Tag Archives: innovation

Shark Tank Innovation

shark tankMedium to large sized organizations are always trying to find ways they can increase their innovation quotient.

Look no further than the Shark Tank TV show where entrepreneurs come to pitch their ideas and hopefully win investment.

The next time your organization is thinking about getting a department, a division, any portion of the firm together to share information etc…think about doing a “Shark Tank”.

  1. Break your people up into teams that each represent a nice segmentation of roles, depts, whatever you think will give them the tools, variety, and creativity they need.  The best size is probably 5-6 people per team
  2. Task each team with coming up with a creative effective idea for your dept, division, whatever.
  3. Give them a very limited time (maybe 3-4 hours) to discuss what their idea should be, work it out a bit, and come up with a pitch that includes cost vs. benefit.
  4. Build a team of sharks that includes both management and savvy/trusted non-management.  They will be the panel that reviews all the teams ideas
  5. Have the teams present (don’t allow management to present) for up to 10 minutes in front of everybody
  6. Allow for 5 mins of Q&A from the Sharks in-front of everybody.
  7. Do some online polling in waves after 4 or so have presented so that people remember which ones each of them are.
  8. Give the sharks the results of the polls, but let them pick the winner from among each wave.
  9. If the sharks want to negotiate with one of the teams to drop or add parts of the idea, they can.

After your get together is over, the winning team(s) should be given some additional time (maybe 20 hours) to continue enhancing and fleshing out their idea.  They should get an opportunity to pitch again in a more prepared fashion.  The shark tank panel should also be prepared this time around.  If you have enough teams in the second round, you may even want a third round.

Keep the full population of your original dept, division, full organization (whatever you started with) apprised of the progress.  Who did you pick and why?

A session like that will be fun for your team, will get their innovation juices flowing, will get each team of cross-functional employees to know each other well in order to build bridges across groups after the session, and will hopefully create a pipeline of possible projects for your org.

Keep a summary of each pitch along with the people involved and a link to any powerpoint or other images they presented.  You never know when a non-winning idea will spark a winning one outside of the Shark Tank “game”.

Post in the comments if you have done anything like this in your organization and whether it was successful.



The Singularity

It is human nature to estimate based on a linear progression. In other words, we look back over the last x amount of time, consider how much progress has occurred and then just calculate based on that factor to determine how long whatever we are estimating will take.

But that is not the way that many things in our society change. In fact, many changes are happening at an exponential rate. The classic is the speed of computing which was predicted and has doubled every two years or so (Moore’s Law). Another good example is the speed of sequencing human DNA. 1/2 way to the deadline, they were only 2-3% complete, but because everything sped up so much, it was finished on time.

Because of these exponential curves, we tend to underestimate in our prediction of progress that will take place. The key is that each new level of progress achieved enables new types of change to take place. We are using what we newly develop to develop other new things that were not before possible.

Ray Kurzweil’s singularity premise is that we will not be satisfied with the speed of evolution and so we will enhance ourselves and our helpers more and more. We are already doing it with contact lenses and prostheses. Why is it such a stretch that we would start enhancing our brains or building external “brains” at some point?

Once that starts to happen, we have a very key element in the innovation process that is no longer constrained and this opens up even more opportunity for the speed of change. At some point (Kurzweil predicts 2029), we reach a speed and complexity that the “human” part of us cannot really understand and the human life form, as we know it today, essentially disappears. That is the singularity.

While the singularity is certainly too far away for business to care much at this point, exponential curves are all around us. If you can overcome the linear bias and use a faster predicted change rate to get out in front of something changing in your industry, you may well do better than your competitors. What will changes in other spaces enable for your business. Can you start planning for that now?

Disagree? Agree? Have a values/moral/ethical opinion?

Lists and Waves

The fact that Twitter,  Twitter Lists and Google Wave exist warms my heart.  They are tools that generate their own innovation buzz eco-system and drive what this blog is all about: Future Business.  Foundational tools like these, along with open source projects, are the essence of the web2.0 innovation renaissance.  Think about how fast tools and processes can iterate today to match widescale and niche user needs compared to where we were 10 years ago.

At the moment it is the wild west for these innovation eco-systems.  Everyone thinks they have a good idea and they are running full-speed either with a little bit of money or completely bootstrapped.  Over time, we will start to settle on some valuable use cases and the real money will head in that direction.

As an innovator interested in new ways that business can operate, both tools’ potential fascinates me.  While Twitter lists is pretty much what I expected it would be, Wave did not live up to my initial expectations.  I’ll give both a fair shake over a period of time because, like Twitter itself, there is likely a path of use evolution.  The truly valuable use cases might not show themselves until 3rd party apps have been written that run on top.

For Twitter Lists I am starting to see

  • Lists that you are in can be a crowd-sourced social descriptor of what you tweet about
  • Curating a popular list gives you credibility as a networker in the space that list covers

For Wave I think we are going to need tools and agreed conventions which

  • Help us collectively “garden” (manage) waves.  Waves have structure and are objects intended to grow over time.  Because they become more complex over time, they need constant management in order that they are accessible to newcomers and previous visitors/contributors alike.
  • Help us find portions of waves that are relevant to our needs and re-use those elements in our own content spaces: other waves, blogs, etc…

Long live the companies that are thinking about how to start the next innovation eco-system.

Innovation Scout

How do you increase innovation for your organization?  

1.  Improve the innovation capabilities WITHIN your own organization.  
2.  Look outside your corporate boundaries for innovation that can be incorporated

For this post I am going to focus on #2.  Decades ago far less companies existed.  It was much easier to keep a handle on who in your space was working on what.  These days the “spaces” are so much more fungible that it is increasingly difficult to know even where to look let alone how to evaluate what you see and what to do about it.  The average executive is so “busy” that they do not have enough time to poke their head up and take a good look around.

A new position is starting to emerge inside of organizations.  A friend and colleague of mine, Luke Diorio mentioned on a recent DCinnovation call that he is seeing a lot more of these positions starting to crop up.

The scout must understand (not necessarily set) the strategy of the company he represents.  She must have a broad sense not only of your industry, but also related ones to know when innovations are relevant for incorporation into your firm.  Larger companies will, of course, have multiple scouts each that focus on different areas.

The scout can save tremendous amounts of product development time by suggesting partner products rather than custom builds.  The scout can help ideation by providing information about competitors in certain fields.  The scout can identify new revenue opportunities that might have been missed in a isolated internal strategy discussion.

Research organizations like the Corporate Executive Board, Forrester Research, and Gartner Research can provide cost effective ways of performing scout activities, but your organization likely has needs that require additional customized focus.

Do you have a scout?  Would one be worth it to your organization?

Innovation through Customer Insight

So many stories lately about how the downturn in the economy will impact innovation.   Many are saying that innovation will be the saviour that will lead us back to more prosperous times.  But, what TYPE of innovation will be more prevalent in this environment?

I was recently taking the InnovationLabs survey on the topic of Innovation in the downturn.  As I answered the questions, it became clearer and clearer to me what the innovation trend is going to be.

Companies are going to create closer relationships with their customers.  Nobody is willing to risk much.  They don’t want to develop a new product or even modify an existing one unless there is a clear revenue stream on the other end.  Tightening the bond with customers is a good thing and will not only increase GOOD innovation now, but it will set us up for even better and faster innovation as we turn the corner.

Michael Treacy and many others talk about sprinkling innovation money around lightly and then dropping what is not working and adding more funds to things that are.  “Working” should be defined as what customers want.  Companies should be polling their customer base and desirable prospects throughout the innovation process.   

What types of innovation do you believe will thrive right now?

Adjacent Innovations


If you are focused on innovation, then you should definitely be listening to the Phil McKinney, Killer Innovations podcast.  Not only does he have great ideas, but he puts so much structure around them that you are well on your way to implementation.

A few months ago Phil talked about Adjacent Innovation.  The general concept is that your business is currently operating in the bottom left quadrant of the picture above.  If you would like to grow into new products/markets, there are a number of ways that you can do that.

Phil recommends reaching in both adjacent directions from your core.  The bottom right is new products.  The top left is new markets.  New Markets can be new ways of going to your existing market or new customer segments.  Phil recommends strongly against reaching directly for the top right quadrant.

This does not mean that you cannot reach for both adjacent quadrants at the same time, you just can’t do them together.  That is a subtle difference so let me explain with an example.  A division that is responsible for new product development is working with Marketing to support the new products.  According to Phil’s guidance, Marketing should NOT use new methods or go to new markets to promote the new products.  Phil suggests that you can/should market the new products with the existing methods to the existing customers (bottom right) and at the same time start to market to new people and/or in new ways with your existing products (top left).

What this does for you is create an effort/experience that is not too foreign to your people or your market and therefore affords a much greater chance for success.  Down the line when you decide to stretch again, you will find that your core has been extended and you can reach further in the two adjacent directions effectively reaching the top right, but in two or more steps.

Future Businesses that want to be able to sell new products to new markets are going to find it close to impossible if they are not able to move effectively into both adjacent quadrants.  Keep this in mind when you are thinking about how your organization is innovating.

The Art of Intrapreneurship

Those of us who are trying to help ours or a consulted business get to “Future Business” can be called “Intrapreneurs”.

If you are one of these people, you should take some time for Guy Kawasaki’s excellent books about start-ups. Reality Check” is primarily about brand-new start-ups, but it has many important messages for those of us who attempt to innovate within companies.

You may not have to deal with hiring new resources or tracking down angel/VC financing, but you certainly do need to build a good team and you do need someone to dedicate budget to your idea. Buy’s lessons about how to direct your efforts are very helpful.

Below are my spin on some of Guy’s advice

  • Kill the cash cows – In his words, “Cash cows are wonderful – but you should milk them but not sustain them until, pun intended, the cows come home”. He suggests that if you do not innovate, two kids in a garage will do it for you.
  • Reboot your brain – Most practices inside a large company are designed in successive stages (eg. Check with everybody, get consensus, focus groups, design, re-design, test, test, launch in the same old way as always) and/or designed for evolutionary continuous improvement. These will not work for a brand new idea
  • Find a separate building – He suggests that the building be nearby but distinctly separate and distinctly low-budget to create an air of suffering. Swan Note: be careful here if integration with the parent is essential. You do not want to be seen as outsiders if you need any of the parent depts. for your success
  • Hire infected people – Passion is paramount. Obviously resources must be capable, but do not focus too heavily on background/skills to the detriment of passion.
  • Give hope to the hopeless – as you are able to achieve some level of success, those in the company who are frustrated by the bureaucracy will reach out to you. Maintain a relationship with those people. You need all the support you can get.
  • Put the company first – remember that you are not a 100% entrepreneur. You are part of a larger company. Keep your employer’s best interests front of mind at all times. You will face challenges because some will react violently to any conflict of interest with a cash cow.
  • Stay under the radar – once you have the initial buy-in and budget, resist the temptation to continue growing your executive sponsorship. It will create more flak than air-cover. If they come to you, then show them you are working on it and wherever possible make them believe it was their idea. Swan Note: if you are going to need effort from other depts., get the buy-in from that dept up front. Once you are in full swing, you may be perceived as a threat to the core and therefore get push back.
  • Collect and share data – be prepared with all of your cost and revenue projections so that when attacks come, you are prepared
  • Dismantle when done – help everyone who participated both re-integrate with the parent and hopefully improve it for their experience

There are so many other great ideas in this Guy’s book. If it’s not already in your library, I highly recommend it.  As Frans Johansson discusses in his book the Medici Effect, breakthrough ideas often come from alternate disciplines.  So, even if you are not an entrepreneur, you will likely gain some insights about how to better innovation in your job.

Best of luck with your own intrapreneurship. Please post your comments regarding best practices you experience.