Should innovation be its own profession in large organizations? Can pharmaceutical, biotech and green tech innovation occur without incubators? How do companies continually renew themselves in our fast changing, fourth industrial revolution

[i]? Is the triple Helix for innovation really a quintuple Helix? What are the drivers and tools of an innovation culture?

These discussions and more occurred at the ISPIM (The International Society for Professional Innovation Management) International Innovation Forum in Boston this past week. As you read further, please think about what you believe are the most important drivers of innovation and the insightful moments for you!

Selected presentation highlights

According to Gina O’Conner of the Lally School of Management at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Bernard S. Meyerson, IBM’s Chief Innovation Officer, the answer to the first question is, “Yes, innovation should be its own profession.” Bernard kicked-off the ISPIM Forum by highlighting how IBM is continually regenerating itself through innovation. “It requires a culture of innovation,” he says.

Gina O’Connell reviewed her research on how large, innovative companies have learned to develop an “orchestrator” to lead their innovation strategies. Orchestrators need a broad knowledge base and skillset that transverses marketing, research and development and other significant verticals. She finds that as an innovation project moves through the stages of discovery, incubation, and acceleration (Gina’s terms), it may be necessary to have a different orchestrator for each stage—someone with the knowledge, skills and credibility to move the idea forward.

Fabian Schlage, who is the head of Idea and Innovation Management at Nokia, talked about the company’s transition from cell phones to being a technology leader, connecting people and things.  He (and most of the key note speakers) stressed the importance and difficulty being able to move innovative ideas through organizations in our programmable world.  Chris Trimble of the Tuck School of Business gets my award for using the most memorable picture. He showed a picture of Mount Reiner (like the one above) and noted that no mountain climber celebrates reaching the summit because the toughest part of the climb is the decent. Every experienced innovator knows that the toughest part of innovation isn’t the idea, it is the implementation and commercialization!

I was fascinated by the panel discussion at Pfizer regarding how non-profit incubators create the capital, technology, funding and mentoring needed by small start-ups to pursue life sciences innovation. Incubators create a quadruple Helix in the innovation ecosystem in addition to government agencies, universities and business.  Without the assistance of non-profit incubators, many start-ups can’t afford the necessary capital to prototype and model their experiments. Incubators also provide the business and marketing mentoring required to interact with long-term funders. Previous to this paneI discussion, I was not aware of the strong presence of non-profit agencies in this space. Non-profit incubators are often started by the parents of persons with debilitating, rare diseases. The importance of incubators was also featured in Boston’s Cleantech at Greentown Labs.

Eric Von Hippel gave a related presentation on how, in the Internet Age, new product development is shifting away from product development managers to users and open-use collaborators.  Do open-use collaborators create a fifth Helix for innovation?

High tech didn’t always command center stage

At Mass General, Chris Trimble of the Tuck School of Business and an author, participated in a panel of doctors who explained why the rise of digitized medical records prompted them to form small teams of cross-functional medical experts, including physician assistants and nurses, to coordinate the critical care of patients. Their goal was to get back to the Norman Rockwell-esq sense of intimacy and trust that once existed between doctors and patients—before computers rose between them. While wearable medical sensors, Skype, and digital medical records can provide doctors with up-to-the minute, accurate medical information, and save patients time-consuming and frustrating commutes to the doctor’s office, Mass General’s medical practitioners still need to convene medical teams (often co-located) daily to coordinate patient care.

The two presentations that generated the most discussion (at least in my presence) was one led by Abayomi Baiyere (He told everyone to call him “AB” for short!) on Corporate Technology Foresight Methods in Anticipation of Disruptive Innovation. AB disclosed that only 4% of crowdsourcing ideas get accepted, which raised the question: “Is it worth it?” Another major discussion regarded the push back in academic and business journals surrounding Clay Christensen’s model of disruptive innovation[ii]. It turns out that not everything called “disruptive innovation” today is truly disruptive. Even Clay Christensen is raising concerns about how the term is overused, while still defending his model.[iii]

The second presentation that generated great discussion was Marc H. Meyer’s presentation on Platforming to Power Enterprise. Marc asserted that most products have platforms and systems. Once company designers take the time to truly understand the platforms and subsystems of their products, they can streamline global production and increase their product adaptations to meet multi-cultural and value preferences. This understanding also fuels possibilities for future innovation. His presentation led to a fascinating discussion on the future of sensors to fight crime, track employee usage in buildings, study social interactions, and provide better health care.

InnovationOne Health Index

I will end this blog post by saying that Ed Colby and I want to thank everyone who attended our presentation and facilitated discussions on the research, development, and statistical validation of the InnovationOne Health Index. We talked about how developing a culture of innovation in organizations can be measured and managed, and how it leads to improved innovation and financial performance. The InnovationOne Health Index is based on the work of our InnovationOne founder, Dr. Brooke Dobni, at the University of Saskatchewan. Dr. Dobni will be launching a global study on innovation this summer to better understand how culture impacts innovation.

What was one of your most memorable presentations, moments of learning or dialogue? Join the discussion. Even If you didn’t attend ISPIM, join the discussion…

Victor Assad is a Managing Partner of InnovationOne and the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting. He works with key decision makers and human resources leaders on talent management, leadership development and coaching, innovation, and other strategic initiatives. Please e-mail Victor at or For innovation visit www.InnovationOne.

[i] Klaus Schwab (2016), The Fourth Industrial Revolution, World Economic Forum. Found at

[ii] Karl Ulrich (Nov. 6, 2014, 6:01 AM ET) “The Fallacy of ‘Disruptive Innovation,’” The Wall Street Journal. Found at

[iii] Drake Bennett (June 21, 2014) Clayton Christian Responds to New York Takedown of ‘Disruptive Innovation,’” Bloomberg Business. Found at