Archive for November, 2009


The Long-Tail of Innovation: Customizing Health Care Based on Patient Genetics

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One of the hottest trends for modern innovation is customization of products and services to meet the unique needs of individuals. Classic examples of business model innovation based on customization include Dell computer, who developed a suite of patented supply chain advances to assist in rapidly delivering customized computers at low cost, or Netflix, whose supply chain and Internet-based services allow users to select from vast numbers of movies that could never be housed in a local brick and mortar store. Now IT-related businesses including eBay and hundreds of others are increasingly taking advantage of Internet tools, database systems, cookies and other ways of tracking customer preferences and patterns to provide customized offerings to appeal to the unique needs and wants of individuals.

The next frontier for innovation based on customization will be health care. Some think this is already happening now that health records can be electronic and advanced diagnostic tools and databases can be applied to meet patient needs, but in reality, much of health care is still based on old models of “one or two sizes fit all.” What is the right medication for a patient? In what dose? Body weight, age, and gender may be considered in writing a prescription, but there are many other factors that need to be considered, including genetics. Understanding the relationship between drugs and individual genetics represents an important frontier for innovation in medicine. Today I’d like to highlight one important example of successful research in this field.

Recently in Singapore, while speaking at an Innovation and Enterprise Week, I met keynote speaker Dr. Michael Hayden of the University of British Columbia’s Center for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics. (Not the same Michael Hayden who was a director of the CIA.) Dr. Hayden was recently named Canada’s Researcher of the Year. In his speech, Dr. Hayden spoke of his quest to understand the mysteries of disease and to reveal their genetic roots to thereby develop better approaches to treatment for patients. One exciting breakthrough that he mentioned, arising from collaboration with others at UBC and beyond, is the discovery that the terrible side effect of deafness that strikes many cancer patients on chemotherapy can be predicted with DNA testing. The popular and highly effective drug, cisplatin, is the problem. By understanding the relationship to genetics, high-risk patients can be identified and alternate medications can be prescribed. Finding genetic links to adverse drug reactions is a major step forward toward treatments that really match the unique nature of each patient.

A week after my encounter with Dr. Hayden in Singapore, I was in Mexico City’s large international airport, standing in a line, when I overheard the man behind me telling someone about his clinical work with cancer patients, and the discovery that genetics played a role in determining whether the patient would be at risk for deafness. My curiosity was aroused, so I couldn’t resist the temptation to interrupt and ask the man if he was from the University of British Columbia by any chance. Yes, in fact, he was. This was Dr. Bruce Carleton, a peer of Dr. Michael Hayden whom Dr. Hayden had mentioned in Singapore. What a small world it can be when I pay attention and reach out to others! We discussed his work briefly and I expressed my excitement at what they are doing. Today he kindly sent me a copy of his recent publication on the cisplatin work, published in the prestigious journal Nature Genetics. The publication is “Genetic variants in TPMT and COMT are associated with hearing loss in children receiving cisplatin chemotherapy” by J.D. Colin,  Hagit Katzov-Eckert, Marie-Pierre Dubé, Beth Brooks, S. Rod Rassekh, Amina Barhdadi, Yassamin Feroz-Zada, Henk Visscher, Andrew M. K. Brown, Michael J. Rieder, Paul C Rogers, Michael S Phillips, Bruce C Carleton, Michael R. Hayden & the CPNDS Consortium, Nov. 2009. Here is the abstract:

Cisplatin is a widely used and effective chemotherapeutic agent, although its use is restricted by the high incidence of irreversible ototoxicity associated with it1. In children, cisplatin ototoxicity is a serious and pervasive problem, affecting more than 60% of those receiving cisplatin2–5 and compromising language and cognitive development. Candidate gene studies have previously reported associations of cisplatin ototoxicity with genetic variants in the genes encoding glutathione S-transferases and megalin6–8. We report association analyses for 220 drug-metabolism genes in genetic susceptibility to cisplatin-induced hearing loss in children. We genotyped 1,949 SNPs in these candidate genes in an initial cohort of 54 children treated in pediatric oncology units, with replication in a second cohort of 112 children recruited through a national surveillance network for adverse drug reactions in Canada. We identified genetic variants in TPMT (rs12201199, P value = 0.00022, OR = 17.0, 95% CI 2.3–125.9) and COMT (rs9332377, P value = 0.00018, OR = 5.5, 95% CI 1.9–15.9) associated with cisplatin-induced hearing loss in children.

Watch for genotyping of patients coupled with extensive research on genetics and drug performance to become a pillar for health care innovation in the future. Customization of care at many other levels can be expected as well, as long as incentives for innovation in health care remain healthy.

Congratulations to Drs. Carleton and Hayden and their partners for outstanding work that will drive further innovation in how patients are treated.

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Death Panels for Innovation: How Are Your Corporate IP Review Boards Doing?

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Is Your Comapny on the Cutting Edge of Innovation?

Is Your Company on the Cutting Edge of Innovation? Your IP Review Board May Be.

Death panels have been a hot topic for speculation from some folks worried about health care reform, but in the world of innovation, genuine death panels have long been in place in corporations. Innovation death panels, disguised as intellectual property review committees or IP review boards, have been sending great inventions and great business concepts to an early death for decades. Further, the ways these panels operate can kill innovation at a broader level by discouraging inventors, keeping them out of the loop, and ensuring that whatever is left of their drive is unlikely to bear fruit.

Rationing has to be a reality when it comes to IP because only a small fraction of potentially valuable concepts justify the expense of filing a patent. But failure to pursue a patent need not be an innovation killing event. It can, in fact, be a valuable opportunity. When operated properly, the IP review board can provide a tremendous opportunity to educate, motivate, guide, and inspire corporate inventors, even when the current invention they have brought forward is not right for patenting.

One key is treating the inventors with respect and giving them a chance to be heard, as well as a chance to hear and learn from the review board. Many inventions are not properly understood before a decision is made, and inventors facing that can become cynical. Many inventors in corporations also don’t fully grasp how decisions are made and what the review board is looking for. Use the review process as a way to help the inventor understand the process and the criteria for decision making. ideally, you have a written strategy statement that provides guidelines and specifies where innovation is needed, helping the inventors know what to invent. You can also use the review board experience to recognize the contributions of inventors, treat them with respect, and help them feel motivated and connected, even if their first few tries don’t go anywhere.

The culture engendered by your IP review board or committee can be a matter of life or death for innovation in your company. Don’t let it become a death panel. Watch the process through the eyes of the inventors–listen to the voice of the innovator–and make sure you have a healthy and wholesome system that strengthens innovation, not  decapitates it.

In Conquering Innovation Fatigue, we discuss the importance of understanding innovation from the perspective of innovators, and make recommendations for managing and motivating prospective innovators in the corporation, including suggestions for running IP review boards and guidelines on building trust, aligning innovation efforts with corporate needs, and creating cultures of innovation. Sections on corporate innovation are written for both employees seeking to develop innovations and for leaders seeking to encourage it. You must understand and conquer or work around the many innovation fatigue factors that impede innovation in so many corporations.

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The Sturm und Drang of Innovation

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The journey of innovators is virtually never without great stress and trials. Some novice inventors think of something interesting and imagine that it’s just a matter of taking the idea to someone and collecting a fat check, but few can anticipate how difficult the journey can be and how many lessons must be learned. Even seasoned business leaders guiding teams of innovators rarely appreciate what happens at the personal level in their team–the threats to success from unexpected corporate antibodies, the pain of misplaced credit, the disappointment of unresponsive corporate systems, and the multitude of dynamics with other groups and individuals in and out of the corporation.

Sturm und Drang is a great term to describe the experience of innovators or prospective innovators, whether on their own or in corporations. That term means Storm and Stress in German, and refers to a nineteenth-century literary movement that treated the struggles of emotionally-charged individuals going against the grain of  society. That is so much like the journey of successful innovators. The fire in the innovator’s mind makes that individual stand out, or indeed, stand against the tides of society to offer something new and to influence others to adopt it and use it, even when most say it is hopeless and crazy. The journey of the innovator is so often a Sturm and Drang saga.

In Conquering Innovation Fatigue: Overcoming the Barriers to Personal and Corporate Success, we reveal some of the often hidden fatigue factors and some of the personal barriers to innovation success that can add to much of the Sturm and Drang that innovators face. The journey will never be easy, but some unneccesary stress can be reduced when you know what the barriers will be and how to face them.

Christmas is coming. May we suggest that this book could be a great gift for the innovator, business leader, inventor, or new product developer in your life? A simple way to preview the book is using this short URL:

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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

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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Conquering Innovation Fatigue for Those in Corporate R&D

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Recently I spoke to a group of engineers, scientists and managers about the challenges of innovation fatigue within corporate R&D. I condensed that presentation down to just 14 minutes and have made it available using, a nice system for recording a presentation.A short URL for the presentation is

Engineers and scientists are often puzzled by the decision-making processes in corporations, and sometimes get frustrated over the apparent blindness of others to see the potential of an invention or new product or process. Others, however, may see the opportunity through the “Lens of Risk” and find compelling reasons to be concerned. Understanding those other perspectives is one of the topics of this presentation.

Those managing R&D also need to understand the personal aspects of innovation and appreciate the tenuous “will to share” that keeps employees tied to the objectives of the corporation. When the will to share is broken, innovation can dry up quickly and silently, in spite of large budgets and enthusiastic efforts.

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Global Entrepreneurship Week Starts Today

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Global Entrepreneurship Week starts today. This event was started by the Kauffman Foundation, leading champions of entrepreneurship and education, and Make Your Mark, a British group reaching out to young people to inspire innovation. The goal of this global initiative to inspire young people to embrace innovation, imagination and creativity. They want millions to join a growing movement of entrepreneurial people, to generate new ideas and to seek better ways of doing things. Events are taking place around the world this week.

During my recent visits to Singapore and Mexico, I’ve been inspired by the culture of innovation that I’ve encountered. Singapore excels in advanced technology and a powerful approaches to advancing and funding R&D that will create leadership in targeted areas such as biotech and data mining. Mexico has an amazing university system with some wonderful centers for R&D, but what impressed me most is the culture of innovation at the personal level, where individuals are ready to go the extra mile to create success and find better ways of doing things. If this mindset can be fortified and amplified with governmental support and vision, Mexico could become a real leader in global innovation. Innovation can come from anywhere across the globe, but each nation has its own limitations and challenges in terms of regulations, taxation, educational support, infrastructure, capital, markets, and talent. Each nation should have a high-level commission exploring the challenges of innovation at the personal level (one of the key issues we explore in Conquering Innovation Fatigue) to ensure that the voice of the innovator is heard and unintended consequences of government policy are not choking innovation success.

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When traveling, I feel like I have a gift in meeting cool innovators on airplanes. Almost every time I fly, I meet someone whose story intrigues me. Recently I met a manager from Shurtape, the company that introduced the innovative Frog Tape® product. Frog Tape® is a masking tape for use with latex paint that prevents leakage of paint under the tape. This has been a persistent problem with masking tape of the years. While masking tape provides a barrier against paint, when wet paint hits the edge of the tape, it can often bleed into or under the tape because the tape is creped and has little valleys and ridges of texture. This can result in a less than clean line between the painted and unpainted regions, and extra clean up to remove places where bleeding under the tape occurred.

Frog Tape®

Frog Tape®

One proposed solution to this problem has been to use superabsorbent material in the tape that can swell when wetted with the moisture in latex paint. Swelling of the superabsorbent can help block off channels and reduce bleeding. The problem has been that mixing superabsorbent with masking tape can greatly increase the cost of the product. One of inventor, George Gruber, found a clever solution (see U.S. Patent No. 6,828,008). Instead of trying a complex and expensive formulation of the substrate or adhesive material combined with superabsorbent, he realized (if I infer or understand correctly) that all that was really needed was just a little superabsorbent powder on the edges of the tape. He found a simple mechanical way to grind the powder into the sides of a roll of tape, resulting in just the right amount of the swellable material in just the right place. Result: tremendous sealing performance right where it is needed at very low cost. Rather than incremental improvements in formulating a mixture across the entire tape, he “leap frogged” to a low-cost, simple, and patentable solution: apply superabsorbent to the edges only in an easy application method to regular tape. Bingo. Shurtape was smart enough to recognize the potential of the invention and acquire it in a great example of open innovation and technology licensing. I’ve read user comments about the product compared to competitive products, and think we’ve got a potential winner here.

Don’t be constrained by the assumptions you began with or those that hold your competitors in place. Look for the surprisingly elegant, low-cost solutions that can help you leap frog your way to innovation success.

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Innovation: Going South for Success

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As I write, I am in a beautiful Spanish-speaking nation for the launch of a major advance in the manufacturing technology of a large industry. Our inventive client has a demonstrated breakthrough for one particular industry that could revolutionize how a class of products are made, with significant efficiency, quality, and environmental gains. It’s tremendously exciting, and the enthusiasm of our large industrial partner in this country is energizing and deeply appreciated.

Here, outside the United States, the leaders of the company we are working with really get innovation. As far as I can tell, they see advances in their processes and products not as threats to personal fiefdoms, but as opportunities that they have an obligation to pursue if they are to be true to themselves and their business. They are all on board for innovation. We are relishing the culture of innovation we are finding here, from seasoned mechanics to young employees and all the way up to the top man at the facility and his corporate leaders. It is wonderful, and yet we are savoring this experience with a touch of sorrow at how rare these attitudes are among their United States peers in this industry.

In the United States, our experiences in attempting to bring this innovation to U.S. companies followed many of the “innovation fatigue factors” that we discuss in our book, Conquering Innovation Fatigue. We reached out to a significant number of companies that should be interested. Some are genuinely interested, and we expect to see some exciting progress soon. But the most rapid and enthusiastic progress has come from south of the border.

Some US companies surprised and disappointed us, displaying classic “innovation fatigue factors.” “Not invented here” syndrome or “open innovation fatigue” played a role for some. In some cases a few people got busy looking for reasons not to be believe (the “reasons to doubt”). Naturally, part of the problem may have been the way the message was communicated and inadequate depth of contacts in reaching out to the prospective beneficiaries of the technology. Of course, I think much more than that is involved.

Once we looked south, things got a lot better. There is an openness to innovation and a hunger for success transcending many of the internal innovation fatigue factors that large companies often face. I’m not sure how things will turn out, but I will always be impressed with what I’ve experienced in one wonderful part of an innovative land where we found a surprisingly open and enthusiastic culture of innovation and cooperation. I hope companies to the north will be able to fortify their own will to innovate in order to keep up!

This week, anyway, we’re going south for innovation. Wish us buena suerte!

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Our Mission 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.