Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

Amplifying The Maker Force

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

We met Jeff Sturges at Maker Fair Detroit 2010, where he introduced us to Fab Lab and its impact with urban farming in Detroit.

Jeff came back for Maker Faire Detroit 2011 and left very inspired and motivated. In this guest blog post, Jeff shares his enthusiasm and shares ideas about how anyone can get involved in the wonderful world of DIY.

Maker Faire Detroit 2011 was truly a grand celebration of creative awesomeness! From the fire breathing Gon KiRin to the handmade Paper House Dolls, the grounds of the Henry Ford were covered with exhibitions and projects that were as incredible as they were ingenious. No matter what your passion, there was something exciting for everyone.

During the drive home after Maker Faire, my mind was abuzz with romantic visions of my own future projects. I envisioned many other wide-eyed makers and makers-to-be doing the same…dreaming of such silliness as robotic quadcopters equipped with mini-marshmallow shooters, or perhaps such seriousness as the next generation of alternative fuel automobile.

My musings simmered to concerns when I considered the dreams that might fade away before making it to reality…perhaps due to busy schedules, limited resources, lack of knowledge, or loss of drive. I also considered folks that may have been been bitten by the maker “bug” at the Faire, but left without an idea of how to connect with the local maker community. How does one get involved in the maker movement? How do we keep the Maker Force surging through our hands, hearts and minds long enough for our ideas to become real?

Doing It Yourself (DIY) vs. Doing It Together (DIT) – The power of community workshops and maker networks
There is a powerful energy created when groups ofenthusiastic people work together…either as a team on a single effort, or simply side-by-side focusing on their own projects. Joining or creating a community workshop where passionate people gather to share the space, tools, and knowledge of making concentrates energy and resources. This concentration often has an exponential effect on the speed, quality and enjoyability of making. Community workshops can and do exist on various scales and for various purposes. There are many examples to consider for either participation or startup.

The Neighborhood Garage
The most creative spaces are often found in garages, basements, and even kitchens. Why not simply open yours to a few like-minded friends in your area? Perhaps meet at one location or even rotating locations if projects are portable? Maybe one evening per week, or two weekend afternoons per month?

The Back Room in The Community Center
Know of an underutilized space in a community center, school, or place of worship? Consider examples such as the Mt Elliott Makerspace in Detroit and Parts and Crafts in Cambridge, MI. Both workshops launched and continue to operate in church basements, and both focus on youth learning through making.

A Hackerspace is a collective of creative innovators that may include designers and engineers as well as artists and musicians. While In the past, the term “hacker” applied to software programmers breaking into computer mainframes, nowadays the term is associated with anyone who is involved in hands-on experimentation with materials, tools, and technologies. Participation in a hackerspace normally involves paying monthly dues to support the costs of operation, and sharing responsibilities for maintenance and upkeep. Members often range in age from 18 to 88 years, and number from 10 to over 75 people. Examples of local Michigan hackerspaces include OmniCorpDetroit in Detroit, i3Detroit in Ferndale and All Hands Active in Ann

Professional Workspaces
Community workshops also exist less in the form of collectives and more in the form of a professional workspaces. Examples include the upcoming Maker Works in Ann Arbor and TechShop in Allen Park. These workshops offer a wider range of advanced tools and resources that may not be available at a typical hackerspace.

Maker Networks
Prefer to work solo but desire some sort of a connection to other makers? Check out the various online community resources offered through Make Magazine such as their forum, community directory, newsletter, maker maps, etc. Attend local meetups such as hackerspace Open Hack nights where it is possible to mingle with local makers more about projects, organizations, and events. See the hackerspace websites listed above for schedules and details.

Small is Big – Start with small projects, and break up big projects into mini-projects
One of my all time favorite lessons…
Q. How do you eat an elephant?

A. One bite at a time.

If you are a young maker or a maker-to-be (or a parent of either), I suggest developing skills and building confidence with small projects that are simple, quick, easy and cheap. Once the basics are mastered and the taste of success is palpable, it is easier to move on to more challenging and time-intensive projects. Examples might include LED throwies as found on Make: Projects, or Sock Puppets as found on Instructables. In addition, various kit-based projects are available such as the Drawdio sold via the MakerSHED or the MintyBoost sold by Adafruit Industries. For youth ages 6-12, HowToons brilliantly uses a comic format to present tutorials for simple projects that use common household materials.

If you are ready for an ambitious project, “eating the elephant one bite at a time” is key to keeping things manageable. Set up a schedule with specific times to work on projects, perhaps once per week for a few hours. Break up the project into smaller mini-projects, map out the associated tasks necessary to accomplish each mini-project, and plug these tasks into your schedule. Most importantly, maintain a positive mental attitude. Everything will take longer than expected, and problems and obstacles will arise. All of this you can and will overcome.

Over-Thinking leads to Under-Doing – Stop thinking and DO IT!
One of the most dreadful black holes for maker energy is over-thinking. Of course, careful planning is essential for the success of any project, but at a certain point one must stop planning and dive in. I have witnessed many people, including myself, plan and design a project to death. Trying to solve every problem and address every detail in the early stages leads to “paralysis by analysis.” Rarely are all problems solved on a sketchpad, and often you will uncover new problems in the process of making anyway, so you may as well get started! Once hand and mind begin working in beautiful harmony, brilliant solutions and new discoveries will present themselves.

Celebrate Progress – Join or create events where you can share your projects and ideas
An event need not be the colossal scale of the Detroit Maker Faire in order to generate the Maker Force. Attending, joining, or creating events that involve the display of projects provide occasions share your work, develop new ideas, and connect with other makers. Community groups, galleries and hackerspaces occasionally host events that include open calls for projects. Submit your work! Check out local newspapers such as the Detroit Metro Times for details on creative events such as the upcoming DIY Street Fair in Ferndale. Feeling particularly
ambitious? Consider starting a Mini Maker Faire in your city such as the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire.

Keep the Maker Force strong! See you and your projects at Maker Faire Detroit 2012!

Let There Be Light

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

Millions of people around the world can’t afford electric bulbs and live in homes that lack windows, resulting in lives spent mostly in darkness. However, thanks to a program called Liter of Light, many families in the Philippines will be able to afford light in their homes by a new innovation — old soda bottles now converted to solar bulbs.

Over 10,000 homes across Manila and Laguna have the solar bulbs installed. The light source improves the standard of living in the poorest areas. You can watch a story about the invention here.

A solar bulb is created by adding water and bleach into the plastic bottle and inserting the bottle into the roof through a custom-cut hole. The sunlight goes through the bottle and the added water refracts it, creating 55-60 watts of clear light in the home. The bleach in the bottle is used to keep the water clean of algae. The device can be built and installed in less than an hour and lasts for about five years. The idea is inexpensive for the financially-disadvantaged residents. It’s a practical combination of simple technology and reuse of disposed soda bottles.

Are you creating something unique and useful? We want to know about it. Share a video of what you are making with us here.

Escaping the Crisis using Innovation

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Screen shot 2010-11-17 at 9.27.14 AM.pngWe’re living one of the most serious challenges of recent History.

The financial crisis created an economic crisis and, finally, a social crisis that shook the foundations of the World economy. Greed mixed with ineptitude from the financial system has destroyed the dreams and lives of millions of people around the World.

In spite of everything that History taught us about previous economic crisis and depressions, the truth is: no one really knows how to successfully solve this mess! Cutting monetary stimulus too soon and preventing new bailouts could result in a new recession. Cutting it too late could cause dependence. And while we’re here talking about our economic meltdown, emerging economies are working at full business speed, surpassing us every day on their road to success.

One thing is for sure: we need a new plan that points to a sustainable solution! And we need it now!

This article will present my view, as a Portuguese entrepreneur and citizen of the World, on how to escape this crisis through the power of innovation!

#1 The right attitude: Focus on the solution! Not the problem!

You’re attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude – Zig Ziglar

This is not on the top of the list by accident. If you don’t embrace this attitude, there’s no need to read the following points because they will be useless.

Problems are a part of life and a part of business. A huge catastrophe, on the other hand, like this economic crisis are less likely to occur but, unfortunately, when they do occur we need to act fast. Playing the victim role and talk about the problem over and over again won’t get you anywhere. Finding who’s guilty and blaming others won’t do any good for you too. That’s a complete waste of time and energy that could be used more effectively to find a solution!

We have to stop blaming others for our problems. In fact, we have to stop looking at the problems or who’s to blame and start looking for solutions! Because if we don’t look for a way out by ourselves, no one will look for us.

This is an attitude shift that is absolutely essential if we want to overcome this crisis using the power of innovation! A problem is all that it takes to spark the innovation process in search for a solution. The bigger the problem, the bigger the innovation and bigger the change that it will happen.

Now that the right attitude is set, let’s start looking for a solution!

I strongly believe that the solution for this economic crisis lies in each and everyone of us.

I know that this is a pretty bold statement coming from someone that few people know of or care and especially when some of the world’s brightest minds are trying to solve this very serious problem. That only serves to show you how deep my belief is that with the right attitude, the right skills and with the right plan, together, we can get out of this recession! But not only that. We can get get out of this recession stronger, smarter and more united than ever.

#2 The right skills: The water-like entrepreneur and the golden touch of innovation

Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless – like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend. – Bruce Lee

The crisis exposed a very important and brutal truth: there’s no such a thing as a lifetime safe job.

The days of working a lifetime to the same big company, until retirement, are over! For too long, there was a false sense of security that as long as you show up and do as you’re told, your company would guarantee you a steady flow of income. No matter what. Well… after large lay-offs, high unemployment rates, and huge companies going down the drain, it’s clear that this is NOT true!

In this scenario, the most important skill to have is to become, what I call, the water-like entrepreneur with a golden touch.

Take a few lessons by watching water flowing on a river and think on how you can apply them into your business:
Lesson #1: “Instead of directly pushing big rocks away, water flows around them.”
Lesson #2: “Instead of crushing rocks with a single blow, water slowly but steadily turns them into sand.”
Lesson #3: “Water is flexible: throw it a stone and you’ll watch it take the hit and recover it’s previous form.”
Lesson #4: “Water adapts to the environment: if it’s too cold, it freezes; if it’s too hot, it evaporates only to return through rain.”
Lesson #5: “One drop of water can’t cause many damage, but several drops on the same spot, like your forehead, is a known form of torture.”

It’s all about learning, adapting and evolving!

Now, more than ever before, just like water, you must adapt to this new economic environment, be flexible enough to embrace the crisis shock wave and flow around the big rocks that are in your way. And above all, don’t ever quit but persist to find new ways to innovate!

To do this, you need to realize that the old factory mindset is over. The Industrial Revolution is moving to other countries around the World where the focus is achieving cheaper and faster mass production using a labor-intensive approach. Unless you live in those countries, trying to compete on that same championship would be like trying to directly push the big rocks away. Instead, just like water, consider flow around them and keep going!

Globalization and the Technology Revolution created a new era called The Information Era. It’s the most competitive, fast-paced and high change business ecosystem of all times. If you want to succeed you must turn your knowledge into gold! That’s what I call the golden touch of innovation.

I believe that everyone has the ability to deliver a golden touch. Some of us simply aren’t aware that we can make it. However, if you find what you’re passionate about and use your resources wisely to put your creativity to work, you will be amazed by the innovations that you can produce. To help you find ways to deliver your golden touch of innovation, consider this:
a) As technology usage and reach increases, the value of analog human interaction also increases
b) As costs of production decreases, the value of knowledge to design and create it also increases
c) As it becomes more easy to copy products’ features, the value of branding and customer engagement & experience increases
d) As products become disposable (single transaction), think of ways to make them reusable and addictive by adding repetitive, high-emotion and high-frequency experiences
e) As the cost of ideas become cheap, the value of execution and being able to ship it is at an all time high

#3 The right plan: action oriented open-innovation plan

Create a definite plan for carrying out your desire and begin at once, whether you ready or not, to put this plan into action. – Napoleon Hill

Reaching this last point of the article, hopefully, you’ve thought of a couple of ideas to succeed. Maybe some of those have been in your mind for some time. Well… the World can’t afford to let your ideas live inside your brain. We need to make them come to life and we need it now! Don’t try to be ready. You’ll never be ready, unless you choose to be. Don’t wait for the stars to be aligned or for the perfect weather conditions because they will never come. Innovation is about using what you have now to make a difference. Don’t try to create everything that pleases everyone or you’ll create mediocrity.

A good way to start your road to innovation is to write a plan. No, you don’t need to write a 50 page report on how you’re going to change the World. What I’m talking about is a simple and memorable outline of how you plan to turn your idea into a real tangible innovation.

Seeing the plan for the first time in your hands will make a huge difference because it will be the first deliverable of your idea! Use that quick win to motivate you and build momentum to focus on the plan’s execution. However, the act of planning is even more important because it will confront you with tough questions that need to to be answered. And it’s better for you to answer them right now, while you’re laying the foundations of your venture, than to realize later that you’ve made basic mistakes.

To get you to a fast start, here’s a simple outline of a plan to take you on the road for innovation:
The idea
The business model
The team
The goals
The obstacles
What I need to learn
The plan of action with deadlines
The benefits
Remember that a plan is completely useless if you’re not willing to focus on actually executing it! Believe me, there’s a lot of hard work involved and it takes determination, passion and discipline to get it done. However, it’s also absolutely essential! The World needs you to do it. So just get going!
And remember that you don’t need to do this alone. Through business partnerships and by unleashing open innovation with entrepreneurs around the World, you’ll be better prepared to succeed.


In no time in recent History, have we written, discussed and talked so much about innovation. Now is the time to, together, leverage it’s power and change the World.

Thank you!

Best regards,

Bruno Coelho

Bruno Coelho is a Portuguese entrepreneur who loves Marketing, Innovation, Leadership, Customer Service and Entrepreneurship. Read more from him at” and find him on Twitter at @bcoelho2000

OnInnovation Relaunch!

Friday, October 29th, 2010

Here at OnInnovation we are proud to announce the launch and redesign of the site. After talking with you the readers we have made some significant changes not just to the look and feel but to the functionality as well. Feel free to explore and leave us any feedback you might have below in the comments.

Innovation 101
A unique and dynamic online education module that uses oral history interviews from America’s greatest innovators and the assets of The Henry Ford’s OnInnovation resource for active teaching and learning.
Educators and teachers will learn how to inspire more creative thinkers and problem solvers by introducing participants to the basic tenets of innovation as they explore various traits and processes used by innovators past and present.

The Newly Redesigned Video Library
The Henry Ford creator of OnInnovation has brought to you a rich library of oral history interviews from Innovators past and present. Learn from people like Steve Wozniak, Toshiko Mori, Mitchell baker and more!

America Invents
With America invents you have the ability to share your passion of innovation, invention and skills with others. This section calls all makers, tinkerers, and do-it-yourselfers to join the community and share a glimpse into your workshop or studio!
As a community member and contributor your work and ideas will be a source of inspiration to classrooms nationwide through our Innovation 101 curriculum.

These are just a few of the improvements and features that we have added. Please feel free to look around and enjoy the archives, the community and resources. What started in 2008 with a single interview with barrier-breaker Lyn St. James has snowballed into a creative, collaborative with our country’s greatest innovators from Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay to Bill Gates, Martha Stewart, Steve Wozniak and more. We asked them questions. They gave us answers. OnInnovation is now here to let you put their insights to work!

It is here that we invite you to co-create and use these interviews for personal and professional inspiration. Whether as a conversation starter with your classroom or workforce training or to pump up a presentation — we hope they inspire a can-do mindset to think differently. By using the OnInnovation resources both historical and present, we encourage you to discover the process of innovation from the past forward. A process that just might help find the new energy solutions to power our homes and cities, the transportation solutions to keep our society mobile, the agricultural solutions to keep the world fed, the environmental solutions to ensure a high quality of life and more.

DIY: An Innovative Movement

Friday, July 16th, 2010

Something that has really caught my eye recently has been Do-It-Yourself culture and how incredibly innovative it is. They are true makers and their innovations—everything from clothing to make-shift inventions to sustainable variations—are just astounding.

What set me on the DIY quest was my lack of air-conditioning during the recent, massive New England heat wave. At some point in my heat-induced delirium (clarity of mind, perhaps?) I decided the best thing to do, rather than attempt to scour the local department stores fighting over the last AC units that were no doubt not very energy efficient, was to fashion my own air conditioning that was more cost effective to run. And so my search for designs began—which, thanks to Instructables, there are step-by-step DIY instructions for these awesome inventions. There were fancy ones that were definitely out of my skills to build (or build within the wanted-it-yesterday timeframe). And then there were simpler ones, but immediately I worried about structural integrity, materials, and also, cutting plastic by myself with a knife. A key point I’ve found while innovating is to remember your limitations while keeping design freedom. Innovations that can never be brought to fruition are great experiments, but they don’t get the job done.

I ended up going the cheapest and easiest route: Using the window fan I already had, I put a towel down over the bookcase in front of it, and put a large bag of ice in a cake pan. Simple, low-tech, and old-fashioned: air conditioning for the tune of $1.79 to buy a bag of ice. The next day, I froze a large block of ice in another cake pan to completely revert to using only what I already owned and had access to. Some friends suggested to boost the cooling power of my AC with salt—I was skeptical, but it seemed to work. Another key point of innovation I found: caution is okay, but don’t be afraid to experiment. It might just turn out to be the answer you were looking for!

What have you innovated lately?

Staying on Track with Innovative Collaboration

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

New forms of work are evolving as professionals in transition develop careers that transcend from the present into the future. As traditional jobs continue to disappear, unique ways of producing and marketing viable products and services will continue to manifest themselves. While professional and personal branding focuses on individual value, it’s the collective effort of talented teams that has the greatest potential to accelerate economic stimulation.


  • Brainstorming unique ideas with trusted colleagues
  • Showcasing collaborative projects in videos, podcasts and articles on a website
  • Sharing case studies that produced creative, compelling results
  • Attending entrepreneurial events sponsored by local universities
  • Organizing focus groups that help determine the feasibility of a new product or service
  • Setting goals to connect with clients in a given time period
  • Researching opportunities to get involved in open-source projects
  • Engaging followers in social media platforms to obtain feedback
  • Participating in professional networking groups that fit your goals

The value of teamwork begins in the classroom and playing fields where students start laying the tracks to the future by working together. Encouraging adaptability and collaboration at an early age will foster the synergistic innovation that will help prepare them for a constantly-changing work environment.

What do you think? How do you stay on track?

Photo Credit: Trypode

World Innovation Forum Recap: Day 2

Monday, June 21st, 2010

The following is an account of the second day of the World Innovation Forum. For a review of the first day please see here. Speakers for Day 2 included: Seth Godin, Brian Shawn Cohen, Wendy Kopp, Ursula Burns, Joel Makower, Jeffrey Hollender, and Robert Brunner. It must be said that one of the bigger disappointments during the event was something over which HSM, the event organizer, had no control. Twitter, for whatever reason, decided to embrace its inner FAIL Whale and choked for much of the proceedings. This was a disappointment to many for whom Twitter is a great way to keep in touch with the themes of a conference as they arise. Not too sure if that feedback made its way back to Biz Stone (final speaker at the conference on Day 1) but we can only hope so. That said, for those in attendance the World Innovation Forum itself became a backdrop to a whole lot of innovative happenings and the following is a rapid journey through some highlights.

Day 2
Remember when I said that the widely read may sometimes be disappointed by seeing authors of their favorite books at conferences? The same can be said for Seth Godin’s presentation. I love his work. He is also a formidable presenter; he is engaging, funny, thought-provoking. If you know his books, you know the subject matter. His most recent effort is the book, Linchpin. Of the presenters, it was obvious that Godin not only knows what is expected of him, he knows how to over-deliver. While no new information was shared, the power of his story-telling is wonderful. He was a great way to wake up and be energized for the day. Favorite Godin quote: “A genius is someone who shows up as their authentic self, ready to change the world.”

Brian Shawn Cohen, the current Vice Chairman of the New York Angels (an investment group), came to the stage with the intent of trying to engage, via his shiny new iPad and Twitter, with the audience. His presentation was a dense mix of history lessons and personal asides. While I understand that innovation attempts sometimes result in failure, that understanding didn’t make it any easier to witness it live and in-person.

Another personal highlight was the presentation of Wendy Kopp, founder and CEO of Teach for America. There are few people who I admire in education as much as Kopp and what she has created in bringing the best and brightest into the neediest rural and inner-city schools in the USA. She is an inspiration and didn’t disappoint in her presentation as she talked about how her personal innovation has led to so many alumni of Teach for America creating their own education innovations in schools, districts and communities both as teachers and as administrators. Her key ingredients for innovating successfully in education were: create a culture of achievement; maximize engagement at all levels both inside and outside the school; and, maximize accountability.

Ursula Burns, the CEO of Xerox, was interviewed by yet another Bloomberg TV anchor and she was phenomenal. Here is someone who helped save one of the most iconic technology brands in the world and she was self-effacing, focused and has the levers of her business down cold. She shared the way she has expanded the view of the business so that the problems that Xerox solves are now broader. Burns also was blunt in her assessment of the current economy, “crisis is a great motivator. If everything is ok there is resistance to change.” Her take is that the best time to mix things up and innovate is when everything is uncertain, because you have permission to try to make things right. Burns was a pleasure to see and her perspective was galvanizing.

At this point the event took a turn to the Green. Joel Makower, the Executive Editor of, took the stage and talked about the ways consumer products companies are responding to the need to be more sustainable. He provided a great overview of types of product innovation and how we need to rethink packaging and delivery. To those in attendance he also suggested that the light bulb as a meme for innovation seems old: what image will represent ideas in another 100 years? He also highlighted the fact that the stories we tell have a weight to them. For example, green stories are hard to tell because they reveal how bad a product may be for the environment, even thought it might be better than all the rest. Very nice setup for rethinking what we are doing and should do in the innovation space.

Also presenting on the topic of green was Jeffrey Hollender, the Executive Chairperson of Seventh Generation. Like Makower, Hollender felt that the storytelling about green products (stories that aren’t green washing) is difficult because so much of what we consume has a deleterious effect on the environment. He talked about the express need for leaders to drive innovation from a humble perspective. His perspective: they cannot lead anything; leaders need to facilitate and create a path for the resources of the organization to innovate and develop the answers to our most pressing problems.

The final presenter of the Forum was Robert Brunner. Brunner is one of the partners in the firm Ammunition Group and apart from being one of the premier industrial designers of the age (see his work at Apple and Pentagram for evidence of this) he is today leading the charge on strategic innovation through product design. Giving by far the most audio-visually rich presentation of the event, Brunner also delivered the goods. One of the highlights of his presentation was his examination of the value of great products not lying in object design (which is important) but in the complete user experience. The ecosystem in which the product resides is what makes (or breaks) the product regardless of whether or not the object design is good.

If you were going to spend time connecting with people who want to understand, teach, or explore innovation as a practice and a way of deriving more value from innovation in their enterprises there were many worse places you could have been this week. HSM created an event that was big enough for everyone to explore their passions. If you didn’t find something that you could connect to, take home, or make your own – your weren’t looking hard enough.

Photo Credit: Aweigend

Recap of World Innovation Forum June 8-9, 2010

Friday, June 18th, 2010

The World Innovation Forum 2010, the fifth such conference, was held at the Nokia Theatre on Times Square in Manhattan this week. For over 900 attendees, presenters and organizers it was an opportunity to explore several innovation themes over the course of two days. The interesting thing was that much of the value of the event wasn’t necessarily to be had in the room at the venue. There were smaller luncheons, after-hours gatherings over food and drinks, and even an “unconference” event during which people capitalized on the opportunity to meet and learn from each other.

The first day of the World Innovation Forum began with a brief welcome from Patricia Meier, the President of HSM North America. HSM are the founding organization behind the World Innovation Forum and it’s bigger sibling, the World Business Forum, held at Radio City Music Hall later in the year. The event was led by Polly LaBarre, who served as master emcee for the event. LaBarre did a great job in tying together the themes from each day and would make an appearance at the end of each morning and afternoon presentations. Speakers for Day 1 included: Michael Porter, Michael Howe, Jeff Kindler, Chip Heath, Andreas Weigend, and Biz Stone. The following is a snapshot of each. Note: this is one person’s perspective and in no way reflects the totality of the experience

Day 1

Michael Porter, one of the world’s foremost thought leaders on strategy and international competitiveness, opened the event with his vision for the reinvention of healthcare. His presentation, while primarily focused on the highly dysfunctional USA healthcare system, drew from examples of best practices and outcomes from around the world. He noted that, “we don’t measure patient compliance which is critical to outcomes,” and that, “healthcare outcomes are the competitive domain and not cost containment – which is a zero-sum game.”

Porter noted that the focus should be on creating value for patients. That competition should be related to that value, centered on medical conditions over the full cycle of care, with the goal being to optimize outcomes. Based on his research he found that high quality care should be less costly over the long term especially when focused on driving competition through integrated patient care and bundled costs for care cycles (not specific to an individual procedure.) This integrated vision is very much emblematic of the integrated thinking defined by Roger Martin in his book, The Opposable Mind. Porter returned later in the morning in a one-on-one interview in which he focused more on the current state of the US and global economy. Apparently we need to innovate our way out of this mess!

Following Porter but still in the realm of healthcare innovation was Michael Howe, the former CEO of Minute Clinic. Howe’s focus was on describing a model for innovation he terms PACE: Purpose, Acceptability (by end users), Culture (of accountability), and External (influences encountered). A key aspect of Howe’s presentation was the remarkable success Minute Clinic had in patient care satisfaction ratings. The driver of that satisfaction was the operation’s focus on only addressing a limited few medical complaints, addressing them completely, and referring those that they did not address to local providers. Expectation management is once again seen as a key ingredient in success.

The CEO of Pfizer, Jeff Kindler, was the final element in the healthcare innovation mix. He was interviewed by Erik Schatzker, an anchor and editor-at-large from Bloomberg TV. Kindler landed on his drive to innovate at Pfizer immediately when he said, “Pfizer’s opportunity is to engage all 90000 employees and collaborate outside in an enterprise platform for innovation.” He noted that he is always seeking to balance small-scale innovation with the power of scale that comes with a large organization. Kindler also noted the value of the relatively recent Wyeth acquisition and its successful integration as a basis for increased innovation.

Of great personal interest to me was the presentation by Chip Heath, one half of the spectacularly successful Heath brother research and writing duo. This was the point at which my appetite for reading and absorbing the great work of others runs smack into the reality of conference attendance. If you read widely, often you will be disappointed when you see authors in person. Not because they aren’t engaging, but most likely because their presentations will be mostly driven by the details already presented in their most recent books. This is not a good or bad thing. I’m sure that there were plenty of people in audience who thought Heath’s presentation was enlightening – it was certainly entertaining as he is a great raconteur. But if you want to know more about the presentation details read Switch: How to change things when change is hard. You’ll have the full benefit.

Up next was the veritable human whirlwind that was Andreas Weigend, former Chief Scientist of Amazon and data hound extraordinaire. I had the good fortune to see Weigend in a less formal setting over lunch and his enthusiasm for the power of data is infectious. His pitch, using data as a rapid learning tool to drive innovation, was a hold onto your seats kind of journey. A fact that was highlighted at the end of the day by Polly LaBarre, the emcee for the Forum who was part of the original team at FastCompany magazine and author of Mavericks at Work. LaBarre described Weigend’s talk as, “a roller-coaster of a wild ride,” and it was.

The last event of the day was an interview of Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, by Margaret Brennan an Anchor and reporter for Bloomberg TV. While the interview was awkward to say the least, Stone managed to reveal some nuggets about the present and future in store for Twitter. He noted that 60% of the new Twitter members are from outside the USA and that the strongest growth recently was in Japan. Stone also noted that much of the innovation for Twitter came from outside the company, being user generated, and that Twitter responded as users pulled (or pushed) them in new directions.

All in all, a great day, followed by an opportunity to socialize over drinks and make new connections at an Audi-sponsored reception for all attendees, from which came one of the best tweets of the evening, “Awesome #wif10 conference reception appetizer – dates wrapped in #bacon! Oh yes!”

Photo Credit: Litanmore

The Structural Dilemma of Creating an Innovation Culture

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

The struggle of creating an innovation culture, a culture that supports innovative thinking and output as compared to an innovative culture (one marked by internal differentiation), can readily be framed as a structural dilemma. There are two seemingly contradictory operating instincts that must be reconciled in order for an innovation culture to be sustained. The first is the bias, especially in larger, older organizations, towards definition and control of all aspects of organization life. The second bias, a start-up or entrepreneurial mindset, tends towards differentiation and creativity. As you can imagine this reconciliation process requires tough trade-offs.

Definition & Control
As organizations grow and evolve over time their business functions and processes formalize in support of bringing their products and services to market. Over time authority consolidates so that there are agreed upon channels for communication and decision making. The strategic goals of the organization are driven from the top down into the organization through goal-setting and often those goals are directly tied to individuals’ performance expectations. Business processes and systems are defined and marked for vigilant management and incremental improvement. The organization becomes solid, tightly integrated, and an excellent platform for delivering a relatively stable mission.

It is possible to have too much of a good thing and when taken to their limits within these performance biases there are inherent drawbacks.

In the consolidation of authority the speed of decision making often decreases. The reason for this is that communication regarding the nature of the decision needs to rise to the appropriate level of the organization with the decision making authority. The further away from the point at which the decision needs to be made, the increase in the amount of information that needs to be provided to ensure that the decision is made with the appropriate data. This doesn’t take into account the communication styles of those requesting the decision, making a recommendation, or making the final decision. Often this communication process results in delay and missing information is provided and the decision intent is clarified.

The ownership of the strategy at the top of the organization may also be an impediment to effective innovation. If an organization’s strategy is primarily understood at the senior management level and enacted at lower levels in the organization hierarchy there may be a disconnection between environmental and marketplace awareness and the ongoing suitability of a particular strategy. A strategic blindness pervades. If clients’ needs change or technology shifts the chances are those most closely engaged with clients and the marketplace will see that first. If what they are seeing is at counterpoint to the organization’s established strategy the process of raising the alarm in order to modify performance to address the changing conditions in the field may be wanting.

The inability to respond swiftly has long been a hallmark of larger, well-established organizations. When faced with well-defined business processes and systems it can be a challenge to modify or remove them in the face of a need to change an organization’s business model. The beauty of a large organization is the ability to focus the appropriate allocation of limited resources to the best effect. Often management focuses on incremental improvement and the elimination of errors rather than wholesale change, especially when performance goals drive toward certain returns. This practice leaves little room for the exploration, let alone failure, required for meaningful and effective innovation. It is simply too hard to change the direction of a organization like this when everything about its configuration is designed to reinforce the structural integrity of that configuration.

The world’s largest oil tanker is the Knock Nevis; its size beggars belief*. It takes five and half miles to stop with a turning circle of over two miles. It takes nearly fifteen minutes to turn 180 degrees. Now, while you would rarely want to turn an oil tanker 180 degrees, as the likelihood of your going in completely the wrong direction is low, the effort involved is enormous. For a large organization their sheer size and complexity makes changing their culture a similarly challenging prospect. That does not mean that they are incapable of innovation, far from it. There are too many examples for large companies changing their culture to increase their innovation effectiveness; Proctor & Gamble and GE come to mind immediately. But accounts of their changes describe years-long efforts. Effective? Certainly. Nimble? Not so much.

Differentiation & Creativity
The start-up organization has its own set of embedded performance patterns. A prime mindset is that when work is to be done, “all hands are on deck.” The implication being both, that many hands make for lighter work and that given the organization’s small size there is no room for the functional specialization that is the hallmark of the larger organization. The smaller organization is a much (much) flatter organization, which means decision making is often left to the person facing the decision and that decisions when made are executed quickly. This nimble and agile behavior is a vital ingredient in the start-up organization’s effectiveness. They are geared towards responsiveness. They can take ideas to market and test them rapidly, iterating their products and services as they incorporate live feedback.

A challenge with the “all hands” mindset and practice is the tendency towards chaos. Without clearly defined roles sometimes the inconsequential can rapidly grow into large-scale problems because no single person owned the resolution of an issue. This behavior can also give rise to increased conflict as people “cherry-pick” their duties, grabbing the most interesting and visible projects and issues while leaving the mundane but necessary (e.g., keeping the network operational) to the next person. As the unloved and unwanted tasks pile up, they too can turn into full-scale emergencies requiring an all-hands approach simply to bring them to resolution.

This approach also fosters keeping decision making at the lowest level of the organization. The speed of decisions being made and enacted can be incredibly swift in this context. The problems arise when decisions become contradictory, due to lack of formal cross-organization communication, or perhaps commit resources and time that has already been committed to other activities in the organization. Without clear decision making authority being made visible to the organization innovation can occur but capitalization on that innovation will be haphazard at best. That haphazard practice leads us to the drawbacks associated with the responsiveness of the smaller enterprises.

A rapid response rate should be a good thing shouldn’t it? What should be a virtue may become a vice as the very limited resources of the organization are spread too thinly by trying to address the needs of all available opportunities. Every customer is a good one. Every feature request should be incorporated. All channels to market should be accessed. The strategy for most start-ups is to capitalize on their product or service as rapidly as possible and that means they will often be trying to find the right approach to the meeting their intended clients’ needs on the fly. Unfortunately, in the desire to over-deliver on the innovation front, the smaller outfit can perform like a hummingbird with an attention deficit disorder. Many efforts are started but seeing them to a reasonable conclusion is not the highest of priorities.

An Integrated Approach
All is not lost. There is a path that can take the better qualities of each type of organizations structural biases and turn them into assets. It requires introducing a new set of skills into the organization that facilitate innovation. Roger Martin, Dean at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, offers an approach called “integrative thinking” that can help create the mental framework for bringing innovation to life in any organization. Outlined in his book The Opposable Mind, Martin offers three thinking tools: generative reasoning (a thinking pattern that inquires into what might be rather than what is); causal modeling (the building of a holistic view of the relationship between variables in a system); and, assertive inquiry (the search for other’s views in order to seek common ground between conflicting models). Integrative thinking provides a discipline for considering the limits of existing systems and ways to address their deficiencies. This approach creates the space for innovation to take place regardless of an organization’s structure.

To Martin’s thinking process I add a concept called “social orienteering”. Social orienteering involves the identification of the social network at play, both internal and immediately external to the organization, and the key checkpoints across that network to be met and passed in order for innovation to be successful. It offers a path for action across an organization, regardless of the functional structure in place, enabling innovations to have the greatest chance for success.

Determining how roles and responsibilities are defined is only one small part of an organization’s structural design that must be addressed. The processes and systems through which innovation is created and delivered, as well as the supporting artifacts and language, must also be addressed. By introducing thinking tools and methods that supersede the organization structures and their inherent challenges, innovation can be given the space and commitment to take root and thrive.

* The Knock Nevis was built with a capacity of 564,763 DWT, a length overall of 458.45 metres (1,504.1 ft) and a draft of 24.611 metres (80.74 ft).

Photo Credit: TheOnlyOne

A High Point for Innovation at MIT

Friday, May 28th, 2010

MIT has expanded its Media Lab, which seeks to bolster collaboration between startups from different industries. The stuff happening in the building is some of the coolest and most creative technological innovation happening today. The second and third floors of the building are occupied by an amputee engineer and entrepreneur whose research and development in the field of prosthetic limbs could provide the most life-like substitutes to actual arms and legs. The third and fourth floors are designing the CityCar, a futuristic automobile with an electrical engine in the steering wheel, which may be part of the “smart city” of the future.  Sandscape, the first organic computer interface shares this space with CityCar. Users manipulate the sand material and Sandscape models the 3D image on the adjacent screen.  The fifth floor is home to the Sixth Sense Project, which created a wearable computer and micro-projector that displays the image on any surface and allows the users’ hands to manipulate the display.

The culture is meant to support collaboration and open conversation. Unlike typical workspaces with wooden doors and shades over the windows, the Media Lab is made almost entirely of glass. The architecture reflects the culture, which is one of transparency.  The culture encourages collaboration, and the borrowing of ideas, techniques, and technology between departments. As Director Frank Moss puts it, “Serendipity occurs when you discover an invention or a person who has an idea or a thought that you might be interested in that day.”

Truly, the environment in the Media Lab is a source of envy for many startups. Not only are the companies pushing the envelope ever day, but they are benefitting from each others innovations. I am fortunate to work in a collaborative environment where ideas are shared between members of my team, but I wonder if members of other teams in other departments could provide some useful ideas to either help me better understand my audience, provide more useful technology, or something else.  Opening up one’s mind to the work of others seems to be a key part of innovation. What do you think? Is originality or open-minded collaboration more important to innovation?

Photo Credit: Ewan McIntosh