5 Tools I Use for Innovation and Creativity

I enjoy reading as well as listening to podcasts and audible books. With all the information I come across, I have to capture, organize, and recall to use them. I’m currently working on a new book as well as some disruptive innovation courses and workshops. The real challenge for me is finding a single tool that solves the issues stated.

The Importance of Utilizing Tools

Over the last six months, I challenged myself to find the right tools for innovation. I combined them in a way that I can capture the input, organize it, and make it easy to retrieve. The criteria I emphasized was usability on a mobile phone and desktop. I carry an Android, iPhone, and laptop on me, as well as an iPad Pro.

I need tools to collect from books, podcasts, websites, magazines, and emails—information collection with minimal manual steps. The tools also need to adapt as the content focus shifts.

As of late, ethical innovation is my focus. Sometimes my focus shifts to discussing the digital divide and other things. I also need to be able to find information without remembering exact wording. I need tools that create the serendipity effect.

The 5 Tools I Use

Tools for Information Collection

The first tool I have used for innovation is the Moleskine notebook, which I have thousands of. Recently I have shifted to the reMarkable 2 tablet. Using the tablet is like writing on paper but better. There is a pen for writing and erasing, and it stores and exports all my information to my mobile phone and desktop. I actually wrote out the entire script for today’s show on my tablet.

On top of my writing, I read a lot of information from RSS news feeds. I am a big user of Feedly— for access to its AI engine. Very trainable, it interprets sentences to see what concepts are being talked about. I scan through 500-600 articles a day and save different feeds that I like to the Pocket app. The Pocket app is a collection of things that you save to read at a later time.

Another tool I get information from is through my Kindle Oasis. In the Kindle, I can highlight things I like. They are automatically fed into my workflow for future inspiration.

Podcasts are also things that I capture content from. Using an app called Airr, I use their podcast snippet that can capture interests with a touch of the screen. Otter.ai is another tool I am experimenting with to help me capture ideation sessions.

Organization/Combination, and Serendipity Tools

One tool that I found recently was Readwise. It collects and combines everything from my Pocket, podcasts, Kindle, hardcover books, articles. It also points out things in your collection that you might not have picked up. Readwise may trigger serendipity.

While Readwise is great, it only prepares information for what I am looking for. I also found an impressive tool called Roam Research. It takes everything from Readwise and organizes them. It connects words and concepts for you. Roam Research runs very well on mobile phones. I use the software for my show content, books, articles, as well as my project work.

To know more about tools for innovation and creativity, listen to this week’s show: 5 Tools I use for Innovation and Creativity.

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Transcribing Your Brainstorm with Otter.ai | Interview with Sam Liang

Sam Liang is one of the key innovators behind the scenes in Silicon Valley. He is one of the founders of Google’s location services and is on the Google Blue Dot patent. He is the co-founder and CEO of Otter.ai, which specializes in live transcription services.

Sam Liang’s Background

Sam Liang earned his Ph.D. at Stanford in hopes of becoming a professor. While in school, he met many smart people working on startups, which influenced him to go that route. He went on to work at Cisco, worked on a startup, and then joined Google for four years.

While at Google, Sam and his team created the Blue Dot and started the Google location server project, which became location services. While we use these services daily, we often don’t think of the behind the scenes work that goes into them. When the technology first started coming out, everyone was so amazed by it. Now the market has matured to the point where it is an intrinsic part of daily life.

While Google maps have gone through this process, AI and speech recognition is currently going through it. Even though voice recognition and automatic transcription systems have advanced a lot, there is still more to come.

The Birth of Otter.ai

When using Alexa or Siri, you ask a question or give a command, often taking little time. When using Zoom or similar platforms, there are multiple speakers engaged in a potentially more extended interaction. People often have different accents, speaking styles, and background noises. The technology doesn’t handle complicated conversations effectively.

In 2010, we started transcribing the Killer Innovations show using an offshore transcribing service. Even though a human was transcribing it, they couldn’t get it right. Human involved transcribing required a lot of effort to go back and clean up the mistakes on my team’s part. After a while, we stopped using this service for the show.

For Sam, he realized this was a problem when he always forgot things from meetings. Eventually, he brought a team together to find a solution to this problem. He surveyed the top transcribing technologies of the day and was disappointed by their low quality.  The survey opened up an opportunity for his team to create something better.

Transcribing your Brainstorm

I am a customer of Otter.ai and am impressed with the transcription accuracy no matter the environment. I use it while in my studio as well as on my phone for capturing notes. Otter offers a system that adapts to people’s natural speaking styles automatically. It works in the background no matter how many people are speaking or the speed of their words. Many people use Otter when they are in restaurants, driving a car, or walking their dog. Otter.ai has created a new feature that allows the software to hook up to Zoom when used automatically.

When using the software, you can highlight important things that were said to remember them. For those wanting to skip meetings but still get the information, Otter offers that chance as well. The software also identifies the speakers at the end of the session to connect them with what was said. Otter has released a product that allows people to experience it for free. There are also pro and business versions of Otter for those interested in regular usage.

Moving forward

From what I’ve observed, people these days are hesitant when being recorded. As being recorded becomes more common, I believe the issue of concern will go away. I predict that it will get to the point where it will be rare not transcribing every meeting. The future of work is going to be through virtual meeting systems such as Zoom.

Currently, Otter is working on a lot of things both on the technology and product side. Different words, names, terminologies, and acronyms are a big focus at the moment. On top of that, they are working on better understanding conversations and their context.

About our Guest: Sam Liang

Sam Liang is the CEO and Founder of Otter.ai, an AI-powered live transcription and collaboration app. Before founding Otter.ai, Sam became CEO and Founder of Alohar Mobile in Palo Alto, which Autonavi and Alibaba acquired in 2013. Before that, Sam led the location platform team at Google on the patent for the “blue dot” in Google Maps. Sam has a Ph.D. from Stanford in Electrical Engineering and studied under Professor David Cheriton (first investor in Google and VMware).

To know more about transcribing your brainstorm through Otter.ai, listen to this week’s show: Transcribing Your Brainstorm with Otter.ai | Interview with Sam Liang.

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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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CES 2021 – A Virtual Innovation

The Consumer Electronics Show 2021 (CES) will be fully digital due to COVID-19. The show will be available online and in seventeen different languages, a virtual innovation to say the least. If you are registered, you get thirty days to view all of the available content. Karen Chupka, the Executive Vice President of CES, joins us to discuss what we should look forward to at CES 2021.

Physical to Virtual CES

Transitioning from a physical show in Las Vegas since 1978 to a virtual show has been interesting. The decision to go digital was made in July 2020 after the pandemic started to pick up. With a ton of innovation happening throughout the year, CES 2021 had to go on.

Everybody who is in the online collaboration space has seen such an explosion in usage due to COVID. These collaboration tools are now being used for doctors’ appointments, family visits, schooling, etc. A year ago, nobody would have thought this would be a reality. Consumers were able to adapt to this virtual innovation a lot faster than they would have without the pandemic.

CES 2021 Trends

The traditional technologies that are always at CES will still be there this year. As far as new trends, there have been many digital health advancements in wearable technologies that help people better monitor themselves. On top of that, there are many new diagnostics equipment that will help doctors have more effective tele-visits. Advancements in driverless technologies and AI technologies have been popping up and new desktops, laptops, television, and gaming technologies.

In my organization Cable Labs, we worked from home in March of 2020 and recently announced that all of our staff would be doing so until May. With innovation being done virtually, productivity and R&D have increased. There is a loss in collaboration, and it is harder to fix specific problems virtually.

Even with the increase in technology, there is a decrease in group creativity. Karen believes the trend of improving the work from the home environment will continue, but we need to get back to working in-person to achieve the best results.

Features of the Virtual Show

With the show happening virtually, many people who usually couldn’t make it, now can. As a new virtual feature, CES 2021 offers the ability to opt-in to an attendee directory so people can communicate back and forth with others at the show.

CES is partnering with Microsoft to power the show this year and create the best possible experience. They created product showcases for exhibitors to show off their products in various capacities. About 1,800 companies are attending the show, and about 100 different conference sessions will be going on during the show and covering many topics.

This year, there will be a live anchor desk for two days broadcasting product announcements, hot topics, and interviews with different executives. On top of that, the digital platform will be available for thirty days to those registered, offering opportunities to see more content from the show. Closed captioning will also be available in seventeen different languages.

About Our Guest: Karen Chupka

Karen Chupka is executive vice president, CES for the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). She oversees the sales, marketing, conferences, operations and management of CTA’s events including its annual tradeshow. CES is the largest annual North American tradeshow by Tradeshow Executive Magazine and Tradeshow Week under her leadership.

Chupka has been with CTA for 30 years. She has held numerous roles within the organization. Karen has been vice president of business development, director of industry relations and education, and director of marketing for CES.

To know more about virtual innovation at CES 2021, listen to this week’s show: CES 2021 – A Virtual Innovation.

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Innovation Books | My Library of Inspiration

Building a library of inspiration in your innovation studio is what ensures you have a ready source of ideas. This inspiration library can come in the form of a collection of innovation books. I am a visual learner, so reading books is where I often find my inspiration. I am going to walk you through some essential books I have and explain why I value them.

My Design Innovation Books

The first book is “Frank Lloyd Wright: A Visual Encyclopedia.” I grew up in Chicago, where the author started and became popular. Personally, this book reminds me to create my style. Frank Lloyd Wright separated himself from others. He created his own style and put a different spin on the design of his buildings.

The next book is called “A Pattern Language” by a professor at UC Berkeley, Christopher Alexander. Used by the original Sims game developers, the author breaks down patterns found through building houses, cities, and various other buildings. While you can’t take what is in this book and apply it directly to a product or service, the book does teach an important idea. You can generate a certain feeling or experience through the patterns and designs that you use.

Designing Interactions” by Bill Moggridge is the third innovation book in my library of inspiration. The author focuses on designing experiences and offers important insights into the origins of Google and others.

The fourth book on my list touches on what to do with design, where problems can occur, and how to avoid them. It is “The Universal Principles of Design” by William Lidwell.

My Creative Innovation Books

The fifth book is “Thinker Toys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques” by Michael Michalko. In my opinion, this is a book that every innovator should have. The book brings together all of the tools, approaches, ways to brainstorm, uses of SCAMPER, etc., that are very useful for innovators. Pretty much anything that Michael puts out, I buy.

Another book is “Six Thinking Hats” by Dr. Edward de Bono.” I got introduced to the innovation and creativity space by watching his TV show on PBS back when I was a kid. Over six or seven shows, Dr. de Bono taught viewers about unleashing their creativity, which sparked something inside me. The book is a great reminder to change your perspective and keep a fresh mind and is a great piece to have in your library of inspiration.

Fun Books I Keep

Now I’m going to share with you some fun books I keep that make me laugh. The first one is “The World’s Worst Inventions: The Craziest Gadgets and Machines Ever Made” by Jack Watkins. This book discusses some inventions that have been deemed stupid by many. Ironically, some of these inventions have gone on to be successful after this book was published.

The next book is “Fail Harder: Ridiculous Illustrations of Epic Fails” by Failblog.org Community. This book humorously discusses human failings and reminds us of our human nature.

To know more about creating your own library of inspiration, listen to this week’s show: Innovation Books | My Library of Inspiration.

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How I Turned my Podcast into a Book and Radio Show

This episode is the last of Killer Innovations as a radio show. Not an easy decision, but as part of our drive for innovation, we believe this is the best decision. We will discuss the show’s history, my book and radio show deal, and what Killer Innovations will look like moving forward.

Making the Switch

Throughout the show, we have talked about how important it is to re-evaluate and try new things. This occurrence is a challenge that many organizations encounter as they have processes that often keep them narrow-minded. Our decision to leave the Biz Talk Radio format will open up opportunities for us to be more flexible, creative, and innovative.

With the coming change, I know that listeners will have a ton of questions. We will still be a weekly show, but will be shorter and have no interruptions. We will also be using a podcast-only format. We’re hoping that you will continue to support us.

Killer Innovation’s History

Let’s jump into the history of the podcast. Launched in March of 2005, the Killer Innovations podcast is now on season 16, making us the longest continuously produced podcast in history. We were podcasting before iTunes was even a thing. We have averaged around 45-50 episodes per year.

The podcast’s motivation came from a conversation I had with my mentor Bob Davis, who I have mentioned many times in previous shows. In the exchange, I asked Bob how I could pay him back for all the help he had given me throughout the years. Bob laughed and told me that I couldn’t pay him back. Instead, I could only pay it forward.

At the beginning of the show, podcasting tools and technology were not nonexistent, so I had to hand-code each show. Following the podcast’s launch in 2005, my book deal came about Mark, my agent from New York, approached me. One of his staff was a listener of the podcast and mentioned it to him. I had a meeting with Mark that went well, and he has been my agent ever since.

The book proposal was distributed in the fall of 2010 and had about nine interested publishers. I signed a book deal at the end of 2010 and finished writing the book in June of 2011, followed by the release in February of the next year. The content of the book came from the podcast. Doing this book deal was anything but easy and required a lot of lift.

As far as the radio show goes, I got approached by Biz Talk Radio in 2015 at a tradeshow where I was speaking. They said they liked the podcast and my book, and we ended up launching the radio show in July of 2016.

My Book Deal

I want to give you guys insights into structuring media deals as I have had a very successful nationally syndicated radio show and book deal. Like I said earlier, there were nine publishers interested in the book. After meeting with the publishers, there was an auction to see who the winning publisher would be. Hyperion won, and I committed to doing 75,000 words in eight months, which was a big hurdle.

I was lucky to get a significant advancement after the book in 2011. Publishers get paid back first in book deals, and after you get your advance, the publisher gets all the money to pay costs. After this, the author starts collecting royalties. In my deal, the publisher took control of the audiobook and had a professional voice actor relay it.

The Killer Innovations Radio Show

As far as the radio show goes, Biz Talk radio is a syndicator of the radio, so I had to do everything through them. They distributed the show all across the country as part of their service. As far as constraints, we had to comply with the FCC rules such as political messages, profanity, age appropriateness, etc. We also had to adhere to a time constraint slot as there were commercial breaks. We had four segments.

There was also a weekly fee that we had to pay to the syndicator to distribute the show. As part of the syndication deal, we got several ad spots, which we gave away to charity. Zoom funds part of the show production and has done so for six years. The sponsorship is what allowed us to give away our ad spots to charities.

Lessons Learned

Let me share some lessons I learned in creating my media platform. Firstly, do what you love. I have been doing the podcast for fifteen years, and If I didn’t love doing it, we wouldn’t have lasted this long. Secondly, please don’t do it for the numbers. Contacted by so many, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people discouraged about how many listeners they have for their podcasts. If the numbers drive you, you won’t stick with it because the numbers are hard to get.

While this show has been around a long time, some people aren’t as interested in our content as they are in other people’s, and that is ok. If you focus on your new subscriber numbers, you will drive yourself crazy. Thirdly, be open to new possibilities and let your followers aid you in finding what works best. Also, you need to know when to walk away from something like we are doing now.

To know more about the Killer Innovations podcast, listen to this week’s show: How I Turned my Podcast into a Book and Radio Show.

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How I Learned to Be an Entrepreneur

This week’s topic is an extension of a show I did a few weeks ago about my innovation self-confidence. Entrepreneurship is a huge part of innovation at any level. We will discuss my learning experiences as an entrepreneur. What were the steps that made me a successful innovator throughout my career?

Beginner Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship consists of having an idea, being assertive, having a strategy, etc. I quickly realized from my Deltek experiences that I was not ready to jump right into entrepreneurship. After working at Deltek, I went to a company called Individual Software and hired by my previous boss from Deltek, Bob Davis.

Having only been around for a few years, Individual Software was small. As a result, my experiences there taught me how to work inside a startup. At Individual Software, I worked on designing and building products through coding. Everybody was a salesman; everybody was the shipping department; everyone was customer service, etc.

As an entrepreneur, you have to do everything, literally. There is no time to sit back and work on ideas. Individual Software did a great job teaching me some basic entrepreneurship skills and how it plays out.

Early Lessons

My involvement in many startups lead to the creation of the first big IPO win to build my career. I realized early on that I would have to go to multiple different jobs to learn other entrepreneurship parts.

At Individual Software, my boss Joel was a former executive at a big company in Silicon Valley. He believed that the training technology around the PC was going to be the next big thing. Going in as part of a small team, I quickly realized that I had to do everything as an entrepreneur.

The next position I took was with an organization called Corporate Resource Associates. Started by two people I worked with at Deltek, Bob Davis, my mentor, and Roxie Westfall, I came with the company already established. I wasn’t involved in getting the startup running. At CRA, I had my first engagement with HP as we developed RISC (Reduced instruction set computing) processors. This job taught me how to communicate and help people understand complex items as we were training HP and others to use RISC. The most important thing I learned at CRA was assertiveness/standing up for yourself. I was still young and didn’t have any gray hair, so people sometimes thought I didn’t know much. I also learned about strategy for a newly started business, as we try to grow and make it functional.

Entrepreneurship Takeoff

At CRA, we worked with HP, Intel, and Apple, and other smaller companies. Focused on a combination of training and actual development work, it is at CRA that I realized that I was good at taking complicated things and making them simple. The software I worked on was all about putting a face onto technology that was uncomfortable to many people at that time. I liked taking concepts and ideas and turning them into commercially successful ideas. My entrepreneurship bug started to take off.

After my time at CRA, I started my own company— Millenium RAND (Research and Development). Its mission was to help innovators who had ideas but needed help making them real. The work entailed going in with clients who had a raw idea but didn’t have the people, skillsets, and confidence to make something out of it. I started to build my reputation as I did everything from debugging hardware boards, writing embedded apps, writing user interfaces, etc.

At Millenium RAND, I had a couple of subcontractors and a couple of employees and ended up creating many products. One product called Thumbscan won the Product of the Year Award at COMDEX. After that, an entity funded by venture capitalists hired me and created another product of the year award the following year.

Entrepreneur Experience

At this point, I had experienced going to a startup. Then, watched a launching startup. Followed by launching my own company. And lastly, joining an entity funded by venture capitalists. Eventually, Thumbscan got sold off. After that, the founders of the product recruited me to work on another idea around supercomputers.

This company was called Teraplex. It was a supercomputer company based on a new process called MISC, or minimal instruction set computer. Initially funded by the state of Illinois and some angel investors, I came in as the company president. It was here that I first learned how to deal with angel investors and was able to secure additional funding for the company. Teraplex was quite successful, and I was also able to secure some technology licensing agreements.

Looking back at it all, I found that my skillset was taking an idea and turning it into an innovative product. And that is what I built my career off of.

To know more about becoming an entrepreneur, listen to this week’s show: How I Learned to Be an Entrepreneur.

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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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How I Built My Innovation Self-Confidence

People are always asking me how I made it to the point I’m today in my career. While I can’t cover my career’s full extent, I want to share some valuable learning experiences. This week, we will discuss how I built my innovation self-confidence and what I learned early on in my career that shaped the future of my career.

Self-Confidence and Soft Skills

Looking back on my career, I realize it is all about building self-confidence. I am very thankful for those early leaders and organizations that invested heavily in me. Despite being a “know-it-all,” they didn’t put me down but taught me how to be a leader and encouraged me to pursue my passions.

Wherever you are in your career, elements are existing that build up self-confidence. The first area revolves around team spirit and knowing how to build a team. Your self-confidence isn’t about showing people up or being the smartest person in the room. It’s about being a part of a team, knowing how to build a team, and leading a team. In the innovation game, there is no such thing as the lone innovator.

Early in my career, I fed off the press when they mention my name. As I progressed in my career, I learned just how important the team is over the individual. The second self-confidence building element is the belief that you can achieve and build things from what you have learned.

The third area is confidence in your communication skills and knowing how to communicate effectively. Another key area of self-confidence is being able to empathize with people. The last one is assertiveness, which is standing up for your ideas.

Anchor Industries

Like I said earlier, I want to walk you guys through some of my own experiences. My wife and I met when we were young and got married in our sophomore year of college. The summer after our wedding, my wife helped me get an internship at Anchor Industries, one of the largest producers of canvas products. My wife knew the family that owned the company and had mentioned that I was looking for an internship.

My initial job at Anchor was to go through and reverse-engineer the blueprints of their products as they were outdated. I started off doing drafting but also learned how to do time studies. One of the things Anchor built was pool covers. In the 1980s, they would get a blueprint of the pool cover and hand draw the pool on the factory floor. Then they would lay out edges, lay the fabric, stitch or weld it, and add other things to it. This process was slow, and I felt like I could do something better.

After my internship, I went back and designed an automatic pool cover layout plan for a project class I had at school. This project had a significant impact on Anchor’s ability to make pool covers. I ended up working for Anchor and building out this program for a year. Because of my self-confidence in trying new things, I impacted Anchor Industries and built a lasting relationship with the company. To this day, Anchor Industries is still one of the biggest producers of pool covers.

Deltek Microsystems

After working with Anchor Industries, I worked with Deltek Microsystems, a subsidiary of Deltek. The company focused on the early stages of PCs and sought to create training materials for new PC users. I ended up there due to my success at Anchor.

At Deltek, I learned a lot about teamwork as it was a new company. Hired on as a manager of the company, this was my first time to experience leadership. Deltek pushed me to give talks and speeches and built my communication skills up. I also experienced failures at Deltek that taught me a lot. I learned assertiveness in this position, as I had to express my opinions and ideas to those around me. Asserting was new to me as it was only my second real job.

My boss at Deltek Microsystems, Bob Davis, my first mentor, taught me how to be a manager, take risks, and get back up after a failure. He also taught me to be self-aware and learn my strengths and weaknesses. Bob taught that if I wanted to be a good leader, I had to experience running the business and not just doing the software. I sat in just about every leadership seat at Deltek, from Finance and Marketing to IT.

Innovation Self-Confidence

My early career experiences built my innovation self-confidence. Each experience contributed to all the soft skills I needed to become the leader I am today. When looking at team spirit, both Anchor and Deltek had a massive impact on my understanding. It is vital to provide feedback to others and contribute your expertise to the team’s ideas.

Both Anchor and Deltek impacted my self-confidence by giving me the chance to go out and try things. Deltek helped me approve my communication skills in a way that I could adapt my language to my audience. In the case of empathy, I learned to empathize with customers as well as employees. Deltek taught me to be assertive in pushing and selling your ideas. All these soft skills learned from these two companies were vital in future success with my innovation self-confidence.

To know more about how you can build your innovation self confidence, listen to this week’s show: How I Built My Innovation Self-Confidence.

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