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Monday, May 2, 2011

3 Ways to Maximize your 2011 Front End of Innovation Conference Experience

1) Bring a bunch of business cards – Seriously, don’t forget.

I have been amazed during the past conferences when I have run into someone who said that they forgot their cards or had already run out (it wasn’t just an excuse… was it?). There are more than 700 people there who care about innovation as much or more than you do – it would be a shame to miss out on sharing and building your ideas because it was taking too much time to write your email on napkins with a sharpie. And yes, technology is making it easier and easier to instantly share your contact information, but there is a neurological benefit in connecting a verbal conversation to the physical touch and visual elements of a business card. When I look at a business card I was given even 5 years ago, it still triggers the memory of the conversation I had with that person.

2) Forget about checking your email during the day.

The internet connection historically sucks at the convention center and you will just be setting yourself up for disappointment if you are planning to check emails in-between talks. Also, the time in between is the BEST part of the conference. That is your chance to grab some free pens, eat some chocolates, and register for multiple iPad 2 giveaways (and you could make a few connections with peers who probably share more in common with than your own family). Seriously, take the time to mingle and talk with people while you are there – your email will be waiting for you when you get to your hotel.

3) Plan to “Collect and Connect”

Bring a few challenges you don’t know how to solve with you (write them down in a simple 1 sentence structure). New concepts will be turned into applicable knowledge through the action of applying the new concept to something personal and tangible. Try to view the entire conference as a stimulus collection opportunity. Use the networking breaks to share your challenge with a peer and see if you can connect the dots and stimulate some new thinking about your challenge.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Turn your insights into actionable ideas at FEI2011 in Boston

In a recent Seek Note article “How To Make Your Job Matter: An Open Letter To The Market Researcher” Seek made the bold statement that consumer-driven ideas are your currency and that research should not be submitted as facts only. As I was thinking about how to connect the research step to actionable ideas, I thought back to my past years at FEI, Front End of Innovation conference.

Each year in May, around 700 of the world’s best front-end-of-innovation thinkers get together in Boston to share their newest concepts and build ideas together at FEI. While the first years of FEI attracted mainly “innovation” professionals (defined by me as anyone with innovation in their title), I have witnessed a significant number of market researchers and consumer insight professionals attending the last few years. A number of Seek's projects this past year came directly from conversations during FEI 2010 (including one project that recently yielded A ratings/ top 20% in BASES for all concepts tested). What made the projects successful… the direct connection of consumer insights to the idea generation process. Most market researchers understand the process needed to generate great consumer insights. Attending FEI will help you make the leap to determine how to take the insights a step further and create consumer-driven ideas.

Also this year, yours truly will be moderating the various “FireStarter” sessions to ensure things move along and remain high energy. For those new to the conference, the FireStarter sessions combine 3 energetic, corporate innovation professionals to present 10 minute stories based on one central topic. There is also a bit of time set aside for engaging Q/A.

I hope to see you there. If you are interested in registering, go to the FEI website and enter in the code FEI2011SEEK for a 20% savings (I don't make a dime if you decide to register through the link, I just want to meet you in person).

Monday, May 17, 2010

Idea and Innovation Management Tool Roundup

The Issue:
The space for idea and innovation management software is becoming increasingly crowded and it is difficult to quickly understand who the main players are and how they are different.

The Background:
On the surface, idea management companies seemed similar to me and were hard to tell apart. After having spent 8 weeks immersed in the space talking with independent experts like Ron Shulkin, submitting questions on LinkedIn groups, attending the Front End of Innovation conference in Boston, and demoing 8 of the top players; I have come to a conclusion: It IS very hard to tell idea management companies apart - especially on capabilities alone. You must dig deep into the details of the organization and trust some of your gut feelings for the true differences to emerge.

All four parts of my research (reaching out to experts in the field, submitting questions online, attending innovation conferences, and completing demos) added value to my search. However upon completing my summary, I realized that everyone I talked with could easily achieve my sample list of desired functionality (see below for the attachment if interested). I had attempted to create a functionality list that would force separation between competitors. However, I quickly found that most “on the shelf” options could already achieve 90% of my desires and it would be quick for each company to add in the remaining 10%.

The Differences:

So where did I end up finding differences?

1) Cost structure
  • Some companies charge a per user monthly rate typically around $4 per user per month. 500 users would cost ~$24,000 per year
  • Some companies charge an annual fee based on the number of users (500-1500 users was typically quoted around $40k-$80k annually)
  • Others charge a one time fee for the software ($50k-$80k and ask for around 20% of that fee annually for all updates and simple software maintenance
2) Amount of experience and current clients
  • A few players have been around for 10+ years and have a lot of great trial and error experience
  • Others have joined the space more recently but appear to have adopted most of the best practices and have added in some innovative functionality
3) Gut feel for the organizational strengths and future focus
  • Did they seem to be focused on the business/ financial aspects of using the tool or was the motivation geared more towards improving the company culture?
  • I found this was actually the most useful analysis for helping to make a case for choosing one tool over another

The Top 5 Roundup:

I want to give a quick forward before sharing my opinion of each specific company:

I was very impressed with every company that I met or talked with. Idea and innovation management tools are needed in industry and will improve the way employees share and build upon their thoughts within their organization. I do not believe that you could go wrong in selecting any of the companies mentioned below.

I have created a 2 word summary for the five companies that stood out most to me based on my gut feel. I will also share a few strengths that I feel are important. As always, I encourage you to click on the company links and experience their tools for yourself. They are listed alphabetically.

BrightIdeaInspiring Intrapreneurship
  • Fast paced, interactive demo with high energy staff
  • 10+ years experience
  • Constantly innovating their offering
  • Very quick to implement the tool internally

CogniStreamerSimple Intelligence
  • Intelligent spotting of like minded people and ideas
  • Smooth graphical feel
  • Solid front end thoughts on innovation

Hype IMTSoftware Flexibility
  • You own the software
  • It can be customized anyway you can imagine
  • Smooth graphical feel

ImaginatikConsulting Confidence
  • 10+ years experience
  • Strong consulting background
  • Very well thought out to maximize your desired outcomes
  • Many best practices based on large international clients

SpigitBusiness Savvy
  • Newer and slightly more innovative approach
  • Very strong business drive
  • They have significant financial support likely ensuring they will continue to be a main contender over the next few years
There are others in the space that are worth mentioning but did not hit the summary above for various reasons (one reason being that I ran out of time for completing demos).

The Others:

Idea and Innovation Management Tools:

BrainBank – I did not demo the product, but during conversations the founder came off as very intelligent about the needs of the tool and appears to be driven more by passion then by finances.

Kindling – Very simple, graphically smooth interface. Appears to offer the same powerful functionality as the 5 companies I reviewed above.

NOSCO – Also appears to offer the same powerful functionality as the 5 companies I reviewed above. NOSCO is also very active on LinkedIn and is contributing a significant amount of knowledge to the innovation community. The fun graphic below has been put together by their group depicting the entire idea management process.

Knowledge Management/ Idea Creation Tools:

Huddle – A web based, low cost tool that seems to come out with new functionality every week. Seems to offers similar capabilities to Microsoft SharePoint. Huddle supports mobile devices (iphone for example) and allows connecting via LinkedIn systems.

Invention Machine – It appears to be a fantastic product for searching through internal and external information quickly and then tying it into a new idea. Currently the product seems more focused on helping people to create ideas not on managing and filtering ideas internally. I believe future updates to the software may continue to add that functionality.

Traction – Very solid knowledge management tool with some abilities to create ideas and add to them. The government is one of their main clients. Information felt available and secure, but the tool didn’t seem to fit the specific need I was investigating.

External/ Open Innovation:

Hypios – Newer to the external innovation space (at least in the US), Hypios appears to be following an approach similar to InnoCentive’s open innovation approach.

IdeaConnection – A bit of “wisdom of the crowd” meets “intelligent team building”.
IdeaConnection will pull from thousands of external people to assemble a small team of talent that appears to have the right skills to solve the problem statement. Project moves on a predetermined timeline.

InnoCentive – Seems to be the juggernaut of the “wisdom of the crowd” open innovation approach. Submit a problem statement to over a hundred thousand external people and allow anyone to attempt to solve the problem (for an award).

NineSigma – A bit more custom/ hands on approach to external innovation. NineSigma employees actually do the initial searching to identify new technologies and companies that can solve your problems.

The End:

Whew… that was a lot to cover in one shot. Hopefully you found value in my initial assessment of the idea and innovation management tool space. Please use the comments section to publicly agree, disagree, or add onto any of my thoughts. Thanks.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Top 11 Ways to Implement a Culture of Innovation

On Wednesday March 10th 2010, I had the privilege of attending an innovation conference/ discussion put on by Elsevier (subset of Reed Elsevier). The event was titled: Elsevier’s Corporate Connect Event: Implementing a Culture of Innovation. Given the low price tag (free) and complete sponsorship by a one company (Elsevier), I was not sure how much information I would be able to apply directly to my company. I was very pleased to find that the event was far from a day long sales pitch and was truly an opportunity to connect and talk about ways to improve innovation within company walls.

The event was organized into 4 presentations and 1 expert panel discussion (with multiple networking opportunities in-between).

Presentation topics:
1) Elsevier’s Innovation Journey (Jeff Honious at Elsevier)
2) Building a Culture of Innovation (Peter Skarzynski at Strategos)
3) Implementing a Culture of Innovation (Mike Hess at Medtronic)
4) Supporting a Culture of Innovation (Cynthia A. Larson at Eaton)

The Expert panel consisted of 4 Information Specialists (super librarians) from Eaton, Abbot Labs, Kimberly Clark, and St. Jude Medical. The Q&A centered on understanding the role that internal and external information plays to support innovation and how to improve the way employees access that information.

Below is my “Top 11” summary from the conference. To help foster further discussion, I have placed company links throughout this summary and links for LinkedIn for each of the presenters.

Build Your Innovation Culture:

#1 – Include the Most Important Member of Your Innovation Team – The End User

The customer is king was mentioned (in various ways) during every presentation. All innovation efforts will fail eventually if the end user is not driven to use your new product or service. Make sure everything you do starts with “Who is the end user and why do they want this”. For the most part, humans are intelligent and know when you have come up with something that will truly impact their life. It is true that people can not always voice their needs and desires in a way that makes sense, but your challenge should be to find creative ways to understand their behaviors and figure out how to include them in your innovation process.

#2 – Challenge an Orthodoxy (The Way Things Are)

The point of innovation is to come up with new ideas that can be turned into tangible outcomes (most measure in terms of profit or other quantitative metrics). However, some of the best ideas are not “new” ideas but are instead challenges to existing assumptions (think of Apple challenging the way music was sold or Dell challenging the way computer were purchased and assembled). However, those kinds of insights require all employees to be comfortable challenging the “way things are” around them. The further out in the organization you can instill this mentality, the more impact it will have on your culture. What benefit could come from your line workers feeling like it was there job to suggest new ways of doing things? While it is not the overly positive case study it once was, Toyota is known for keeping low costs by listening to the ideas of their assembly workers.

#3 – Get Someone “Up Top” Interested

The majority of innovation teams start when a CEO or CIO says that it will be so. Those struggling to improve things from the bottom up without initial support will need to work to get the attention of someone up top. Without top level support, you may never gain the resources needed to really move the dial and impact the entire organization.

#4 – Take a Diagonal Slice Across the Organization

When assembling a new innovation team, it is best to take a cross functional/ diagonal cut through the organization. Many companies start with something that looks like a country club meeting with top level executives getting together to discuss how to improve the performance of the common employee. Instead of limiting the innovation team to top level strategic thinkers, make sure you include some middle level managers and some low level individual contributors. On top of getting suggestions from various levels throughout the organization, you will also be adding team members who are willing to put in extra effort to take advantage of the exciting opportunity. Oh yeah, and all members should want to be part of the group. If someone doesn’t have passion for improving innovation, they will never find the time needed to make an impact.

#5 – Don’t Forget Your Managers - Their Brains Still Work

Most managers were once the lower lever employees who went to college, dreamed of making the world a better place, and happily moved away from concentrated individual work to manage a team towards bigger objectives. Managing a team doesn’t allow for many individual contributions, but managers’ brains are still working (most of them anyway). When you are looking to implement a company-wide innovation process, make sure you create systems that allow and encourage managers to give quick bursts of energy and submit their individual ideas.

Keep the Momentum Going:

#6 – Stick to the Vision at All Costs - Do the Coin Test

When you deviate from your initial founding vision, you increase the space between you and your current consumer. You also dilute resources, reduce focus, and most importantly diminish employee passion. Ideas are cheap. Many paths end with increase profits. Make sure your path lines up with your vision so that all employees will passionately follow. Follow Medtronic’s example and carry a physical reminder of the corporate vision on a coin. When you have a tough decision to make, review the vision on the coin to help set your path. If you don’t have a clear vision that links to a consumer benefit, then that is the first place to start.

#7 – Demonstrate the Benefit

All innovation efforts should be tracked and measured. While is not always easy to quantify the impact of improving the culture or the benefit in increased communication, you can track things like the geographical diversity of idea contributors (put stars on a world map), the number of unique idea contributors, and the total number of ideas generated. When you do get a solid win, make sure you take the time to communicate it across the company.

#8 – Expect 96% Failure Rate

I was surprised by the finding that 96% of innovation efforts fail, but I would have guessed that failure was near 90% from my past experiences. Whatever the number is for your industry, failure is part of the innovation process. Your goal is to create a process that allows you to fail quickly and avoid wasting resources. How are you set up to learn from your mistakes and keep moving with renewed passion?

#9 – Develop an Innovation “Pressure Cooker”

New ideas can’t get off the ground relying only on 15 minute blocks of time between meetings or other project work. From time to time you need to grab a team of people, rent a space off site, and commit days at a time to uncovering new consumer insights and product ideas. Make sure enough time is allowed to get from the discovery phase all the way to the creation of a full action plan and timeline. When possible, bring in some of your end users to the session.

Recognize what Success Looks Like

#10 – Increase Human Connections

When reviewing your innovation efforts, make sure to determine if you connected people and increased dialog. If you got people talking, then you were successful. If no new conversations have started… you need to rethink your approach.

#11 – Build Your Planet Memory Alpha

When the panel of Information Specialists was asked what the future of innovation management would look like, Star Trek’s Plant Memory Alpha was the quick answer. While I am not much of a Star Trek fan, I believed the expert panel when they described the planet as the ideal location for “external innovation”. The Star Trek planet stored all historical knowledge for the universe and anyone could access that information. While we live in a society of patents, trade secrets, and general information secrecy; increasing the availability of information is important for innovation. One significant opportunity discussed would be to improve the availability of internal information and improve how it connects to external information. What would it be like if when you searched Google to find external information, you were also searching all internal knowledge? How else could that connection be improved?

If you want to continue the discussion with me, jot your comments below or send me a LinkedIn request at

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

To avoid conflict; To confront conflict; That is the question.

Do you avoid or confront conflict in the work place? Today’s example: As a manager, how do you handle jealousy in the office when an employee finds ways to do their job more effectively outside of the office walls?

I recently spoke with a young professional who just faced this challenge. For the last 5 years, he spent about ½ a day every week working from his local coffee shop. He would save all of his mundane/ computer work and high concentration writing for that opportunity. He would drink 3-4 cups of coffee and get it all done in one chunk of time. He claims that the caffeine boost and change of scenery made the mundane go faster and improved his ability to write complicated summaries or high level communications.

However, he was notified recently that his departure from the office had been noticed by other employees and they expressed concern to their managers. The negative vibe created caused his manager to request that he stay in the office building during business hours.

What would you do in the same situation as his manager?

My response: Avoiding conflict will only reduce the effectiveness of the entire department and further isolate the most talented employees. Instead of eliminating the exceptions to the rule, allow everyone equal opportunity. If other employees are jealous of one working outside of the office, give them the same challenge: “Find a place to work ½ of a day every week that increases your work productivity.” What positive effect might you see in the office?

In public schools, differences in learning styles and performance are recognized and programs like “Gifted and Talented” or “GT” have been created. The programs are designed to promote alternative leaning techniques for those currently being confined by teaching methods geared towards the average student. Taking this mentality into the work place allows for greater personal development and encourages activities that increase efficiency and productivity.

That is my opinion….What is yours?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Who makes the best “Idea Parent” for your innovation projects?

In a recent video blog post by Maddock Douglas, Mike Maddock argues that all ideas need a parent to help nurture it and bring it to fruition. However, if the “idea parent” leaves before the end, the idea will surly suffer.

So how do you keep the “idea parent” around to the execution phase? Perhaps the answer it to make sure you use your most passionate and motivated employees as “parents”.

As a product developer with about 7 years experience, I know that I would take it very seriously if I was asked to be the team’s motivational force behind a new product launch. I would also be unlikely to leave the opportunity until I saw it through. I believe my passion and motivation stems from my vision upwards towards a future that is yet to be.

However, upper level managers and executives may not have the same conviction to specific ideas. They have been trained over the years to leave their passion behind and look at the numbers to guide their next steps. “It’s just business” is not something you hear many Generation Y employees saying.

All ideas have their ups and downs during the execution phase. My argument is to make sure you have someone leading the execution whose passion will override any of the daily turmoil and also ensure they are driven to see the concept through to its final stages without jumping ship.
Maybe the best parent for your innovation is a younger generational employee looking upwards towards their future rather than an executive who is looking down from the top of their career.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ready... FIRE... then Aim - How CPG companies should use this principle to target a new generation of consumers.

I recently read a blog posting by one of my favorite innovation firms MaddockDouglas titled Ten Reasons Your Next Launch Will Fail. I agreed strongly with about 8 of the 10 ideas (pretty good I think) but I had particular issue with the suggestion that a “Read, Fire, Aim” approach is bad. After some thought, I came up with a way to explain what I believe is great about the concept and should be given significant consideration. Let me try to explain.

With 7 years experience working as a product developer for CPG companies, I have been part of some great product launches and few where we had developed great products, but the launch didn’t go as expected… being honest, they were flops. When looking back at how our great products could flop in the market place, all signs eventually pointed to the hard to swallow realization that we never did have a great product. How could that be when more than $300,000 in consumer testing proved it would be a great success? Top two box scores suggested that we had the next sliced bread and consumers would be lining up to give us praise.

When you give into the idea that perhaps the product was not the next sliced bread, the next conclusion is that the all important “top two box score” must have been wrong. The research firms would quickly point out that the top two box score had correctly predicted previous success and that there must be another explanation. Well, I believe that Occam was onto something when he developed his razor (click here if you don’t get my reference). The simplest explanation is this case would be that the correlation between previous launches and good test scores was coincidental.

Well, without test scores how would CPG companies like General Mills decide what products to spend millions of dollars on to launch nationally each year? The answer? Ready, Fire, Aim!

This phrase is typically used to describe a speed-to-market approach by launching products into the market before they are perfected and allowing consumer comments or complaints to guide your revisions.

When using the method well, a company would not “fire” without any initial consumer testing nor would they launch a product nationally before it is ready. However, the company would get new products onto shelves in test markets months earlier than currently planned and use real consumer behavior to drive additional product improvements before a national launch.

Peter Erikson, Vice President of R&D at General Mills, gave some great examples in a recent presentation at the 2009 Front End of Innovation (FEI) conference. The new approach followed by General Mills is a great adaptation of the “Ready, Fire, Aim” concept. In the new General Mills approach, they launch B+ products into small markets and allow the consumer to make the final product improvement suggestions before going national. In the example of the Pillsbury Savorings®, Peter Erikson estimated that the company saved a full year of development time by putting products developed by an external partner directly into test. Previously, General Mills would have gone through multiple rounds of internal formula revisions and consumer tests before launching into stores. How did things turn out? After a few months in test market, the Savorings® team had enough consumer insight to adjust the formulas appropriately and launched nationally. Sales have since tripled and more varieties have been launched to fill the increasing demand.

Research like IHUTs (in home use test) or BASIS (Nielsen based home tests) that give guidance based on a “top two box” are perhaps not worth the time and cost. If you are looking for real consumer feedback, just go out there and get it using test markets.

My take on “Ready, Fire, Aim” = Launch more B+ products into test markets and allow your consumer to turn them into A+ products before going national.

Below is a link to Michael Masterson's take on Ready, Fire, Aim. While I have not read it myself, I felt it would be valuable to point you somewhere if you wanted to get more information on this concept.

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