Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Why Employee Engagement is the New Focus of Innovation

By Anthony Ferrier
Chief Executive Officer

I have worked full time within the innovation space for a number of years. Long enough to know that as an established corporate competency, innovation has really only been around for the past eight years or so. Sure, there is always someone who will tell me that they were leading innovation efforts twenty-five years ago, but generally, as an actual driver of change within corporations, innovation is still a new and maturing endeavor.

And my, hasn’t innovation changed.  When innovation first came to be of interest to corporate leaders, the focus was on so called “front end” efforts, which generally translated to idea generation or ideation.  At the time, leaders thought that there were not enough good ideas within their business, which provided an explanation for why their organizations were not more innovative.

But anyone starting within the innovation space realizes pretty quickly that there is no shortage of great ideas out there. So the focus of thinking quickly shifted towards the “back end” of innovation, or how to implement those ideas. I can’t tell you how many presentations, working sessions and panel discussions I participated in that droned on and on about Stage Gate approaches, resource allocation processes and innovation SWOT teams to develop ideas. Well you know what? All that talk rarely achieved the ongoing driver of change that was promised.

So where are we at now? What is the current, latest thinking about developing new, value driven ideas, in an effective and consistent manner? In the past twelve months, the conversations at conferences and amongst senior innovation leaders have shifted dramatically. Previously, there were only minor conversations around broad employee engagement and cultural changes for large organizations. After all, the people working in the innovation space often had limited direct resources and were unable to even begin thinking about influencing far larger organizations. Their approaches often revolved around controlling efforts, limiting the chance of failure, managing stakeholders and addressing broader risk concerns.

But now, many innovators have had to revisit that approach. Leaders across a range of diverse but large and well-known organizations have realized that you need to consistently (that is an important clarifying point here) engage a broad range of employees to effectively develop and support new ideas. Using this approach is really the only way to generate scale and sustained impact for the development of ideas.

These leaders have realized that they don’t need to own the idea development process. Sure, they can set up and articulate an approach for developing ideas, but ownership is more fully spread across the organization. Employees are given the skills, ability and resources to develop ideas themselves. They are empowered to take action and drive results that will directly impact the organization.

I am not talking about empowering every single employee to foster innovation, by the way. If you are a Google, Amazon, or Facebook that makes perfect sense. Most organizations however, choose to focus on and encourage those employees that either see the development of innovative ideas as a way to improve their career, or those employees in influential or pivotal positions.

There are different models or approaches to employee engagement, including supporting intrapreneurs (I have written about this in the past here), or developing innovation employee networks (written about here). These can be titles such as [Insert company name] Innovation Catalysts / Champions / Ambassadors/ etc.. Whatever the name, the approach is to highly engage, empower and deploy a select group of employees to drive innovation within the organization.

Whether you use a network, or just a broader employee engagement approach, I am not talking about a “free for all.” Any efforts for employee engagement and empowerment should include points of control and tracking of idea development. These efforts should encourage employees with a sense of ownership for ideas and a sense of responsibility to their own career development to identify, select and build new ideas. When this occurs, innovation is not something owned by someone else within the business. It is not something they assume will be handled by a team in a distant corporate tower. That is the worst possible message that innovation leaders can drive into the organization, and guess what, they have been doing it for years. How many times have you seen innovation challenges that ask a question from a large audience, select a winner, thank everyone for their time and efforts, and then take that idea away to slowly wither away on the product or process development vine. This happens all the time.

Going down the path of engaging a broad range of employees is not a quick and easy solution. This in fact should be considered as a long-term, multi-year approach to building a more innovative organization. Accordingly, it is important to start relatively small, and build experience and success over time. Efforts need to be guided by both strategic and tactical plans that support program development and also help engage stakeholders over time.

This relatively new employee engagement approach to innovation development is the industry’s best bet to drive the long-term success for their organizations and the employees that work within them. Take a look at some more of my writings at to learn more about my thinking and approach.

About the Author
Anthony is the CEO of Culturevate empowering corporate employees to execute ideas and inspire innovative cultures. The organization offers innovation training (developed in association with Professor Chris Labash (Carnegie Mellon University); a SAAS-based portal of innovation materials, tools and templates; along with consulting focused on building employee engagement around innovation. Anthony is a widely read author, speaker and advisor to industry leaders at organizations such as Pfizer, U.S. Postal Service, The Department of Veterans Affairs, Johnson & Johnson, ADP and Fidelity Investments. 

Innovate, Compete, Maintain the Lead

By Jan Baum

Executive Director
3D Innovation Institute

3D printing and additive manufacturing (3DP/AM) have been included in the top ten lists of disruptive and transformative technologies for at least the last five years. These technologies are allowing us to innovate faster, shrink product development cycles and costs, optimize products prior to commercialization, and most importantly, make it possible for the collective ‘us’ to find new solutions to tomorrow’s problems. But we have to be engaged. The industry has a compound annual growth rate of 26.4% and has averaged a 34% annual growth rate over the last several years. 3DP/AM technologies are both transformative and revolutionary and will lead to seismic changes. This evolving technology has applications across industries and sectors.

Here’s where we are today and here’s what you need to know:

It Is No Longer Trains and Stations But Do Find a Platform
Our world today is a networked, global, digital superhighway where virtually everyone has access and everyone can become a node:
  • Digital blueprints can be generated anywhere and printed or manufactured anywhere leading to more talent in the pool, distributed manufacturing, and crowdsourced solutions.
  • Proof of concept, visualization, and rapid prototyping will always be mainstay applications of 3DP/AM technologies and we will see a steady uptick in the adoption of these technologies through these gateway applications.
Increasingly, we see examples of 3DP/AM saving, evolving, and growing traditional manufacturing operations. A great case study is the Danko Arlington Foundry in Baltimore, Maryland. One of a handful of traditional foundries left in the U.S., in 2010 President John Danko was challenged to find qualified pattern makers. His solution: a Fortus 900mc 3D printer, the largest reliable printer on the market, which now generates foundry patterns and other parts as well as supporting the local manufacturing ecosystem in the mid-Atlantic region. Danko Arlington is beating the competition, winning bids, and creating jobs. A recipe for success.

Even more interesting are the increasing examples of scaled applications. Here are two: Ninety five percent of in-the-ear hearing aids are made with 3DP/AM. If you are in the hearing aid industry and are not using these technologies, you won’t be in business long. The poster child for impacting manufacturing is GE’s titanium fuel nozzle for the new LEAP engine. With 3DP/AM, the fuel nozzle is reduced from 18 parts to 1 part resulting in a part that is 5 times stronger and 25 times lighter. [Light weighting is a central benefit of 3DP/AM. In the aerospace industry parts have been light-weighted upwards of 80% on some parts.] Do the math: a significantly faster production time times the multiple benefits of a superior product divided by the cost to produce. Disrupt Yourself.

We are at the tip of the iceberg. The technology is accessible. The software is accessible. Funding is accessible. Human imagination is limitless. The technology is evolving all the time at every place on the spectrum. Bio-printing, for example, printing human cells and organs, is almost mind-boggling yet it is happening at flagship institutions like Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, The Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Maryland as well as so-called hackerspaces that curious innovative types gin up, and entrepreneurs are creating desktop bio-printers out of entrepreneurship programs and in entrepreneurial work spaces. Distributed and disruptive innovation.

Every time a 3D printer is installed, high skill, middle skill, and low skill jobs are created. Show me a region that doesn’t need 21st century jobs. This is a worldwide trend and the U.S. is not  owning it.

Required: A Different Way of Thinking
Do you believe? Too many 3DP/AM technologies seem like science fiction. We have manufactured our world for so long using traditional subtractive methodologies. And we are really good at it. You would have to be living under a rock--my fear--to not realize that our world is increasingly digital and our physical world is being digitized, even, and especially, our tried-and-true, bedrock, grounded-in-the-physical-world industries. As leaders, we must continually challenge ourselves to continually rewire our brains for the digital era in order to remain competitive. One tool--a 3D printer--can reduce the number of constituent parts a product requires from 18 to 1, eliminate that supply chain and labor, create a superior product, and that one tool can do this for an unlimited number of products. In the automotive industry, product development cycles have been shrunk from years to months-resulting in faster innovation. 3DP/AM requires a different mindset. Can you afford to not evolve?

3DP/AM has applications across industries and across sectors and is not the provenance of one discipline or a select group. Making and manufacturing defines us as human beings, so it is no surprise that there is worldwide engagement with these technologies to solve today’s problems. The technology is accessible: from large scale service bureaus with hundreds of 3D printers cranking out parts for industry to online platforms that project managers turn to while waiting for the C-suite green light. Educational institutions that are keeping up with technology have siloed labs. Educational institutions that are setting the pace have accessible networked labs where 30-50 desktop printers meet the demands of the student body regardless of where they are located. And those not in an educational institution as described can increasingly turn to their local library or online platforms.

Smart and Getting Smarter
There are a lot of great software products, materials, and technologies available today. We can print with over two hundred materials. And more of everything is being developed every day. Access is a key component in developing the rapid technology industry. Collaborative evolution and industry collisions present the best path forward: software that maximizes and pushes current technologies, new materials that push software and technologies, discipline-specific methodology applied across disciplines, etc. 3DP/AM is lights out manufacturing and with increasing connectivity, we are alerted if a machine fails.. saving us even more time.

Blazing Pathways
This is happening everywhere. Localized nodes.  With human capital as one of our most precious resources. Now ask yourself this: Is your company, industry, or region breeding competitive innovative people?


Jan Baum is the Executive Director of the 3D Innovation Institute, Principal at J. Baum + Associates LLC, and a full professor. A leader in the 3D printing and additive manufacturing industry, she is currently leading the charge in building a 21st century 3DP/AM industry in the Mid-Atlantic region.  Her focus is on facilitating a connected and collaborative rapid technology ecosystem across sectors. She has instituted industry best practices for Maryland, and has established multiple innovation + prototyping labs educating future workforce leaders and helping businesses compete using 3DP/AM technologies.

Commoditizing Robots

Questions and Answers with:

Adam Ellison
Founder & Chief Executive Officer

By Patricia Stamas-Jacoby

In addition to being named a 2016 Innovator and featured panelist at the Innovators’ Spotlight, New Product Innovation & Development 2016: A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange, Adam Ellison is also the Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer of Modbot, a rapid robot development platform. Ellison recently reflected on some key questions about robotics, manufacturing, business and innovation.

It’s not every business that boasts the tagline'We believe everyone should be able to build their own robot.' What was your inspiration for founding Modbot?

Like many inventions, Modbot was initially born from the frustrations that Daniel Pizzata, my co-founder, and I experienced in our previous work. At the time, we were working on separate robotic projects: Daniel was developing autonomous vehicles for the Australian Defense force, and I was designing a giant beer carton dispensing robot for liquor stores. We were frustrated by the fact that the servo motors and components available on the market were complex and either prohibitively expensive, or cheap and poorly made.

Together, we brainstormed what the ideal robotic solution to this problem would look like, and settled on a modular concept. This idea would make building new robotic concepts as fast and simple as assembling a Lego figure or Ikea furniture. Instead of solving the same robotics problems over and over again, we want future robot builders to be focused on the application itself rather than trying to make ill-suited components work together.


What makes your robot business innovative?

The robotics industry was built on a set of incentives that do not favor the end user. Currently, installing a robot in an industrial setting requires the use of a 3rd party integration service, who will typically suggest equipment and ultimately design the robot cell. Unfortunately, these services are often compensated on a "cost-plus" basis, meaning there are subtle incentives to increase the complexity and cost of the system. Additionally, there is also an incentive to use specialized equipment that only these organizations know how to service etc., in order to increase their long term lock-in.

As a side effect of this process, robotics companies have no strong reason to improve the usability and maintainability of their products over time. This is part of the reason why many industrial interfaces look like they were designed in 1993 (and they probably were). The end result is that the customer often ends up with an expensive and complex robot system that is over-sized and under-utilized.

We have built a robot development platform that empowers people across many industries to create their own special-purpose robotic applications, rather than using expensive integrators or over-sized industrial solutions. Our aim is to align our incentives with our customers, so that their productivity is our success as well.

Your two passions are robotics/automotive machinery and business. So, you must see some business applications in the future for Modbot, correct?

Yes absolutely! Some of our most supportive customers are large manufacturing companies that would like to change the way they do business. They want to take a pro-active approach to automation and get in front of their competitors by using the latest technology and internalizing that expertise.

I personally see robotics as a "multiplying" technology. It will take whatever you are doing now and make it 5 times more efficient, or 5 times safer, or 5 times more reliable. This is the reason businesses are interested in our product.

How do you see robots -- or Modbots -- changing or affecting the business landscape?

Of course I have a biased position here, but I would love to see Modbot become the de-facto standard for new automation solutions. The same way Amazon Web Services has become the go-to for cloud solutions, drastically decreasing the cost of deploying new cloud infrastructure, I would like Modbot to become the default choice for creative new robotic solutions.

The long term effects of this new accessibility to unrestricted innovation in the automation space will be huge. Even small businesses will have the ability to set up and compete with the manufacturing giants by automating their physical processes. We hope that Modbot will also bring manufacturing back to wherever it makes the most sense logistically. Robots will cost the same all over the world, therefore outsourcing will no longer be the default decision for manufacturers. This new future will present many challenges, but overall, it will simply reward the most forward hinking businesses with huge efficiency benefits.

Do you have any products that currently serve the manufacturing industry?

Yes we do! Our first product is a 75 millimeter diameter modular robotic system that is perfect for 'human scale' assembly and automation tasks. As a startup, we have to be LASER focused when it comes to releasing products, which is why we are running a closed beta pilot right now with two blue-chip manufacturers. Once we are certain that the product meets our own most demanding customers' performance targets, we will expand our pilot to include smaller manufacturers as well as a mixture of startups and educational institutions.

One of your goals is to make robots affordable for the average person, correct? And you want to use that as a springboard for innovation as well…

Yes! In fact, this has been true from the beginning. Our long term aim is to massively increase the accessibility of high quality robot parts. This means supporting the typical industrial applications as well as individual developers, small teams and educational institutions who could well be leading the charge to develop the latest robotic applications. The biggest hurdles for robotic adoption are cost and complexity, and we're working feverishly on both!

Your goal to “have a long-term positive impact on humanity” is admirable. Any details you care to share?

To me, it's important to keep humanitarian considerations at the top of our priorities. Ultimately, companies exist to better distribute the resources we have on this planet, and I like to keep this in mind when prioritizing our direction.

In my mind, humans have come a long way since the days of the hunter-gatherer, mostly due to technology. Robots have the potential to let us escape the constraints of the physical world, helping us achieve higher pursuits. I have spent time as a worker in a production line, doing welding actually, so I know what it feels like to be treated like a robot. It's not great. 


Adam Ellison is an Australian entrepreneur, engineer and mechanism designer. Adam has worked at both large corporations as well as smaller consultancies in mechanical design and engineering. After acquiring a diverse range of business skills and an extensive amount of mechanical experience, he returned to his technical roots and  launched  Modbot, a robotics company, with Daniel Pizzata, in January 2014.

Telemedicine Now and In The Future

By Denise L. Fletcher

Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer
Healthcare, Pharma & Life Sciences


The healthcare industry is undergoing a seismic shift to a consumer - driven market. Consumers now want to interact with their healthcare providers and insurers the same way they do with anyone providing a service. This is requiring all players in the healthcare supply chain to rethink current models of service and provide a Zappos or Amazon-like experience.

In healthcare, this desire for excellent customer service translates to convenient, affordable anywhere care: a need for on-demand, online and immediate delivery of care without leaving the comfort of home. Telemedicine is one answer to this growing phenomenon, and many health insurance plans are responding by offering telemedicine solutions that bring quality healthcare to the consumer with the click of a mouse.

However, a lack of general awareness among consumers is one barrier to adoption.  While continued patient education by providers and payers can help to resolve the telemedicine awareness hurdle, the barriers to fully leveraging telemedicine solutions go a bit deeper. Lack of understanding of telemedicine coverage can leave many patients opting for tried-and-true in-office care delivery methods despite many carriers now offering a telemedicine solution.  Adoption of what’s covered is moving at a rapid pace as the regulatory climate continues to improve and states, payers and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) extend approval of telemedicine coverage. So it literally pays for payers and providers to help consumers stay abreast of news on this front.

There are a number of benefits to telemedicine beyond consumer satisfaction. Employers can leverage virtual physician office visits as a great option for keeping workers on the job while addressing health and wellness at a modest cost.  And as consumers pay a larger share of their healthcare costs, telemedicine is well positioned to provide patients with affordable options to treat simple maladies. In fact, it’s estimated that $2.2 billion per year in healthcare costs could be saved in the United States if patients used telemedicine and retail clinics instead of physicians’ offices, urgent care or emergency departments.

Advances in technology are not limited to one-time, short-term illnesses either. Some providers look at telemedicine as a potentially viable solution for maintaining successful patient outcomes post-acute care discharge and in home health settings – an important consideration as the nationwide healthcare system looks to outcomes-based payment methods as a contender for future healthcare models. Telemedicine also opens up an entirely new model of care for patients managing chronic diseases that require recurrent doctor visits or to connect virtually with those in rural locations whose geographic distance often prohibits consistent follow-up care. Offering an accessible, convenient option for connecting a patient to his or her physician is not only a win for the patient, but for the provider, who has opened-up time for more patient encounters – all while cutting overall healthcare spending through improved population health.

Patient-centric virtual care is here to stay and as consumer adoption in telemedicine rises we will see new and innovative uses of this solution to treat healthcare in a convenient and cost effective manner. Innovation in telemedicine presents countless possibilities for leveraging smart devices and the Internet of Things to truly deliver anywhere care at the click of a mouse. 

Denise Fletcher serves as Chief Innovation Officer for Xerox Healthcare, Pharma & Life Sciences. Fletcher is responsible for achieving annual group innovation revenue targets, fueling thought leadership strategies, engaging customers in innovation strategies, and driving innovation through a robust research and development pipeline. She has 6 patents pending in healthcare & pharma and was recognized by Front End Innovation in March 2014 as one of the top 40 women in Innovation.

Fletcher is a key strategist and influencer within the Xerox Healthcare Council, a member of Xerox’s University Affairs Council which seeds innovation grants to colleges and universities throughout the world, serves on the Healthcare Delivery Advisory board at WPI (Worcester Polytechnic Institute), MassTLC Healthcare Advisory Council and Crowd Company Council which focuses on the collaborative economy.

Proven Ways to Incubate New Business

An Interview with

Shawn Williams
Vice President, Research & Development
Rogers Corporation

By Patricia Stamas-Jacoby

Shawn Williams will be presenting a Case History, Proven Ways to Incubate New Business and Product Opportunities, at New Product Innovation & Development 2016: A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange, taking place from January 11 - 13, 2016 at the Hilton San Diego Resort and Spa in San Diego, CA.

As a preview, we discussed how one of the oldest companies in America is cultivating continued success via collaborative research and innovation—all the while maintaining their robust product pipeline. Here are some of the highlights of our discussion.

At New Product Innovation & Development, a Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange, you will be speaking about incubating new business. Can you elaborate on how “the incubation model” transpired at Rogers Corporation?

The Rogers Corporation was established in 1832 and today is a global technology leader in specialty engineered materials. Like many companies, Rogers had a large, centralized research and development (R&D) corporate presence. But over time that model has shifted and currently we are more focused on driving excellence in product-line, business-unit driven R&D activities. We are also much more customer-focused.

We realized that we could be doing more “big picture,” next generation technology assessment. So we made a decision to expand our corporate focus and target early stage opportunities and new technologies in new or underdeveloped markets as well as to nurture new business development.

We also realized that we needed to cultivate new skill sets and competencies, and in some cases, acquire new resources help achieve these objectives. Consequently, we set out to explore ways to meet these goals. Like developing strategic partnerships, which, in our opinion was a key way to move this forward, so we actively explored partnering with universities for collaboration, product incubation and development.

Did you engineer the incubation approach out of necessity or design?

In Rogers’ case, it was a matter of external collaboration by design. We purposely sought to shift our focus outward and to seek an outside perspective via a partnership, preferably to put us at the intersection of technology  with all the interaction and activity that suggests.

Rogers Criteria for Partnerships:

To that end, we had four very specific factors we focused on when seeking an institutional, collaborative partner. They were:

  1. They had to be the kind of people, and organization, that we wanted to collaborate with. That is, we wanted them to have a forward-thinking and outward focus, and an approach that complemented our own. They also needed skillsets and interests that were commercially leverage-able by Rogers.
  2. The physical facility itself was very important. We sought facilities that would allow us to collaborate permanently and in “real time.” We wanted to be able to work in tandem and not isolated or off in a remote, inactive location.
  3. We sought a partner with an outstanding reputation for innovation and the technology (developing or otherwise) that they could bring to the table.
  4. We actively sought a partner with an enlightened view of Intellectual Property (IP). Typically the university would conduct much of the research, but we wanted to revisit that model, and we needed to have pre-negotiated rights to commercialize the output of our joint efforts. This was very important in our search.
We ultimately chose Northeastern University, which already had a reputation for marrying real-world business realities to educational and research pursuits. We are very proud of The Rogers Corporation Innovation Center, located in Northeastern University’s George J. Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security. It represents our desire, discussed above, to link academic research, technology and industry know-how on an on-going basis with the ultimate goal of new product development.

Is it really possible for a long-established organization to operate as a start-up? Is it desirable?

The Rogers Corporation Innovation Center embodies our original concept as it reconstitutes corporate R&D; it makes our research more agile and outwardly focused. Another important aspect of this partnership is the fact that we pre-negotiated the right for Rogers Corporation to commercialize the technology which was developed in tandem. There is a baseline template that was developed for sponsored research products. To move forward with projects, we only need to iron out work plan details and budget allocation; we are not starting from scratch every time.

A Second Innovation Institute is Created

In addition to the innovation center located at Northeastern University, this September we opened the Rogers Innovation Center in Asia, based in Suzhou, China. This continues our approach of collaborating locally with academic researchers and commercial partners to harness the latest technologies and bring them to our customers. And we believe China has great promise and aspiration in this area.

The goal of the China Innovation Center is to be an early adopter of the U.S. collaboration model. And to date, our Chinese partners have been reasonable about IP and licensing.  As well, we see something of a trend with our Chinese counterparts becoming more open to innovation efforts.

Can you share any Rogers’ innovation best practices or observations about innovation?

First, it is very important to have dedicated resources to look at the front end and to be focused on a potential “big opportunity.” There is often an (understandable) inclination for a successful company to choose safer, more incremental product development opportunities, for example, those that support the current business product pipeline. Therefore, it is key to also have personnel and resources without responsibilities around supporting the current business model – they will be more inclined to pursue big ideas and tend to be more receptive to the exploration of new technical approaches to the market.

A second best practice revolves around the transition from corporate early stage product development to a more divisional product development focus and process. This is a key stage that frankly, few companies manage very well. Rogers makes every effort to have people from the business units involved in innovation efforts early on, so they are a part of the innovation and have the chance to ask the hard questions before they take ownership for a given project.  And often, if those hard questions are not satisfactorily answered, the project does not move forward. This transition is critical and effective communication is the key.

A third best practice pertains to the mindset behind innovation. The “innovation center” is not intended to be where all the excitement and interesting things happen. Rogers believes in facilitating innovation anywhere within the company, by providing tools, practices and processes that support this. We also have a budget and focused resources for innovation, and facilitating this is the primary role of the Rogers Innovation Center.

Any innovation success stories you care to discuss?

At Rogers, we also consider it a success when a product moves from the innovation center or process to the development stage. We have exceeded our own expectations when we can place a product sample into a customer’s hands at an early stage of a development program.

At this point, we have a few technologies in full product development but none have gone to market as yet. I am confident that when the products in the innovation pipeline come to market, we will achieve significant success.

Any product from Rogers borne of innovation is a product that will add to the company's bottom line. We do not practice innovation simply for innovation’s sake.

A final measure of our innovation success: the fact that less than two years after opening The Rogers Corporation Innovation Center, located in Northeastern University’s George J. Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security, we have opened another innovation center in China. Global innovation, here we come.

Shawn Williams has been the Vice President of Research and Development at Rogers since 2013.  In this role, he leads the Rogers Innovation Center, in partnership with Northeastern University, on their Burlington, MA campus.  The Innovation Center is focused on the evaluation and assessment Early Stage Development of Technologies with strong Commercial Potential for Rogers’ next generation of commercial development. He has over 20 years of experience in developing and managing materials technology.

Prior to joining Rogers, Shawn briefly worked as the Senior Manager for Advanced Technology at Greene, Tweed, a privately held company in the high performance seals and gaskets that serves the Oilfield, Semi-conductor, and Aerospace Markets.  From 2004-2012, Shawn was the VP, R&D at Plextronics, Inc.  From 1995-2004, Shawn served in various technical and operational roles at the global specialty chemical provider, W. R. Grace & Co.

Dr. Williams holds a B.S. in Chemistry from Geneva College and a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Carnegie Mellon University.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Driving Innovation in the Large Organization

By Douglas Hartung
Director, Global Software Research & Strategy
Diebold, Incorporated

“We need to be more innovative” is a rallying cry heard frequently throughout large organizations across industries.  Unfortunately, we often see the capabilities and processes that created past growth can act to hamper new innovation unless recognized and managed effectively.  In this article we will explore two ways large companies often let their existing organizational structure and processes stifle their organic innovation capabilities and explore how to work around these constraints.

Product Development is Different from Product Incubation

At some point in their development, most organizations have missed launch windows, overspent to reengineer products when important features were missing, launched a product unprofitably when pricing expectations were not met, or encountered any number of reasons a product launch was not considered successful.  Frequently, these types of mistakes can be caught early in the process when subject matter experts are engaged. This mentality often leads to the formation of New Product Initiative Committees or other forms of cross-functional teams assembled to ensure that all business, sales, technical, and operational aspects have been considered as a new product moves through the development process.

This activity can be exceptionally valuable as part of the product development process.  But this activity can also be detrimental to the rapid prototyping and testing of a “minimally viable product” as part of the Product Incubation process.  
  • It is important to keep an eye on the most critical questions to be answered as part of the incubation process:
  • Is there a clear problem that is solved here?
  • Is it a problem that is faced and articulated by a large group of customers?
  • How is this problem being solved today?
  • Is my solution to the problem demonstrably better?

The Product Incubation process must be focused on answering the WHO WHAT and WHY of a potential new product incubation project. The HOW and WHEN can be addressed later once the concept has been proven in a less formal and operationally rigorous setting.  This is not to suggest that operational excellence is unimportant. It is. It’s just not important yet.

Project Management vs. Portfolio Management

Product Development in large organizations frequently follows a fairly traditional path.  A business case is developed, business requirements are defined, a business analyst translates these to functional requirements, which drive out technical and operational requirements.  We progress down a path of approving the requirements, moving to development, then testing, and then launching.  Stopping anywhere along this path is seen as failure or wasted effort.  The mindset: We are running a project through to completion or we are failing.

Managing an innovation program is more about Portfolio Management.  (And moving beyond the deploy or fail mindset) A lesson learned early in my career was when I was asked by a participating VP if I thought a particular initiative was going to be a big success.  My response was that of the ten innovation projects we were managing I was fairly certain that 5-6 would fail, 3-4 would be marginally valuable, and 1-2 would be a big success.  I suggested that if I could know which two would be profitable I’d stop work on the rest of them. But rather than grade me based on my guessing skills, let’s judge performance based on whether we quickly identify weaker projects and quickly repurpose resources towards other projects and activities quickly, and determine if the small number of successes generates returns sufficient given the overall cost of the innovation portfolio.  Admittedly, this can feel like a very odd way to view the world in many settings.  It certainly felt odd to the VP who wanted to judge success or failure on a per project basis (and you better hit 100%!)

John F. Kennedy is purported to have said that success has many fathers but failure is an orphan.  This is particularly true in corporate new product development settings. But it needs to change:  fail early, fail often, fail cheaply, capture the learnings and move on.

One way to make failure part of the process is by overtly planning for failure.  Ways to make this a part of the process include using one of the following two tools:
  • Require that any new product concept being developed include a short section that includes (a) “if this project fails it is likely to fail for one of these reasons”, and (b) “here is what we are putting in place to ensure that we are watching for these reasons and what we will do if we encounter them”.  
  • Steal a page from the medical and military communities.  You probably don’t want to call it a Morbidity & Mortality Conference to learn why the project died.  But creating a simple Lessons Learned document can be invaluable both for capturing learnings for future use but also as a mechanism for changing culture to look for and learn from these “failures” as an expected part of the innovation process.  

There are numerous examples of large companies that excel at managing a portfolio of product innovation concepts as part of the process of new product development.  And without question the product innovation process is a critical front end to ensuring that products brought into the development process are feasible and attractive to the customer.  But these two activities require a very different approach and cultural orientation to work together effectively.  Focusing on the key foundational success factors (what problem is solved, and why is this solution better?) and managing an innovation portfolio rather than discrete, “over-structured” projects, are just two of these important differences. 

Douglas Hartung joined Diebold, Incorporated in 2014 and is the director of global software research and strategy. In this role, he is responsible for identifying, leading and evangelizing new business and product ventures to expand Diebold’s software portfolio.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Five Strategies for Accelerating Growth with Innovation

By April Bertram
Innovation Management Director
GOJO Industries

When it comes to accelerating growth with innovation, there are many paths you can take. I have outlined five areas that have proven to accelerate this type of growth in organizations. 
Align with strategy. All too many times I have heard companies say they want innovation to come from everyone and everywhere with no boundaries. The downside to this approach is that you literally get ideas from everywhere and ones that may not be fully aligned with your organization’s strategy. You end up wasting resources on a project that you have no intention of commercializing and impact team moral by having to cancel the project down the road. It’s always best to give the organization growth areas with some guard rails, so that they have safe areas to innovate that are fully aligned with strategy. 

Reduce risk early. How many times have you embarked on an innovation project knowing that you have some risks, but figure you will deal with them when you reach that stage in the process? This ultimately leads to re-work because you get too far down the development path to make changes. Organizations then need go all the way back to early stages of development and invest more time and people to mitigate the risk. Even worse, they decide to launch and experience limited success or even failures in the market.  

It is imperative to focus on the most significant risks right away. This includes understanding external forces that can impact your innovation, as well as project and business model related risks.

Project teams should start the project by understanding these risks and identify plans to mitigate them early – not waiting until you are in that particular stage of development. If you think there will be significant challenges with manufacturing, start working on that challenge now. If you are unsure whether you are solving the right problem, investigate that immediately.  

Start with early prototypes to validate your hypotheses. Are you addressing the right problem? Do you have the right target market? Does your value prop resonate with your target and does it solve the problem identified? Is it a large enough opportunity or problem to ensure financial gains? Make sure you are considering all aspects of your go-to-market strategy and focus on the areas that present the most risk first.   

Utilize simple tools and processes. The way we work and innovate is ever-changing. You can’t innovate the same way you have been in years past. It’s time to brush up on new tools and practices. Have you investigated the Business Model Canvas? Can you benefit from Design Thinking or Lean Startup methodologies? Are there other emerging methodologies like Innovation Engineering that you can try? When evaluating new items, make sure you customize them for your business. Build a hypothesis of what might work and then pilot. More often than not, you will be blending together some of these methodologies and tools to get the right one that works for your company. The most important objective is that you are always investigating potential new ways of working and how they might advance your innovation efforts – not becoming stagnant.  

Develop partnerships. With the pace of technological change, it’s hard to keep up by innovating on your own. You will get to market faster and likely with a smaller investment if you partner in the development process. You can engage in partnerships on a per-project basis or at a higher, strategic level. Strategic partnerships can enable innovation in multiple areas – advancing your innovation system as a whole – when you partner with customers, vendors or even competitors. 

Manage as a system. If you truly want to accelerate growth through innovation, you need to look at your organization and understand all the elements that impact innovation. Prioritize the ones that can help you advance the entire system and focus on those first. I have learned that it’s a balance of adding some new tools and practices, but continuing to advance existing processes as well. Introducing too many new elements at once can overwhelm the organization and defeat the objective of accelerating growth. 

I have provided some ideas on where to start accelerating your organization’s growth with innovation, now you need to start testing and learning so you can advance your organization!

As Innovation Management Director at GOJO Industries, April is responsible for building, cultivating and leading the growth of a high performance innovation system. Previously, as Stage-Gate Process Manager at GOJO, she  led the re-design of the NPD Process to incorporate Agile, Lean Start-Up and Design Thinking methodology., Prior to that, she was a Product Manager at The Hygenic Corporation, where she managed the Thera-Brand ® product portfolio new market development and company-wide new product innovation planning process.

Innovation Boosts Texas Algae Technology Developer

By Michael Valenti
Senior Research Consultant
Technical Insights 
Frost & Sullivan

Today’s technology companies are growing by using their innovation skills to develop new technologies based on a common area of expertise that can be licensed by other entities. This provides needed capital for the innovator to continue adding to their technology portfolio by leveraging their core competencies. 

A case in point is Missing Link Technology, LLC, of Cypress, Texas. The Texas company specializes in developing and acquiring emerging processes in neutraceutical and biofuel applications. The common thread in these diverse areas is that they involve the continuous fermentation of algae. Missing Link's entire business model is based on licensing. The Texas company has a sister company that licenses its technologies to third parties.

Nutraueticals, or foods with medicinal value, are a booming business around the world. Some research indicates the global market for these products, which was $141.2 billion in 2011, could achieve $204.8 billion by 2017 with a Combined Annual Growth Rate of 6.3%. 

For example, Missing Link Technology has developed and patented its Alginator algal oil extraction technology. The Texas company designed the Alginator to use rapid non-equilibrium decompression in order to enhance the efficiency, and also lower energy consumed by traditional oil extraction from algae. The inventors achieved this by injecting pressurized gas into the cell, then lowering the pressure to break the algae into smaller particles.

This enables the device to continuously lyse, or cause cell destruction, emulsify, and de-agglomerate algae to produce smaller particle sizes. Then, nutraceutical manufacturers remove desired carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins from algal cells. A key design innovation on the Alginator is the exit nozzle. The company fashioned the exit nozzle to provide the optimal flow rate and shear rate in the minimum time period. 

The strength of biologically sourced fuel, or biofuels, has not been lost on the scientists at Missing Link Technology. The desire for domestically sourced fuel, far away from the turbulent Middle East, and less environmentally impactful fuels then petroleum based compounds, has spurred a global biofuel market of approximately 1.9 million barrels per day in 2011. This was a 16% rise over the 1.67 million daily barrels in 2009. Some research expects that figure to be 2.5 million barrels per day in 2020.

This is why Missing Link Technology also developed a patented two-stage reactor to continuously ferment algae to make biologically derived fuel, or biofuel.  A two-stage process results in reduced water content and an altered algae biomass.

The algal biomass is then converted to fuel by another Missing Link Technology patented process. This consists of a gasifier that transforms the hydrocarbons present in the algal biomass into synthetic gas, or syngas, composed of carbon monoxide, hydrogen, and trace impurities. The reactor heats the syngas from 300 degrees Fahrenheit to 1,500 degrees F to produce a liquid and some solids.

Missing Link's process pre-heats the biomass, mixes it with the syngas, and then injects the mixture into a reactor. This vessel divides the process stream into gas, liquid, and solid state particles. The gaseous portion can be burned to produce electricity, like natural gas, or converted into a transportation fuel. The used solids can be recovered for further processing into transportation fuel. 
By focusing on improvements within growing new technology markets - nutriceuticals and biofuels - Missing Link is aiming its expertise at burgeoning opportunities. By licensing its technologies, the company is free to reinvest in the development of new innovations as market needs develop.

In sum, by creating innovative technologies, the company is able to license them to generate revenue. These funds enable the firm to invest in new scientific advances, enhancing the expertise of their personnel.

What’s your secret sauce?

By Brian Moelich
Business Designer, Innovation Enablement, CX

It’s a common question in venture capital, but no one really tells how to find the answer or how to judge that answer.

The phrase so important, whether for an early stage business or a corporation’s new venture, because it is asking “what is it that you uniquely do that will make customers come to you over the competition?” In simplest terms, how are you differentiated?

The challenge though is how do you identify what differentiates you and how do you judge if what you identified truly sets you apart. I’d like to share the Blue Ocean Strategy Canvas, which I like to use to analyze new ventures.

Who is your customer and what is your value proposition?
The first step is to be clear on who your customer is. Having a narrow and focused view on your customer helps you identify what their needs, pains and jobs to be done are. Then choose which of these your value proposition is targeting.

We do this step to identify what value am I providing for my customer and then ask, who else is providing a similar benefit to my customer. More specifically, what alternatives does my customer have to receive the same value?

This is how you determine who your competitors are.

What are my customer’s value drivers?
The next step is to ask, what are the value drivers your customer uses to select your offering or the alternatives. In simpler terms, what criteria does your customer judge one product or service over another?

Think of it like this, when you’re making the decision of purchasing a coffee from Starbucks v. Dunkin Donuts, what makes you choose one over the other? Is it the ambiance? Is it the variety of beverages? Is it the customer service? Is it the quality of the ingredients?

Make a list of 5-10 of the top value drivers and try to avoid referencing specific features.

How do my competitor’s and I rank on these value drivers?
Now we want to visually show how you and your competitors rank. I like to use a line graph, but you’re welcome to use another style of graph that you prefer.

Begin by giving you and your competitors a score out of 10 on each of the value drivers based on how well each delivers on that value. I’d recommend bringing in as much real data as possible, but you can also assign scores based on your own intuition. For example from the coffee buying example, looking at ambiance, Starbucks has leather chairs, music playing, art on the walls, relaxing colors, so it I would give them a 10. While Dunkin Donuts, has bland colors, no art, hard uncomfortable chairs and overall focuses on serving you quickly and getting you to move on, so I’d give them a 1.

You will get something that looks like this, which is comparison of Cirque du Soleil and Ringling Brothers

Where are the big differences, if any?
Look carefully at your graph and identify the value drivers that you are above, below and matching the competition. If you’re hovering around the competition on every value driver, that’s a bad sign, because then you are in the market to simply play with the competition and are not adequately giving the customer a reason to choose you over the competition. 

Blue Ocean strategy refers to this as a red ocean. A place where there is lots of competition and each player is fighting for every inch of the market. This isn’t a place you want to be.

You want to be head and shoulders above the competition on at least 1 value driver. There needs to be a reason for the customer to come to you over the alternatives. 

The next question is whether that value driver is something the customer truly cares about and is a reason to choose you. The only to find that is by testing that assumption with customers. Get your offering in the hands of your customer and push on what you identified and determine if it is something they’re jumping up and down about.

Once you do identify something that differentiates you, make it the focus of everything you put in front of the customer or that the customer sees, i.e. the first thing they see on your webpage, your marketing materials, etc.

Brian Moelich is an innovation strategist, entrepreneur and educator. He is a Business Designer for Citrix Systems in Silicon Valley, where he co-manages an internal innovation incubator and is also a mentor for the Citrix Startup Accelerator. In a past life, he was a physical security consultant to IBM in Canada.

Brian holds an MBA from the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, where he worked on live challenges for Celestica, SAP and Infosys Technologies in Bangalore, India. He has received numerous awards for his work, is an advisory board member of Frost & Sullivan’s New Product Development and Marketing Committee and is a regular speaker and workshop facilitator on the topics of design-thinking, business model design and innovation.

Products Are Everything!

By Rick Rothenberger

Vice President, Engineering
and New Product Development

Eaton’s Crouse Hinds Business

Essential Elements For Growth

Every company is in business to be successful as an enterprise. One of the primary elements to being a successful business is delivering profitable revenue growth on a recurring basis. There are several key elements to being successful at this, but success usually starts with a constant flow of new products that are superior to your competitor’s offering. We all know that products that offer the right level of features, reliability and functionality at the right price point will be wildly successful in the Market, assuming other critical functional areas of the business are credible and performing well. 

The second key element in achieving success occurs by serving your customer better than anyone in your chosen market space. We will discuss this more later, but figuring out what your customers value in a business relationship and why they would rate your business better in customer service over your competitor is a task in its own right. The combination of excellent customer service and a constant flow of superior new products will not only help you grow the top line, it will enable you to get your price in a healthy market. 

The third and final primary element for business success is having world class operational performance including sourcing, supply chain, manufacturing, quality and logistics. Performing at world class levels allows you to delivery high quality products to your customer, on time, within acceptable lead-times and provides a good margin return to the business. 

Constant Flow Of Superior New Products

Now we will explore how a business can achieve a constant flow of superior new products. You might ask yourself why a constant flow of superior new products is important, and the answer is that not only does it give your sales people a reason to go visit their accounts and talk about how great your company’s new products are, it gives you the ability to use product innovation to provide higher value to your customers than your competition can. Things like more energy savings, longer time spans between maintenance cycles, improved operating safety conditions and so on are all things that innovation can bring to your customers. Oh, and don’t forget about innovating to achieve a low cost point with a minimum feature set – all keys to entering the lower end markets in developing countries. Probably the most important thing about product innovation is that it keeps you ahead of your competitors and provides your customer value that the competitor cannot match, giving you the competitive advantage that you desire. Staying ahead of your competitors with your product offering is critical to providing that much needed revenue growth.

What Does A “Superior” New Product Look Like? 

So what does a superior new product look like? As you might imagine “superior” can take on many forms, but defining what the term means in a competitive sense is one of the most important aspects of developing a successful new product. Each new product development project must have a scope and specification that clearly differentiates it from the competition. The project scope and specification must adequately define the product’s competitive differentiators on a line item by line item basis, along with cost points and the service offering associated with them. Getting the scope and exact feature set, generally, is trial and error with the early part of the product development process focused on taking rapid prototyped models out to lead customers to get feedback on proposed features sets and design approaches. 

Selecting 3-4 lead customers to visit with early prototypes will allow for adequate feedback to modify the project specification into something that will define a successful product in the market. Once the customer has helped you clarify what features are valuable to them, they have also helped you get a good price for the product you eventually will sell to them.
Now that you have the coveted new product specification, you can go about innovating to deliver the value and feature set identified. In many cases innovation will be driven by new functionality, new space requirements or new price point requirements. It is always beneficial to use the most elegant, simplified, cost effective design that you can to achieve the functionality needed for the investment you can afford. 

Simply put, you can innovate to achieve an ultra-low cost point which gives you tremendous pricing flexibility, especially when competing on package level business or you can innovate to provide feature sets that competitors can’t – or you can combine your innovations to achieve a superior product at a superior price point, margin and functionality level. It all depends on what product objective and time to market target you have set for development.
To be a true, sustained product leader in the marketplace, a company needs sustained innovation and a constant stream of new products. If the company can achieve this they will be very difficult for any competitor to match, and will enjoy a consistently favorable position with their customers.

Multi-Generation Product Planning 

One of the most important new product planning processes is the multi generation product line planning process. The end result of this process is a high-level definition of how the product line will evolve over time, which includes a general description of each new product launch and the timing of the launch across the entire product line. Typically, the multi-generational product line plan is graphical with the horizontal axis representing a time scale, generally 2 years out, and the vertical axis representing various major product families within a given product line. Successful product line driven businesses tend to have a single lead product line manager who is responsible for developing and maintaining the multi-generational product line plan, this allows for clear ownership of the product line plan and provides the basis for new product development project planning and project timing to be defined over the 2 year time horizon. 

Data sources used to define the product line plan come from a variety of places, but the most important ones include the competitor’s product offering, and a direct understanding of what products customers are demanding and/or using that are needed in the company’s product basket. Keep in mind that each new product shown on the product line plan will have a detailed product specification, and new product development timeline defined. Technology trends that impact the company’s products are also considered in the multi-generational product line plan, but generally find themselves embedded in the detailed product specification, ultimately providing feature sets that provide a differentiated product when compared to competitive offerings.

Technology-Push Innovation 

At this point, it is valuable to consider the concept of “technology push” innovation and how it is used to create leapfrog products that can put your product offering well ahead of the competition when launched. Technology push innovation is the concept of letting completely new product and platform ideas come about based on a technology looking for an application, rather than an application looking for a technology to enable a specific feature-set. The notion of technology push is used to challenge established architectures, and essentially begins with a clean sheet of paper and a fresh start to thinking about a company’s products. My experience is that the use of technology push innovation challenges the status quo, and demonstrates what could be done with new thinking on age-old products.

When using technology push innovation techniques it is very important to work closely with lead customers to evaluate new thinking, and iterate to the embodiment of the product that delivers real value to your customer base, this way your chance of success in the market is improved. The lead customer or user group is also important in the development process in that they provide you the ability to fail quickly, learn quickly, pivot and come back with revision 2 for another round of lessons learned. Eventually the right combination will be discovered and the product will be ready for introduction.

Protecting Your Innovation

The last topic for discussion involves protecting your product innovations from being copied. Failure to adequately protect your innovation will result in the loss of competitive advantage for your company since competitors would be free to use the innovation in their own products. The most common form of protection used is the patent system which is available in most countries of the world. Patents are a viable method of protecting most innovation, but in some cases other forms of intellectual property protection are the more appropriate. Other protection concepts to consider include the use of trade secrets and trademarks, to name a few.

The value of a steady stream of superior new products to the success of a business is very clear. Without new products a business will eventually reach a point of maximum share, and be forced into a situation of plateauing sales and little growth. Practicing the methods discussed in this article will certainly improve the new product growth and success of your business, and, if executed well will position you nicely against your competition.