Archive for the ‘Innovation’ Category

The technological legacy of Steve Jobs

Friday, October 7th, 2011

On Wednesday of this week, we lost a great industrialist and creator. Steve Jobs was a true innovator and has left us with many ideas to work with. Suzanne Fischer, The Henry Ford’s curator of technology, shared her thoughts on why we often clamor for the products Jobs and his company created. This blog post is co-posted here and on The Henry Ford’s blog.

Steve Jobs, Apple’s visionary co-founder, passed away yesterday, and the web is filled with an astounding outpouring of respect and gratitude for his work. It’s a testament to the impact personal technology — mass-produced consumer products — can have on people’s lives.

At The Henry Ford, we document not only the work of innovators, but the ways people use technology in their everyday lives. We collect artifacts that by their physicality and tangibility, their heft and their look, connect visitors to history and the lives of the people who used them. The Apple products in our collection — including an Apple IIe, a Lisa, a Macintosh, an iMac, an iPod and an iPhone — were used by ordinary people to write, teach, do business, play games, listen to music and connect to each other. Jobs’ product genius was in making those activities easy, transparent and fun — and in making the products highly desirable.

An Apple iMac, on display in the Your Place In Time exhibit inside Henry Ford Museum.

In the early 1980s, with Jobs at Apple’s helm, the company popularized the mouse and “graphic user interface” — the cheerful icons and desktop and folder metaphors that we still use in everyday computing. These innovations made computing accessible to everybody, not only people who could code. Over at our OnInnovation site, Steve Wozniak, Apple’s brilliant engineer co-found, talks about how making computing fun and easy was the company’s goal from the beginning.

Jobs famously described the company as located at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts. He infused a respect for creativity, intelligence and design into the company’s products — integrating color graphics quite early, for instance, and making one of his own passions, music, the key to a new kind of product, the digital music player.

The products Apple made under Jobs were never cheap. They were aspirational consumer goods that promised to make your life better, to make you a cool nonconformist, to make you “think different.” Did they? Maybe and maybe not, but Jobs’ legacy reminds us that our tools can change not only the way we live our lives, but the way we think about ourselves.

Exoskeleton Helps the Immobile Walk

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

In July of 2007 Austin Whitney became paralyzed from the waist down due to a car crash. On May 7 of this year, he walked across the stage at his college graduation thanks to the Berkley Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory (also make the eLegs robotic exoskeleton).

Known as the Austin in honor of its first test pilot, the exoskeleton system is built with many off-the-shelf parts that give the user limited range of motions; i.e., standing, walking forward, stoping and sitting. Professor Homayooon Kazerooni, founder of Berkley Bionics, believes this invention will be game-changing, as it will allow millions of people who are mobility-limited to be both mobile and more independent through the accessible technology.

How the Austin Works
There are two motors on the back of the Austin that are similar to the motor that drives a Tesla electric car. For instance, on the day of his graduation, young Whitney lifted himself out of his wheelchair and into the Austin. The device’s motors propelled him forward by driving his hip joint, transferring the energy from the machine to Whitney. The whole process is very tiring for the user, and additionally, being a paraplegic lowers one’s stamina, but with patience and continued use, the apparatus will help improve these individual’s overall health – as well as their independence.

Kazerooni and his team continue to improve the Austin in hopes that it will soon be an inexpensive exoskeleton system for everyday personal use for the patients who will find this device to be life-changing. Whitney, having just graduated from college, is helping in this process, acting as a human lab rat.

Watch a documentary on the Austin Project here:

Let's seize "our generation's Sputnik moment!"

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Today we have a great guest post from Stephanie Freeth who is Director, Strategic Planning and Business Development at The Henry Ford

"This is our generation's Sputnik moment."
~President Obama

As a concerned citizen from a state struggling with intense economic woes, I watched Tuesday’s State of the Union address with great interest. Amidst all of the recent partisan wrangling, I was thrilled that President Obama took the conversation to a higher level by focusing on innovation, education, and building the workforce of the future.

In fact, I nearly leapt of my seat out cheering when President Obama said,

“The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation. None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be or where the new jobs will come from. Thirty years ago, we couldn’t know that something called the Internet would lead to an economic revolution. What we can do — what America does better than anyone else — is spark the creativity and imagination of our people. We’re the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook. In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives. It is how we make our living.”

There are several reasons why this part of the State of the Union hit home for me personally and professionally. In my role as Director of Strategic Planning and Business Development at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan, I have had the privilege to work on developing our new institutional strategic plan (Vision 2020) as well as our “innovation products”, the first of which is

Like President Obama, The Henry Ford also believes that our country’s future depends on creating more innovative environments and experiences that will nurture and even teach innovation. This concept is best captured in our new Institutional Vision Statement adopted in March of 2010.

The Henry Ford’s Vision Statement

The Henry Ford will be a nationally recognized destination and force for fueling the spirit of American innovation and inspiring a ‘can-do’ culture.

This vision statement makes the bold claim that museums can and should be in the business of fueling culture change. By using the words “can-do,” in our vision statement, we wanted to invoke a spirit of optimism in the midst of perceived barriers and challenges—both regionally and nationally. As a cultural institution and National Historic Landmark, we believe that the kind of innovation that creates economic prosperity and social benefit is possible through collaboration, persistence, and creativity.

Museums have long been in the business of inspiration, but culture change and innovation? How would a museum go about doing that?

We think you go about creating culture change by developing products like and educational curricula like Innovation 101. Innovation 101 was developed as a free, web-based teaching tool for use in high school classrooms nationwide. It’s a five part module that covers:

• What is innovation?
• Process of innovation
• Traits of an innovator
• Keys to innovation
• Intellectual property rights

Edison and the Wright Brothers

The other obvious connection was President Obama’s reference to Edison and the Wright Brothers. As you may know, Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers are huge icons of American innovation whose legacies live alongside Henry Ford here at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan. The Wright Brothers home and cycle shop has been moved from Ohio and is open to the public in Greenfield Village.

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Photo Credit: Jason Tester

A replica of the Wright flyer is a main feature in our Heroes of the Sky exhibit in Henry Ford Museum.

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Photo Credit: LVnative

Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park lab was moved from New Jersey and now resides in Greenfield Village.

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Photo Credit: Joel Dinda

The over 1.5 million visitors who come to The Henry Ford every year have the opportunity to visit and experience these historic structures and be inspired by them.

Bringing the Past Forward

We at The Henry Ford know that the lessons of iconic American innovators like the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford have immense relevance now. We tell their stories—both the successes and failures–every day here on our campus. Come visit us someday and experience them for yourself. Or dig a little deeper into and check out all of the additional innovation-related content that we have assembled from modern day innovators like Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Steve Wozniak just to name a few. Or, forward a link of The Henry Ford’s Innovation 101 curriculum to a teacher you know. See if they think it could be useful in their class and to their students.

As we like to say, “You never know where the next Thomas Edison or Henry Ford will come from.” Together we CAN fuel the spirit of American innovation. Let’s seize “our generation’s Sputnik moment.”

Elon Musk enjoys Space X Success!

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

OnInnovation would like to congratulate to one its featured innovators, Elon Musk!.Yesterday, at 10:43 AM EST, Musk’s Space X Dragon spacecraft took off from the Launch 40 complex at Cape Canaveral. The craft entered a successful low-earth orbit and returned to Earth to make an on-target soft landing in the Pacific.

The Dragon spacecraft was unmanned this morning but is capable of carrying astronauts. The expectation is that eventually SpaceX will use the platform to carry people and supplies to the International Space Station. Phil McCalister, Director of Commercial spaceflight development at NASA, told the Associated Press today that “Getting this far, this fast, has been a remarkable achievement,” and that the achievement was, “Very, very difficult.”

Musk funded the endeavor from his sale of PayPal in October 2002. Musk views space exploration as an important step in expanding—if not preserving—the consciousness of human life.

Oninnovation had the chance to talk with Musk this past year about his values in business, innovation, and the future.

Ordinary People Change the World

Additional Video Interviews from Elon Musk:

Musk on, Henry Ford
Musk on, Hiring the Right People.
Musk on, Encouraging Innovation.
Mosk on, Is America Good for Innovation?
Musk on, Risk Failure
Musk on, Solar Power

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

Cultural Leverage: Finding an Easier Path to Improved Innovation Performance

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.
- Jimmy Dean

One of the greater challenges facing organizations that willingly seek to improve their innovation performance is “where to start?” Product development managers, research directors, marketing and brand specialists all face the similar, daunting prospect of wrestling their organizations into adopting new patterns and behaviors. For anyone who has been involved in change management, undertaking this kind of program is considered long and hard, because the duration of these efforts is counted not in days, weeks, or months, but in years.

In the present economic circumstances, we can’t wait that long to get our innovation engines firing. At a time like this, innovation cannot be relegated to an isolated part of the enterprise. How might we ready our organizations to embrace innovation as a practice in all areas?

Recognizing the Signs

When men think and believe in one set of symbols and act in ways which are contrary to their professed and conscious ideas, confusion and insincerity are bound to result.
- John Dewey

At its essence, an organization’s culture is composed of many different elements, all of which point towards accepted behaviors and commonly held expectations. Organization symbols such as organizational layout, organizational landscape, or organizational dress are a direct manifestation of an organization’s culture, and they are experienced as real; their impact has significant organizational consequences. Each symbol is a sign of what is and isn’t acceptable to the organization, and the symbols are powerful indicators of organizational dynamics that are not necessarily easily changed, contrary to what you might think.

Consider your organization’s headquarters, a symbolic place on multiple levels. It represents the “heart” of the organization, a symbolic stage on which the day unfolds. It is also a container of symbols—the art on the wall or the layout of different functional departments—each having a series of layered meanings about what your organization deems important or even relevant. In this view, the notion of a symbol is not merely a backdrop against which organizational action happens. Rather, “place” is a system of environmental experiences that incorporates the personal, social, and cultural aspects of activity within an environment.

What do people see when they arrive at your building for the first time? Is there a friendly receptionist? Is there a phone on the wall and a series of codes to be dialed? When you arrive, do you enter the same way as customers or visitors, or do you enter by a separate employee-only entrance? Each of these elements says much about your organization, what it values, how it operates. But I would bet that you pay it little attention. Correct?

Objects and organizational landscapes are powerful indicators of social and cultural meaning, rather than simply arbitrary signs. Basic psychological research supports the idea of symbols as an unconscious form of communication: in the 1990s, work in this area suggested that a person’s motivations and goals may be triggered directly by their environment. The experience of symbols is a form of communication with verbal or conscious intervention.

What is your organization unwittingly saying about itself? Examine important organization symbols as sources of power and influence that may be co-opted in order to prime the innovation pump. What should you look for?

Finding the Pivot Points

If you want to make enemies, try to change something.
- Woodrow Wilson

Before you change any symbols, be sure you understand as much of their complete meaning as possible. For example, a new and eager employee in an architecture firm noticed during her first week that every now and then, a ship’s bell was rung in the middle of the open plan floor. She asked what it was all about, and was told that the bell was rung when the firm won a new account or a new piece of business was signed. She heard it a lot during her first weeks at the firm, but about a month into her tenure, the bell stopped ringing. She worried. It was only when she asked why the bell hadn’t rung for the last couple of months that she was told the firm had so much new business, the leadership had decided to not pitch for any more in the current year. Suddenly the bell’s silence was no longer ominous, it was a symbol of the organization’s outstanding success.

Much relieved, the employee quietly let slip that she no longer feared for her job. The long-term employees around her were horrified: they understood how the bell was used, but hadn’t realized the lack of it ringing could have such a profoundly negative effect. Symbols matter, but their meaning may not be universal.

Marketing collateral, annual reports, and other formal organizational communication rely on symbols to communicate to both insiders and outsiders. But for all of the structure applied to them, they may not carry the same meaning for their different audiences. Think of BP’s logo. What it stands for inside the company and what it stands for in the community at large may vary quite a bit, especially after the recent gulf oil catastrophe. The impact of that one symbol, the logo, is so profound that independently owned BP-branded gas stations have seen 15 to 40 percent drop-offs in customer traffic. Their owners are now looking to resurrect a past symbol—the Amoco brand torch logo—in an attempt to help customers rethink their gas (petrol) purchase choices.

If we attempt to accelerate the growth of a culture of innovation in an organization, we have to be clear about the symbols at play, and which ones we might choose to modify in order to influence the behaviors we desire. Answers to the following questions may be helpful in assessing what matters most: How is meaning generated? What do people find meaningful about the work they are doing? How are they connected to the whole enterprise? How do they sense it, feel it, know it?

Only with answers to questions like these should we seek to leverage change across the organization.

Using Leverage

When you combine ignorance and leverage, you get some pretty interesting results.
- Warren Buffett

Organizational symbols provide a way for members to understand the identities and values that come along with a major organizational change. More broadly, symbols—as the physical manifestations of organizational life—help organizational members and observers integrate their experiences into coherent systems of meaning. The physical environment helps people encountering the organization make sense of it as a coherent whole. They key is not to contradict those symbols, but to adapt and shift them so that they influence the new behaviors you seek. Whether it is customers’ needs identification, idea generation, or effective commercialization, the symbols you employ will speak volumes about what you intend for them to understand and do.

To use symbols to leverage the practice of innovation in organizations, we must carefully modify them to enhance and promote the necessary behaviors. Because they reflect implicit and tacit aspects of culture by generating emotional responses from organizational members and representing organizational values and assumptions, symbols can rapidly galvanize an organization’s members. In an organization that seeks to promote cross-functional collaboration, what happens when the physical layout of the organization is changed so that cross-functional teams and groups are seated together? What happens if they are co-located around open areas for collaboration? Changing where people sit may have a profound effect on their behavior.

Where in the organization are there already existing symbols of innovation? How might you take what is already working well to influence the behavior of the wider organization membership?

Symbols elicit internalized norms of behavior, linking members’ emotional responses and interpretations to organizational action. They frame experience, allowing organizational members to communicate about vague, controversial, or uncomfortable organizational issues. And they integrate the entire organization in one system of signification. If you make innovation significant, then you have to make its significance apparent, otherwise the path to success will be unclear and little traveled.

- Andrew C. Marshall

Photo credit: Gary Minniss

Change Your Internal Chip

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.” – Einstein

How many times have you been with a client and proposed a new idea only to have the bottleneck of someone’s ego get in the way? Too many to remember I assume. When someone’s ego prevents someone from seeing other alternatives to how things can be done I always remember when it happened to me while with a client. As I was thinking about this fact with the people there, I said: “Like computer chips that evolve and get better all the time, so must we.”


That simple statement broke the pattern.

Do you remember how in the movie Terminator 2, Sarah and John Connor take out and modify the Terminator’s internal cpu so it can learn and stop following its preset rules? Well that’s exactly what we have to do with ourselves and people who are impervious to ‘there’s always a better way’ speak.

If changing your ‘internal chip’, that is to say your mental model, sounds like black magic, it’s not. The magic is not the chip, it’s in letting go of your ego. To do this, first you have to understand that we’ve all been programmed to think how we think: our past experiences determine our beliefs and therefore how we see and think about everything around us. We bring with us assumptions that limit us from seeing other alternatives that might lead to a better opportunity. But then again you already knew this.

The truth is everything we believe to be real is in our heads, it’s in that thing we call brain. That ‘organic chip’ that helps us make ‘safe’ decisions is sometimes best to throw away and use another one. This sounds crazy and I promise you it doesn’t require surgery, it requires a willingness to adopt other people’s mental models.

In English, it means to be empathetic!

So how do you ‘change your chip’? Here are few things I think you can do:

  • Borrow someone else’s chip. Hang around people with a different set of chips than yours and see how you can use some of their abilities for your own advantage.
  • Make your own chip. If you could put together abilities you’d like to have from other people what would they be? For example, combine the abilities of Steve Jobs + Picasso + Leonardo Da Vinci and what would you have? How do you integrate them into your thinking?
  • Improve your chip. Hack yourself and see where there are holes that you can improve on. Like computer chips that evolve and get better all the time, so must we. There’s no governing rule like Moore’s Law that limits our own thinking!

Changing minds, hearts, and behaviors is key to innovating and a mind full of differing perspectives is better than one with just one perspective. A little bit of empathy goes a long way toward achieving that.

The important takeaway is we don’t have to wait another 50 years to have implanted chips in our heads that help us think better, we can start right now. In fact, why would we even want to be plugged into a computer telling us what to do? It’s better to think for ourselves, and a way to better do that is to create a portfolio of differing mental models that we can use to see the world through.

What do you think, how do you improve your own thinking?

Photo credit: Jurvetson

Build an Innovation Portfolio

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

One of the important ideas that follows from managing innovation as a process is that to be successful at it, you need to manage a portfolio of different innovation initiatives. This means that you need to have a mix of incremental and radical innovation ideas. One good way of building an innovation portfolio is to use the three horizons model.

The three horizons model was first published in The Alchemy of Growth by Merhdad Baghai, Stephen Coley, and David White in 1999. The fundamental idea behind the model is that we need to be thinking about innovation across three time frames. Sheldon Laube recently wrote a good post on this model as well, which included a nice visualization of the model, which I have adapted slightly here:

three horizons

When you innovate using the three horizons framework, the first horizon involves implementing innovations that improve your current operations, horizon two innovations are those that extend your current competencies into new, related markets, and horizon three innovations are the ones that will change the nature of your industry. In general, H1 innovations tend to be incremental, while H3 are more often radical innovations. There are several key ideas that arise when using the three horizons model.

The first is that you must have innovation efforts aimed at all three time horizons. If you only look at the exciting transformative H3 innovations, you’ll lose business to current competitors who are using incremental innovations to improve their operations. Consequently, you might have the best ideas for the future, but you’re no longer around to execute them. On the other hand, if you only focus on H1 incremental innovations that make your current business better, you’ll end up being replaced by organisations that are driving disruptive innovations in your field. Using the three horizons framework helps us balance our innovation efforts between incremental and radical, which is important.

Google basically uses a version of this model. Here is how Dave Girouard – President, Enterprise of Google describes it:

Girouard concedes that not every idea may bear fruit, but says there is internally a “formula” to assess new ideas. “We have a 70/20/10 model which Sergey Brin came up with several years ago, which is 70 per cent of our efforts are to be focused on our core business, 20 per cent should be focused on related but new areas that we’re developing off of that, and 10 per cent we should reserve for ‘crazy’ ideas, some of which may turn into great advancements and many of which may not pan out at all,” he adds.

The second issue is that horizon 2 is incredibly difficult to manage. H2 innovations seem very similar to your current products and services, and the overpowering temptation is to use the same metrics to assess their success. However, because these ideas are new, it takes time to get them configured effectively. This means that if you treat H2-oriented innovations just like H1-oriented innovations, you are likely to abandon them too quickly because it will seem like they’re not performing well. You have to figure out a way to ringfence H2 innovation efforts.

The final point is that people often mistake the three horizons model for a planning tool – it isn’t. John and I have talked about this before (here and here, to start with)- this is one of the critical mistakes people make when applying this tool. The Alchemy of Growth’s version includes a time scale, which makes it look like H3 ideas are only those that will become important in 5+ years. This isn’t really true – the time will depend on how turbulent your market is. If you are in a media industry at the moment, H3 innovation is required right now!

If you keep these three points in mind, the three horizons framework can be very useful in helping you develop a robust innovation portfolio.

Preserving Dignity to Drive Creativity

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Brainstorms at INDEX: Views

We’ve all had the nightmares in one form or another.  You find yourself at a podium and you forgot what your speech was about.  Or you are at the office and realize that you aren’t wearing any pants.  These nightmares are powerful reminders of our deep seated fear of exposing ourselves to the judgment of our peers, and the associated loss of dignity when we feel we are not prepared to face that exposure.

Now think about the way many companies solicit new ideas from their employees.  In their quest to remove constraints to encourage the flow of ideas, they can inadvertently set up a similar situation in which employees are expected expose their ideas to the judgment of their peers without any way to prepare themselves for the exposure.

People who facilitate workshops, brainstorms and ideation sessions understand this, and take great pains to establish a “safe” environment in which people can feel free to contribute thoughts and not be judged personally.  Yet, what is missing are any tools to enable people to prepare themselves for the exposure.

Rather than removing constraints to solicit new ideas, a better strategy would be to provide clear direction for what successful ideas would achieve.  Humans are natural problem-solvers.  When they clearly understand a challenge, their brains will be continually working in the background to solve it.  They will be able to build a rationale for their own ideas, and provide better support for others’ ideas.  Enabling people to prepare themselves to expose new ideas will go much farther than putting them in an environment that is superficially safe.  It will preserve their dignity.

“The imagination imitates. It is the critical spirit that creates.” Oscar Wilde

In setting a clear direction that will encourage new ideas it is easy to either make it too broad, like a company mission statement, or too narrow, such as a specific definition of what needs to be done.  It needs to stretch far enough to solicit ideas that are not basic variations on existing solutions, yet not so far that people can’t critically evaluate the merit of a solution.  While the right direction will differ for each company and industry, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind to make sure it will work for you.

Present the direction as a problem that, if solved, will add value to the company

Posing problem statements is a good way to set the tone to solicit new ideas.  As mentioned before, people are natural problem-solvers.  This helps to establish a balanced environment of creative problem-solving and critical thinking; a good recipe for generating new ideas that may actually work!

Posing problems also helps people to self-critique, so that the ideas presented to broader groups have already passed at least one filter as to whether they are worth pursuing.  It encourages critique that is based on objective rationale, rather than personal preference.

Pose a problem that is market focused

Most companies have a steady stream of ideas for how to do what they are already doing, but better.  However, market-focused problems are the ones that will lead to solutions for new offerings.  The onus is on company leadership to guide the direction of these problems, as this direction is a direct expression of how the company has strategically chosen to compete in the market.  For example, a good market-focused challenge would be “How do we provide a banking experience that is both secure and convenient?”, as opposed to an operationally-focused challenge such as “How do we use fewer buttons on the front of the ATM?”

Use brainstorming and other techniques to iterate solutions and the problem

Using idea generation sessions as a forum to present, critique, and build ideas often results fewer, more solid ideas than open-ended sessions.  It also sets the tone for continual improvement and building upon ideas, resulting in more collaborative participation.  In addition, more iterative sessions will allow facilitators to examine the scope of the solutions presented, and decide whether the challenge should be broadened or narrowed for future sessions.

Preservation of dignity is a fundamental human motivation.  Admitting it could be the cause of stifled creative pursuits is itself an exposure most would rather avoid.  By setting clear direction for idea generation leaders can pave the way for creative contributions that avoid the nightmare of exposure and add great value in return.

Photo Credit: @boetter

Innovations Begin When the System Is Stuck

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

All great innovations emerge out of rigidity. They are born when someone recognizes that the system – the company, the industry, the country – has frozen and can no longer react to new opportunities or threats. When this rigid state appears in the business world, what you see is a company that is stuck in an old perspective. The competition is also stuck in the old frame, and so are the industry experts, customers, distributors. This state persists until someone with sufficient discontent recognizes the hidden opportunity in the frozen system.

Thus the starting point to innovate is to recognize when the system has fallen so far into a state of rigidity that the time is ripe for a new order of things and thus challenge the rigidity with a new idea. Doing this is not easy. Most rigidity comes not from physical limitations but from mental ones that are harder to recognize and harder to dissect.

Recognizing when the system is stuck

You can learn to understand stuck-ness. Start by familiarizing yourself with the two mental dynamics that characterize the condition, and then analyze your situation to see whether one or both exists. It may be your company or your competition that exhibits these dynamics, in either case you need to understand what is happening.

  • The system is stuck in a set of beliefs that prevent people from seeing change as possible.
  • The system is living in a story that leads people to inaction.

If you or your competition is experiencing one or both of these dynamics, the current climate is ripe for innovation.

Change is constant, nothing ever stays the same

Because we are susceptible to a natural human tendency to become trapped in beliefs, assumptions, attitudes, identities, or habits we fail to see the need for change. As we grow we start learning to respond to familiar situations unconsciously in the same way we’ve done before, the same thing happens to companies. And when our beliefs, assumptions, attitudes and identities prove false and prevent us from realizing a goal or solving a problem, they become traps. We fall into traps when we stop questioning something and simply accept it.

So then innovations begin when someone questions what others have accepted as ‘the way things are’.

A recent profile by BusinessWeek of BankSimple founder Josh Reich paints a picture:

Ask Josh Reich about banks, and he’s quick to tell you they “suck.” Traditional banks, Reich says, have become giant tangles of computer systems that can’t talk to each other and can scarcely keep track of their customers. So the 32-year-old developed what he calls BankSimple, an alternative bank with “the agility and mindset of a tech company.”

The idea is to provide a bank experience more akin to Twitter than to Chase, with a notification system for debit transactions. After every swipe of a BankSimple card, a message will pop up on the customer’s phone showing the amount charged and the balance—which serves both as a record-keeping tool and an instant fraud alert.

Other examples abound of innovators that recognized the system was stuck and chose to challenge it: Apple’s iPod challenged the belief that music labels would never allow their music to be downloaded, Dell challenged the belief that computer buyers needs hands-on help from retailers before they are willing to buy.

In conclusion, almost any meaningful innovation emerges when someone is dissatisfied with the way things are, recognizes rigidity and brings forth sufficient discontent to question the established system.

Ask yourself: What do I think sucks and how can I do it better?

Photo Credit: Tim Ove