The core themes discussed in the sessions were also echoed and reinforced by many of the keynote speakers at the Front End of Innovation Conference in Boston. There was very strong sentiment that innovative success comes down to the critical common denominator of Leadership, Culture & Teams….and most importantly – PEOPLE!
Innovation (and Music) is in the air everywhere we turn around in our personal worlds, as it was at the FEI conference. Innovation has been around for years…. at least in the product development and management, and academic arenas. Innovation theories, business models, platforms, systems, tools, technologies, practices and processes, and third-party providers abound to help unstick organizational inertia. Many of these were evidenced and referenced at the conference in one way or another. Of late, it seems that every marketing advertisement across every type of media vehicle proclaims the organization being promoted as being innovative. However, as validated by several of the presenters, in truth only the very few, very strong organizations achieve sustainable innovative and competitive success over the long term. So what’s missing, what’s the secret sauce?

As we heard from our track presenters, and many of the keynote presenters told us as well…there isn’t any quick fix, secret sauce, or instant ingredient for innovative success…innovation isn’t just about systems, tools, methodologies and technologies. These things are important, but not sufficient facilitators. Innovation succeeds most effectively in organizations where there exists a strategic focus on building a “Culture of Innovation” (Brooke Dobni, PhD., Creator and Founder of InnovationOne) that provides the nurturing work environment and ecosystem to help unleash the innate enthusiasm, creativity, full productive capacity, and synergistic power of a truly dedicated and passionate workforce. A Culture of Innovation embodies a leadership and management discipline that incents, motivates, and facilitates all team members in exercising their personal uniqueness and capabilities to their full potential…including the conformist and nonconformists alike.

As keynoter Alexa Clay (Author, The Misfit Economy; Co-Founder, League of Intrapreneurs) recognized and embraced…the insider misfits, hackers, hustlers, copycats, intrapreneurs, and provocateurs. As presenter Natalie Neelan (Founder, Smuggling Innovation – How Bright People Advance Ideas in Challenging Cultures) coined…. the rise of internal innovation “smugglers.” As presenter John Klick of Pfizer stated, “How can you identify, nurture and fund your own “passionistas” and enable intrapreneurship in action.”

According to scientific research from Dr. Dobni: when leaders embrace innovation in all respects; when performance management programs and governance processes exist to stimulate, unleash, evaluate, and move creative ideas forward from ideation through to commercialization; when a comprehensive knowledge management system is in place, and; when sufficient resources are applied to support innovation…the rate and quality of innovation increases to new highs, leading to sustainable competitive success! As keynoter Vijay Govindarajan (Author, The Three-Box Solution; Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business) proclaimed; “Strategy is Leadership! Strategy is Innovation!” As keynoter Gregg Brandeau (Co-Author, Collective Genius; former SVP of Technology, Pixar; and EVP and CTO, The Walt Disney Studios) stated, “All of these things may help, but there’s only one way to ensure sustained innovation; you need to lead it with a special kind of leadership that manages through change and fosters more innovative cultures.” And finally, from keynoter Shane Wall, CTO, Hewlett Packard) “Innovation=Culture.” I could continue on an on, but I think you can clearly see the significance of the LCTT track content as the lynchpin of any discussion regarding how to achieve innovative success.

Now, getting to some of the other session content and key messages not to be overlooked.

You might have wondered earlier why we referenced (and Music). Music was in the air quite literally when during their Workshop: “How to Teach High Potential”, Robert Regan and Diane Gayeski of the Strategic Communications and Innovations staff from Ithaca College surprised their track session attendees with the relaxing sounds of a string quartet, rapidly experimenting with Mozart. The quartet used music to show track attendees how teamwork impacts the important innovation competencies of creativity, risk taking, adaptability and teamwork. Taking ques from the attendees, the musicians took turns being innovative with Mozart’s chamber music —and you could hear the result! When given permission to be creative and to take risks, the quartet adopted the original Mozart pieces to be more up-tempo, and to improvise. The musicians also provided lessons on self-leading innovation teams. As long as the quartet understood everyone’s role and listened to each other with empathy, they created lovely interpretations of Mozart’s masterpieces.
While using a similar teaching methodology with the use of orchestral recordings, keynoter and workshop presenter Christian Gansch (Grammy Winner, World- Renowned Conductor and Management Coach) demonstrated via personal example of his leadership style as a conductor; how strong yet empathetic and nurturing leaders can practice a leadership style that gets the most out of every individual in their “orchestra” from the divas and individual stars, to the rest of the key role players on their teams. How maintenance of a team mentality while recognizing the idiosyncrasies and needs of the mavericks on their team can create a synergy where the whole truly becomes greater than the sum of the parts….true innovative effectiveness.

John Klick, in his presentation “Dare to Try: Intrapreneurship in Action,” previously referenced herein, described the methodology of Pfizer’s “Dare to Try” rapid ideation process. The trick is to get Pfizer employees to think-out-of-the-box and provide the Pfizer ideators the tools to ideate, advocate, and build support.

Steve Padgette of Monsanto provided insight on this 100+ year old company’s transition from a chemical company to seed a producer and biotech company. He and other leaders at Monsanto recognized the need to rapidly and significantly transform their business. In his presentation “Creating a Culture of Disruption Before You’re Disrupted,” Steve explained how with a clear vision and a penchant for “making big bets,” it is now on the verge of marrying together agriculture with the world of big data technology. Monsanto’s emphasis is on customer focus, learning customer expectations, getting outside-of-the-company’s boundaries, and learning the “law of big data.” Steve tells the story of his first meeting with a “big data” analysis firm and the lesson of trust. When he asked them what they needed to do their work, the answer was “We need all your data!”

The second day of the track began with what I referred to as: “one of the most eclectically diverse arrays of panelists I’ve ever seen.” “The Culture Wars,” moderated by Scott Steinberg, author of “Make Change Work for You,” included panelists Andy Saldana of NY Tech Meetup; Anthony Ferrier of Culturevate; Luis Rojas of Wells Fargo, and Li Sun of Proctor & Gamble. The discussion was lively, coming from such diverse backgrounds and organizations. However, the main discussion topics and themes posed by Scott in his moderator role and as expressed by the panelists, coalesced with those heard from the keynote speakers:
• Scott Steinberg: “my belief is that willingness to embrace change is the single-most important factor in whether or not an organization will have innovative success.”….” “I’m now going to bring up some “F-Bombs”…Failure, and Fear…there are big mistakes and little mistakes…how do we treat and encourage learning from little mistakes?” “In large organizations with large innovation teams, the problem isn’t getting leadership support, it isn’t budget, it’s how to incent the workforce to generate innovative thoughts and ideas?”
• Luis Rojas: “positive change and innovation starts with the culture of an organization. How do you on-board, instill values and culture, incent collaboration…how do you respond to failure and mistakes? “We need to create a culture and work as if we’re in crisis management, as if our personal and organization’s survival is at stake….when everybody has “positive intent”. Luis referenced his experience at Wells Fargo at the NY World Trade Center, and the personal/workforce response during the aftermath of “Nine-Eleven”…9/11/01…”all the political walls came down, there were no vested interests, everybody pitched in and did whatever was necessary to move forward, there was no second-guessing or positioning, there was a sense of positive urgency. How do we establish that mentality over a continuing basis as part of the culture?” “We need to identify the movers and shakers….and unleash them.” “Sometimes you have to gamble, take risks, and consciously miss steps.”
• Li Sun: “Culture change doesn’t happen overnight, it requires leadership behaviors to demonstrate
values and culture.” “Money isn’t the issue. Often the strategic intent doesn’t exist. If you have 1 minute
in R & D to spend on a project, spend 59 seconds to define it, and 1 second on execution. Innovation
and new product/project initiatives require definition and value analysis.” “Most of the Gillette major innovations come from their skunk-works…..through passionate dedication, frequent and fast failure.”

• Anthony Ferrier: “innovation is something new to advance customer, employee, or shareholder welfare.” KISS”…keep it simple and sweet.” “Most effective innovation is to make regular, incremental change” “you must contain large failures, but encourage and provide positive support for risk-taking and acceptance of failure.” “Identify those who are interested in moving the needle…give them the time and resources…don’t waste too much time on the others who don’t get it. Focus on those who believe…make them champions and highlight them as well as reward them.” “Middle management is often the biggest obstacle to change…they’re often too overwhelmed managing the day to day current crisis to focus on the future, innovation, and change.”
• Andy Saldana: “for start-ups and the start-up leader, the bigger the failure the bigger the hero…..but only if you learn from it and take that learning to your next initiative or organization.” “Spend more time on the mavericks.”

The track continued with Mike Maddock; Author, CEO & Founder, Maddock Douglas and his session entitled: “Getting Unstuck: How and Why Innovation Teams Get Stuck and Proven Ways to Break Them Free.” Mike’s presentation theme and main goal was “To Inspire and Empower Curiosity!” In a very fast-paced presentation laced with stories and graphical representations, Mike referenced his concept of a “Pyramid of Innovation,” as
being similar to Maslow’s Needs Hierarchy Pyramid Model. Mike’s Innovation Model has Potential at the base; working up to “Permission;” then to “Pipeline to Portfolio,” and then finally to ”Profit.”
He also referenced many other concepts such as the “Idea Monkey” and “Napster Moments,” when new entrants enter the market and disrupt the balance and steal market share with transformative innovations. Mike referenced the fact that many people and their organizations get so entrenched in what their previous experience was and what had worked before that they totally fail to see the solution to a problem when in a different context…..using the adage “You can’t see the label when you’re sitting inside a jar.”…this is similar to “you can’t see the forest for the trees.” Mike continued to visually describe Innovation as equaling a “coalescence of three interlocking rings or concepts…..”Insight, Experience, and Ideas.”
A combination of all three is necessary to arrive at innovative product development…in combination with stepping out of the box creatively, but taking a holistic look at all current projects. Mike then discussed the concept of Portfolio Management and resource and time focus and allocation by using a “Four-Box,” model, similar to Vijay Govindarajan’s “Three- Box” approach. Mike also referenced the contrast between “Inspired Leadership” and “Empowered Leadership,”…that inspired leaders are “Idea Monkeys” (inspirational, optimistic, risk-takers….”ready, fire, aim”) versus empowered leaders who really are simply (Ring)leaders… controlled, disciplined, require financial justification, very cautious… ready, aim, fire). Mike suggested that organizations need to move from the traditional ROI model for evaluating and approving new, innovative product/project/service ideas; to a JOI model (Justification of Investment) where the financial selection-criteria are less stringent, allowing more good ideas to go forward.

Natalie Neelan then brought out “the inner smuggler” in all of us with her session “The Smuggler Mindset – Helping Innovators Succeed in Challenging Cultures.” Natalie brought the audience through their own personal examples of banging their heads up against the same brick wall of “no”, and the continuous hoops and walls that innovators face every day in trying to move innovative ideas forward….the fact that Corporate Inertia is held in equilibrium by Corporate Conformists. Natalie shared the many different personalities, vested interests, fears, and politics embedded in every human ecosystem and how they block “Frustrated Go-Getter/ Intrapreneurs”….and the devastating blocking impact on change. Natalie shared how frustrated innovators can become dysfunctional hackers by adopting the tactics of “The Smuggler Mindset,” and become more successful in moving innovative ideas and initiatives forward.
The last session of the track, “The Focus Group is Dead. Long Live the Focus Group” delivered by Neil Stevenson and Ryan Osero of IDEO, was an extremely insightful and valuable look into the evolutionary use of classical customer focus groups that were originally based on psychoanalytical work done by Ernest Dichter….moving
from behind the walls of controlled observational studies of human response and selection; to directed interviews and collaborative, group customer discussions; to virtual reality visioning and physiology measuring techniques as a key method to procure valid customer feedback on new product ideas. Neil and Ryan used examples of well-known products that were based on Freudian interpretations of sexual meaning in product design, packaging, and advertising as ways to advance from solving the pure functional needs of customers, to providing a deep, emotionally or sexually meaningful customer experience with use of the product.

Ed Colby is a Managing Partner of InnovationOne. Ed is a workforce and operational effectiveness leader with a focus on Human Capital Management, Workforce Management, and Innovation Management. He has been a student and educator of management and technology for over 35 years. His professional passion is helping build higher-performing organizations by optimizing the full alignment, utilization, and productive effectiveness of people, process, systems, technology, and information.