Archive for February, 2010
Many creative corporate employees trying to innovate fail because they don’t fully grasp the social component of innovation. It is a social beast that must be fed and nurtured in many ways. It requires healthy relationships and many connections within your organization in order to help your peers and others recognize and act on the value you provide. For companies and individual inventors, developing the ties with the right people is again critical for innovation success, even at the earliest stages of your journey. The social component is often far more important that the technical components of innovation.
In this Pixetell video presentation, I briefly discusses the social side of innovation and give a plug for one of my favorite books, Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi, a resource that can help corporations and individuals better “feed innovation.” Keith’s book, coupled with the insights we provide in Conquering Innovation Fatigue, can help you build the right relationships you need for innovation success.
I recently shared a presentation about the economic innovation in Brasilia, where bold actions to reduce the size of government and strengthen the climate for private sector growth have resulted in record unemployment and social progress. I have some additional information I’d like to share on some of the foundational work that has been done since 2006 to create the ecosystem for economic and innovation success in the future.
If you are interested in taking advantage of the economic opportunities in Brasilia or in better understanding the future of innovation there, let me know. And if you have perspectives that we might be able to share in our next book on some international aspects of conquering innovation fatigue, please contact me. Contact information us at the the end of the Pixetell video, or email me at jlindsay at innovationedge dot com.
At Innovationedge, we enjoy spotting incipient innovation success, and work to coach our clients on how to turn their products and services into more successful innovations. We have seen that many innovation failures begin with clever people looking for problems to solve with their cool technology. Some of the best innovation successes begin, on the other hand, by understanding what jobs users really need or want to do, and then providing solutions that make life better. The essence of disruptive innovation success often comes when these solutions are more convenient, less expensive, and more accessible than existing solutions in the marketplace, as Clayton Christensen has documented. Based on what I can see as a new user, I believe that the Pixetell screen recording and information sharing system is an example of an early stage disruptive innovation in progress.
For quite some time I’ve struggled to find a convenient way to make videos of PowerPoint presentations. I tried a popular commercial screen recording system and found it to be expensive, difficult to use, and so resource intensive that I gave up and removed it from my computer. I tried some other lower cost screen recording systems but found the limitations in features and the quality of the service to be inadequate. Then I ran into Pixetell, and have been surprised in several ways at what it does. I’ve also been surprised at the level of support provided by the start-up company. They’ve won me over and gained enough interest that I reached out to them and asked about their story. How did their founded, Sebastian Rapport, get started with this? Here’s what I found out, courtesy of Dan Cook, Manager of Content at Ontiier, the company providing Pixetell.
Pixetell traces its roots to 2007. It really grew out of necessity. There were a couple of catalysts. Sebastian’s wife, Gabrielle, was working with a team of web designers and struggling to communicate design changes to them in text and email. She would not get back what she was looking for. So Sebastian set to work on the problem. He showed her how to capture her screen, draw some circles and arrows on it, and share the result with the designers. That was fairly effective for her. Sebastian continued to enhance that initial product.
Additionally, at about the same time, he was working with a group of off-shore folks and they were supposed to be on Sebastian’s clock. The reality was, he was oftentimes up from 9 p.m. till 2 a.m. to talk through designs, architectures and so on. He realized that what was needed was a more effective way to communicate visually rich information that was disconnected from time (asynchronous is the word we use). This solution, combined with the work he was doing on behalf of his wife’s business, came together as a single rich communications product. Once again, necessity proved to be the mother of invention.
As Sebastian pursued what would eventually become Pixetell, he began to gather more input from people who saw new and different applications for such a product. A small team of software engineers gathered in Portland to move the project forward. In March 2009, the concept received rave reviews at Demo ’09, a conference where entrepreneurs can demonstrate “how their product will change the world,” according to Demo’s web site. With that additional impetus, Sebastian and his team have raced ahead to put Pixetell into the highly competitive position it now enjoys in the market for visual communications software.
Sebastian’s closeness to the needs of real users helped him identify a huge unmet need and offer a convenient solution.
Part of what makes it so convenient is the speed at which you can set up a recording, make it, and share it. It can include what you do on your screen as well as what your webcam sees. A compact recording is quickly uploaded to a server and is then ready to be shared with others by simply sending them a hyperlink. Compare this to my experience in using movie-editing software to record a simple presentation. Saving a 20-minute presentation in a movie format can take over 20 minutes, and then you have a massive file that needs to be converted to YouTube or uploaded to a server. Pixetell takes away that pain. In moments, I can answer an email with a recording showing someone how to do something such as a patent search and send it right to them. Or I can record a PowerPoint presentation with very little time from the end of the presentation to the time that it is up for others to see. Part of the convenience and flexibility of Pixetell is that the recording can be shared via email or embedded directly on a webpage or blog, as I’ve done here. it can also be saved as a flash video file directly on your computer, so you are not dependent on Pixetell always being in business.
Piexetell files can also be edited. You can split the recording into multiple clips, delete unwanted ones and record new ones in between. That’s a lot of power. It’s a tool that stays active and ready to use whenever you want to make a recording – no lengthy waits for bulky software packages to load. Swift, easy, and convenient. I’m predicting this will be a winner that force some big companies to flee upstream by focusing on advanced features while Pixetell gets a foothold. They have some patent applications filed which may be important in the future. Time will tell if they can adequately protect their intellectual property, which often becomes one of the key factors for success later on.
What innovations do I see coming next for Pixetell? There are already some pretty advanced features, including the ability to attach files to Pixetells and have multiperson conversations. While there is a risk that a start-up will fall into the temptation of adding too many features at the expense of focusing on marketing and delivering the simple, convenient core that gives it disruptive potential, there are also opportunities for some simple audio enhancement such as filters to make recordings sound better or take out some noise, or adding the ability to capture system sounds rather than relying on microphones alone. But I think the most exciting future innovations with Pixetell might come from collaboration with other partners and industries. What could Pixetell do to help health care workers, customer service providers, retailers and Ebay merchants, or primary and secondary educators? What will Amazon reviews look like when reviews start adding Pixetells to their work? What synergies could be found with Skype, Ebay, Flickr, Hollrr, Google Earth, and the hottest social networking tools? How will Pixetell interact with smart phones? So many possibilities–some of which would be distractions at this point for Pixetell, but rich opportunities for the right minds with the right business models.
This will be an interesting experiment to watch.
(Note: I have no financial interest in Pixetell and offer these comments purely out of interest and enthusiasm for the product.)
Below is a Pixetell recording to share some new information about the economic revolution in Brasília, Brazil, wherein a government in tune with the “voice of the innovator” has worked to get out of the way of business success and to do provide the infrastructure and educational opportunities needed for long-term success. Amazingly, the local government there has had the courage to do more than talk about being efficient and cost-effective, but has actually gone through the painful process of “debureaucratization,” reducing bureaucratic jobs by 20% and the number of government agencies at the state level by 59%. The results of this experiment over the past four years have been dramatic and are paving the way for further innovation and increased quality of life.
Special thanks to Adriano Amaral, Secretary of State for the State Department of Economic Development in Brasília for meeting with me and sharing his insights and experiences. Like many of the leaders in Brasília, Adriano is not a career politician, but an experienced business leader who has led successful startups, stepped in to bring struggling businesses to life, advised large and small companies, and taught some of the best MBA students in the world. The success of the Federal District of Brasília demands further attention, and will be covered in our next book. We continue to look for further experts to interview as we explore the many stories and lessons from this region and from Brazil in general. Let us know if you have experiences and expertise to share! Email me at jlindsay at innovationedge.com, or use the contact page on this blog.
The Pixetell below is set to 640 x 480 pixels). To see the full-sized presentation in higher resolution, click on the full-screen icon in the lower right-hand corner, or to view this in a new window, use this Pixetell link. Pixetell, by the way, is an incredibly easy and extremely innovative tool for sharing information from your computer.
As an inventor and US patent agent, one of my painful experiences in the pursuit of patents at past employers and on my own has been unexpected encounters with prior art. Even after serious and careful searching, one may later find that someone else pursued a very similar idea many years ago. Like the Good Book says, there is no truly novel thing under the sun, though there may be many nonobvious improvements thereof.
A great example of this is the iPod, an invention and innovation that may have been anticipated to some degree in 1979. “Suspiciously Prescient Man Files Patent for iPod-Like Device in 1979” is Dan Nosowitz’s recent post at Gizmodo pointing out how an old, expired patent hinted at several aspects of the iPod. Of course, music players and MP3s were already around when the iPod came out, but the 1979 data is rather surprising. That patent may have had some great concepts, but like many inventive concepts, it may have been too early to be practical and successful. Timing is so important for success in innovation: is the market ready, is the supply chain available, is there an ecosystem that can be tapped, can the concept stick and resonate with other innovations, and can it be offered economically?
Consideration of the market roadmap for a prospective innovation can be critical for success. Many times success requires adjusting the business model to find the resonances that can add energy to the offering and to find ways to present the innovation in a disruptive manner rather than going head-on against established incumbents. Innovation is often more about the business model and marketing plan than it is about the technology itself. The iTunes model was part of what made the iPod a winner. 1979 was the wrong digital era for that invention. (A hat tip to RobMcNealy on Twitter for a mention of the Gizmodo article.)
Another example of an invention ahead of its time was the photophone of Alexander Graham Bell. About.com’s article on Mr. Bell explains:
Among one of his first innovations after the telephone was the “photophone,” a device that enabled sound to be transmitted on a beam of light. Bell and his assistant, Charles Sumner Tainter, developed the photophone using a sensitive selenium crystal and a mirror that would vibrate in response to a sound. In 1881, they successfully sent a photophone message over 200 yards from one building to another. Bell regarded the photophone as “the greatest invention I have ever made; greater than the telephone.” Alexander Graham Bell’s invention reveals the principle upon which today’s laser and fiber optic communication systems are founded, though it would take the development of several modern technologies to realize it fully.
One of the challenges with visionary inventions is obtaining suitable intellectualy property. Patents expire in 20 years from the filiing date, which may not be enough to do any good when a visionary concept finally becomes economically viable. The IP estate must be developed with a broad time frame in mind and should include elements that last longer than patents such as trademarks, as well as a series of patent applications over time that reflect ongoing innovation and competitive awareness. Strategy and vision in the IP can be almost as important as the vision of the invention itself.
Here is a condensed version of a recent presentation I gave on getting more from university-industry relationships, a vital source of innovation. I review some of the innovation fatigue factors that can hinder effective collaboration with universities, cite the impressive example of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, and give some tips for better university-industry collaboration.
In Conquering Innovation Fatigue, we emphasize that many innovators are motivated by the desire to make a difference in the world rather than merely obtain personal profit. We also discuss the concept of innovation competitions as a great way to fuel innovation success and access new talent. We also emphasize the importance of collaboration across disciplines and organizational boundaries as the future of innovation success. All these concepts are nicely illustrated by an organization seeking to cure ALS, Lou Gherig’s disease. Prize4Life, Inc. (Prize4Life.org) makes an interesting case study of what can be achieved in the realm of altruistic innovation using collaborative models and innovation competitions.
Meghan Kallman, Marketing & Communications Manager of Prize4Life, Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts, kindly shared some information with me about their inspiring innovation efforts. Here is the information she provided:
I would like to share with you the case of Avichai Kremer, co-founder and CEO of Prize4Life, Inc. Then a student at Harvard Business School, Kremer discovered in 2004 that he had ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease).
A computer-science engineer and ex-captain in the Israeli army, he had planned to graduate, work as a manager in a hi-tech company, and raise a family. Those plans changed drastically when he was told he would have 2-5 years to live, and that the medical establishment could do nothing for him. Kremer’s business perspective sparked his interest in the economics of ALS therapies, and inspired him to use his Harvard training to work for a cure.
Little is known about what causes ALS and only a few companies develop ALS drugs, so Kremer and two of his Harvard colleagues queried scientists and industry executives about the gaps that have prevented researchers from finding a cure. Companies said that they needed some basic research tools to reduce the cost of the development, like a biomarker – a better way to track disease progression. So Kremer and his classmates began Prize4Life, Inc., a non-profit organization employing business theories to stimulate research, which announced in 2006 that they would give $1 million to anyone who could come up with such a biomarker. The ALS Biomarker Prize program recently awarded $100,000 in progress prizes, and the organization’s second prize, the Avi Kremer ALS Treatment Prize, hits its one-year anniversary in October 2009.
While prizes are the visible core of our results-oriented model, we are also conscious of the need to create a vibrant and supportive arena in which our participating teams can effectively compete. Prize4Life has thus created a series of innovative projects and partnerships, piggybacking on its groundbreaking prize model, to ensure that all competing teams equal opportunity to be successful.
As one example of such partnership: in June 2009, Prize4Life and the Alzheimer Research Forum announced the launch of a new ALS-focused internet portal known as the ALS Forum (http://www.researchALS.org). Initial reaction to the new web portal has been swift and positive. The site offers ALS researchers around the world a one-stop access point for cutting edge research news and unique web-based resources. We also have designed and developed a manual to help researchers design their animal trials, and are currently designing and developing a database of genes associated with ALS that we intend to make available to researchers.
Prize4Life was founded by a group of Harvard Business School students when one of them, Avi Kremer, was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 29. Prize4Life works to accelerate the discovery of a treatment and a cure for ALS by using powerful incentives to attract new people and ideas, and to leverage existing efforts and expertise in the ALS field. Among other program initiatives, the organization currently administers the ALS Biomarker Prize Challenge, the Avi Kremer ALS Treatment Prize, and the ALS Forum.
THE NEXT ALS BREAKTHROUGH COULD BE YOURS
Meghan also shared with me an example of a successful outreach effort using the competition model. “We actually awarded $50,000 to a dermatologist who had never studied ALS before, and who was intrigued by the prize model, and who submitted a winning entry, which is a testament to the potential of the prize model itself.” For the complete press release with much additional information, see the press release, “Prize4Life Awards Prizes for ALS Biomarker Challenge to InnoCentive Solvers: Extends $1Million Challenge Seeking ALS Biomarker” (PDF).
Further examples of great collaboration can be seen in their press release, “Prize4Life and The Jackson Laboratory partner in fight against ALS
Non-profits join forces to provide researchers with new preclinical resources” (PDF). This describes a partnership with The Jackson Laboratory (JAX®), the world’s leading provider of mouse models, to provide preclinical resources for ALS research. Together, Prize4Life and JAX® have prepared a comprehensive training manual to enable researchers to more effectively use the SOD1 mouse model in the fight against ALS.
Their website is http://www.prize4life.org.
Want to Help?
If you would like to help, Meghan told me that there are many opportunities. “We always need donations and fundraisers (this is the link), but we also have folks who host events for us, who blog on our behalf (on their blogs or on ours), who reach out to scientists who may want to compete for our prizes, to follow us on Facebook and Twitter, to link to us on their sites, the list goes on! We have an exciting event coming up here in Boston, for those who are local–Boston’s pro lacrosse team will be featuring us at ‘Heroes Awareness Night’ at the Boston TD Garden on February 6, and donating a percentage of the proceeds to our efforts. If anyone is on the east coast and wants to attend, they should click here:http://bit.ly/512shV. Anyone interested can contact me directly, mkallman at prize4life dot org.
A great example of collaborative innovation in action, with bonus points for using innovation competitions and having altruistic goals. ALS is a terrible disease and needs more attention in the quest for cure.
The latest Journal of Product Innovation Management (JPIM), an excellent journal from PDMA for those interested in innovation and new product development, has an article that describes an approach to disruptive innovation that we developed at Kimberly-Clark Corporation when I was there as Corporate Patent Strategist. “Disruptive Innovation and the Need for Disruptive Intellectual Asset Strategy” by Jeff Lindsay and Mike Hopkins (JPIM, Vol. 27, No. 2, March 2010, pp. 283-290), addresses one of the large gaps in the literature around disruptive innovation, namely, what role intellectual assets should play. Search through the popular books and articles by leading authorities in disruptive innovation and you will find scant reference, if any, to intellectual assets, yet they may be key to overcoming the dilemma faced by corporations. A small, aggressive team in a corporation can employ a variety of low-cost intellectual asset (IA) tools to mitigate potential competitive threats from disruptive innovation, while also subtly laying a foundation for future offensive disruptive innovation from the company. By the time the corporation as a whole recognizes the value of an emerging disruptive innovation, it need bot be too late, as is often case, for the initially defensive actions that were taken at an early stage can now provide a serendipitous foundation for taking the offense. It’s not easy, but the odds of success or survival can be significantly increased.
Here is our abstract:
Disruption has become a popular business term, yet it is often used so loosely as to convey almost nothing of substance. Here a largely neglected factor is addressed: the role of intellectual assets in securing opportunities for or averting threats from disruptive innovations. While the literature explains why the decision-making systems in large established companies cause difficulty in responding effectively to disruptive innovation the generation of intellectual assets (e.g., patents, publications, trademarks) typically is not subject to the same cultural and structural barriers. Though it may be difficult to convince a business to invest millions in pursuit of a speculative disruptive innovation, it is much easier for a small team to gain support in pursuing low-cost intellectual assets in the name of mitigating potential threats. A two-pronged approach is proposed that builds on the authors’ experience at Kimberly-Clark Corporation in dealing with disruptive threats and opportunities. The approach calls for generation of intellectual assets, often using small proactive teams, to (1) protect an existing business by reducing competitive risks from disruptive innovation, including the risk of new products with disruptive potential and the risk of associated competitive patents that might limit one’s response; and (2) prepare for future new and disruptive business opportunities that could be protected or strengthened by the intellectual assets generated. Kimberly-Clark’s growing experience with this approach suggests that it may be a valuable component of one’s strategy for innovation and protection of the business.
Want to become a better innovator every time you step onto a plane? I’ll tell you how in just a moment. First, let me mention an important new study on innovation. In a six-year research effort from INSEAD professor Hal Gregersen, Jeffrey Dyer of Brigham Young University and Clayton Christensen of Harvard, 3,500 executives were examined to determine what traits separate successful innovators from the rest. The results are published in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review. As summarized in the article “The Innovator’s DNA” at INSEAD.edu, the key attributes are:
This is about connecting the dots, finding unexpected applications of skills and approaches from other fields. Steve Jobs’ interest in calligraphy, for example, contributed to the graphical interface of Macs.
Looking at problems and opportunities with keen observational skills often leads to new solutions, new connections, and rich innovation.
Success in innovation rarely comes on the first try. Many iterations are needed. The winners learn from early efforts and keep adjusting and experimentiing to find success.
The ability to question the way things are, to challenge our assumptions and to keep pressing for insight through questioning is behind many examples of innovation success.
We should all know how important networking is for success, but in the realm of innovation, the team of researchers found an interesting twist, according to the INSEAD article:
Typically, when we think of networking, we think of this in terms of jobs, a career or maybe social life. But when it comes to creativity, it takes on a different meaning. “Innovators are intentional about finding diverse people who are just the opposites of who they are, that they talk to, to get ideas that seriously challenge their own,” Gregersen says. Creative and innovative entrepreneurs look for people who are “completely different in terms of perspective” and regularly discuss ideas and options with them “to get divergent viewpoints.” There could be differences in gender, industry, age, country of origin, or even politics. “If I’m on the right, they’re on the left, that kind of notion. And those sorts of diverse inputs in terms of conversations enabled them to get new ideas,” he says.
Many networking efforts focus on people who are like you. They might share the same views, go to the same clubs and church, or have the same profession. That’s great, but we need to tap into new circles and new ways of thinking by deliberately reaching outside our comfort zones. This is one reason I really enjoy traveling on planes. There is a random person seated next to me on almost every flight, often with an exciting career or interesting perspectives that can stretch my knowledge–and my network. I frequently come away with a business card and a new linkage. I strive to follow up and make that connection stick. Through these efforts at “flight networking,” I have met some amazing and interesting people that have influenced several aspects of my life. Musicians, public safety officers, preachers, international non-profit leaders, biotech leaders, and others are part of my highly memorable flight networking experiences. Listen, learn, share, connect, and make those random encounters on airplanes and elsewhere contribute to who you are, what you know, and how you can change the world.
To really understand the power of networking for innovation and business success, I recommend Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time by Keith Ferrazzi.