My Interview for Enterprise Leadership

March 23, 2010

A while back I was interviewed by Tom Parish at  On their site, you will find the following description:

In this podcast, Steve Shapiro, InnoCentive’s vice president of strategic consulting, talks about how InnoCentive’s open innovation model has helped companies solve the most challenging problems.

When the Oil Spill Recovery Institute in Alaska wanted to find out how to pump out the almost solidified oil at the bottom of Prince William Sound from the Exxon Valdez spill, the Institute did not turn to its researchers. Instead they posted a challenge to InnoCentive, an emerging company that specializes in open innovation also called crowdsourcing. According to The New York Times, the Institute paid John Davis, a chemist from Illinois, more than $20,000 for his idea. Davis, an expert on cement, figured that if vibrating cement can keep it from hardening, then a similar concept can be adapted to keep the oil in the tanks from freezing.

Founded in 1998 by three scientists working for Eli Lilly, the major pharmaceutical company, InnoCentive became an independent company in 2001. To date InnoCentive, companies, such as Dow Chemical and Procter & Gamble, and not-for-profits have posted more than 1,000 challenges on InnoCentive. Research areas include everything from business processes to chemistry. Steven Shapiro, InnoCentive’s vice president of strategic consulting, says that today corporations cannot depend on their internal research and development departments to solve their toughest problems. “They need to look at external resources. InnoCentive’s enables these organizations to tap into a global network of 200,000 solvers who enjoy the challenge of competing for a cash reward. Our partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation is helping to solve problems posted by not-for-profits working in poor countries.”

In this podcast, Shapiro explains the reasons for using open innovation to solve tough problems, InnoCentive’s business model for generating revenue, some of InnoCentive’s most successful challenges, the benefits of using InnoCentive, and the challenges this company faces in this economy.

You can listen to (or download) this podcast here.

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Is Crowdsourcing Disruptive?

March 22, 2010

There was an excellent post by Hutch Carpenter on the blogging innovation website.  In the article, he asked the question – “Is Crowdsourcing Disrupting the Design Industry?”  He makes an excellent case for the value (and pitfalls) of crowdsourcing design work.  As readers of this site know, I have used design crowdsourcing on several occasions.

In response to the article, I wrote…

I use crowdsourcing for some of my designs. And I have to admit, I do sometimes feel a little bad. It’s clear some people put a fair amount of thought into their designs. Sadly, there is typically only one winner.

Having said that, as a consultant, no one feels bad for me when I spend days or weeks developing a proposal that does not get awarded to me. We recognize that it is the cost of doing business.

Let’s face it…for some design work, it might be just as fast to develop a rough concept as it would be to develop a compelling proposal. Crowdsourcing can reduce the time and effort involved in selling design services.

And crowdsourcing, when done correctly, can give you (the “Seeker”) benefits that you would not get through conventional means.

Right now I am running a crowdsourcing competition for a design for my Personality Poker cards. The competition has been running for 2 days, and I received some amazing designs. Because I did a blind competition, everyone has to develop their own idea, rather than simply build on the idea of someone else. This is enhancing the level of creativity significantly.

The winner will get follow on work from me in fleshing out the concept and in future design work. [NOTE: The competition is over and I received 32 designs of which a half dozen of them were fantastic]

I used to use eLance (an eRFP site) for design work. But the results were not always great. Plus each designer has to submit a proposal and decide upon a fee. With 99designs, the designer knows the “prize” and can decide if they want to invest any effort at all.

It’s not spec work that is changing the rules. It is access to the masses. Personally, I would prefer to pay for a solution than a proposal.

I do think, if done well, design crowdsourcing can be beneficial to all involved.

Crowdsourcing has the potential to give designers a reach they have not previously had.  Although their cost per design might go up, their cost of acquisition might actually go down. Proposals are a cost of doing business – and you don’t win every proposal.  Spending time/money on finding customers who want the proposal in the first-place is another cost – and you don’t acquire every customer you target.  Mailing marketing materials to potential customers is another real cost.  The list goes on.   The real cost/time associated with marketing/selling design services is not insignificant.

Crowdsourcing allows you to convert your marketing/selling time into design time.  Your only cost is your time to develop the submitted designs.  This feels like a much better use of design resources.

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LG Electronics Open Innovation Competition

March 17, 2010

Last year, LG Electronics ran an open innovation competition in search of the next generation cell phone.

If you did not enter last year, you have another chance to win $20,000.

According to their press release…

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, engineering, and entertainment software, to hold an innovative competition to define the future of mobile communication.  Starting on March 15th, LG Mobile Phones will give consumers the chance to design their vision of the next revolutionary LG mobile phone and compete for more than $80,000 in prizes.

The competition will award over 40 winners.  The first place winner will be awarded $20,000, one Wacom Intuos4 medium tablet, and Autodesk industrial design software.  The second place winner will be awarded $10,000 and Autodesk SketchBook Pro software, and the third place winner will be awarded $5,000 and Autodesk SketchBook Pro software.  To reward as many people as possible in the name of creativity, LG will also be giving out a whopping 37 honorable mentions at $1,000 each.

You can  read all of the rules, and enter the competition, on the crowdSPRING website.

Last year, LG Electronics shared some of their insights with me.  There were 835 submissions from 324 individuals.  Of the ideas submitted, 25% were deemed “good.”  I’ll be curious to see how they do this year.

I also hope to find out if anything was done with the winning solution(s) from last year’s competition.  Although these competitions generate some nice PR, at the end of the day, the real value is derived through the implementation of innovation.

Good luck!

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Open Innovation Design

March 12, 2010

Nearly 2 years ago, I used open innovation to develop the logo used on this site.

I am now using open innovation again to help redesign my Personality Poker cards.

As you know, later this year, the Personality Poker book will be published by Penguin’s Portfolio imprint.  The publisher designed the book cover (we aren’t prepared to share that with the world quite yet).  Then, based on that design, the backs of the Personality Poker cards were redesigned to match (image left).

Yesterday, I launched a design project on, the leader in design-based open innovation.  Last time I ran a competition, I had some interesting learnings.

One of the challenges had to do with people building on the ideas of others.  In some respects, this was great.  As a good design was developed, others could help refine and improve.  However, as my article points out, there was a downside: how to choose a winner.

But the other downside associated with a collaborative challenge is “group think.”  As soon as the first idea is thrown out, it tends to influence the thinking of the other contributors, narrowing the set of ideas generated and reducing divergent thinking.  I discuss this concept in my article on the “hand dryer vs paper towel debate.”

Therefore, for the poker card redesign, I decided to go with private submissions.  That is, no one can see what others are submitting.  I will write more about my experience with this next week.

If you are interested in reading the design brief without having to logon to 99designs, you can read it here (pdf).

Or, if you want to submit your own designs for my challenge, go to the 99designs website.

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Podcast on The Brain Advantage

March 10, 2010

Brad Kolar is one of the brightest guys I know.  He and I worked together in Accenture back in the mid-90′s.  He has been a contributor to all of my books.  And now he is the co-author of a fascinating book called “The Brain Advantage. ” I had the privilege of receiving a review copy and loved it so much, I provided an endorsement.

“For years, experts have been teaching leaders so-called soft skills. To date, there has only been anecdotal evidence to support their theories. Finally, The Brain Advantage turns these theories into hard science. Anyone with half a brain would buy copies for their entire organization.”

Recently I interviewed Brad for a podcast.  What you will hear are 40 minutes of fascinating dialogue about the brain, leadership, and innovation.  By better understanding the brain, you can help unleash the full creative potential of your organization.

Stream the interview…

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Or download the mp3

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Is it Dali Time…Or Hammer Time?

March 9, 2010

Yesterday I met with Jeff Boudro, the “Director of Really Cool Stuff at Staples.”  And from spending time with him, I can attest to this being the truth!

Case in point is the picture left…

Jeff bought a clock that has 9 dials, each one representing a different timezone.  For example, the top row of clocks from left to right are Los Angeles, New York, and Buenos Aires.

There are two problems with this clock.

1. The clock runs on 9 batteries.  This means that they are constantly being changed.
2. Jeff left the clock on a heater once and melted the bottom middle clock.  If you click on the picture, you will be able to see a larger version.

Instead of throwing it out, Jeff got creative.

He relabeled the melted clock “Dali” to honor the artist’s famous paintings.  If you are not familiar with Dali’s melted clock, you can see an example here.

Then he (and his team) got thinking.  What other times could there be?

Bottom right is “Yabba Dabba Do” time, to honor the late, great Fred Flintstone.  That clock is permanently on 5PM.  No more batteries for that one.

Bottom left is now “Hammer Time.” I’m not sure why the time appears to be random.  Maybe the battery died because “u can’t touch this” clock.

The middle row’s clocks are labeled “Yesterday,” “Today” and “Tomorrow.” They all tell the same time.  Nice.  I’m curious what time the “tomorrow” clock will tell on December 21, 2012, the last day of the Mayan calendar.  Supposedly there is no tomorrow after that day.

Here’s where we need your help…

What would be some cool labels for the top three clocks? If you have any suggestions, please submit them as comments.

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Does Stress Limit Creativity?

March 1, 2010

Friday I was stuck in New York City.  I wasn’t sure I would ever get out.

The Tri-State area was getting hammered by a snow storm.  I was scheduled to leave at 1PM, hours after the snow began.  The airports were closed. And to make matters worse, earlier in the day, two people were struck by a train on the tracks outside of NYC.

This combination of events caused a ripple of delays throughout the rail system.  In fact, every seat on every train for the next few hours were sold.

Knowing that the ride out of New York’s Penn Station can be crazy on a normal day, I decided to invest the few extra dollars for a first class ticket.  This was perfect as I could wait out the delays in the (relative) comfort of the Acela Lounge.

The board said that the train would be delayed about 90 minutes.  Not too bad considering the circumstances.  Right on time (well, an hour and a half after the scheduled time) the announcement came over the loud speaker.  “Train 2164 is now boarding on track 13 East.”  That was my train.

About a dozen of us exited the lounge and headed for track 13 east.  But the escalator was going up?  How would we go down to the tracks?  We looked around but couldn’t find anyone who knew anything.  After a few minutes, our train disappeared from the board indicating it had departed.  We discovered that it had indeed left without us.

The dilemma was not lost on me:  There were no more seats on any trains until late into the evening.

Most people were furious.  Admittedly, I was a bit amused.  Fortunately I did not need to be in Boston by any particular time, so the delay was an inconvenience, but not the end of the world.

We went back to the lounge to discover that the woman there announced the gate information long after our train arrived.  Other were screaming at the woman and the manager.  There were a lot of angry and stressed-out people trying to get home.

I watched.  I let them do the screaming.  And then I started to think through and investigate the options.

  1. I could wait for the next train that day, whenever that might be.  I had plenty of work that I could do while waiting.
  2. I could stay over night in a hotel.  There were many friends I did not get to see while I was in the City.  And fortunately I did not have anything pressing the next morning.  All of my business could be conducted via phone.  And I knew rooms were available somewhere in NYC.
  3. I could rent a car.  Maybe that wasn’t an option given the chaos, but it was worth investigating.  A quick check via my BlackBerry showed that it might indeed be possible.
  4. I could share a taxi with someone to Boston.  There were plenty of taxis available.  Although a taxi might be more expensive, it might only be $100 more than the train, if I shared it with a few other people.  Or maybe I could take a taxi to another city, for example, Stamford, CT and either catch a train from there or rent a car.
  5. Hitch hiking was not high on my list, but when “brainstorming” (even with yourself) it is best to keep all options open.
  6. Take one of the trains that did not require reservations, but did not guarantee a seat.  Worst case would involved sitting on my luggage for 4 hours.
  7. Take a train SOUTH a few stations and then try to catch a train from there.  I do this with hotel elevators sometimes.  If I am going down to the lobby from my room during peak hours, sometimes all of the elevators that stop on my floor are full.  So I will take an elevator UP to the top and then catch it down from there.  Surprisingly, it can be faster.

Anyway, the list goes on.  Because I was relaxed, I was able to consider lots of different options.  While everyone else was stressed out, I got creative.  And it got me thinking…

Does stress kill creativity?

The answer is of course, yes.  I wrote about this in the past in articles on the “Performance Paradox” (this link brings you to the AMA website where the article was published).

Stress causes a reduction in athletic and physical performance (read my article on why Barry Bonds performed 10x worse as he got closer to his 755th home run).

Stress also causes a reduction in intellectual abilities to an even greater degree than the impact on physical abilities.  (A brief anecdote is included in the Performance Paradox article)

But stress has the most profound impact on creativity. Or, as I said in the article…

The more creative the work, the less motivation required to hit peak levels of performance. Studies reveal that creativity diminishes when individuals are rewarded (externally motivated) for doing their work. Why? The desire to achieve the goal overtakes the personal interest in the endeavor. A myopic focus on the outcome overshadows the intellectual stimulation of the process. As a result, risk taking becomes reduced and creativity vanishes.

Goal-orientation is one form of stress.  Missing your train when you have a goal of getting home is certainly another.

How did my story end?  There was a 3PM train leaving at 3:15PM.  The manager simply stamped all of our tickets, allowing us on that train.  Of course, given that the train was previously sold out, that caused other problems.  But I’ll write more about that another time.

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