Archive for management

Jan
13

Innovation and Potato Peelers: Beware Cheap Imitations

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My imitation potato peeler

My imitation peeler

Pictured to the left is my potato peeler/fruit peeler which I purchased in Shanghai. It is dutifully based on the design of typical peelers long sold by Western companies. But I suspect this imitation object was copied and manufactured by people unacquainted with the finer points of peeling potatoes. In peeling potatoes, one frequently encounters eyes or other bad spots that need to be gouged out. Good potato peelers have a curved metal end that can be used for gouging potatoes and fruit. My Shanghai peeler has dutifully copied the general shape of other peelers, with a somewhat pointed tip and a concave surface below it, but the tip is made of thick blunt plastic that is useless in gouging. It is a classic example of imitation without understanding the details of how something works. It can look the same, but the results are disappointing.

The innovation efforts of many companies are like my potato peeler: they imitate what they see others doing, but lack the knowledge and experience needed to make the systems actually work. So we get innovation rhetoric, a temporary budget and Big Program, with consultants sailing in and trying to change employees when the real barriers to innovation may be elsewhere. We get brainstorming sessions that lead to nowhere, momentary IP races that waste resources and leave inventors discourage, innovation funnels that become echo chambers, and improvised staged product launch systems that result in decisions made without adequate knowledge and little hope of success. In some cases it all comes down to instinct and gut feel from an omniscient leader imitating Steve Jobs or some other charismatic innovator, while overruling all logic and leaving a wake of confusion.

Innovation requires experience and deep knowledge. It requires systems and cultures designed with innovation expertise, not just a quick fix and temporary effort to imitate others. Innovation leaders need the support and attention of management at the very top, and systems tailored to enhance the innovation culture across the company. Innovation success is far more difficult that it looks when we are imitating someone who makes it look easy. It rarely is. Real knowledge and real patience are required.

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Nov
07

Tortoise Innovation: The Problem with Hiding in a Shell

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tortoiseMany large companies take a tortoise approach to innovation and stay as hidden within their shells as possible, even some who advocate open innovation. Tortoise companies may have creative R&D staff, including many scientists doing good work, but they keep these inventors hidden in the shell rather than encouraging them to publish or present their work.

The hares, on the other hand, take greater risks as they frequently step out of their comfortable burrows. They let their inventors not just show up at conferences and other events, but take the podium and present. Or, when appropriate, publish their work in major journals. As a result, their inventors become known and get to know many others with related interests. It is that visibility that allows potential partners to find them, to learn about their work, and to come forward with proposals for partnership or further innovation. These visible minds become more highly connected and able to contribute more directly and effectively to the open innovation needs of the Corporation. They are connected to other industries and better connected to the market, and may be more likely to recognize ways to adapt their inventions for better success.

The extreme of tortoise innovator may well be the large body of government scientists that conducted high-tech R&D for decades in the old Soviet Union. One of my past open innovation activities at Innovationedge included traveling to Moscow to assist Russia (more specifically, ISTC: http://www.istc.ru/) in finding external partners for the huge body of invention that arose from government labs in past work (this public information: e.g., I am listed as a speaker on the published agenda of a biotech meeting in Moscow with a presentation entitled “Innovationedge Partnership to bring innovation from Russia to the U.S.”). Unfortunately, much of that work in the Soviet Union, in my opinion, was dominated by deep drilling into highly isolated wells of expertise, with advanced technologies that were unconnected to real-world industry and markets. Creating connections and finding market opportunities after the fact (as in “answers in search of problems”) is much less efficient that developing inventions tailored to meet real market needs in the first place. The scientists were some of the best in the world, but they were working in isolation, often in great secrecy, with little ability to discuss their work with outsiders and obtain needed feedback and insights to make their work more useful outside their immediate focus. Looking back in time at the fruits of past Soviet era R&D to me looked like closed innovation to an extreme.

My observation of the isolation of Russian R&D relative to industry and markets is consistent with the detailed observation and analysis by Dina Williams in “Russia’s innovation system: reflection on the past, present and future” in The International Journal of Transitions and Innovation Systems, Vol. 1, No. 4, 2011, p. 394-412, available via Academia.edu at http://www.academia.edu/1207385/Russias_innovation_system_reflection_on_the_past_present_and_future (free download with registration).

Success in open innovation and even in making conventional internal innovation more successful can be enhanced when innovators “get out more often” and increase their visibility in relevant communities. Innovation is frequently about crossing boundaries and making new connections, and open innovation almost by definition involves reaching past one’s own corporate boundaries to find solutions outside. What better way to do this than by having innovators physically or virtually stepping outside those boundaries and being visible to potential partners?

One of my favorite experiences during my days at Innovationedge involved seeing a technology go from an inventor’s garage to a multinational corporation where it is now being commercialized globally. A key event in that story involved speaking at technical conference where my presentation included some information about our client’s invention. Afterwards, I was approached by an R&D leader from a significant corporation who wanted to know more. There was much more work after this—open innovation success is rarely fast and easy—but that new connection took us on a path toward success. Related stories occur frequently when innovation is shared. But silent companies who rely on their tortoise shell eventually find that solid defense is irrelevant. Sometimes, the prizes go not to those who best hide behind their fortifications but to those who cross the finish line in the race for innovation.

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Feb
06

The Quest for Profit: The Mother of Invention, or Its Kidnapper?

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As we discuss in Conquering Innovation Fatigue, the profit motive can be important for inventors but is often not the real incentive behind the quest to invent. Steps that eliminate the opportunity to profit from invention, though, can be serious barriers to a nation’s innovation potential. The profit motive can be important for prospective innovators. However, a focus on profits can be utterly destructive to innovation within a corporation, where the incentives to those who lead other would-be innovators can create new barriers that kill the innovation future of the company. Ironically, what can be a helpful incentive for innovation to an individual can easily become a disincentive once distorted by the internal workings of a corporation. This is illustrated in recent analysis from Clayton Christensen. See an overview in the article “Clayton Christensen: How Pursuit of Profits Kills Innovation and the U.S. Economy” at Forbes.com. Christensen argues that ratio-based metrics for profitability distort corporate thinking and reward behavior that ultimately destroys the future of the corporation by creating short-term benefits in apparent profitability. We illustrate a related problem in the book with the Apple Tree Analogy, in which metrics for short-term profitability for an apple harvester get a dramatic boost when the apple trees are toppled, making it much faster to harvest the fruit. The future, though, becomes barren.

Corporations need to carefully consider the metrics they use for profitability, as Christensen teaches, and unlearn some of the sacred concepts they were given in business schools. They should also go one step further an consider the impact of their metrics on not just the long-term growth of the company as a whole, but also the individual innovator and the innovation culture within the company. Listening to the voice of the innovator inside the corporation should be an important exercise for its top leaders.

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In the United States and many other nations, a question is being asked by many who struggle with the brutal reality of innovation fatigue. In many sectors, it is taking bigger investments, longer times, and much more pain to deliver innovation, and much of what passes for innovation in some sectors ends up being incremental fluff or mere cost-cutting. Some blame it on employee productivity, some blame it on short-term thinking in pubic companies driven by the unnecessary compulsion to please stockholders above all others, some blame it on the MBA culture instilled by leading business schools, and others blame it on governments that make every entrepreneurial move a slow trudge across the regulatory mire and a possibly fatal descent into quicksand. Some point to numerous factors including the capital crunch, creating a perfect storm in which even cash-rich companies are afraid to invest in real innovation because of uncertainty and fear.

Innovation fatigue, of course, is not uniform. Individuals and individual companies often buck trends and rise above currents of fatigue, and sometimes entire sectors seem energized and vibrant with innovation. For example, innovation in mobile applications and devices seems vigorous, but even then we have former innovation leaders like Nokia and Motorola feeling the burn of fatigue across many parts of their business.

Where are the real pressure points? What are the next steps that America or other nations need to take to restore a vigorous innovation culture across many sectors and help their nations overcome innovation fatigue? What do corporate leaders need to be doing differently to turn their companies in havens of innovation that can deliver growth and success for the long term? What do our political leaders need to do and understand to let the fire of innovation burn more brightly?

Let me know your thoughts. The five answers I like best will be rewarded with a free copy of Conquering Innovation Fatigue mailed to wherever you are. All submissions will implicitly have your permission to share them, though I will withhold your name if you ask me to. Send your comments to jeff at magicinnovation d0t com.

Feb
14

A Burning Platform: Nokia Faces Its Own Innovation Fatigue

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A painful message from the CEO of Nokia, shared below, reminds us that the pain of disruptive innovation often catches major incumbents unaware. As they listen to their existing customers and improve existing products and services, often incrementally, they may not sense the tsunami of change that is coming from afar. The innovations that will disrupt them often seem not good enough to threaten their core business. By ignoring the threats and opportunities around them, they continue to focus on core competencies and core markets and feel little pain until the new competition, ignore too long, has developed the skills and competencies to strike at the core itself. When the pain is felt, it is often too late. When the heat of a raging fire is finally felt and awakens you from your dreams, it is often too late. You may escape if you are lucky, but the building is likely to be lost. How will Nokia cope? Read the speech below, then we’ll discuss their newly announced plans.

Nokia’s CEO, Stephen Elop, gave this speech to employees last week and the transcript has been posted on several sites such as Casey’s Daily Dispatch, the Wall Street Journal’s TechEurope Blog, Ongo.com, MSDN.com. It is brutal and painful. A few years ago tech stock experts recommended Nokia as one of the leaders in the business and best investment opportunities. But by focusing on their existing markets and competencies, they missed the changes that would envelope the market and misallocated their innovation resources. They are now on a “burning platform.”

There is a pertinent story about a man who was working on an oil platform in the North Sea. He woke up one night from a loud explosion, which suddenly set his entire oil platform on fire. In mere moments, he was surrounded by flames. Through the smoke and heat, he barely made his way out of the chaos to the platform’s edge. When he looked down over the edge, all he could see were the dark, cold, foreboding Atlantic waters.

As the fire approached him, the man had mere seconds to react. He could stand on the platform and inevitably be consumed by the burning flames. Or he could plunge 30 meters into the freezing waters. The man was standing upon a “burning platform,” and he needed to make a choice.

He decided to jump. It was unexpected. In ordinary circumstances, the man would never consider plunging into icy waters. But these were not ordinary times – his platform was on fire. The man survived the fall and the waters. After he was rescued, he noted that a “burning platform” caused a radical change in his behaviour.

We too, are standing on a “burning platform,” and we must decide how we are going to change our behaviour.

Over the past few months, I’ve shared with you what I’ve heard from our shareholders, operators, developers, suppliers and from you. Today, I’m going to share what I’ve learned and what I have come to believe.

I have learned that we are standing on a burning platform.

And we have more than one explosion – we have multiple points of scorching heat that are fuelling a blazing fire around us.

For example, there is intense heat coming from our competitors, more rapidly than we ever expected. Apple disrupted the market by redefining the smartphone and attracting developers to a closed but very powerful ecosystem.

In 2008, Apple’s market share in the $300+ price range was 25 percent; by 2010 it escalated to 61 percent. They are enjoying a tremendous growth trajectory with a 78 percent earnings growth year over year in Q4 2010. Apple demonstrated that if designed well, consumers would buy a high-priced phone with a great experience and developers would build applications. They changed the game, and today, Apple owns the high-end range.

And then there is Android. In about two years, Android created a platform that attracts application developers, service providers and hardware manufacturers. Android came in at the high end, they are now winning the midrange, and quickly they are going downstream to phones under €100. Google has become a gravitational force, drawing much of the industry’s innovation to its core.

Let’s not forget about the low-end price range. In 2008, MediaTek supplied complete reference designs for phone chipsets, which enabled manufacturers in the Shenzhen region of China to produce phones at an unbelievable pace. By some accounts, this ecosystem now produces more than one-third of the phones sold globally – taking share from us in emerging markets.

While competitors poured flames on our market share, what happened at Nokia? We fell behind, we missed big trends, and we lost time. At that time, we thought we were making the right decisions; but, with the benefit of hindsight, we now find ourselves years behind.

The first iPhone shipped in 2007, and we still don’t have a product that is close to their experience. Android came on the scene just over 2 years ago, and this week they took our leadership position in smartphone volumes. Unbelievable.

We have some brilliant sources of innovation inside Nokia, but we are not bringing it to market fast enough. We thought MeeGo would be a platform for winning high-end smartphones. However, at this rate, by the end of 2011, we might have only one MeeGo product in the market.

At the midrange, we have Symbian. It has proven to be non-competitive in leading markets like North America. Additionally, Symbian is proving to be an increasingly difficult environment in which to develop to meet the continuously expanding consumer requirements, leading to slowness in product development and also creating a disadvantage when we seek to take advantage of new hardware platforms. As a result, if we continue like before, we will get further and further behind, while our competitors advance further and further ahead.

At the lower-end price range, Chinese OEMs are cranking out a device much faster than, as one Nokia employee said only partially in jest, “the time that it takes us to polish a PowerPoint presentation.” They are fast, they are cheap, and they are challenging us.

And the truly perplexing aspect is that we’re not even fighting with the right weapons. We are still too often trying to approach each price range on a device-to-device basis.

The battle of devices has now become a war of ecosystems, where ecosystems include not only the hardware and software of the device, but developers, applications, ecommerce, advertising, search, social applications, location-based services, unified communications and many other things. Our competitors aren’t taking our market share with devices; they are taking our market share with an entire ecosystem. This means we’re going to have to decide how we either build, catalyse or join an ecosystem.

This is one of the decisions we need to make. In the meantime, we’ve lost market share, we’ve lost mind share and we’ve lost time.

On Tuesday, Standard & Poor’s informed that they will put our A long term and A-1 short term ratings on negative credit watch. This is a similar rating action to the one that Moody’s took last week. Basically it means that during the next few weeks they will make an analysis of Nokia, and decide on a possible credit rating downgrade. Why are these credit agencies contemplating these changes? Because they are concerned about our competitiveness.

Consumer preference for Nokia declined worldwide. In the UK, our brand preference has slipped to 20 percent, which is 8 percent lower than last year. That means only 1 out of 5 people in the UK prefer Nokia to other brands. It’s also down in the other markets, which are traditionally our strongholds: Russia, Germany, Indonesia, UAE, and on and on and on.

How did we get to this point? Why did we fall behind when the world around us evolved?

This is what I have been trying to understand. I believe at least some of it has been due to our attitude inside Nokia. We poured gasoline on our own burning platform. I believe we have lacked accountability and leadership to align and direct the company through these disruptive times. We had a series of misses. We haven’t been delivering innovation fast enough. We’re not collaborating internally.

Nokia, our platform is burning.

We are working on a path forward — a path to rebuild our market leadership. When we share the new strategy on February 11, it will be a huge effort to transform our company. But I believe that together, we can face the challenges ahead of us. Together, we can choose to define our future.

The burning platform, upon which the man found himself, caused the man to shift his behaviour and take a bold and brave step into an uncertain future. He was able to tell his story. Now we have a great opportunity to do the same.

Stephen.

Alex Daley’s commentary at Casey’s Daily Dispatch on this memo is among the best. A few excerpt from Alex follow:

But one of the mobile world’s most celebrated early stars is fading, and fast – Nokia. The Finnish mega-company traces its roots all the way back to the rubber industry in 1865. But it evolved over nearly a century and a half into the largest mobile phone supplier in the world. At its peak, the company accounted for the majority of all phones in the world. However, lately things have begun to unwind. Market share for the company has slipped from 39% in 2008 to 35% in 2009, and again to 30% in 2010.

Not only is their global market share decreasing, they’re being assaulted from every side and find themselves with shrinking influence, shrinking margins and shrinking options. Apple, RIM, and the contingent of Android phone manufacturers around the world have gulped up the overwhelming majority of the high-end smartphone market, where profit margins are high. On the other end of the spectrum, Chinese technology outfits have begun to lock up the massive lower end of the market, turning out designs and equipment at a breakneck pace.

Desperate to find relevance in a market moving on without the company, last year they appointed former Microsoft executive Stephen Elop to the position of CEO. He has been pretty quiet since he joined the company, taking his time to learn the business and get to the root of the issues that cause the market to value this technology giant at less than the $43 billion in revenue it generated last year. Quiet until now….

And [Elop’s] use of the term “platform,” while symbolic, seems like a calculated choice for a company that staked its future on a failing developer platform known as Symbian, and a long delayed smartphone platform called MeeGo yet to even launch nearly four years after the iPhone was originally released….

The question of the hour is not just whether or not that will happen, but whose platform it will be. Apple doesn’t license. HP has locked up WebOS with its Palm buy. That really only leaves Google, whom Elop cites as a competitor, and Microsoft, his Alma Mater, which goes completely unmentioned in the damning note….

Elop’s failure to mention Microsoft was certainly deliberate, for a few days later he announced a major partnership with Microsoft aimed at saving the company. See “Microsoft, Nokia Agreement Signals New Smartphone Game,” a Feb. 14, 2011 story from EWeek.com.

Microsoft and Nokia announced a wide-ranging partnership Feb. 11, which will include running Windows Phone 7 on Nokia smartphones, in a combined bid to blunt the competitive momentum of Google Android and the Apple iPhone.

“We have a formidable plan to ensure our collective leadership in the smartphone market and in the ecosystem that surrounds it,” Nokia CEO Stephen Elop told a London press conference. “Our long-term strategic alliance will build a global ecosystem that creates opportunities beyond anything that currently exists.”

Now comes the hard part: actually building that ecosystem.

A formidable plan? I’m sorry, but part of me cringes when anyone declares that the plan they created is “formidable.” Too close to “fool-proof.” And we went from desperation on the brink of ruin on a burning platform one day to a formidable plan the next? Eweek mentions some reasons to restrain enthusiasm:

“Microsoft wins big in this arrangement, having gained a partner for an OS that is struggling in the market and losing share even among its current device suppliers (e.g., HTC),” Jack Gold, principal analyst of J. Gold Associates, wrote in a Feb. 14 research note. “Nokia brings huge scale and can dramatically increase WP7 market share beyond its traditional reliance on vendors with much lower market share. And this precludes Microsoft from having to enter the device market directly (as it did with its Kin disaster).”

However, some analysts see the deal as a decidedly negative one for Nokia, particularly in the longer term.

“We think Nokia has created a new set of issues—a lack of ecosystem control, margin decline and a raft of new royalty payouts—in return for a ‘unique relationship,'” Lee Simpson and Andrej Krneta, analysts with Jeffries & Co., wrote in a Feb. 14 research note. “With WP7 as Nokia’s new primary smartphone OS, why would any operator take an end-of-life product (Symbian)? This can only cap the top line for Nokia going through 2011 and much of 2012.”

The analysts believe that Nokia’s first Windows Phone 7 devices will be “hollowed out ‘N8s’ or the like,” referring to one of the manufacturer’s higher-end smartphones. “Despite longer-term assertions of speedy time to market designs, the overhauling of road maps (and cancellations near-term) will likely dent near-term progress and leaving Nokia dangerously exposed to further market-share erosion.”

I wish Nokia success, but feel that it will take more than Microsoft to bring them success. Innovation fatigue needs to be addressed at multiple levels in the company and the culture radically strengthened to reach their destination. Otherwise, further fatigue may stand in the way.

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Jan
03

Strengthen Your Open Innovation Skills at the CoDev Conference

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One of the highlights of the past few years for me has been the annual CoDev conference on open innovation sponsored by the Management Roundtable. Top-notch speakers on open innovation and collaboration will speak, sharing their experiences and insights. Speakers from companies like Procter and Gamble, Colgate, Pepsico, General Mills and ConocoPhilips (one of the new companies speaking this year) have much to share. It’s a great venue for networking with many thought leaders and experts. Many of the participants are executives, directors, or managers responsible for collaborative innovation and are the kind of people you ought to know if you or your company care about advancing your approach to innovation.

This year Innovationedge will be conducting a pre-conference workshop on innovation and IP strategy. I hope you’ll be there with us!

The setting is Scottsdale, Arizona, which is the place to be in January. Beautiful region! The conference runs from Jan. 24-26, 2011.

This year I’m especially excited about one of the key-note speakers, my friend Adriano Amaral from Brazil. He was one of the visionary leaders of the government in Brasilia in the past decade who transformed the economy of that state into the strongest economic engine of Brazil. He is a tremendously successful CEO of a for-profit business, POSEAD, and of a non-profit educational organization, CETEB, both of which have transformed education for speakers of Portuguese and Spanish with a remarkably successful business model. He will share some of his story, a tiny part of which I’ve shared previously on this blog. Connecting with this influential leader from Brazil could easily be worth the price of the conference for some of you.

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Oct
11

Engineers Interested in Innovation, Startups, and IP: Join Us at the 2010 AIChE Annual Meeting

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Chemical engineers interested in innovation and entrepreneurship should consider attending the AIChE 2010 Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City. On Wednesday, Nov. 10, I will chair a session featuring four outstanding speakers on topics that should be of interest to many engineers, including university researchers, corporate researchers, and managers. If you are conducting research that could lead to a new business, if you are involved in leading or managing R&D, if you are part of an effort where intellectual property could make a difference, then you should attend our session, “Intellectual Assets in the Digital Era.” You need to register for this conference through AIChE.

Time: Wednesday, November 10, 2010: 8:30 AM-11:00 AM
Location: Salt Palace Convention Center, Grand Ballroom G, Salt Lake City, UT
Chair: Jeff Lindsay, Director of Solution Development, Innovationedge, Neenah, WI
Co-Chair: Ken Horton, Gore School of Business, Westminster College, Salt Lake City, UT

Schedule of Papers and Abstracts:
8:30 AM, Paper #406A, “Business Development, IP, and Manufacturing Success: Perspectives From Utah’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership” by David Sorensen, Executive Director of Utah’s Manufacturing Extension Program. (See biographical information below.)

Abstract: The Manufacturing Extension Partnership of Utah has assisted many companies in strengthening their strategy for success and continued growth. We will discuss what it takes to advance your business, including lessons relative to leadership, vision, intellectual property, and coping with changing regulations and policies.

9:10 AM, Paper #406b, “The Role of IP in Successful Startups,” Mike Alder, Director of Technology Transfer, Brigham Young University.

Abstract: Many AIChE members will be involved with a startup at some point in their career. While the capabilities of the management team is of utmost importance, in numerous cases, the success of the startup also depends on the quality of its intellectual property. In this era, an IP-savvy team can take several steps to secure competitive advantage and realize greater value from the technology, products, or services the company offers. This presentation will draw upon experience with many startups and startup teams and will provide guidance to researchers, business leaders, and future entrepreneurs on how to better prepare for success.

9:45 AM, Paper #406c, “An Introduction to IP Law: The Underpinnings of Intellectual Assets,” Ken Horton, Kirton & McConkie, Salt Lake City, UT

Abstract: An understanding of the basics of intellectual property law can help chemical engineers in advancing their own research, in evaluating competitive efforts, in building their own business, or in general advancing their career. This presentation will cover some of the key concepts that engineers should know, including the nature of patents, the different kinds of patents (provisional, utility, design), the role of trademarks and copyrights, what it takes to be patentable, and how changes in patent law may affect your career and business.

10:20 AM, Paper #406d, “Cost-Effective Pursuit of IP in a Down Economy,” by Jonathan Lee

Abstract: How does one get the most protection and benefit from intellectual property when the economy is down? How can patents and other forms of intellectual property be obtained in a cost effective manner when budgets are tight? In this presentation, an experienced patent attorney shares insights into cost effective IP with guidance directed to managers, research leaders, inventors, and entrepreneurs.

Biographical information:

David Sorensen
Mr. Sorensen has over 35 years of experience in a wide variety of technical and managerial assignments requiring comprehensive knowledge in several disciplines relating to engineering, manufacturing, information technology and business systems. He has been directly responsible for major contracts with industry and government agencies and has a proven record of technical competence, customer relations, and business planning in rapidly expanding technical companies. Mr. Sorensen has held increasingly responsible positions in product and service organizations. He is innovative, resourceful, and aggressive in accomplishing assigned responsibilities with major strengths in strategic planning, marketing and management. He holds a Bachelor of Engineering Science and a Masters in Manufacturing Engineering Technology from Brigham Young University.

Since 1995 he’s been the Director of the Utah Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP-Utah), serving primarily the 6,200 manufacturers in the state of Utah. MEP-Utah was selected to initiate and manage the NIST Information Technology Network for over 60 MEP Centers nationwide. Mr. Sorensen is also a BYU adjunct faculty member and the Associate Dean of Technology, Trades and Industry at Utah Valley State College. With a staff of 18, in one year MEP-Utah helped create or save 2,719 jobs in Utah, increased manufacturing sales by more than $121 million and increased employee payroll by more than $84 million.

He’s been the Chairman & CEO for Echo Solutions, a start-up software products and services company; Executive VP of Eyring Research Institute; General Manager of EG&G Services; Director of Engineering at EG&G Idaho Inc.; Manager of Architect Engineering and Construction at Aerojet Nuclear Company and Manager of Power Generation Equipment at Bunker Ramo. He also has experience with GE’s Nuclear Instrumentation as a Senior Applications Engineer, and in engineering positions at Kennecott Copper, Intermountain Industries, and F.C. Torkelson Engineers.

Michael Alder
Mike is Director of Technology Transfer at Brigham Young University, where his work has been nationally recognized by BusinessWeek and others for their success. Mike is also Chair of the Board for WestCAMP Inc. where he has also chaired the National Centers of Excellence (NCOE), a division of WestCAMP. Mike is formerly the CEO of the Biotechnology Association of Alabama. He was also a Venture Partner with Redmont Venture Partners, Inc. He has been heavily involved in the founding of Tranzyme, Inc.; Vaxin, Inc.; Folia, Inc.; Chlorogen, Inc.; Allvivo, Inc. and Cr3, Inc. All but one of these are biotechnology companies (Folia produces specialty biopolymers).

Mr. Alder has 30 years of experience in leading technology-based startup companies. He was previously CEO of Emerging Technology Partners in Birmingham, Alabama from 1997 to 2003. Prior to coming to Alabama in 1994 he co-founded the Grow Utah Fund that focused on creating technology-based businesses. In 1989 he was asked by the Utah Governor to head the State’s Office of Technology Development, which he did for 5 years as its Executive Director, helping bring Utah’s Centers of Excellence programs to national prominence. In 1973 he founded NPI, a plant biotechnology company in Salt Lake City, Utah and served as President, COO and Vice Chairman of that company for 15 years as it grew to over 700 employees.

Ken Horton
Ken Horton is a member of Kirton & McConkie‘s Intellectual Property Practice Section in Salt Lake City. His practice includes domestic and foreign patent prosecution, patent opinions, intellectual property litigation (including both state and federal court actions), domestic and foreign trademark prosecution, trademark opinions, copyrights, trade secrets, intellectual property evaluations and due diligence, as well as technology and intellectual property agreements. Mr. Horton has extensive experience in both pharmaceutical and semiconductor technologies. He is a frequent speaker on the topic of intellectual property law and strategy, speaking both at the 2007 and 2010 A.I.C.H.E. annual conferences and the 2009 A.C.S. annual conference. Additionally, Mr. Horton is an Associate Professor in these topics in the MBA Technology Management Program at the Gore School of Business of Westminster College.

Jonathan Lee
Jonathan Lee is a registered patent attorney and a member of the Utah State Bar practicing at ALG (AdvantEdge Law Group). His practice focuses on adding real-world value to companies, both large and small, by acquiring, securing, and protecting intellectual property rights.

Mr. Lee has prepared and successfully prosecuted hundreds of patent applications throughout his career, primarily in the electrical, electro-mechanical, and computer engineering fields. He currently helps a number of Fortune 1000 companies manage and develop their domestic and worldwide patent portfolios. He also regularly counsels clients in other aspects of intellectual property law, including litigation, licensing, and opinion work, as well as due diligence examinations, copyrights and trademarks, and patent reexamination proceedings.

Prior to joining ALG, Mr. Lee worked for nationally recognized law firms in Washington, D.C. and Salt Lake City, Utah.

Mr. Lee was recently selected as a Mountain States Rising Star by Super Lawyers, a peer-reviewed publication.

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Sep
10

Fighting Past Fatigue, Venture Capitalist Style

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I was reviewing some information from one Venture Capital firm that described their annual efforts. Far from the laid-back lifestyle that some people imagine, this successful VC firm spent much of their year traveling to meet with over 6,000 companies. A few hundred would be selected and screened more carefully, and then a dozen or so might be selected for funding. Whew, what an exhausting funnel. But they are looking for gems in the rubble of entrepreneurial activity, most of which is bound for failure.

The experience of skilled venture capitalists points to a few key issues that all of us can apply to increase the odds of success in our entrepreneurial efforts and help us be more selective and less fatigued in filling the limited funnels of our own innovation efforts. Mike Alder, one of my favorite gurus of start-up success, now head of the Technology Transfer Office at Brigham Young University, once told me that the most important thing in his experience was the management team. Great technology with a dysfunctional or incompetent team will go nowhere. It takes a good team and especially a good leader to have a serious chance of success. That’s been our experience also at Innovationedge, where we have worked with a number of start-ups to assist them in commercialization (though most of our focus is on helping larger companies with their new product and innovation efforts).

Inc. Magazine has a valuable little piece, “6 Thoughts Inside the Mind of a Venture Capitalist” by John Warrillow. Read the whole article, but here are the six key questions that many VC people consider when they hear a pitch. Even if you never deal with the VC community, you should be using most of these questions as you evaluate your own entrepreneurial activities and plans.

1. “Why you?” (Are you uniquely qualified to play in this space? Do you have the expertise it takes to have credibility and a chance to succeed?)

2. “Should your concept really be its own product?” (Or is it just a new feature for an existing product? If it’s the latter, you should be licensing your product to the existing players in the market, not launching a new one.)

3. “How much will it cost to get someone to buy your product?” (I’m often amazed at how many start-ups haven’t carefully considered this. Details of distributing the product, for example, are often neglected. Demand for the product is almost always wildly exaggerated.)

4. “Can I protect your idea?” (If you want to sell your company or license your invention and lack means to prevent direct copying, you’ve got an uphill battle. One VC leader told me that they are simply much more interested in technology with a patent, even if the patent isn’t rock solid. Of course, sometimes know-how from proprietary research can give you a hard-to-imitate-lead without a patent. Sometimes.)

5. “How much money do I need to invest before your company will be worth more than it is today?”

6. “Can I fill the holes on your management team?” (A related question: Are you located in a place that high-powered business leaders would never move to? Can I relocate you to a more interesting area?)

The questions begin and end with consideration of the qualifications of the team and its leader. If you sink in that area, the business isn’t going to float.

Screen your projects with the VC lens, and you’ll be less likely to plunge into futile innovation fatigue.

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The Summer 2010 issue of American Educator (a publication of the American Federation of Teachers) ably illustrates one of the lessons we teach in Conquering Innovation Fatigue: metrics to drive performance can have unintended consequences that may actually hurt rather than help. Indeed, unintended consequences are a major theme of our book, as we explore the problems arising from metrics, corporate and government policies, corporate innovation initiatives, laws, taxation policies, and other factors, all of which can contribute to innovation fatigue.

In terms of education and the danger of improper metrics, Linda Perlstein’s article, “Unintended Consequences; High Stakes Can Result in Low Standards,” examines a highly celebrated school in Annapolis, Maryland that received media attention and praise for seemingly miraculous success in education. The new principal arrived in 2000 to find Tyler Heights Elementary School in a dismal state with only 17% of its students getting satisfactory scores on the state test. She began redirecting efforts in the school to address this problem. Eventually her laser-focus efforts paid off, delivering the stunning success of 90% of third-graders performing well on the Maryland State Assessment, when only 35% of third-graders did so two years before. Several newspapers recognized the amazing turn-around and people at the school celebrated the success. But was it real success?

To achieve good performance on the Maryland State Assessment, education for the children was largely focused on how to do well on the test. Students learned how to write BCR’s (“Brief Constructed Response”) to deal with expected questions about poems and plays, and practiced writing these short answers for many hours, without actually studying poems or plays. “What gets tested is what gets taught,” the principal told the teachers, even if that meant leaving behind the material that was supposed to be taught according to state standards. Bins of equipment for studying science were largely unused.

Tyler Heights’ third-graders got only the most cursory introduction to economics and Native Americans, and much of the curriculum was skipped altogether. The students were geographically ignorant. . . . The third-graders had heard Africa mentioned a lot but were not sure if it was a city, country, or state. (They never suggested “continent.”) At the end of the year, the children in Johnson’s class were asked to name all the states they could. Cyrus knew the most: three. He couldn’t name any countries, though, and when asked about cities, he thrust his finger in the air triumphantly. “Howard County!”

The state standards required a broad curriculum, but the metrics for assessing that were based on one particular test and all the incentives were for helping students pass that test. In spite of the praise for the miracle at Tyler Heights, had the children really been helped?

Campbell’s Law

The problem with unintended consequences from metrics such as tests is hardly unique to Tyler Heights. Daniel Koretz, also writing in the same issue of American Educator (see page 3 of the PDF file on unintended consequences), explains that in education and other fields, score inflation is a common and well known but widely overlooked problem. In the social sciences, a phenomenon that leads to score inflation is known as Campbell’s Law. While widely applied to education, it was developed while looking at business. Donald Campbell, a prominent social scientist, examined the role of corporate incentives on the performance of employees. His research led to this general formulation: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” (Donald T. Campbell, “Assessing the Impact of Planned Social Change,” in Social Research and Public Policies: The Dartmouth/OECD Conference, ed. Gene M. Lyons, Hanover, NH: Public Affairs Center, Dartmouth College, 1975, p. 35. See also Can New York Clean Up the Testing Mess? by Sol Stern.)

Campbell’s Law is at work when schools game tests to get better scores, at the expense of education. It is at work when cardiologists choose not to operate on patients who might need surgery rather than risk hurting their own published statistics on mortality rates among their patients (Koretz refers to a 2005 story from the New York Times reporting the shocking results of a survey of cardiologists). It is at work when a company tries to boost innovation with metrics or incentives that result in game playing, while leaving the real problems from culture, systems, and vision unaddressed.

sharksIn our experience, metrics and incentives can play a valuable role in driving innovation, but only when the corporation has a culture that genuinely encourages innovation, when there is a shared vision of innovation and success, and when sound systems are in place to advance innovation. Without those, you can not only waste a lot of resources in attempting to drive innovation with metrics and incentives, you can actually make a weak culture become pathological and lethal, sometimes exacerbating fatigue factors like the Not Invented Here syndrome, theft of credit for innovation, and breaking the will to share. Adding incentives linked to metrics without the right culture and systems can be sort of like throwing raw meat into a school of sharks or piranhas. You can generate a lot of activity, a lot of exciting thrashing and splashing, but in the end there will just be a lot of blood in the water and fewer thinkers and producers in your school.

As always, innovation success requires that you carefully monitor for harmful unintended consequences from the policies, programs, and incentives you have in place. Innovation metrics, incentives of all kinds, and employee performance evaluation systems and other tools associated with metrics can backfire. Unless you are tuned to the voice of the innovator and understand the impact of unintended consequences, you can be like the company we treat in Chapter 8 of our book that felt like it was a rock star of innovation while they were actually squelching it. Don’t let the unintended consequences of well-intended policies and metrics crush your innovation success.

One of the lessons of Conquering Innovation Fatigue is that the choice of metrics business leaders use to track and drive innovation can contribute to innovation fatigue when the metrics drive bad decisions and poor behavior. A recent example of how metrics can actually achieve the opposite of the intended results comes from a Wisconsin grocery chain, where a friend employed there explained the unintended consequences of management’s good intentions. Management is now pushing for higher levels of IPM, items per minute, as a metric for the performance of cashiers. This is a measure of how many items per minute the cashier processes, and sounds like a valuable metric for productivity. Faster checkout means happier customers and shorter lines–of course we want IPM to be high.

However, as with all metrics, the details of how IPM is calculated come into play and may bring unintended consequences. For IPM, the clock doesn’t tick when a lane is closed or, more specifically, when the cashier’s terminal is in “secure” mode. Shut down the terminal to the “terminal secure” state and the clock stops, something that some cashiers use to their advantage while checking out a customer. A new manager at one store is pushing for IPM scores of at least 30 for all cashiers, but as one cashier explained, the only way that you can achieve that high of a score is to routinely go to “terminal secure.” If the cashier has to help with the bagging or do other tasks that reduce IPM, they can secure the terminal and then reactivate it before they continue scanning goods. That gives a higher IPM score, but the back and forth of securing and reactivating the terminals actually SLOWS DOWN the real work because it involves extra steps that eat up valuable time. By focusing on IPM as a proxy for productivity, productivity can actually decline.

A further consequence of securing a terminal is that the customer may need to swipe his or her credit card a second time. The card readers in each checkout lane allow customers to swipe their credit card during the scanning of goods, but when the cashier switches to terminal secure mode, the swiped credit card information is discarded and the customer will have the annoyance of having to swipe a second time. By focusing on IPM as a proxy for customer satisfaction, the annoyances to the customer and the time to check out actually increase.

Unintended consequences of metrics can easily follow similar patterns when it comes to innovation, intellectual assets, and new product development. Leaders need to step back and observe the impact of their metrics on those in the ranks and on the actual performance of the company. A carefully selected basket of metrics with frequent reality checks are needed to avoid hindering real productivity and innovation with your good intentions.

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InnovationFatigue.com is the official blog for the new book, Conquering Innovation Fatigue. Here we provide supplementary innovation, news, tips, updates, and, when needed, a correction or two, to keep those who are using the big on the inside edge for innovation success.