The Magic of Innovation

June 30, 2009

In a previous blog entry, I discussed why watching “Pitchmen” (the Discovery TV show) can give you ideas on how to create more marketable solutions.  [Sadly Billy Mays, the show’s co-star, passed away the other day]

It is time to admit another guilty pleasure of mine.  I also like to watch “Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed.” For those of you not familiar with the show, there is a “masked magician” who reveals how various magic tricks are done.

I treat this show like 60 minutes of brain teasers.

First, the trick is shown as it is seen by the audience. Then, the magician does the trick again, showing how it is done.

After the trick is first shown, I typically pause the TV (you obviously need TiVo or a DVR for this) and try to figure out how it is done. I develop several theories. I am right about 70% of the time. I find this is a great way to stretch the mind and look for solutions to problems. It is even better than lateral brain teasers. [Read my 10 lateral brain teasers to get you thinking]

What I love about the process of magic is that magicians make the impossible happen. They decide, “Hey I want to slice a woman in half,” and then they find a way to do it without killing the subject.

This is a great lesson for creativity and innovation.

Sometimes we get stuck in the mundane. We get stuck in thinking about reality and what is possible.

But what if you could become masterful at making the seemingly impossible, possible.

What if, instead of solving possible challenges, you started to solve seemingly impossible problems?

What if, instead of looking for realistic solutions to challenges, you were to look for ideas that seemed impractical?

When solving a problem, one of the first questions I ask is, “What are impossible, immoral or illegal solutions?” Of course you don’t stop there. But it stretches your thinking. From there, you can then figure out ways of making these impractical solutions, practical.

The study of magic is itself a creative endeavor. The more you think like a magician, the more you too can make the impossible possible.

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InnoCentive’s Chief Innovation Evangelist

June 29, 2009

I am thrilled to announce that as of July 1st, I will become the “Chief Innovation Evangelist” for InnoCentive.

If you are not aware, InnoCentive is an incredible company that is changing the world.  They are leaders in the Open Innovation space.  If you have a problem you want to solve, you can post the challenge on their website, and their network of 160,000 solvers will work to find a solution. Although it started off as a tool to accelerate R&D for a pharmaceutical company, it has expanded into solving all types of problems ranging from corporate challenges to social issues.

InnoCentive is incentive-based innovation.  The person who provides the solution gets a monetary reward that is established up front.  For example, if someone can find a biomarker for ALS, they will get $1 million.

There are some amazing success stories.  One well-publicized challenge was the removal of oil that remained trapped after the Exxon Valdez accident back in 1989.  A solver applied his knowledge of the cement industry to the challenge and won $20,000…and solved a problem that perplexed scientists for two decades.  Watch the video…

I’ll discuss more about my specific role over the coming weeks.  To give you a clue…my corporate title is “VP Strategic Consulting.”

I am thrilled to be part of an organization that is changing the world, one challenge at a time.

P.S. I will continue to write books and give speeches in addition to my InnoCentive work.

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Innovation Blogs – We’re #15

June 26, 2009

The blog you are reading is #15 on Blogrank’s list of innovation blogs.  I am in good company, with Information Week and Richard Branson in the top 10.

What I find interesting is that they know more about my website and traffic than I do.  For example, I did not know that I am the #2 innovation blog based on RSS subscribers.  Sign up for my RSS feed here and help me get even more subscribers.  You won’t regret it.

I am #9 for unique visitors, although I know from Google analytics that I am getting more traffic than they list.  And I learned that I have 919 pages posted on this blog.  I didn’t know that.  I have over 7,500 incoming links.

And drum roll please…I am #1 on Technorati’s blog rank. Admittedly, I am not quite sure what that means, but it sounds good.

Now I just have to figure out what to do in order to get in the top 10 of the innovation blogs.

There are some excellent innovation blogs here that I will start reading, and I encourage you to do the same.

P.S. We are now #13.  #1 here we come.

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My New T-Shirt

June 25, 2009

For any die-hard Boston Red Sox fan, the New York Yankees are the evil empire.  Therefore, being a native Bostonian, this T-shirt makes me laugh.  I particularly like it because it uses the suits from poker cards.  This is perfect for me, the creator of Personality Poker.

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Innovation Lessons from Around the House

June 24, 2009

Last night I was hungry and decided to make some tuna fish. I opened my refrigerator and found an 18 ounce squeeze bottle of mayonnaise.  As I started to make my meal, I realized that the mayo had expired 6 months ago. I guess I don’t use it very often because the bottle was still 90% full.

After throwing out my expired food, I realized that there is a lot to learn from things we take for granted around the house.  Here are just three thoughts I had this morning…

Fail Cheaply – Although Costco is one of my favorite stores, I rarely buy perishable items there because I can’t predict how much I will use. Sometimes, as is the case with my mayo, buying the smallest size and paying a premium is better than saving money on larger quantities. Smaller quantities result in less space used, less waste when things don’t work out, and lower costs all around. In business, your best bet is to become masterful at creating small, inexpensive and scalable experiments that give you insights into the real world…not just backroom-based predictions. As you gain new insights and become more confident that a new idea will work (i.e., there is greater predictability), then you can ramp up and go for efficiency.

Sell One, Make One – I debated using a different example for this… One situation no one ever wants to be in is sitting on the toilet and running out of toilet paper. The best solution is to always have a spare roll within reach. When the main roll is finished, the spare role is put into the dispenser, and the backup roll is replaced. This is an example of a simple manufacturing technique called “sell one, make one.”  To avoid running out of product, companies often produce large quantities of inventory. But as we saw in the “fail cheaply” example above, this can lead to waste. Items that don’t sell need to be liquidated at significant discounts. In the meantime, the inventory takes up space and hurts your cash flow. Instead, if you get your manufacturing process (or your innovation implementation process) efficient enough, you can make one immediately after you sell one – that is, when you sell one, you make one. You will never run out if demand never exceeds your ability to manufacture.

Lather Rinse But Don’t Repeat – Shampoo bottles are famous for telling you to lather, rinse, and repeat. I have been doing it every morning without thinking. As an experiment, I tried skipping the repeat step. No difference. I even experimented with using less than one pump of shampoo. Same result. Sometimes we take on wasteful activities because we never through to step back and question them. I reduced shampoo usage by 75% without any impact on my hair. From my experience, most companies can reduce wasteful activities simply by questioning what has always been done in the past.

Here’s something to try. Every day, find something interesting around the house…

  • It could be the upside-down ketchup bottle (what took them so long to come up with that idea?).
  • It could be the laundry detergent that is super concentrated so you use 75% less liquid, meaning less packaging and easier carrying.
  • Or maybe it is the Clorox Disinfecting Wipes that impregnate paper towels with cleaning solution to simplify cleaning.

After selecting your innovation, see how that concept could be applied to your business.  Do not look for ways to apply that specific product.  Instead you want to apply the thought process that was used in developing the product.  For example, with the Clorox wipes, where in your business can you combine two distinct items (products or processes) to create something that is simpler and more efficient.

The purpose is not necessarily to find new ideas (although that would be nice).  Rather it is a great way to exercise your creativity muscle.

Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Inc, once said, “Creativity is just having enough dots to connect… connect experiences and synthesize new things. The reason creative people are able to do that is that they’ve had more experiences or have thought more about their experiences than other people.”

Or, in my words, creativity is about “collecting and connecting” dots.

This daily exercise will help you become more observant (collecting dots).  And it will help you become masterful at connecting dots.  All of this will help you become more creative every day.

For more on my perspective on creativity, read my article on “Dot Versus Line” thinking

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How to Get Emails Instantaneously On Your BlackBerry

June 15, 2009

I’ve been using a BlackBerry for many years now.  It has always annoyed me that it takes 15 minutes for emails to arrive when using a pop3 email account.  Today I figured out a way to get all emails on my BB instantaneously, even when using a pop3 account and not using a BlackBerry Enterprise Server. And it was so simple.

All T-Mobile BlackBerrys come with one dedicated BB email address (username@tmo.blackberry.net).  Emails sent to this address arrive immediately on the phone.  I assume other carriers have a similar email account.

Instead of having my BlackBerry retrieve emails from my pop3 accounts, I now have my pop3 accounts send a copy of every email to my tmo.blackberry.net account. As far as I can tell, everything functions exactly the same as before…except now the emails arrive instantaneously.

Although I believe there are more sophisticated ways of doing this (e.g., using IMAP instead of pop3), I found this to be a very simple solution.

I thought I kicked the CrackBerry addiction, but I guess some habits are hard to break.

If you have other BlackBerry tips, please share them.

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Arthur Miller Quote

June 15, 2009

“One can’t stand forever on the shore. At some point, filled with indecision, skepticism, reservation and doubt, you either jump in or concede that life is forever elsewhere” – Arthur Miller

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The First Open Innovation?

June 14, 2009

Today is “Flag Day” in the United States. Since 1960, we have had 50 stars arranged as they appear in the image left.

The first flag back in 1777 had 13 stars – one for each of the original states.  Since then, according to USA Today, the number of stars has changed 27 times.

According to the article…

“Congress did not mention how the stars should be arranged. Flag makers across the country came up with their own imaginative designs; some officially adopted by the federal government, and unofficial banners used for a variety of purposes.”

This feels like an early example of Open Innovation.  A challenge was presented to the public (in this case, how to best arrange the stars) and then anyone could “submit” creative solutions.  The government then chose the best ones and adopted them.

If you want to see the many creative ways in which the stars were arranged over the years, be sure to watch the animation on the USA Today website.  Imagine the number of variations that would have existed had 99designs.com been around back in the 1800′s.

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Listen to my CODcast

June 10, 2009

I was recently interviewed for a podcast by Jeff Brainard of “Catch Your Limit Consulting.”  His company uses a fish metaphor, hence the “CODcast” name.  Clever.

In this interview, I discuss the challenges associated with innovation – and tips for success. Enjoy.

Listen to the CODcast

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LG Electronics Uses Open Innovation

June 9, 2009

According to a press release I received, “LG Mobile Phones (the fastest growing mobile phone brand in North America) is partnering with crowdSPRING (an online marketplace for creative services) and Autodesk (a leader in 2D and 3D design and engineering software) to hold a new competition to define the future of personal mobile communication.”

They were looking for people to “design their vision of the next revolutionary LG mobile phone and compete for more than $80,000 in awards.”  The top prize was $20K.

The competition ended last week, so don’t get your hopes up about winning that money.

But what this shows is that Open Innovation is taking hold in many interesting ways.

Prize-Based Open Innovation, which got its roots in “tangible” challenges (e.g., creating a new chemical compound) has morphed nicely into “softer” (and more subjective) areas like design.

Although, the cost of running this competition is probably far greater than the $80,000 in prizes, I suspect the overall cost dwarfs what would have been spent on in-house designers or consultants.  Regardless, the real value is in the breadth of ideas. Instead of hiring a few designers, they got potentially thousands of designers fighting for the prize money…and the glory of being the winner.  Quite often, the so-called “experts” do not have the best ideas.

Case in point…When I was at (the then) Andersen Consulting, a modified form of Open Innovation was used to develop a new name.  A highly paid advertising/branding company developed a list of 25 potential names.  Other names were submitted by Andersen Consulting employees.  The winning name, Accenture (means “Accent on the Future”) was submitted by an employee – not the branding experts.

In previous blog entries, I wrote about how I used Open Innovation to create my new logo and on the challenges I faced in using Open Innovation.  Open Innovation can be used for anything these days.

As an aside, what I thought was interesting about the LG competition was Autodesk’s participation.  According to the press release, “Autodesk will supply participating designers with a free 15-day trial of SketchBook Pro. Autodesk SketchBook Pro software is a digital sketchpad.” This is a nice way to get designers hooked on their product. Everyone wins in this deal.

I am eager to see the winning designs.

And I am more eager to hear when lessons LG learned by doing the competition. Fortunately, LG has agreed to answer any questions I have (ok, maybe not ANY question).

Therefore, in the name of Open Innovation…

If you have questions you would like me to ask LG, please submit them as a comment on this blog entry.  I will write a future blog entry on the LG competition and lessons learned.

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