Archive for NIH (not invented here)

In May 2010 I was invited to speak at a conference of WTA (the Wisconsin Telecommunications Association) about innovation lessons for the telecommunications industry from our recently published book, Conquering Innovation Fatigue (John Wiley & Sons, 2009). Here is a condensed version of the presentation. I’ll do another Pixetell soon with some additional content.

Can’t help mentioning this: I had a technical problem with the above Pixetell and sent an email to their tech support team. I had a response within minutes. In fact, I had a phone call – the kind that takes real people using real time – and the quickly helped me troubleshoot the problem and get this post working. Wow! Miracles still happen–or at least great customer service. Love Pixetell. Great way to turn PowerPoints or whatever you have on a computer plus your voice into a recorded presentation that you can share with a URL, embed into a blog, or save as a movie. Pixetell is a product of Ontier, Inc.

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.

Dec
14

DUI (Don’t Understand Innovation) Accidents on the Busy Streets of Innovation Fatigue

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Guy Kawasaki correctly notes that a lot of innovation success can be achieved in small baby steps. A few minutes a day of effort can lead you to innovation success if you know what you are doing. On the other hand, it’s important to note that would-be innovators face some very dangerous streets that must be crossed, and baby steps or even toddler steps can get you run over in a hurry. Weeks of progress can be erased when you are hit by a vehicle in a DUI accident (DUI = Don’t Understand Innovation). In other words, many hours of baby steps toward the next block on the journey to innovation success can be wiped out with a momentary exposure to an “innovation fatigue” event. Theft of an invention, corporate “Not Invented Here” syndrome, painful surprises with intellectual property or regulations, and many other factors can stand in the way of success.

Those who wish to achieve innovation success or support innovation in their corporation or sphere of influence need to understand the nine major innovation fatigue factors and their many variations. They need to understand the work-arounds and energizing factors that can give them a chance. Innovation is still risky and hard work, even when you know what you’re doing, but crossing streets without a map and without knowing the risks and what to look for can give you a painful DUI encounter that can erase all those baby steps you’ve been making for so long. Sometimes baby steps are no longer appropriate, and you need to take big leaps of have someone else carry you over an accident-prone crossing.

That’s what Conquering Innovation Fatigue is about. A guide to help get you safely across some of the biggest hazards in your way. Take a look at the Overview and some of the free excerpts, and let us know what you think.

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Nov
18

Innovation Fatigue in University-Industry Relationships

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One of the nine major innovation fatigue factors that we address in our book is the problem of effective university-industry relationships. I’ve been on both sides and understand some of the frustrations and barriers to innovation success in these relationships. This was a topic I addressed in a couple recent presentations, one in Singapore at the kind invitation of leaders in A*STAR who had me speak during their Innovation and Enterprise Week in October. The other presentation was given at the AIChE (Amer. Inst. of Chemical Engineers) Annual Meeting in Nashville, Nov. 2009. A subset of the material is presented in a twenty-minute overview, “Conquering Innovation Fatigue in University-Industry Relationships,” using the Pixetell screen recording service. The short URL is http://tinyurl.com/jlpres2.

Inventors in universities sometimes face disappointment in seeing their work get into the marketplace or implemented by industrial partners. Several innovation fatigue factors, discussed in detail in Conquering Innovation Fatigue, need to be understood to realize success in working with corporations. Corporate personnel also need to understand the pressures and expectations of universities when it comes to successful open innovation. Sticking points such as IP rights can be handled fairly if you know what you’re doing and pick your partners carefully. UC Berkely, for example, is a great example of a university finding ways to be a great partner for successful collaboration with industry.

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Aug
22

Getting Past the Closed Hand of Open Innovation: Another Video in the Magic and Innovation Series

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Entrepreneurs, start-ups, and inventors seeking to bring a new product or service to a corporation for licensing or acquisition face many barriers. Open innovation can be much more difficult than people think, partly because many companies that may talk about open innovation actually practice fairly closed innovation and shut out outside ideas. There are good reasons for this, as we discuss in the book, including the desire to prevent contamination and potential law suits if they are working on related topics. But there are ways to deal with this. This video discusses one option based on good relationships with leaders inside the corporation who can give the innovation a chance. The video features a magic trick, with a bonus clip at the end showing it again, up close.

From YouTube.com/magicinnovation (Jeff Lindsay’s Magic Innovation channel): “The Closed Hand of Open Innovation: Getting Outside Innovations Past Corporate Barriers.” Recorded in Appleton, Wisconsin. All rights reserved.

This is video #7 in my series of “magic innovation” video lectures.

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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.