinking for the Ideas Economy". I'd like to share a video interview I did with Judy during the event:

In this video Judy and I discuss innovation ecosystems, disruptive innovation, education, and closing the innovation gap.

March Sponsor - Brightidea
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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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Enemy inside the Gate - The Biggest Barrier to Innovation in the Middle East

by Kamal Hassan

Enemy inside the Gate - The Biggest Barrier to Innovation in the Middle EastWhat are the drivers for innovation in the Middle East? I recently asked this question of my colleagues in the social mediasphere. I wanted to better understand how people innovate in the Middle East, and compare the drivers for innovation here with that of other societies.

My question provoked many responses, several of which pointed to one underlying driver - necessity. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. However, necessity is the most basic driver for innovation. Many other societies have moved beyond necessity.

In China, for example, innovation is technologically and industrially driven, and their R&D spending matches that of the U.S. and Europe.

The Japanese believe that if they lose money, they will recover it, but if they lose time, they won't. So a driver of innovation there is the need to produce new offerings quickly, and to be the first to market.

In the U.S., there are multiple factors that support innovation - a higher education system that encourages thought leadership and innovation, and a strong entreprenurial spirit and privately funded venture capital system. These factors combined lead to increased competition, which further drives innovation.

In the Middle East, we have necessity. The need to develop viable means of income in addition to oil. The need to improve quality of life for those in poor Middle East countries. The need to solve the water shortage crisis, unemployment among youths, technological backwardness, and more.

We also have government-led initiatives designed to foster innovation and support entrepreneurship. The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation is a good example, as is the Qatar Foundation, and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. All represent significant government investments to drive innovation. Certainly the resources and the will to innovate are there. Where we are in danger of falling short is the execution and sustainability of these plans.

Apathy - The Enemy of Innovation

It is interesting that in response to my question, what drives innovation in the Middle East, many responses listed the barriers to innovation here - the "buy versus make" culture; lack of support for entrepreneurship, especially among youths; too much talk and not enough action.

I believe that all of these problems are rooted in apathy. During the past year, I have visited many companies throughout the Gulf region. Although everyone expresses an interest in innovation, few put any resources into it. One organization, a multi-billion dollar telecom company, had one person in charge of R&D who was let go two years ago. Another, a $50 billion company with diversified holdings, has an R&D budget of $0.

These are not isolated examples. A 2008 report from the Economist Intelligence Unit put the region's R&D expenditure at less than one percent of profits. Compare that to Japan, which allocates more than twe percent to R&D.

In addition, some companies confuse innovation with suggestion boxes or brainstorming sessions. More often than not, these poorly planned programs merely generate "opinions" from unhappy employees, or incremental improvements to existing products, services and business models. These approaches are not a substitute for true innovation.

How do these companies survive? Because we have made it acceptible to rely on the innovation of others, which we reuse and resell. Where some societies and organizations struggle with the "it's not made here" mentality, we have the opposite problem. If it's not made, tested, proven and sold elsewhere, we tend to distrust it. We have created a culture of apathy that can afford to buy innovation elsewhere.

As a result, local ingenuity is often overlooked or discouraged in favor of imported innovation, and we become a hub that innovation passes through. We verbally commit to entrepreneurship, but the costly and difficult system of establishing a business here belies that commitment. In addition, there is too little privately funded venture capital to support entrepreneurs or new innovative models.

This culture of apathy threatens to negatively affect the execution and sustainability of current innovation initiatives. It is not enough to set aside financial resources for innovation and entrepreneurship. Without a systematic approach to innovation execution, any progress made will be minimal and difficult to sustain.

What would such an approach look like? Here are some high-level steps:
  • Understand that innovation is a process and a system that needs to be well managed.

  • Revamp business infrastructure so that it not only supports entrepreneurs, but allows them to fail and learn from their mistakes.

  • Increase micro-financing and venture capital funding, and remove the red tape that discourages private funding.

  • Increase the competitive landscape by easing government control on growing industries that require significant new technologies and innovation.

  • Increase R&D budgets across the board, and educate organizations on how to maximize R&D spending (through systematic innovation).

  • Embed innovation training in all levels of the education system, and for all employees.

  • Focus on necessities instead of luxuries (water resources versus high-rises, enabling technologies versus shopping malls, production versus consumption).

On a personal scale, we need to work to overcome apathy and encourage creativity. This means we stop accepting the status quo and resolve to change it. We challenge old assumptions. We think outside the box. We share knowledge. We start trusting each other, and our abilities.

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Kamal HassanKamal Hassan is President and CEO of Innovation 360 Institute, and is responsible for leading the company's global operations and customer acquisition.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Age of Innovation

by Alan M Webber

The Age of InnovationWhen this period we're in right now passes and whatever comes next arrives, we'll look back fondly on this current time and call it, quite rightly The Age of Innovation. Beset as we are by serious and pressing problems, we run the risk of failing to appreciate one of the most incredible periods of creative output in world history. Take a look around you and make your own list of the remarkable stream of innovation that is going on all around us.

It's been almost a decade since "innovation" became a business buzz word. Frankly I thought it was just the flavor of the month; I suspected we'd see companies trumpet their "innovative spirit" and then move on to something else when the marketing message got old.

Instead, innovation has become a sustained business element. It's not a fad, it's a requirement, a new component in every company's way of doing business. It's become an accepted part of "what we do here," in company's around the world in every industry.


Here's a partial list - feel free to add to it or make your own!
  1. Global competition. The heat is on. If you want to compete, you've simply got to innovate. There are too many new entrants, too many rivals popping up all over the world. Years ago Ted Levitt wrote that "you can de-commoditize anything." Global competition has become the powerful prod to drive constant de-commoditization - which is all about innovation.

  2. The web. The web does, in fact, change everything. It's part of the global economy, but it's also part of economic transparency. No more secrets - everyone can know what everyone else is doing. When that happens, when we shift to a knowledge economy, then innovation is the only way to stay ahead of the game. Innovate or die. Even for slow companies, that's an easy choice.

  3. Technology. Computing power makes it faster, cheaper, and easier to test out new ideas. The mantra of "fail faster to succeed sooner" is all about the speed with which new ideas can be tried and tried again, before being brought to market. Modeling, sampling, revising--all are staples of the innovation economy.

  4. Science. Think of all the innovations that are a direct product of science - from new construction techniques to food, health care, clothing, medicine, furniture, you name it. Materials science, chemistry, biology, earth sciences are only some of the categories where new discoveries are driving new innovations. Science is undergoing its own innovative revolution; new fields are being created at the intersections of what used to be compartmentalized categories. Out of those new fields we're seeing brilliant new insights leading to amazing new innovations.

  5. Business model innovation. The mandate to compete is driving companies to go beyond product and service innovation to meta-innovation - competing on new business models. If you want to challenge your rivals, you don't simply out-produce them, you out-think them with a business model that undercuts their whole way of doing business. Innovation has gone meta.

  6. Education. The spread of learning makes innovation a global phenomenon; at the same time, young, bright, technologically-savvy students are able to test their ideas and creativity without waiting for traditional jobs in traditional companies to give them permission to innovate. Education not only makes people smarter; it makes them eager to use what they've learned to do new things.

  7. Design thinking. We've got new tools and new disciplines that are teaching us how to apply all those right-brain notions. Design gives shape to instinct; technology makes it possible to model design; the need for differentiation in the market provides big rewards for outstanding design. It's a system that works, producing design-driven innovation, differentiated products and services, and competitive rewards.

  8. Natural imperatives. We're waking up to the idea that if we don't make major changes in how we produce, what we produce, and how we consume what we produce, we may not have the luxury to keep doing all this stuff. Sustainability is a powerful driver for innovation; the need for companies to do a better job of greening their operations is more than a temporary marketing ploy. Economics are changing, requirements are changing, and process and product innovations are resulting.

  9. Social innovation. A lot of our social habits, structures, and behaviors are reaching the end of their shelf lives; people all over the world who've been overlooked are demanding new practices that take their needs into account. As we try to balance the needs and rights of a global population, social innovation is becoming the most rapidly evolving field for new ideas, business models, practices, and developments.

Take a look around you.

What are the shapes, forms, and practices that tell you we're living through the Age of Innovation?

What are you doing to be part of it?

One thing's sure: You don't want to miss it - you don't want to fail to appreciate it or fail to participate. Years from now we'll look back and think, for innovators and for innovation, this was the golden age.

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Alan M WebberAlan M. Webber is author of "Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self"; he co-founded Fast Company magazine and previously was the editorial director of the Harvard Business Review.

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Making Kids Eager to Learn More

Making Kids Eager to Learn More
Jenny Cornell, the Development Director of my old school, Lancaster Royal Grammar School, wrote this piece on the school's exciting new InspirUS programme... and I wanted to share it. - KR

You may well remember when you started secondary (high) school - fresh from the security and familiarity of your primary school - nervous, naive, anxious but determined to make it.

Did you have any idea what opportunities awaited you or how your life would turn out?

Perhaps you can now look back and appreciate what a great start you had - how it prepared you for what was coming next (though you might not have recognised it at the time).

Andrew Jarman, the Head of Lancaster Royal Grammar School, has introduced a really worthwhile initiative to help reach out to more kids like us. There are lots of bright youngsters around Lancaster today who come from ordinary family backgrounds where life may be tough. Sound familiar? These children would really benefit from the unique opportunities at LRGS which could lay a foundation for a life they never dreamed of!

The InspirUS project is a new and innovative programme to help unlock the talent in these youngsters. Over fifty primary schools in the Lancaster area will be included where bright boys and girls from any background will be invited to attend challenging masterclasses at LRGS.

The aim is to inspire these youngsters, to stretch and stimulate them to give them the skills and confidence they need to make positive changes in their lives. We hope that, through the programme, more children will be made aware of the opportunities available to them and that they become better informed about their prospects.

Thanks to the generosity of some old boys of the school, enough funding has been raised to launch the initiative. Specialist teacher, Kathryn Page, has been recruited to begin the work, visiting primary schools to work with the primary heads and teachers, talking through the benefits of the programme and helping to identify the children best suited for inclusion. The first tranche of youngsters was welcomed to the InspirUS classroom in January.

The children spend the afternoon exploring topics beyond their normal studies. Last week it was "Water Water Everywhere". After finding out about David Hockney, the youngsters produced their own artwork on watery themes, in the artist's style, listening to Louis Armstrong singing 'What a Wonderful World', and then did some quick-fire sums, with percentages and fractions, all based on how much water we use in the home and learned the meaning of a wonderful new word - ubiquitous.

This week the theme was "Is there anybody out there?!". To the soundtrack of David Bowie's Space Oddity, the children had fun imagining how they would communicate with alien species - by code. They cracked number codes, learned about Braille, discovered the strange language of Pig Latin and found out how to use binary code to reveal hidden messages. A cheer went up when it was revealed to them that the next session will be "May the Force be With You", complete with a visit from Darth Vadar...

The lessons are lively, pacey and great fun and with four sessions completed, the children are all eager for more... and more schools and parents are asking for their children to be included. Let's hope their experiences will, at least, ease their transition from primary school to secondary school and, even better, unlock their potential to make life changing choices.

- Jenny Cornell (text and images)

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Kevin RobertsKevin Roberts is the CEO worldwide of The Lovemarks Company, Saatchi & Saatchi. For more information on Kevin, please go to www.saatchikevin.com. To see this blog at its original source, please go to www.krconnect.blogspot.com.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Video Interview - Eric Liu - "Imagination First"

by Braden Kelley

I had the opportunity to interview Eric Liu, author of the new book "Imagination First" at a book event last night. I'd like to share a video interview I did with Eric before the event:

Interview - Eric Liu - Author "Imagination First" from Braden Kelley on Vimeo.

If you prefer YouTube, I've split the interview into Part 1 and Part 2 there.

Eric Liu was interviewed on stage during the event by Warren Etheredge and I'd also like to share some of the key insights from Eric's talk at the event:
  • We all have the capacity for imagination, but as we grow up we are disincentivized to share it

  • We need to teach kids to have respect for limits and to stretch their imaginations by giving them activities with limits and inviting them to create within those limits

  • We need to be careful not to strip out the play from education

  • "Play matters" - leaning forward versus leaning back

  • We should practice imagination in the same way that we practice music, sports, etc.

  • There are two main enemies of imagination

    1. Expert Knowledge (we know it already)
    2. Fear (of succcess, of being exposed, etc.)

  • How do we sustain imagination in our little pocket of the organization and then how do we infect others with it?

  • Next time something bad happens, try saying out loud "How fascinating!", then allow yourself to detach and observe as you work toward a solution instead of getting stuck in a fear loop.

  • We want innovation right now, but you don't get the fruit without first planting the seed

  • We need to make education speak to students' and teachers' motivations - More "what if?" and less "what is" - More project-based learning

  • Out of all of the practices in the book, the most important one is "Failing Well"

    • We must learn to fail better each time
    • True with entrepreneurs
    • True with politics

  • There is an art to failing

  • Failure is the real "f" word in our society

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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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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Are MBAs becoming irrelevant?

Are MBAs becoming irrelevant?
by Idris Mootee

Are business schools preparing students for a flat world where organizations and national boundaries are becoming blurred?

Looking at this year MBA rankings by Financial Times, there aren't many changes in the Top 10 list. The surprise is that #10 is a Hong Kong Business School and #12 is an Indian Business School. Other top schools (some are more local) in the rankings: IMD (Swiss) ranks 15, HEC (French) ranks 18, CEIBS (Chinese) ranks 22, Haas (American) ranks 28, Cornell (American) ranks 38, Ivey (Canadian) ranks 49. Here's the latest FT Global Top 10 MBA Rankings for 2010:
  1. London Business School
  2. University of Pennsylvania: Wharton
  3. Harvard Business School
  4. Stanford University GSB
  5. Insead
  6. Columbia Business School
  7. IE Business School
  8. MIT: Sloan School of Management
  9. University of Chicago: Booth
  10. Hong Kong UST Business School

There are a lot of criticisms around MBA programs on different fronts. I was advising some folks that this is still the best all round business education. The last three months, I have written 4 recommendations for some folks. One was accepted by London Business School, one by Stanford Business School, one by Chicago Graduate School of Business and one by MIT Sloan. I am happy for all of them. I still think it is one of best paths to change the world.

There are arguments around whether it needs to be two years and almost all European MBAs are one year with only exception of LBS. The traditional two-year MBA curriculum, grounded in the core functional disciplines — strategy, marketing, organizational behavior, accounting, finance etc. — has been in existence since it was first pioneered in the US in the late 50s. MBAs were very much an American thing. US companies placed more value in an MBA than European companies. In the UK, a general management program combined with solid work experience is generally accepted to be sufficient.

The world of business is on the verge of transformation, a transformation, and so should business education. Where technological advance, geo-political forces, rapid globalization are all putting pressure on the business education system. I attended an event a while back at the Yale School of Management; there were 20 education institutions from around the world all struggling with the relevance of the MBA to 21st century organizations. Everyone sees the need for transformation but not many knows what and how to transform. Asking any B-school's Dean the question how their business schools must change to better prepare our students for the challenges that they will face in a hyper competitive and uncertain world is a good start.

Yes the world is flat. Organizations are becoming increasingly flat, and social technologies are blurring the boundaries of a corporation. Leaders of modern enterprises competing in the global economy need to look for truly global managers who are capable of leading and managing across the boundaries of function, geography, and organizations and industries. Are business schools ready for this? Or should we change the old paradigm that an MBA is an elitist qualification which can enable the holder of the degree to fast-track his/her career to power and fortune? An MBA should mean less as a qualification. It is a sense of empowerment and commitment for an individual to take on big challenges, transform oneself and create win/win strategy for shareholder, employees and societies.

Check out the lively discussion that has broken out in our Continuous Innovation group around this article - http://ow.ly/16hTy (join the group and see the 30+ responses)

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Idris MooteeIdris Mootee is the CEO of idea couture, a strategic innovation and experience design firm. He is the author of four books, tens of published articles, and a frequent speaker at business conferences and executive retreats.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Balancing Intuition with Analysis

Interview - Roger Martin of "The Design of Business"

Roger MartinI had the opportunity to interview Roger Martin, the author of "The Design of Business" about the challenges companies face when they fail to balance analytical thinking with intuitive thinking. We also discuss a variety of other innovation topics including: barriers to innovation, education, and risk taking.

Roger Martin has served as Dean of the Rotman School of Management since 1998. He is an advisor on strategy to the CEO's of several major global corporations. He writes extensively on design and is a regular columnist for BusinessWeek.com's Innovation and Design Channel. He is also a regular contributor to Washington Post's On Leadership blog and to Financial Times' Judgment Call column. He has published several books, including: "The Design of Business" and "The Opposable Mind".

Here is the text from the interview:

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

It is the dominance of analytical thinking which holds that unless something can be proven by way of deductive or inductive logic, it is not worthy of consideration or investment. No new idea in the world has been proven before being tried. So as long as analytical thinking is allowed to dominate, innovation is deeply and profoundly challenged.

2. Why is it so important that organizations teach their leaders to be design thinkers?

Design thinkers are capable of balancing the inductive and deductive logic of analytical thinking with the abductive logic of intuitive thinking. So they are capable of both honing and refining the past and inventing the future. Thus they can overcome the innovation challenge. Without design thinking leaders, an organization is likely to slowly but surely stultify - like most large corporations over time.

3. Why is it so hard for hard for managers to take valid risks?

Two main reasons. First, they live in cultures that value only analytical thinking. And second, they get Stockholm syndrome and begin to believe that is right. First they get dissuaded from innovating by others, then they dissuade themselves.

4. What most impedes the risk-taking necessary for innovation?

The problem is processes that imbed requirements for proof through inductive or deductive logic. And then the culture that this breeds.

5. Since the book was published, have you come across other leaders that have transformed their organizations to take more of a design approach?

Leaders from two of the world's largest companies read the book and both have asked me to help them transform their organizations to take a design thinking approach. So far, so good. They are very committed.

6. People often talk about not having time to innovate. How can people find the time for themselves or their employees?

That is a lame argument. People have time to do anything for which they are passionate. People blame lack of time for every single thing that they think they would like to do but lack the sufficient passion for. Innovators innovate regardless of their environment. Some get fired for it and go somewhere else and start over again. A leader can make it harder or easier for employees to innovate. But the innovators innovate regardless and the non-innovators complain about the difficulty finding the time to innovate - regardless.

7. What skills do you believe that managers need to acquire to succeed in an innovation-led organization?

They need to nurture their originality. Very few people in life are good at anything without practice. If you practice mastery all your life, you will be masterful. If you practice originality, you will get good at innovation. Most managers spend their time deepening their mastery and not nurturing their originality. Over time, they become fearful of innovation.

8. 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?

Make art a required subject for as long as we make math a required subject. We send a powerful signal to students that analytics are important and artistry is not. Artistry is the foundation of innovation. Most technologists will never innovate a single thing because their training drove out any artistry from them.

My book review of "The Design of Business" can be found here.

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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Monday, January 18, 2010

Innovation Perspectives - Educating Tomorrow's Workforce

This is the tenth of several 'Innovation Perspectives' articles we will publish this week from multiple authors to get different perspectives on 'What product or sector is in desperate need of innovation?'. And to close off the week, here is my perspective on education:

by Braden Kelley

Innovation Perspecives - Educating Tomorrow's Workforce"We need our children to be Masters of Mystery and Einsteins of Insight." - Braden Kelley

When I first saw this topic I wanted to write about education innovation, but I resisted when a couple of the contributing authors chose this topic. I wrote about the publishing industry instead, but then this week I came across a Phil McKinney article and had the opportunity to meet Sir Ken Robinson, and my passions for an education revolution were stirred.

We sit at the nexus of amazing new education technology capabilities, the globalization of work, and an incredible transformation in the needs of employers. The path forward is not the same as the road behind, but our education system is proceeding as if it were.

Instead of pursuing the current education mantra of more, better, faster, we need to instead rethink how we educate our children because we need to prepare them for a different world. A world in which flexibility, adaptibility, creativity, and problem solving will be prized ahead of the deep technical knowledge that is fast becoming a commodity and easily available.

I've said here on Blogging Innovation that the keys to business success are insight and execution. We are ending an era of incredible business focus on execution excellence and are entering an era of an increasing business focus on insight. Excellent execution will always be valued and required, but more and more components of this execution are shifting from the developed world to the lower-wage developing world.

We are currently in a race to the middle when it comes to standard of living as the developing countries like China, India, Brazil and others climb up the pyramid and developed countries like the United States, Italy, Greece and others slide down. Those developing countries wanting to stay near the top of the flattening standard of living pyramid will have to re-tool their education systems to to prepare their populations to grab as big a share as possible of the higher-wage insight-driven jobs.

Here is an interesting chart from a Newsweek-Intel Study reformatted by Phil McKinney:

Innovation Skills Needed for Children
Looking at the differences in perspectives between the American and Chinese respondents in the research, I came to two possible conclusions:
  1. I am Chinese
  2. The United States (and many other developed countries) are headed in the wrong direction and better change course on education fast

You may think that my views on education are too business-focused, but look even the arts are being globalized (look at Cirque du Soleil).

I believe that we underestimate children's ability to understand the real world and I think that the education system and the business world need each other more than they realize. We need to re-imagine our public-private partnerships and expectations when it comes to education, and we need to start educating today's young kids for tomorrow's world.

The fact is that we are pushing the limits of taking today's understanding of science to improve productivity an standard of living. Going forward we will need to break through currently held physical and natural limits and an expanded understanding of our physical and natural worlds. This will require a new generation of scientists and workers who can synthesize approaches from different cultures and disciplines, that are masters of creative approaches to problem soliving, and that have the entrepreneurial spirit to breakthrough perceived barriers. Are these the kind of students we're eduating?

What kind of students is your country educating?

As an added bonus, if you haven't seen it, I encourage to check out Sir Ken Robinson's video on "Creativity versus Literacy" here:

You can check out all of the 'Innovation Perspectives' articles from the different contributing authors on 'What product or sector is in desperate need of innovation?' by clicking the link in this sentence.
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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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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Innovation Perspectives - Rethinking University Education

This is the eighth of several 'Innovation Perspectives' articles we will publish this week from multiple authors to get different perspectives on 'What product or sector is in desperate need of innovation?'. Here is the next perspective in the series:

by Rocco Tarasi

Is there an industry more in need of innovation than education?

Rethinking University EducationIt is one of the largest industries in the United States, with over $1 trillion dollars spent annually. You are a consumer in this industry practically from birth until death. And yet most believe that the industry has lagged the pace of innovation so much that the education market today is comparable to the newspaper industry of 1999 - enjoying healthy profits before innovative start-ups disrupt their existing (archaic) business models.

The Washington Post recently wrote that:

"Students starting school this year may be part of the last generation for which 'going to college' means packing up, getting a dorm room and listening to tenured professors. Undergraduate education is on the verge of a radical reordering. Colleges, like newspapers, will be torn apart by new ways of sharing information enabled by the Internet. The business model that sustained private U.S. colleges cannot survive."

Students (and their parents) enrolled in higher education have experienced first-hand how strict rules conspire to make it harder to graduate on time - including the difficulty of transferring credits between schools and the difficulty in scheduling "core" classes that, for some reason, are never offered during the semesters you need them. According to the American Enterprise Institute, four-year colleges graduated an average of just 53% of entering students within 6 years.

At the same time that schools are working to keep you a student as long as possible, they are also increasing the cost. By how much? According to a FastCompany article, since 1990 the cost of college tuition has gone up more than any other good or service.

Maybe part of their problem is that they haven't figured out a simple concept called "economy of scale", where as more students are added the cost per student should decrease. And yet a Forbes editorial noted that the administrative and support staff at colleges between 1997 and 2007 increased at a rate double the rate of enrollment growth. It is not surprising though, since there is little incentive for colleges to control their own costs - after all, they are selling arguably the second largest purchase most people will ever make, funded almost entirely by guaranteed loans. What other industries have this type of built-in financial benefit?

Fortunately there are some cracks in the armor forming. Although the most recent Inc 500 list of fasting growing private companies included only four related to education, there are a number of start-up companies trying new ideas to disrupt the status quo:

These are all great initiatives, but there is a deep-seated cultural reason that the higher education industry has been able to stifle any potentially disruptive business models: the perceived value of where a person earns their degree is extremely high - arguably much higher than it should be. For real change to take hold in the industry, we need to think differently about how to measure and value education.

You can check out all of the 'Innovation Perspectives' articles from the different contributing authors on 'What product or sector is in desperate need of innovation?' by clicking the link in this sentence.

Rocco TarasiRocco Tarasi was an accountant, investment banker, and CFO before becoming a technology entrepreneur. He writes about innovation at www.InnovationMinute.com with a focus on "everyday" innovations in business models, sales strategies, products and services.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Being Too Innovative Might Get You Fired

by Rocco Tarasi

Being Too Innovative Might Get You FiredA North Carolina principal was terminated for approving an "innovative" fundraising idea proposed to her by the parent advisory council. Their idea was to allow students to make a $20 donation to the school's new technology fund in return for 20 "points" that could be added to two of their exams (10 points per exam). For example, if a student scored a 68 on an exam they could add 10 points to make it a 78. After enough parents complained the school district stepped in, stopped the program, and terminated the principal (though they characterize it as "voluntary").

Maybe you like this particular idea, or maybe you don't. Either way, what I took away from this story is how difficult it can be for people to accept new ideas and thinking outside the box - especially when it comes to education, which seems to defy all natural laws of disruption and innovation. As different writes and readers have pointed out about this story, 20 points isn't going to make any significant difference in a person's overall grade. And does anyone really think this will encourage a student to slack in their studies simply because they can add 10 points to an exam?

But the quote from the article that shocked me the most was the following:

Teachers giving extra test credit to students who bring in classroom supplies is a longstanding practice at some schools.

The article didn't clarify that this particular school had this "extra credits for supplies" program, or which schools did. But there is ZERO difference between a $20 donation for extra credit and bringing in school supplies for extra credit, and if this is a "longstanding practice" then maybe it shouldn't cost someone their job.

The state's department of education officer said that "paying for grades teaches children the wrong lesson." I think that is a convenient excuse, and in fact you can choose to look at it the opposite way: if a student was given the choice of spending $20 of their own money on extra credits or on a new Transformers DVD movie, which would they choose? Perhaps that decision could itself be a valuable lesson.

The state also said that it would be unfair to students whose parents couldn't pay. This may be a more valid argument, but this could be easily solved by offering alternatives to the $20 donation, such as volunteer work that would require some effort or work from the students instead.

It's sad to see someone lose their job when they're taking the initiative to innovate, but mix an uber-sensitive society with an uber-political organization like a school board and the result shouldn't surprise anyone.

Rocco TarasiRocco Tarasi was an accountant, investment banker, and CFO before becoming a technology entrepreneur. He writes about innovation at www.InnovationMinute.com with a focus on "everyday" innovations in business models, sales strategies, products and services.

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Innovation Perspectives - Education Innovation Needed Now

This is the second of several 'Innovation Perspectives' articles we will publish this week from multiple authors to get different perspectives on 'What product or sector is in desperate need of innovation?'. Here is the next perspective in the series:

by Jeffrey Phillips

Innovation Perspectives - Education Innovation Needed NowThis question allows me to kill two or more birds with one stone. My recommended area most in need of innovation is the education system, for several reasons.

First, the primary and secondary education system in this country is based on learning models from the 19th century. While there has been significant change in almost all aspects of life, a 2nd grade teacher plucked from the late 19th century and returned to earth would be bewildered by most of what he or she encountered, except the pedagogy within the average classroom. Sure we don't emphasize rote memorization anymore, but short of that the curriculum and teaching methods haven't changed. One could argue that's because there's been so much success, but on any relative scale we can demonstrate that the educational system is failing miserably. So we have a rigid educational program steeped in tradition that is demonstrably failing. The educational system must innovate in order to be relevant.

Second, regardless of the tradition, we aren't teaching kids how to learn, or teaching them relevant skills, and are often channeling all of the kids in an educational system into a collegiate experience. This one size fits all educational outcome, where in some schools over 90% of students have college aspirations, neglects the fact that many won't complete college and will require other skills to generate income. Why do we continue to prepare the students for "knowledge worker" jobs when clearly there are many demands and opportunities, and proclivities for other skills? We need to resurrect the concept of apprenticeship and place more emphasis and value on learning skills beyond the classroom. We need better definitions about what kids need to know, and more importantly, we need to teach them how to learn and how to teach themselves and others.

Third, the disrupters are out in force. Since most educational systems are government monopolies rather than private enterprises, there's little innovation and little incentive for new entrants. As it is, many states have begun to experiment with charter schools, for-profit schools and many parents are turning to home schooling. Given the difficulty of starting alternative educational programs, and the rigidity of the existing educational bureaucracy, these experiments are too little and may be too late. We are at risk of losing a generation of students who have been taught inadequately and are unprepared for many of the roles and responsibilities they must take on.

The state governments and localities must act to allow much more experimentation, and universities must require more from people who want to teach, and must create new teaching and educational paradigms. If we aren't careful, businesses will go back to the beginning and create their own schools, to ensure a consistent flow of knowledgeable students with excellent experience. If you can't get the right raw materials, you create or purchase your own sources.

At one point it was argued that home schoolers were the nut cases who for behavior or religious reasons kept their kids at home. Since home schooled kids have proven very adept at getting entry to prestigious colleges, more and more people are pulling their kids out of primary and secondary programs and teaching them at home. This runs the risk of weakening the social fabric, if we don't have shared educational experiences, but these home schoolers are merely demonstrating that they believe they can innovate the educational model.

The educational system in the US is clearly failing - failing the students, failing the teachers and failing to create people who can join the workforce or create their own companies. In most factors the US ranks well down the list in terms of educational achievement. Only greater demand and political pressure will encourage more experimentation and more innovation. At this point we need disruptive innovation - a complete rethinking of the pedagogy, curriculum, technology and intent of education, followed by a restructing of how education is offered and consumed. If we can completely rework the health care system in the US in just over six months, with the right focus we can rework the educational system and create a more powerful, relevant educational experience for our children and grandchildren. We need to do this NOW.

Recently there was an argument about whether or not a school voucher program in Washington DC should continue as a pilot program. Only 1,700 kids were receiving vouchers to go to private schools, and by most accounts were doing very well. That program was threatened with termination, not because the funds were lacking or because the students were doing poorly, but because the program threatened the educational monopoly. For those of us who care about better education for everyone, in every program at every level, we need more innovation, faster than ever, in order to overcome the entrenched bureaucracy.

You can check out all of the 'Innovation Perspectives' articles from the different contributing authors on 'What product or sector is in desperate need of innovation?' by clicking the link in this sentence.

Jeffrey PhillipsJeffrey Phillips is a senior leader at OVO Innovation. OVO works with large distributed organizations to build innovation teams, processes and capabilities. Jeffrey is the author of "Make us more Innovative", and innovateonpurpose.blogspot.com.

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Innovation, Invention and Entrepreneurs

by Jeffrey Phillips

Innovation, Invention and EntrepreneursAfter all I read on the blogs and on Twitter, and all the new innovation programs and initiatives in state and local governments, I feel the need to revisit the definitions of these key words. While innovation, invention and entrepreneurs are important and somewhat interconnected, they aren't synonyms and they have different needs, intents and purposes. Whether accidently or on purpose, we can't allow them to mean the same things.

First, the definitions:

An entrepreneur is a person who starts a new business. That's not necessarily innovative, but it can create new jobs and new wealth, so it is valuable. Sometimes, entrepreneurs create new businesses based on new ideas, either inventions or new innovations. However, a person running a McDonald's is also an entrepreneur, but not necessarily innovative.

An inventor is someone who creates a new to the world product or solution. Inventions become interesting when they create value for the inventor or consumers or the world at large. Inventors are often innovative, but innovative solutions don't have to be inventions. Many innovations are new business models, new services or new experiences that aren't necessarily "inventions".

An innovation is a new idea that is put into valuable or profitable action. An innovation can be created by an inventor who then licenses her invention to others to commercialize, or commercializes the concept herself as a small business person - in this case as an entrepreneur. An innovation can (and often is) created by a large organization to disrupt an existing market space or create an entirely new market (the iPod or Flip Video recorder are two good examples). Innovation can happen in any organization, of any size. Additionally, there's innovation in governments, in academic institutions, and in not-for-profits. We typically don't think of these organizations as entrepreneurial or as inventing new things, yet they can be innovative. Further, innovations can be new products, but can also be new service models, new business models and new customer experiences.

The reasons the distinctions are important are hopefully obvious. There are a number of state governments, as well as the federal government talking about innovation policy. Read the fine print and they are really talking about funding and sponsoring entrepreneurs and technology transfer from institutions and universities. This may have some aspect of innovation, but doesn't really consider organizations outside the start-up realm. A vast majority of disruptive and incremental innovations come from larger, commercial organizations, and these organizations can become more innovative as governments adjust tax policies, intellectual property rights and a number of other components of regulation and legislation. Yet most of the state and federal initiatives are really targeted at starting and funding new entrepreneurs and small businesses.

Interestingly, if you stop to consider the most "innovative" locations in the US (Boston, Research Triangle Park, Austin, Silicon Valley as a few) you'll note that they have all three things in common - government, education and technology are closely linked and vital to all of these cities. Innovation thrives in an interlinked, internetworked community. The same isn't necessarily true of inventions or entrepreneurs.

The overwhelming focus as well is on product innovation, yet we see consistently that business model innovation and customer experience innovation are much more compelling. After all, the icon of innovation, the iPod, is simply another MP-3 player unless iTunes is attached. It was the radical change in the business model and customer experience that made the iPod a true disrupter. Yet we don't find too much focus or government initiatives in these areas. And almost no policy or funding for the organizations that need innovation the most - governments and educational institutions and bureaucracies.

Another thing - having been a founder in a start-up, most entrepreneurs don't need or want a lot of help from an "innovation" perspective. They are betting the farm on their one great idea. For them, its all a matter of execution to bring that one idea to life, and then successfully scaling that idea. In contrast, larger organizations which have lost the passion and initiative of the entrepreneurs need a great deal of help and encouragement to innovate, since they have much to lose if a new product or service fails. In larger firms there is almost never a shortage of ideas, but a shortage of risk-taking, passion and resources to develop the new idea. Interesting that the problem the small firms have (scaling) is one the larger firms can offer, and the challenge the larger firms have (risk-taking, passion) is one the smaller firms can offer.

We need all three of these concepts work well to succeed. We need inventors to create new products and new processes, and we need entrepreneurs to disrupt existing markets and bring these new products and services to the market. We also need innovation from large existing firms, because without innovation they stagnate and die. When we talk about innovation, invention and entrepreneurs, and when we put policies in place to encourage certain types of activities or investments, we need to understand the implications and ramifications of those words and actions.

"While closely related, invention, innovation and entrepreneurs are not the same things, and should not be treated in the same fashion."

Jeffrey PhillipsJeffrey Phillips is a senior leader at OVO Innovation. OVO works with large distributed organizations to build innovation teams, processes and capabilities. Jeffrey is the author of "Make us more Innovative", and innovateonpurpose.blogspot.com.

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