Playing Personality Poker with Your Innovation Team

This week’s guest is involved in the innovation game for as long as I’ve been around. Stephen Shapiro is a leading speaker and author on innovation, who previously lead a 20,000-person innovation practice at Accenture. We will discuss creativity, reframing questions, and how diverse personalities can come together to create a thriving innovation team.

Innovation Team

Innovation Team

Creativity & the Innovation Team

Stephen says that we all start with a high level of creativity. We are all creative in our ways, but some people approach creativity differently. As we discussed in the previous show, every innovation team needs a variety of different players with varying levels of creativity to achieve success. Stephen says collaborating with teams is vital to innovation success. Finding what teams are and what they are not will help them surround themselves with the key members that are needed. What is one lesson you learned from your time at Accenture? Stephen says he learned early on that everyone is creative and innovative; we just contribute in different ways.

Personality Poker

Stephen created a card game to help bring different people together to achieve a goal, known as Personality Poker. The game has four steps to the innovation process, and four different styles are linking back to the steps. While in Vegas playing Blackjack, I got the idea of 4 steps, 4 styles, 4 suits, went home and grabbed a deck of poker cards, and got writing. The goal is for people to play to their strong suit, and to make sure your innovation team is playing with a full deck. Not playing a strong suit is where a lot of organizations are falling flat.

We tend to hire people and who “fit the mold” and result in the loss of breadth of experience and thinking. How would you compare this to something like Gallup Strengthfinders? Stephen says it’s not about what you are good at, but what gives you energy. We can be good at something, but it might rob us of our energy. The game helps you see what you do well and what gives you energy while telling you who you are and aren’t. How have these impacted teams? Stephen says there are 52 cards as well as words that describe behavioral attributes.

People can gift these cards to others, which allows you to see how you are perceived and how people remember you. It acts as a great conversation starter within organizations and helps to bring the right people to the right team. On top of that, the game emphasizes having diverse perspectives and appreciating what each person brings to the table.

Reframing the Question

What drove you to write your new book, “Invisible Solutions”? Stephen says that his previous book emphasized asking better questions but did not explain how to do it. I spent the last ten years building a toolkit on reframing problems and decided it was time to put it into a book. “Invisible Solutions” are the solutions right in front of you, but you can’t see them because you are asking the wrong questions. What approach do you use to craft good questions that people understand? I created a systematic approach to reframe questions, not to generate new questions necessarily.

What is the “aha” moment for people in figuring out how to reframe questions? Stephen says they first come to have a deep appreciation of how important it is. They also start to understand how difficult it is. People usually don’t want to take the time to stop and think about what the right approach is. Thirdly, people can’t stay in the question stage, and they just want to start solving the next one. Most people don’t spend enough time trying to solve the problem, and they just rush the answer.

Advice for the Listeners

What is one story that will give the listener some advice to take away? Stephen says a great example would be of a group called Pumps & Pipes in Houston, Texas. This group is composed of cardiologists who get together with people from the oil and gas pipeline industry. As far apart as those groups sound, they both work with the movement of fluid through a tube. In one story, a cardiologist was trying to figure out how to break up clots in the body. An oil engineer was dealing with the same issue from sludge and had developed a filter. They collaborated and were able to create a filter that breaks up clots in the body.

If you want to keep up with what Stephen Shapiro is doing, check out his website here. Follow him on LinkedIn here.

About Our Guest: Stephen Shapiro

Stephen Shapiro is a full-time innovation speaker and advisor to clients around the world. Before becoming a full-time speaker, Stephen created and led a 20,000-person innovation practice at Accenture. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, SUCCESS Magazine, CNBC, ABC News, TLC, and USA Network. He is the author of four books and continues to teach and lead innovation and problem solving everywhere he goes.

Let’s connect; I am on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. If we do connect, drop me a note and let me know. The email address is feedback@philmckinney.com, or you can go to PhilMcKinney.com and drop me a note there. If you are looking for innovation support, go to TheInnovators.Network or want to be challenged to develop the next big idea, check out our Disruptive Ideation Workshops. Don’t forget to join our Innovators Community to enjoy more conversations around innovation.

To learn more about Personality Poker and how to come together as a thriving innovation team, listen to this week’s show: Playing Personality Poker with Your Innovation Team.

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The Optimal Innovation Team Size Is

On this week’s show, we will be discussing the most optimal innovation team size that will generate the most creativity and innovative ideas. This topic is something that would have helped me much if I had studied and learned it early on in my career. I will also discuss eight types of people that every innovation team needs to be successful.

Optimal Innovation Team Size

Innovation Team Size Study

Does team size have an impact? Recently, I read a study done by Jeanne Brett and Dashum Wang from the Kellogg School of Management and Northwestern University titled “If You Want Creativity, Keep Your Team Small”. This study said that large teams solve problems, and small teams generate new problems to solve. As the teams grew from 1-50, the levels of disruptiveness decreased. The large teams delivered value by developing established ideas and used smaller companies to be disruptive.

The issues that impacted teams as they got larger were:

  • Relational Loss – the perception of team members that they are working with little support from other members
  • Social Loafing – the tendency of the individual group members to contribute less than they would contribute to working in a smaller group or alone.
  • Lack of Development Maturity – larger teams tend to look to leaders for direction and motivation. Smaller teams frequently progress to periods of intense productivity fueled by “trust-based” relationships, structures, etc. With five or six people on your innovation team, it is easier to move forward with a common vision for the problem you are trying to solve.

How do you address the innovation team size problem? Through utilizing Multi-Team Systems (MTS), which is the process of breaking down a large team into smaller teams with some form of structural network. Implementing this process will bring efficiency and a higher rate of success.

My Experience with Innovation Team Size

We will now discuss my experience with team sizes throughout my career. My career started at Deltak, where we developed computer and video-based training. This publishing operation required large teams. Later in my career, I joined Thumbscan, which had mid-sized teams of a couple of dozen people, and the lack of efficiency frustrated me. Through my frustration, I branched off to create a product called PCBoot, which ended up winning product of the year at Computer Dealers Exhibition (Comdex), the precursor to Consumer Electronics Show (CES). It took me by myself a long time to build that product to the point where the parent company ran out of money. Through these times, I realized not only how important a team is, but the size of the team as well.

Other Teams

Let’s talk about other teams outside of my direct experiences like Apple Macintosh in the 80s. They came out with the Apple 1, 2, and then the 3, which was not very successful because a large team developed it. Apple’s success came when Steve Jobs hand-picked his MacIntosh team and locked the doors to anyone outside of the team. He separated the team from the larger organization to reduce the risk of large team influence, and it paid off. Now let’s look at the Manhattan Project. It started with a small team and split up into smaller teams in different areas focused on various aspects of the project. Each team knew what they had to generate to contribute to the larger overall objective, and they were very successful. When teams are broken down and given a specific objective, they become efficient in obtaining their specific goal.

My Optimal Innovation Team

 I’d like to use a religious reference here. Jesus had twelve disciples, so why would I try to handle more than he could? Throughout my career, I’ve learned that my optimal innovation team size is in the 6-8-person range. If I have more than that, I tend to lose focus and feel less engaged. I would argue that nobody should have more than twelve people directly reporting to them. While the number is essential, the make-up of the team is also important. As a leader, it is your responsibility to bring together an innovation team with the right skillsets.

Here are seven people that I believe are core to any high-impact innovation team:

  • The Visionary – the person who is the heart and soul of the idea.
  • The Leader – the person who recruits and motivates the best possible team.
  • The Mother – the person who is sensitive to everyone and makes sure everyone is taken care of.
  • The Energizer – the person who will get it done, sometimes at a cost. They pump energy into the team
  • The Customer Advocate – the person who advocates for the customer. They are the voice of the customer on the project.
  • Radar O-Reilly – (from the movie and TV show Mash): The person who can find/secure anything you need by understanding the process in an organization.
  • The Designer – the designer is no longer a behind the scenes activity.

 Bonus:

  • Neurodiversity – get people who think differently than you on your innovation team. They can see what others don’t see uniquely.

With these key players on your innovation team, you are that much closer to creating that game-changing product or idea.

Let’s connect; I am on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. If we do connect, drop me a note and let me know. The email address is feedback@philmckinney.com, or you can go to PhilMcKinney.com and drop me a note there. If you are looking for innovation support, go to TheInnovators.Network or want to be challenged to develop the next big idea, check out our Disruptive Ideation Workshops. Don’t forget to join our Innovators Community to enjoy more conversations around innovation.

To learn more about optimal team sizes, listen to this week’s show: The Optimal Innovation Team Size Is.

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Innovation Lessons from Bose

This week we are joined by a guest who has helped a wide range of companies speed up the process of innovation. John Carter, an inventor of Bose’s Noise Cancelling Headphones, designer of Apple’s New Product Process, and founder of TCGen Inc., joins us to talk innovation. We will discuss the lessons John learned while working under Dr. Bose that can help you better your innovation pursuits.

Innovation Lessons from Bose

Innovation Lessons from Bose

Background

John believes that viewing things as a system rather than individual components helps achieve more profound innovations. By system, John means a collection of components that lead to consumer value. He found his interest in systems while studying engineering at Harvey Mudd College. His attention was focused on sound systems, so he pursued a master’s degree at MIT after graduating. While at MIT, he got connected with Dr. Bose and went on to work at Bose for 15 years. John learned many life-changing lessons from Dr. Bose that greatly impacted his career.

Lessons Learned at Bose

While at Bose, John worked on noise-canceling headphones for seven years. He learned an important innovation lesson right away while working on microphones for headphones and quality loudspeakers. His first two sole projects were with Dr. Bose and a technician. During the first couple of months, they were making significant progress on the headphones but were having some challenges. Dr. Bose decided to drop the other program and focus on the headphones. While focusing on improving the base and distortion of the headphones, they realized that the customers wanted noise cancellation. As the inventor, they thought they knew how the customer would like the product, and they were dead wrong. John and his team made the mistakes of not understanding the actual benefits of the product and overengineering.

When I was at HP, there was a lot of overengineering with our printing business. We were engineering way out on the curve, while the customers couldn’t even tell the difference that we thought was noticeable.

John says that Bose was able to beat its competitors by not focusing on improvements that aren’t very noticeable.

Importance of Marketing

In the last segment, we talked about the patience required through the innovation process. The noise-canceling headphones have always impressed me, not just the product, but how it was brought to the market. $300 noise-canceling headphones were so new and radical to the market. Some of the greatest innovations at Bose were done on the marketing and sales front, not the product. They used simple product mission statements such as “great sound from small packages.”

While John was developing products in the lab, Dr. Bose was focused on retail and marketing experiments. He used an innovation process of successive refinement and thought outside the box. First, Dr. Bose tried selling their products door to door. Then he went to direct mail by putting coupons in magazines. Lastly, he went through a radio station that covered various products. This process allowed Bose to build a dedicated fan base and taught John the importance of third-party credibility. Having someone else in a position of authority talk about you in glowing terms is very impactful.

Dr. Bose was a fantastic innovator when it came to marketing. His willingness to experiment, fail, and try again is what brought Bose to where they are today. Failure is education and is about cutting out dead alleys to find the right way.

Innovation Lessons and Advice

One common question I get is around innovation investment. In John’s experience, you should spend about 10% of your budget innovation three-five years into the future. When I first got to HP, innovation was a low percentage of the budget. Over time, we shifted to using 10% of our budget on innovation as well. For smaller organizations, John says a rule of thumb is to fund about ten to twenty thousand dollars a year of every technical person you have on board as an investment. Many organizations hurt themselves by not hiring the right people and not letting them do their thing. Having small teams and a high focus is very important for innovation success.

If you want to keep updated with what John is doing, check out his website here. Check out his book here.

About our Guest: John Carter

John Carter is a widely respected expert on product development. He is an inventor of Bose’s Noise Cancelling Headphones and designer of Apple’s New Product Process. As Founder of TCGen Inc., John has consulted for Abbott, Amazon, Apple, Cisco, HP, IBM, Mozilla, Roche, and 3M. He is the author of “Innovate Products Faster,” featuring more than 40 tools for accelerating product development speed and innovation. John has an MS in Engineering from MIT.

To know more about John Carter and the lessons he learned at Bose, listen to this week’s show: Innovation Lessons from Bose.

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Thoughts on Innovation

This week’s show is a little different than usual. I will be discussing some of my thoughts on innovation, mainly on what’s going on, the current events. I will also be responding to some fan feedback.

Thoughts on Innovation

Thoughts on Innovation

SpaceX

One thing that has recently piqued my interest was the SpaceX Dragon demo launch. I was glued to the NASA stream and was quite impressed. The stream offered a great look at the inside of the rocket, and I got to watch the rocket launch into space. As a kid, I watched Apollo’s launch and Neil Armstrong taking steps on the moon, which excited me. I am a big believer in space due to the history of the U.S space program. It is an excellent catalyst for innovation.

I believe all governments have a role in encouraging innovation. Technology, such as a sensor to monitor blood or oxygen levels, is just one of many creations that came from NASA. An innovative friend of mine, Gretchen McClain (former AD for NASA ISS), started a public-private partnership where the U.S paid others to build capabilities. The Russians built the U.S module that is part of ISS. I had the distinct privilege to be Gretchen’s guest at NASA to see the U.S module go up to be part of the ISS. Gretchen realized that to explore space better, it was essential to co-innovate. We are seeing more and more of this being done by our government today. The key is to define a problem in such a way that people feel like they can solve it.

The Future of Businesses

Over the weekend, a friend sent me an article due to my interest in “megatrends” over the years. It was from the Charter Tribune by Chris Jones. The article was looking at the impact of COVID-19 on cities and asked whether they would recover. My friends asked me what I thought about all of this based on my megatrends research. My research always focuses on 10-20 years out and is constantly changing. No one can predict anything too accurately, but it is more about laying out the range of possible futures to be better prepared.

In the case of COVID, schools were out, businesses went to working from home, etc. Luckily, 80% of U.S homes have access to broadband services at home and have tools like Zoom to assist them. Zoom has turned out to be the tool that a lot of people are using for school and work purposes. We are learning how to work at remote locations other than the office. In my case, I have run the radio show from many places such as Florida, Kentucky, Las Vegas, D.C, etc., and have done it with similar efficiency as in the studio. I see a future model of working from anywhere springing up rapidly due to COVID.

Virtual Brainstorming

Last week, I took a meeting request from a key government agency in the U.S. They heard about the work I’ve been doing with the Marine Corps, VA hospitals, and in the past, the U.S Department of Education. They wanted to take what we have been doing with other agencies and apply it to them. I ran them through what we had done in the past and how we do our one-day Ideation Workshops. One question that was posed was, “can this be done virtually?”. My answer was yes. It can be done just as good virtually.

Since COVID, I have been putting out “Virtual Brainstorming Demonstrations” on YouTube and have been hosting virtual brainstorms. The process has been made easy with tools like Jamboard. Through doing this, I have found that it can be more inclusive and diverse. You can invite anyone from the world to join the session without the cost of travel and extra constraints. A virtual workshop opens up more opportunities to build a better team. Another benefit is the fact that it requires less time. It takes little time to fire up a Zoom or Jamboard session and get working. More people will be willing to join in a session like this because of how hassle-free, efficient, and convenient it is.

Thoughts on Innovation Misconceptions

I received an email from a listener asking if it is a good time to start a business or invent a new product or service. This is tied to the question around COVID-19. I’ve heard all kinds of excuses and have had tons of conversations about this. People often have a great idea but haven’t done anything about it. It is often thought that innovation is for the young, but that is not the case. Vera Wang, a fashion designer, didn’t start innovating till she was forty. Colonel Sanders of KFC didn’t get to franchising till his sixties. Henry Ford didn’t start his motor company until his forties. Age is not a constraining factor, and you can’t let it stop you from innovating.

People often say, “don’t start a business in a recession/depression.” Companies like Disney and HP both started in a depression. Some think you need a special degree, which isn’t the case either. Some think you have to have all the contacts and a ton of money. There are many ways that you can work around those factors. Maybe you don’t know where to start. Firstly, you should find a community of people with similar passions. If you are an innovator like myself, join The Innovators Community. Share your own thoughts on innovation. We have about one thousand members range from high-up CEOs to innovators working out of their garage, who are supporting each other. My final question to you, “What are you waiting for”?

What are your thoughts on innovation? To know more about my opinion on recent events, listen to this week’s show: Thoughts on Innovation

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Innovation Mentoring vs. Innovation Coaching: Which Do You Need?

Mentoring is certainly not a new concept. In fact, the name comes from a character named “Mentor” in Homer’s Odyssey. He was a trusted advisor to Odysseus’ son. Even though its roots run back thousands of years, however, the recent growth of social learning has given rise to a boom in mentoring and coaching programs. In fact, the 2014 Global Leadership Research Project, for the fourth year in a row, found that coaching and mentoring are the most common practices used by companies to develop leaders.

Mentoring and coaching have become such popular buzzwords that they are often used synonymously. However, there are key differences between the two. An analysis of the differences between innovation mentoring and coaching will help you identify which relationship is best for you or your organization, helping you get the most out of the social learning experience.

Specific Instruction (Coaching) vs. Big Picture (Mentoring)

A coach provides specific instruction regarding how to improve your performance. For example, a baseball coach will help his team members improve specific functions, like pitching, catching or batting. He will offer clear directives and suggestions for improvement. The degree of improvement is also tangible, easy to measure. In a business environment, a coach will give specific instruction on key areas of improvement or new skills that need to be learned, such as technical processes, management techniques, or strategic planning. Coaching is a great way to come up with innovative solutions for problems with your workflow, processes, or strategies. Instead of lifeless textbook training classes, employees get practical instruction from coaches with real-world experience.

Alternatively, a mentoring relationship is less specific and looks more at the big picture. A mentor becomes more of a trusted advisor in areas that can cross personal and professional lines. The mentor may still help you craft specific goals, but those objectives will be centered around broader areas, such as creativity and ideas you’re developing that don’t necessarily have a concrete timeline or structure yet. The mentor looks at the big picture and helps you gain broader skills that will help you innovate throughout your entire career.

Mentoring focuses on the individual’s needs, not the needs of the organization they work for. The mentor’s role is to not only help the mentee now, but help them develop the skills needed for future roles. A mentor offers big-picture advice for the whole person and their ideas, as opposed to just advice about the person’s work performance. Mentors have often had a successful career path, starting in a similar place as the mentee. They offer assistance through sharing their own experiences, providing valuable feedback and giving the mentee access to their personal network.

Short and Sweet vs. Long-Term Relationship

Coaching is often a short-term relationship. Coaching sessions are structured and have specific durations with either an individual or a group. Some coaching relationships may last longer, but they still have a definite end, usually when the original objectives have been accomplished. When a coaching need is identified, such as when a team needs help overcoming a specific challenge in developing a new product, competencies are quickly assessed and a coach is matched for the task quickly. A timeline and plan of action is used to guide the relationship.

Mentoring is more of a long-term relationship. Much thought is put into the design phase to identify the best mentoring model and to match the best mentor. Building the mentor/mentee relationship requires time to establish trust and open communication. The mentor endeavors to create an atmosphere where the mentee feels free to share his or her concerns confidentially, both personal and professional. There is no specific timeline or end date, and interactions are less formal and on an as-needed basis.

How Much is the Employer Involved?

Employer involvement is another key differentiator between mentoring and coaching programs. Managers and employers are a critical part of the coaching process. They know the specific skills that need to be improved upon and which employees need coaching the most. Managers often communicate regularly with the coach about their employee’s progress. With mentoring, however, managers and employers are usually much more hands-off. There is a bond of integrity and trust between mentor and mentee that requires this. While managers may recommend a mentor or offer ways to use the mentoring program, they do not generally communicate with the mentor themselves.

Assess Your Needs and Take Action

Still need help determining which relationship dynamic would work best for your innovation needs? Is your goal to develop specific skills or overcome a specific challenge? Coaching is your best option. Are you seeking to develop innovation leaders among your current staff as part of their professional development, or develop as an innovator yourself? Then, choose a mentoring program. Other areas where coaching is beneficial might be when a group of employees are not meeting job expectations, need training on a new process or software system, or when someone has taken on a new role and needs to improve certain skills.

Mentoring should be considered when the areas of improvement are less specific. Maybe you notice an employee who always seems to have great ideas but struggles to follow through on them. You may want to develop talent from within the organization by using the experience of long-time employees to help younger, less experienced ones. Developing leaders involves more than just teaching new skills. A mentor relationship molds today’s up-and-comers into tomorrow’s great innovative minds.

Coaches and mentors have specific roles that are vital to the development of an innovative organization. While different, both relationships give you the opportunity to retain the most talented staff and continually improve your innovative efforts.

Contact me to learn more about the benefits of mentoring and coaching.

This post was originally published on January 21st, 2016.
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Game-Changing Esport Innovations During COVID-19

While I was CTO at HP, I had the gaming division reporting to me. Also, I used to be a hardcore gamer, so gaming is something that has always held my interest. This week’s guest does an exciting twist on the typical gaming strategies/approaches. Austin Smith is the Co-founder and CEO of Mission Control. We will discuss esport innovations, and what his company is doing to change the esports world.

Esport Innovations

Esport Innovations

Gaming

Austin found his passion for gaming while growing up and gaming with his brother and his friends. He does not consider himself a hardcore gamer but engages in gaming for social interaction and fun. Austin used to view gaming as something you either do on your own or occasionally with friends, but that changed. He sees esports as very similar to recreational sports. The social and community aspect of sports is what inspired Mission Control. You don’t have to be a hardcore gamer to enjoy game-changing esports with your friends.

I, too, realized how big the gaming market was when I attended a huge gaming event in Korea. This was in 2006, and there was around 45,000 people in attendance. The experience changed my view of gaming from a strictly social activity to a competitive sport.

Mission Control

Austin came from a line of business owners, so creating a business was natural to him. While in college, he befriended his co-founder, Byron. They worked on a lot of things together in college. They ended up getting hired and worked together professionally after college, growing their friendship and teamwork. Austin says they have overlapping values and visions, but also have very different personalities and skills that help them excel in their business. Austin said that he and his partner noticed how esports was growing and wanted to dive in and build something. They couldn’t walk away from it, and in late 2018 they left their jobs to pursue Mission Control.

Byron is very focused and is the one who executes, while Austin is more creative and acts as the visionary. Their team reminded me of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Jobs was the visionary, and Steve Wozniak put the vision into play. It is vital to find that compatible partnership early on in a business pursuit to be successful.

Esport Innovations

COVID-19 has given Mission Control an advantage as they provide social interaction but on a digital level. Gaming offers interaction and community through our rec-games, and they gained a lot of attention as soon as things started shutting down. Mission Control focuses on the micro-community. We gather those micro-communities from all over the place and create a social community of those people. We don’t focus on gathering the best players around the world but focus on having fun as a group.

Mission Control has been around for about a year now and launched a beta in 2019. Austin says they launched their product to a larger group and started scaling it in early 2020. In the past months, they have had 3 times the amount of plays than in their whole history. Duke University, MIT, and GameStop are some notable groups that use their product to create community experiences. Austin says that Mission Control’s biggest hurdle is giving everyone what they want. They are so many game-changing things you can add to a platform, so that is where it gets tough. Players do have a mobile app that they can download and schedule games. They can also communicate with other teams, similar to a fantasy league, but they are many other things that can be future add-ons.

When looking back, Austin said there are some things that they could’ve have done differently. Over planning is one thing that Mission Control struggled with early on, as they focused more on planning than executing. Austin says it is essential to have good people that specialize in different things around you. Austin found his staff while looking for intelligent, open, kind, and curious people.

If you want to keep track of Mission Control’s esport innovations, check out their website here. Check out Austin Smith’s LinkedIn here.

About our Guest: Austin Smith

Austin Smith is the Co-founder and CEO of Mission Control, a platform for rec league esports, similar to a local adult softball league or college intramural — but video games. Mission Control manages the league schedule, validates scores, and determines the champion while serving as a community forum for league members and friends. Austin attended St. Louis University, where he studied Economics, Entrepreneurship, and Service Leadership.

To know more about esport innovations during the COVID-19 pandemic, listen to this week’s show: Game-Changing Esport Innovations During COVID-19.

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COVID-19 Innovations: From Scuba to Medical Face Mask With 3D Printing

This week’s guest on The Killer Innovations Show has innovation experience in a variety of different industries. Jonah Myerberg is the CTO at Desktop Metal, a company that specializes in metal and carbon fiber 3D printing technology. We will discuss 3D printing and the COVID-19 innovations that Desktop Metal is doing during this pandemic.

COVID-19 Innovations

COVID-19 Innovations

Jonah’s experience

Jonah started at Black & Decker, making power tools. He went on to work at Bose Corporations, which exposed him to a high level of innovation. The creation of A123 Systems reintroduced him to engineering, which his team eventually sold to a Chinese conglomerate. While at HP, I had the benefit of getting a personal demonstration from Dr. Bose himself. He spent 20 plus years of research on a suspension system, leading a great example of innovation. I don’t know any other organization that was committed to innovation on that scale for that amount of time. In the innovation game, some people tend to focus on the present rather than what can come in the future. Dr. Bose set a great example of how important long-term innovation is.

3D printing is an excellent example of this, as it came from “traditional” printing to the 3D printing technology we have available today. Jonah states that the huge killer innovation does not necessarily have to be your invention, but your invention can enable the next killer innovation.

Desktop Metal

Jonah was designing high-performance batteries for racing teams. While working with these racing teams, he saw how they efficiently and effectively used 3D printing to optimize their performance. He thought this technology was something that everyone should use, not just elite racers. Making 3D printing accessible to everybody who wanted to use it lead to the creation of Desktop Metal. There are so many industries that are attracted to 3D printing in one way or another. Apart from the automotive industry, consumer electronics invests heavily in single designs for small parts. The jewelry industry has to manufacture small metal parts and would love to print precious metals like silver, copper, and gold.

Judging the performance of produced parts is a traditional focal point for 3D printing. Fidelity is an essential factor in 3D printing, but performance is generally the central focus. The material needs to be strong and have the right chemistry for the intended purpose. At Desktop Metal, they realized that the big challenge is when new materials and processes get presented within 3D printing. They started with materials that were well known and commonly used. Even if the process of forming is different, many engineers feel comfortable using 3D parts built out of stainless steel because the material used is familiar.

Aiding the fight

With the current pandemic, many companies have come together to develop COVID-19 innovations to aid the situation. Desktop Metal opened its doors of technology and asked what they could do to help with the situation. They reached out to hospitals and essential workers and got a lot of feedback on needed supplies they could help out with. They had requests from the VA hospitals to make scuba masks into COVID-19 face masks, as well as ventilators for other hospitals. Swabs were one highly requested item that Desktop Metal and some other companies teamed up to develop.

When it comes to the face masks, Desktop Metal was asked by doctors to design and provide a converter that would take an N95 filter and connect it to a scuba mask. As far as the ventilators go, hospitals acquired a ton of them after they had run out. The only issue was that there was no way to connect them. They ended up printing several connector pieces and attaching them to the ventilators. These COVID-19 innovations are essential as they’ll be able to help health workers and patients alike.

Advice for the Listeners

Throughout Jonah’s wide-ranging career, he has had a lot of beneficial experience. When asked for advice if he was to mentor a new innovator starting a career, Jonah’s advice is to dive in.

“Don’t be afraid to ask what needs to be fixed and try to fix it. Also, do not be afraid to fail at your attempt to fix it. Try to help people because they all have different challenges that need fixing. Don’t focus yourself in one area, instead learn broadly. Cross functionality is essential for success in innovation. Don’t reinvent the wheel; apply it in different areas.”

If you want to stay up to date with Jonah Myerberg and Desktop Metal, check out their website here. Check out their LinkedIn here.

To know more about COVID-19 innovations and 3D printing, listen to this week’s show: COVID-19 Innovations: From Scuba to Medical Face Mask With 3D Printing.

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Innovation Buzzwords

This week, we will do something a bit different from that of our recent shows. We will be discussing innovation buzzwords, things that are often misused inside and outside of the innovation world.

Innovation Buzzwords

Innovation Buzzwords

A buzzword is a term that can be technical or specific to an industry or a job function. It is often used to impress ordinary people, and also often pushing them away. One typical example is synergy, which simply means working together. Another example would be clickbait, which is used as a negative slam for those who create content. Growth hacking is also a buzzword that has gone way overboard. It consists of trying to figure out how to grow an organization. Buzzwords are meant to simplify things for some people, but others often don’t know what they mean. It would be so much easier if we just simplified our language in a way that everyone could understand it.

In the Innovation game, we have our own set of buzzwords that tend to drive people crazy. The number one innovation buzzword in my book is design-thinking. This buzzword has been around for quite some time and is a term hated by actual designers. The original intent was to find a process in which the needs of the user were conceived from the start of the project and all the way through. These days, design-thinking has lost its meaning and fully turned into an innovation buzzword.

Ideation/Disruptor

The next innovation buzzword I want to discuss is ideation, a term that I use a lot. We at The Innovators Network teach workshops on the process of ideation. What does it mean? Ideation is a process where innovators generate ideas. People outside of the innovation industry can be highly annoyed by it. In reality, it is a made-up word. What is the difference between ideation and brainstorming? Honestly, I couldn’t tell you the difference. The output of both ideation and brainstorming is ideas. In some cases, you can argue that the usage of ideation arose as a way to find new clients.

The next buzzword is one that I also use a lot. The term disruptor describes someone who “rocks the boat,” coming into an existing industry with a unique and different angle. Disruptors may not necessarily be bad people, but they come in and disrupt already established settings. An example of this would be Uber changing the ride-hailing industry. Uber disrupted the industry earning itself the reputation of a disruptor. A

long the lines of disruptor, we have the buzzword innovator — which is someone who introduces a new product, service, or a revolutionary new strategy. The challenge is that everyone and their mother says they are an innovator. People often describe themselves as innovators to be seen as extraordinary. As a result, it’s meaning has become less and less differentiated, making it hard to tell who’s an innovator. Some argue that innovator is not a buzzword, but I say it is based on how much it is thrown around and applied so loosely.

System-Thinking/Pain Points

The next innovation buzzword we will discuss is system-thinking. You may have heard of this from one of the big six consulting houses attempting to differentiate themselves. I used to be part of this group, so I understand what these companies are trying to do. They use the term system-thinking in which they look at complicated things as systems rather than a defined and well-understood process. This concept is so vague that most people don’t know what it means. They are trying to make something sound way more complicated than it is.

Next, we have the buzzword pain points, which refer to answering the things that drive customers crazy. Another buzzword used is social innovation, which I have had a good amount of experience with. This term has been used to the point that it is almost meaningless. It is meant to focus on innovating to fix a social problem.

Thought Leader/IMS

The next buzzword we will discuss is the term thought leader. This term should be the goal of all aspiring innovation leaders but can become cringe-worthy and overused. Do you call yourself a thought leader? Or do others call you a thought leader? You need to be genuine in your thought leadership and humble with it.

Idea management software is a term that appeared in the last ten years. Its sole purpose is to capture and track ideas. The misuse of the term comes when people label their excel spreadsheets as idea management systems, which simply are not. Calling something an idea management system just because it is a popular buzzword is misusing the term. I often find myself using many of the buzzwords we discussed, which end up confusing people. My goal this year is to get rid of the barriers that separate those inside and outside the innovation arena, starting with buzzwords.

Thanks for joining us. Check out my blog here and my book here. If you want fast updates on what I am doing, text Innovation to 44222 (U.S), or send me an email at innovation@killerinnovations.com. This will add you to my contact list and update you on any of my upcoming webinars.

To know more about innovation buzzwords, listen to this week’s show: Innovation Buzzwords.

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Experimentation is the Engine of Innovation

This week’s guest is an innovation guru from one of the world’s leading business schools. Stefan Thomke is a William Barclay Harding Professor of Business Administration Chair at Harvard Business School and a widely published author around innovation processes. We will discuss Stefan’s new book, “Experimentation Works: The Surprising Power of Business Experiments,” and how experimentation functions as the engine of innovation.

Experimentation

Experimentation

Stefan says he got involved in experimentation while working as an engineering intern. He got tasked with optimizing a chip manufacturing process and was lost on how to do it. Someone mentioned looking into experimentation, and he decided to research and study it. He was able to solve the problem, prompting his realization that experimentation is the engine of innovation.

For many innovators I know, innovation is viewed as stumbling in the dark, hoping you have that “eureka” moment, verses having a methodology. Is that the case for innovators you interact with? Stefan says part of the problem is how we use the word experimentation itself. When people say they experiment, often they mean they are just trying something. They did something, and it didn’t work; therefore, it must be an experiment. I am talking about disciplined experimentation using principles employed in a scientific method. It is important to note because you can’t learn much from an experiment without implementing a process into it.

Failure and Incrementalism

In your book, “Experimentation Works: The Surprising Power of Business Experiments,” you call out the difference between an experiment and a mistake. In your opinion, what is the difference? Stefan says a mistake is something that you learn nothing from. The difference is that a failure has a learning objective, where a mistake does not. Failure is okay when you are learning from it.

Does experimentation get correlated to incrementalism? Stefan says that most innovation in the world is incremental. Most of the significant performance changes we see are the result of the cumulative impact of small changes. Microsoft changed the way they displayed their headlines and increased revenue by 100 million dollars a year. I call it high-velocity incrementalism, which means that you need to run fast but also go for scale. You need to be able to link cause and effect as a business. You want to have a high level of confidence that action A will produce outcome B.

Experimentation Culture

What are some attributes that are needed for an experimentation culture in business? Stefan says that companies often assume if they put the right tools into place, the experimentation will just happen, which is not the case. There are a few elements needed to be successful. Firstly, a company needs to have curious people who value surprises. Secondly, they need to insist that data trumps opinions. Often companies will only accept results that confirm their biases and challenge results that go against our assumptions. Thirdly, we need to empower people to perform experiments. If people have to run it up the chain for every experiment, you’re not going to get the scale that you need run on. Next, you need to ethnically sensitive because we will all react differently to experiments. Lastly, you need to embrace different leadership models.

When it comes to an experimentation culture, how do leaders need to act differently? Firstly, they need to set a grand challenge. The role of the leader is to establish a grand challenge to keep the focus of the organization. Secondly, put in place systems, resources, and organizational designs so the people of the organization can get to work. Lastly, you need to be a role model and subject your ideas to tasks with intellectual humility.

Advice for the Listeners

Can you give us an example of one of the myths in your book and explain it? Stefan says he was giving a lecture to a group of leaders. A man raised his hand and said they didn’t agree with experimentation and said he taught his people to follow their intuition and judgment. I explained to him that it is not one or another. Instead, it is experimentation that compliments intuition and judgment rather than turning it off. It’s about bringing them together rather than doing one or the other.

What is some advice that you could give the listeners on implementing experimentation into the innovation process? Stefan says just to get started. Experimentation is the engine that drives innovation. You can’t innovate without experimentation. You go through different levels as you experiment, but you have to start at point A to reach point B.

If you want to keep up with what Stefan Thomke is doing, check out his website here. Check out his LinkedIn here.

About Our Guest: Stefan Thomke

Stefan Thomke is a William Barclay Harding Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. Stefan Specializes in the management of innovation, product development, technology, and operations. Before joining the HBS faculty in 1995, he worked as an electrical engineer and a consultant at McKinsey & Company, where he served manufacturing and service companies in the automotive and energy industries. He is the author of numerous books and articles on business and the innovation experimentation processes.

Let’s connect; I am on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. If we do connect, drop me a note and let me know. The email address is feedback@philmckinney.com, or you can go to PhilMcKinney.com and drop me a note there. If you are looking for innovation support, go to TheInnovators.Network or want to be challenged to develop the next big idea, check out our Disruptive Ideation Workshops. Don’t forget to join our Innovators Community to enjoy more conversations around innovation.

To know more about how experimentation functions as the engine of innovation, listen to this week’s show: Experimentation is the Engine of Innovation.

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Looking Back at 15 Years of Killer Innovations

We are celebrating the 16th season of The Killer Innovations Show. This week, Bob O’Donnell, Silicon Valley veteran, the President, Founder, and Chief Analyst at TECHnalysis Research, joins us to discuss the history of Killer Innovations and some memorable moments throughout the history of the show.

Killer Innovations

How It All Started

Let’s talk about the backstory of the podcast. In 2004 while at HP, I spoke with my mentor Bob Davis. I asked him how I could pay him back for all the help he had given me in my life. He laughed at me and told me just to pay it forward. Fast forward to March 2005, where I recorded a little test show while in a bathroom at the Marriot Resort in Arizona, and the show was born. For me, it was all about innovation. Everybody thinks of me as being a tech guy because of my time at HP, but my background also covers things like wireless and mobile. It’s all about giving people an inside look at things and helping them take ideas and develop them into knockout products and services. It doesn’t matter if you’re running a lawn care service or a large multi-national company providing auto insurance.

Our listeners cover a wide variety of sizes and industries. Innovation is a skill that anyone can learn, and anyone can become proficient at it. We are all born naturally creative, and we need to find those channels of creativity to create and share the ideas running around in our heads. It’s all about taking those ideas and not letting the fear of failure stop you from successfully solving those problems.

FIRE

Recently, we’ve been working with Brother, the U.S Marine Corps and the Veterans Administration, helping the government understand innovation from a unique perspective. We teach a framework with four elements around the word FIRE. F stands for focus, and it’s about identifying where the upside opportunity is. Once you define the problem space, then you can get into the I which is ideation. There are a lot of different ways to come up with ideas. Each person goes off on their own and comes up with ideas. Then they come back and share those ideas with their group. The third step is ranking. Very few organizations participate in rankings. There are different processes for ranking ideas, but as a leader, it is vital to get your team involved in it. The last letter is E for execution. Without execution, it’s a hobby. For the Marine Corps, we can do focus, ideation, and ranking in two to three hours. That includes problem statement definition, individual and team brainstorming, ranking, and an early phase of execution.

Memorable Shows

Over the many years of the show, there have been many memorable shows and moments. I’ve had Peter Guber, co-owner of the Golden State Warriors on the show, and got to be in one of his books. Bob Metcalfe, the founder of 3Com which co-invented ethernet, was also on the show. In 2005 before iTunes was a thing, I started podcasting. There was a company called Odeo that specialized in podcatching so people could get podcasts on their iPods and phones. They reached out to me, asking for feedback when they were first conceiving their product. Odeo ended up becoming the social media platform Twitter. The show we did with Dean Kamen (FIRST/ Inventor of the Segway) recently was also a very memorable one.

Fan Moments

It’s motivating for me when I get feedback from fans of the show. My very first fan engagement was in London, back in the early days of the show. A guy reached out to me, asking if he could meet me. We ended up going to a pizza restaurant across the street from the hotel I was staying in. I thought he would be the only one there, but it turns out the whole restaurant was filled with fans of the show. Not too long after that, HP acquired webOS, and I announced that I would be flying to New York. When I got to the hotel at around 2 am, there were almost a dozen people I didn’t know waiting in the lobby to talk to me.

The Innovators Network

The podcast has growth going from an individual podcast to the Innovators Network and onto the Bizz Talk Radio. The Innovators Network launched around two and a half years ago. We wanted to create a platform allowing up and coming podcasters to get distributed on platforms like iHeart and Spotify. It is a host distributor for innovation podcasts such as Tech.Pinions, Killer Innovations, 5 Minutes to New Ideas, and the Kym McNicholas on Innovation podcast focused on medical-tech innovation. A few years ago we got asked to syndicate the The Killer Innovations Show on BizTalk Radio and are now on ~63 radio stations in the United States.

Glad you could join us for the kick-off of season 16. Thanks for taking the time to listen to the show. Let’s connect; I am on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. If we do connect, drop me a note and let me know. The email address is feedback@philmckinney.com, or you can go to PhilMcKinney.com and drop me a note there. If you are looking for innovation support, go to TheInnovators.Network or want to be challenged to develop the next big idea, check out our Disruptive Ideation Workshops. Don’t forget to join our Innovators Community to enjoy more conversations around innovation.

To know more about the history of the show and what we’re up to in Season 16, listen to this week’s show: Looking Back at 15 Years of Killer Innovations.

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