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, or you can go to 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.


  • 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, or you can go to 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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9 Elements of a Successful Innovation Brief – Creative Brief

Like I’ve discussed in a previous show, innovation mentoring and coaching are two different things. Coaching is when working on a project, while mentoring is more long-term and focuses on one person. When directing teams on innovation efforts, the secret to success is a well-thought-out innovation or creative brief.

The Creative or Innovation Brief

I’ve done a lot of coaching and mentoring over the years. In one example, I helped design the new media exhibit in the Newseum in Washington D.C. I’ve done hundreds of similar projects, whether it’s working on a project that is already started or helping conceive a new one.

The innovation brief is information you share with your team or preparing to deliver to an innovation coach. The brief explains the ins and outs of a project and is a key document that saves a lot of time. It aids in discovering and understanding the overall goal of the effort at hand and the attached expectations.

9 Elements of a Successful Brief

There are nine essential elements of a successful innovation brief. The first element is to describe your organization. The innovation brief should include history, projects, programs, what the organization does, etc., to provide context. The second element is to summarize the project and why you need it. Is it new, or is it enhancing an existing product or service? Summarize why you are doing what you are doing and all it entails.

The third element is to explain the objectives, which is the most crucial part. It would be best if you thought through your strategies and goals thoroughly. Here, you need to describe the problem you are trying to solve. As an organization, don’t be afraid to share the reality of your situation with your innovation coach. The fourth element is to define the target audience. This audience will be the group that will be benefiting from your efforts.

Elements Five through Nine

The fifth element is to define the deliverables or the result of the effort. Recently, I was working with the U.S Marine Corps on reducing time for procurement. I was also teaching them how to use the FIRE framework. The deliverables were training and a prioritized list of ideas. We did both simultaneously and came up with some exciting ideas.

The sixth element is to identify your competition. Figure out what products or services they have and discover the point of differentiation. It is also essential to observe what trends are occurring. The seventh element is to provide the timing of the project. You must be realistic and listen to your innovation coach.

Element eight is to specify the project budget. Set this budget upfront and be realistic about your expectations before you get started. The ninth element is to list the key stakeholders. Either you are developing this brief to give to your team or an innovation coach. In either situation, it is vital to know the key stakeholders involved.

To know more about creating a successful innovation brief — creative brief, listen to this week’s show: 9 Elements of a Successful Innovation Brief – Creative Brief.

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9 Leadership Behaviors for Innovation Leaders

While innovation leaders have the same core behaviors all great leaders have, they carry crucial additional behaviors. Let’s discuss the leadership behaviors for innovation leaders, inspired by an article on Forbes by Jack Zenger. Applied to the topic is my own forty years of experience in the innovation space. These behaviors are foundational for innovation leadership success.

Fundamentals of Any Leadership Activity

Let’s start with the two fundamentals of any leadership activity. Every leader is there to bring together the right people to achieve an objective. Typically, a leader brings in people with different skills and abilities like finance and software engineering. When it comes to innovation, you’re bringing in people with different perspectives and thinking styles. It is critical to understand how to build teams to generate the next great idea.

The following fundamental comes from a quote I often use, “Leaders deserve the teams they get based on the worst actions they allow other team members to get away with.” If you allow your team members to get away with things like disrespect or not being a team player, it will infiltrate the rest of your team. The negative result of this will be your fault as a leader.

9 Leadership Behaviors for Innovation Leaders

For the first behavior, innovation leaders have a vision of the future, not just the goals of the present. You have to look at both the short and long-term goals and convey a vision that gets people excited. Secondly, innovation leaders establish trust in their team. Building trust is paramount when it comes to innovation. The need for trust is because of how risky and scary innovation can be. Without it, a team will not take the risk of putting their ideas out there.

Thirdly, innovation leaders challenge the status quo, refusing to rely on what is safe and comfortable. As an innovation leader, you need to try new things instead of sticking to the same processes. For the fourth behavior, innovation leaders are curious. They ask intelligent, strategic, thoughtful, and targeted questions to gather input. Spending the extra time to craft better questions will lead to uncovering many ideas. They also listen carefully to responses to questions.

For the fifth behavior, innovation leaders set aspirational goals or BHAGS (Big Hairy Audacious Goals). In this position, expect the delivery of breakthrough achievements and ideas. It is essential to challenge your team to do better by giving more autonomy. If you are a micromanager, either break that habit or don’t be an innovation leader.

Behaviors Six through Nine

The sixth innovation leadership behavior is that innovation leaders move quickly. Studies have shown a clear correlation between the speed of execution and the degree of innovation. The 10% fastest leaders were also in the top percentile of innovation effectiveness. The seventh behavior is that innovation leaders crave information. They need input and things where they can let their conscience work. For me, I am always reading blogs, magazines, books, etc. I find that the things I read help me connect dots to things that I come across at different times.

The eighth behavior is that innovation leaders excel at teamwork. They put their self-interest to the side and focus on creating collaboration. One challenge I’ve seen within organizations is competition between different groups. Avoid unnecessary competition needs to have success as an organization.

The ninth behavior is that innovation leaders value diversity and inclusion. If everyone on your team acts, thinks, and has the same background as you, you will have the same thinking style. Similar viewpoints lead to the danger of groupthink, where everyone is thinking and doing the same thing. Differing opinions fuel the creative process.

To know more about leadership behaviors, listen to this week’s show: 9 Leadership Behaviors for Innovation Leaders.

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How to Avoid Innovation Burnout

What comes to mind when you hear the term innovation burnout? Webster’s dictionary says that burnout is the physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive or prolonged stress. Burnout occurs when we feel overwhelmed, drained, and unable to meet that constant demand.

Innovation Burnout

For innovators, it’s that constant demand for coming up with new ideas. Being in the innovation game for some forty years, I have often gone through the burnout stage. Burnout can kill your creativity that drives innovation. Over the years, I’ve learned that there are things you can do to avoid it.

If you face burnout, it is essential to talk to somebody about it, whether your spouse, boss, or friend. If you don’t address burnout, it can impact your career, family, and even happiness.

Dealing with Innovation Burnout as a Leader

The first thing you can do to deal with burnout as a leader is to eliminate time wasters. While at HP, when I asked my team to update me on something, they would often lose weeks of productivity preparing to present to me. Included in this time was preparation, meetings, etc., all leading up to a one-hour session with me.

In my organization now, when I ask someone for something, I have a conversation with them that does not need wasteful preparation. This meeting helps my team avoid burnout and keeps them focused on their projects, collaborations, etc.

The second thing leaders need to do to avoid burnout is to establish priorities. In my organization, I am a big believer in utilizing OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). Having set priorities helps people know what order they need to do things in.

Thirdly, leaders need to encourage and, at times, force downtime. By taking breaks, you replenish that energy required for the next project. At CableLabs, we offer unlimited paid time off (PTO) to our employees. If our managers see an individual struggling or just came off a big project, they often force them to take PTO.

Time Out

We also shut down our teams periodically, allowing them to rest and avoid innovation burnout. By disconnecting, I found that my teams come back with better solutions to problems. The fourth thing leaders need to do is allow employees time to disconnect at the office. Employees shouldn’t have to be on call at all times. Having stress from their boss constantly messaging them will fuel their burnout.

Leaders also need to set boundaries for their employees. When you are outside of work, you should disconnect from work. While this is not realistic with all jobs, it makes a big difference when implemented. When a leader does these five things, it gives their team time to recharge and avoid innovation burnout.

Avoiding Burnout as an Individual

The first thing you can do is invest in your physical and mental health. You are an innovation athlete expected to perform at a high level. Athletes exercise physically and mentally to stay in shape and get more vital and more innovative. As innovators, it is essential to eat well, exercise, and do things that feed your creativity. This podcast is one of my creative outlets as I do it outside of work.

The second thing you need to do is take ownership of recharging your batteries. Don’t wait for your boss to force you to take a vacation. Even as a startup guy, it is essential to take breaks to recharge. If you are struggling, don’t be afraid to share your struggles with your leaders. If you are feeling this way, other people in your organization are probably feeling the same.

The last thing you can do as an individual is to find a community of fellow innovators. Within this community, you can find help from innovators who have experienced the same struggles. Check out the Innovators Community here.

To know more about avoiding innovation burnouts, listen to this week’s show: How to Avoid Innovation Burnout.

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3 Tips to Innovating with a Co-Innovation Partner

Co-innovation is a common term used in the innovation space. It describes two organizations of any kind that come together to innovate in an area of common interest. I am not only talking about collaboration. Co-innovation seeks to deliver a result such as a product or service. There is a 50-50 contribution with this model, whether that’s money, people, labs, etc.

Co-Innovation Partner: Corning

During my tenure at HP, co-innovation played a vital role in the company. The amount of money it took to accelerate acted as a barrier to innovation. Corning was the co-innovation partner in this case.

The project we did with Corning was around gorilla glass, which we improved and expanded for more uses. Next, we worked on bending glass displays to limit eye strain. We built a frame and figured out how far we could bend the glass before it would break. This project led to the curved displays, which are now commonly used. With the constant acceleration of time and costs, finding partners with the knowledge you don’t readily have is key to fueling innovation.

Innovating with a Co-Innovation Partner

The first tip is to choose a partner with strong cultural alignment. During this time, you will be working very closely with your co-innovation partner. By alignment, I mean how they manage, oversee, and support their teams and what they expect from them.

It is also essential that both organizations grant similar autonomy to their teams. If one organization gives a lot of independence and the other micromanages, there will be unneeded friction.

Beyond people, you need to look at how the potential partner treats their customers and sells them. At HP, there is a very relaxed selling approach, but not all organizations are like that. You need to think about these things and figure out if you are willing to align with a company that approaches customers differently.

Next, it’s crucial to discover what the mission objective of the organization is. If one organization is all about numbers and the other is about improving lives, there is no alignment. If you don’t have a strong culture alignment with your co-innovation partner, your chance of success is slim to none.

Second Tip

The second tip is to define the area of focus carefully. There needs to be a substantial overlap of focus. Think of this as a Venn diagram, where your business has an area you want to focus on to achieve success. Your partner also has an area of focus where they want to achieve success. The area where these two spheres overlap is the general area of focus for this co-innovation effort.

Both organizations must have a committed interest in the common area and aware of each essential contribution. Co-innovation partners need to bring value and combine them to create a breakthrough.

The third part of tip two, which I can’t stress enough, is the need for mutual dependency. It would be best to find an area of focus where you need each other to solve problems. If one can do it on their own, then it is not a co-innovation effort.

My Final Tip

Tip number three is to secure proper sponsorship and support. The key here is to create a true partnership built on trust. In the HP and Corning co-innovation effort, I was the executive sponsor and Wendell Weeks, the Chairman and CEO at Corning, was their sponsor. I can tell you that Wendell and I talk regularly and are good friends even to this day. This level of trust and relationship was built from this project and led to better innovation.

Another thing to think about is that patent creation happens during a co-innovation. Intellectual property issues constantly come up when dealing with co-innovation. Keep these legal issues simple. Tackle this with things such as a split license approach or patent sharing.

I’ve done about a dozen successful co-innovation projects to this day. The results of which are products that you are most likely using today. Co-innovation is not a quick and easy process and takes at least a year to get a project up and running. Be patient and keep your eyes open because you never know when a co-innovation opportunity may arise.

To know more about working with a co-innovation partner: 3 Tips to Innovating with a Co-Innovation Partner

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Dr. Whitney Snider on Collaborative Campuses That Fuel Innovation

Whitney Snider is the Head of Alexandria’s LaunchLabs and the VP of Alexandria Venture Investments. Alexandria Real Estate Equities is a real estate investment trust that provides housing and labs for life science and tech companies. Whitney will share what ARE is doing to fuel innovation through collaborative campuses.

Whitney’s Background

Whitney works at Alexandria Real Estate Equities and is involved in venture investment activity growing the life science cluster in New York City. Focused on collaborative campuses for life science, technology, and agTech companies, Alexandria brings companies together. They help grow collaborative ecosystems that fuel better innovation.

The concentration of Alexandria’s portfolio is in some of the most innovative cities in the U.S. This includes Boston, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, and New York. Alexandria started with a vision to create a new kind of real estate company focused on the life science industry. Unique team collaborations contributed to their success as an established leader in the industry.

Collaborative Campuses

Alexandria uses four elements to fuel innovation through its collaborative campuses. The first is vocation, where they’re at locations with quality housing, good transportation, etc. The second is innovation, where Alexandria evaluates and searches to find opportunities no one has jumped on yet. Then there is talent, where Alexandria focuses on building a solid pipeline to grow the company. Lastly, there is the capital, which is needed to fuel and fund innovation at all levels. You need these elements to support your ideas.

Alexandria’s collaboration campuses range from some of the world’s biggest pharma companies to top-tier upstarts. With this diversity, there is a co-mingling of talent and energy that allows for more growth.

Alexandria’s venture and investments arm focuses on funding early growth stage companies through a built platform. This venture expands its reach and providing mentorship and capital to cultivate innovation that will improve human health.

Fueling Innovation with LaunchLabs

Alexandria has LaunchLabs sites on many of their major U.S campuses. LaunchLabs looks for up-and-coming companies in their regions. Then, they identify which ones could use their lab and mentoring infrastructure to become a new star. Alexandria tailors what they do to the specific region they are operating in. They work with teams, pinpoint their needs, and find the necessary resources to improve them. They work to push companies into the next stage of growth.

Currently, over one hundred of Alexandria’s tenants and investments are working on COVID-19 solutions. Due to COVID, they had to adapt their buildings and launch initiatives to enhance their tenants’ safety measures.

Alexandria formed a dedicated COVID-19 advisory board to improve and provide insights on the pandemic. As I’ve learned, there is no playbook when it comes to things like COVID. Having good processes and knowing when to change the process is vital to succeeding in times of disruptive shock.

The Future of ARE

Currently, there are 10,000 diseases known to humankind, with only 10% having some available treatment. Alexandria believes they are on the edge of a biology revolution. They want to find innovative ways to treat the world’s major health issues.

Through COVID-19, it has been amazing to see the development of successful vaccines under high levels of pressure. Please don’t underestimate the power of human ingenuity and collaboration when it comes to innovating solutions.

If you want to keep up to date with what ARE is doing, check out their website here. Check out Whitney Snider’s LinkedIn here.

About our Guest: Whitney Snider

At Alexandria, Whitney supports Alexandria’s venture investment activity and other strategic initiatives to grow the New York City life science cluster.  She also oversees general management, operations, business development, member recruitment, and programming for Alexandria LaunchLabs in New York City.

Whitney was formerly at an early-stage venture capital firm based in New York City. She spent two-and-a-half years at Celgene as Director in the Business Development group. Previously, she was a Consultant at Bain & Company in both its Boston and New York offices. She received her Master of Business Administration degree with High Distinction from Harvard Business School and her Doctor of Medicine degree from Tufts University School of Medicine.

To know more about Whitney Snider and ARE listen to this week’s show: Dr. Whitney Snider on Collaborative Campuses That Fuel Innovation.

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3 Types of Innovation – Institutional – Social – Technological

We will pick up from the previous show’s topic, “What is Innovation?” and talk about innovation types. There are three types that I use. These are institutional innovation, social innovation, and technological innovation.

Type of Innovation: Institutional

Institutional innovation is the type that is most commonly overlooked by organizations. Institutional innovation applies to organizations, teams, companies, industries, and governments. This type can have several applications to different industries and co-innovation opportunities within those industries.

Based on how an institution operates and covers things (like policies, procedures, structures etc.), institutional innovation tends to get overlooked because it encompasses day-to-day things that we usually take for granted.

Improving institutional innovation can have a significant impact on an organization. There are a few different ways to do it when it comes to funding institutional/organizational innovation. Firstly, you can do it through entrepreneurship, consisting of going out and finding investors or customers to provide funding. Another way is to be an intrapreneur, coming up with ideas and securing funding from your organization. These are the two funding models within institutional innovation that have the potential to make a significant impact.

Social Innovation

Driven by social priorities, social innovation has a positive social impact. Employment, quality of life, equality, or environmental efforts like providing clean water, are only some of the many goals. It is the innovator’s passion that often drives these social innovations.

Funding can come from social impact investments. These investments don’t seek a return on their investments. Instead, they seek to further a cause wherein they share a similar passion. Finding those who are passionate about the same thing is an effective way to fund this type of innovation.

Another way to fund is through angel investors who want a smaller return than usual due to their passion for the cause. Grants from government agencies, philanthropists, World Bank, etc., can also be a great way to fund social innovations. When working with social innovation, you have to be creative with fundraising efforts to achieve your financial goals.

Technological Innovation

The most commonly thought of the type of innovation is technological innovation. It comes in the form of new technology such as phones, tablets, software, etc. This type can also be in the form of scientific know-how, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing processes, etc.

In many cases, technological innovation comes from a unique combination of background or expertise that creates something new. The technology doesn’t have to be invented from the ground up but requires the dots to be connected.

The funding opportunities for technological innovation are many. First, there are angel investors such as friends and family that invest in you. Next, there are venture capitalists that invest in companies as a profession. These two types of investors fall into the equity category, as you sell a percentage of your company to them to receive their investment.

Another option is corporate venture capitalists, which invest in areas of interest that could impact their corporate entities. There is also customer funding, where a customer interested in buying the product invests early on in it. I made many investments like this while I was at HP and got priority access to a lot of products. Lastly, there are grants such as Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants from the government.

3 Elements

When it comes to ideas, it can be hard to make them sound interesting to investors. There are three elements I teach to those wanting to pitch their ideas. Firstly, there is the “what,” which should be a description of the idea. The next element is the “who,” or who the innovation is for, and who the innovation impacts. There can be multiple “whos” when it comes to ideas. It could be a customer, a government, etc. The third area is “why,” or why the investor should care about your idea. I get pitched hundreds of times a month with new ideas. The one area that most innovators do not think about is the “why.” You need to think about all three of these elements to pitch ideas and gain funding.

To know more about institutional, social, and technological innovation, listen to this week’s show: 3 Types of Innovation – Institutional – Social – Technological.

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What is Innovation?

Innovation is a  term often abused through advertising, marketing, and business meetings. Innovation means to introduce something new. A more expansive definition of innovation is — the result of a multi-stage process whereby organizations, teams, and individuals take an idea and transform it to make an improved product, service, or process to compete in the marketplace.

Definition of Innovation

Ideas made real— that is my definition of innovation. Without execution, ideas are just hobbies, not innovation. A spark that turns into an actual product, service, or capability, innovation is about making life better.

Grouping innovation can be done in many different ways, starting with the uses/context of innovations. It can also be grouped by departments of organizations such as marketing, IT, sales, R&D, etc. Another way to categorize it is by looking at who is implementing the innovation. There are thousands of different ways to organize innovations.

I’ve spent forty years of my career in the innovation game, and there are always new academic papers trying to categorize it. We will boil it down to the uses of innovation and the impact of design to give you a simple mental picture.

The Uses of Innovation

The uses of innovation break down into a couple of different groups. Firstly, institutional innovation deals with organizations focused on changing their policies, processes, business models, regulations, etc.

The second area is technological innovation: the scientific know-how, expertise, chemistries, and anything that involves technology. The last area is social innovation, which focuses on improving how we respond to social needs in an organization, affecting employment, ecology, social purposes, and quality of life.

The Impacts of Innovation

The impacts of innovation fall into three categories. Firstly, incremental innovation is a series of improvements made to a company’s products or services. These are typically low-cost and low-risk innovations but can have a significant impact if done correctly.

Next, there are breakthrough innovations, which create new markets and value networks, and disrupt established markets. These get the attention of the marketplace and set a new player as the market leader.

Thirdly, there are disruptive or killer innovations, which are technologies or any form of innovation that significantly affects the way a market or industry functions, typically involving some element of technology, science, or materials that people build on top of. These are things that significantly alter what you or your competitors will be using going forward.

An example of a killer innovation would be the invention of silicon microprocessors. People have created software, browsers, and AI on top of these processors, but the processors themselves are the killer innovations. To qualify as a disruptive or a killer innovation, you have to create a barrier of entry.

Your competitive success is somewhat based on the fact that you have created a foundational position difficult for others to compete. When it comes to innovation impacts, you will most often see incremental innovation. Breakthroughs are much less frequent, riskier, and have a higher investment level but yield a higher reward. For most of us, it is more useful to build on top of these breakthrough innovations and take advantage of what they offer.

The Relation of Innovation Uses and Impact

I think about the relation of innovation uses and impact in a 3×3 format of what I call the “innovation matrix.” The innovation matrix breaks it down horizontally into social innovation, institutional innovation, and technological innovation. Going vertically on the left-hand side, I label it as an incremental, breakthrough, and disruptive/killer innovation. Now, to use this matrix, take your pipeline of innovations and place them in the grid, you think they fit in. This may challenge you to think differently when it comes to making innovation investments.

Another way to use the matrix is by taking a new idea, placing it into the matrix, and narrowing down the impacts and uses it has. I have also used this innovation matrix to break down investment spend on each of the areas. The innovation matrix helps put the uses and impacts of innovation into context. I use the innovation matrix for my organization and coaching or mentoring CEOs and CTOs.

To know more about what innovation is, listen to this week’s show: What is Innovation?

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Innovation Coaching and Innovation Mentoring – What Is The Difference?

The topic this week is one that I have touched on over the years in various ways. People reach out to me all the time asking about this.  Coaching, as well as mentoring, often get placed in the same category. In reality, they are different. We will discuss the differences between innovation coaching and mentoring and will run through some application scenarios.

Innovation Coaching

When it comes to the topic of coaching and mentoring, many people often find themselves confused. They don’t understand that innovation coaching and innovation mentoring are not the same. Coaching is the most common activity when it comes to innovation.

In general, coaching and mentoring are two of the top five most popular jobs out there. Innovation coaching is kind of like a sports coach. In baseball, there is a pitching coach who trains pitchers to improve in their craft. Pitching coaching is just like innovation coaching, as it seeks to help one improve in a specific area based on an assessment. It tends to be limited in duration. Also, it only works best with measurable and tangible improvement opportunities.

A good innovation coach will offer clear direction for improvement based on an assessment of one’s needs. Coaching can be on the individual level, team level, or for an entire organization. An innovation coach should be able to assess and tell you what area you need to improve. They should lay out a plan for improving and being more successful in a specific area.

Innovation Mentoring

Mentoring is a less specific and tangible area that looks at the big picture, such as your career. An innovation mentor is a trusted advisor that crosses personal and professional lines and might be with you for many years. They help craft broader goals along with the skills and experiences to achieve them. When looking for an innovation mentor, choose someone you can learn from. You want one that has achieved innovation success in their career.

Usually focused on the individual, I have done long-term mentoring for innovation teams as well. Mentoring sessions are less formal than coaching sessions and are on an as-needed basis. Fees for mentoring most likely come from the individual. A successful mentoring role should last many years and stay constant no matter if the organization you’re in changes.

There may be no fees required in rare cases if you become close to the mentor. Don’t expect mentoring to be free just because some mentors might typically do it out of the kindness of the heart. Remember, mentoring relationships require time and transparency to be successful. A mentor can’t do their job if you are not honest with them, and vice versa.

Coaching vs. Mentoring

One of the best ways to show the differences between an innovation coach or mentor is to run through some scenarios.

First scenario: Your team is struggling to create a pitch for an idea to secure funding from your organization. You need to figure out the best way to structure your pitch to secure the funding. Is innovation coaching or mentoring the best way to aid you in your pursuit?  In this situation, you could hire an innovation coach because it is a specific issue you are trying to resolve. You want to find a coach that has an excellent track record of helping teams craft pitches. Be sure to pay the coach for the work they are doing, rather than saying you’ll pay them upon success.

Second scenario: Your CEO has asked you to develop innovation leaders within your existing staff. Would this be innovation coaching or mentoring? With a longer-term goal that is not tangible, so in this case, it would be innovation mentoring in a team setting.

Third scenario: Your team is running up against internal and external innovation anti-bodies (naysayers), and you need help in crafting a strategy to win the organization’s support. In this situation, you need help with a specific issue within your organization, so this is an innovation coaching opportunity. You need a strategy coach to help deal with the anti-bodies and win your organization’s support.

Fourth scenario: You have decided to improve your innovation abilities and skills to be more successful. This scenario is a textbook case of innovation mentoring. Here you need help in establishing your long-range career to have a successful career in innovation.


Today, we talked about the differences between innovation coaching and innovation mentoring. As we discussed, there is a difference between coaching and mentoring. Coaching is about solving particular issues such as communication skills, deliverables, executive presence, etc. Mentoring comes with long-term career advice.

My first mentor was my boss at Deltek, Bob Davis. Bob hired me and put me into the first management role of my career. He knew I could be a great software engineer, but as my mentor, he told me I had broader skills than that. I had to put in a lot of extra work to develop myself under Bob’s mentorship. He put me on a career rotation, placing me in finance, marketing, advertising, sales, and IT, which helped me grow. Bob helped me think through my long-term goals and what opportunities I should look out for.

Today, I do innovation coaching and mentoring and have done small companies up to Fortune 10 companies. I’ve coached and mentored CEOs, CTOs, and CIOs, some lasting up to seven years long.

Check out the Disruptive Ideation Workshop that acts as a long-term investment for you or your team’s success.

To know more about the difference between innovation coaching and innovation mentoring, listen to this week’s show: Innovation Coaching and Innovation Mentoring – What is the difference?

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