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Posts from the ‘blog’ Category

Seeing Opportunity Where Others See Waste

Design thinkers have a way of seeing opportunity where others see waste. A lunch conversation with my friend Ingo Gunther reminded me of this truth. Ingo is a German-born, New York based artist who was in Germany when the wall came down. Through an acquaintance, he learned that a globe factory in a nearby town suddenly found its inventory of globes nearly useless, since a key political boundary had been re-drawn with the toppling of a few miles of reinforced concrete in Berlin.

Where the factory saw waste, Ingo saw opportunity. “I bought several hundred globes,” he says, “Not knowing what I would do with them. It was an irresistible impulse.”

For nearly two decades, Ingo has made conceptual art out of those globes. His globes are illustrated with geopolitical facts, such as the migration of refugees, or the sources of fresh drinking water. And they are stunningly beautiful, as the photo proves.

How Darden Got Its Groove

UVa’s Darden School recently was rated #1 in student satisfaction. They do a lot of things right at Darden, but until recently the leadership team had thought of the “student experience” and the “curriculum” as synonyms.

John Byrne, who writes at the MBA-centric Poets & Quants web site, recently published a terrific article that describes how Darden shifted its view of the MBA experience — through using their own MBAs to map the MBA experience using the tools of design thinking. Here’s the article:

I was tapped as the coach of the student team, and they hit a home run. Among other things, they developed the Darden MBA journey archetype map shown above (yes, they still have blackboards and chalk in Charlottesville!). Today Darden provides rich experience elements to meet the needs of each archetype, not merely the Mainstream MBA. Mr. Jefferson would heartily approve!

Its a Good Idea to Read This Book!

Amazon knows me, so it knew I would want Steven Johnson’s new book. To say Johnson is a science writer is like saying Da Vinci was an inventor. He is the quintessential polymath, and when I learned he had cast his discerning eye on the subject of innovation, I was delighted.

I am only 50 pages into Where Good Ideas Come From, and thus far Johnson does not disappoint. He uses biology not merely as a metaphor for the sources of innovation, but as the source itself. (Well, social biology, anyway.) I’m usually a ten-pages-a-night reader, but I feel a sick day coming on (cough, cough).

Get a Jump on New Year’s Resolutions: Behavior Modification

Like most of us, I am a creature of habit. Some of those habits are healthy ones. For the others, I have a powerful ally to help shift them: Behavior modification.

If you want to get a headstart on making — and KEEPING — a New Year’s resolution to modify certain behaviors, here is my reading list on behavioral economics, in order of how great they are:

• Nudge — Thaler & Sundstein (rock solid, though not especially health & wellness specific)
• Mindfulness — Ellen Langer (she doesn’t explicitly address behavioral economics, but her insights are stunning when it comes to human choice-making, and it is all research-based)
• How We Decide — Jonah Lehrer (probably the most fun to read, though not as fun as, say, Malcolm Gladwell; but more rigorously argued)
• Drive — Dan Pink (terrific, better than Whole New Mind, which is also good; focuses on the role of intrinsic rewards)
• Predictably Irrational — Dan Ariely (pretty wide-ranging, but not as cohesive as the others, and too many experiments are based on graduate students, not real people)
• The Social Atom — Mark Buchanan (about the death of classical economics and the rise of physics as a way to explain human economic behavior)
• Blink — Gladwell (funnest to read, but not as essential as the others)
• Influence — Cialdini (a classic from the 90s, so not as up-to-date)
• A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness — Ramachandran (best primer on neuroscience, I think, and written for the lay person)

All are worth a skim, and the first three are dead-on when it comes to understanding how behavioral economics merges with modern notions of service design and self-care.

Verizon LTE Innovation Center Woos Collaborators

The world of open innovation has certainly changed.
A decade ago, I started a software company that required an Internet-connected device. We used a RIM radio to connect to the web, and the good people at RIM gave us a basic software developers kit and a pat on the back. We figured the rest out ourselves.

Today you get the Verizon LTE Innovation Center. A bunch of seasoned “intrapreneurs,” a properly-funded set of support assets, a physical lab to collaborate in. Not to mention a super-transparent process that doesn’t create a corporate-like administrative burden on startups, in particular. They know how to power your app.

I just got back from Verizon’s invitation-only developers conference in Las Vegas. Wow, those folks know how to make developers of all shapes and sizes feel welcome (see foto). Put me down as a fan of this type of open innovation. Hats off to Jess Germansky, Brian Higgins, and their colleagues.

Toward the Finish Line

I just finished two days holed up with my co-authors on the design thinking book. In the photo is Jenny Lynn Cargiuolo, Amy Halliday, and Jeanne Liedtka. All I can say is, “Thank goodness there is a team.”

We convened in Charlottesville with a “finished” manuscript — actually a collection of interesting parts that wished it were a quilt but looked more like a junkyard sculpture. So we took it apart, tossed out some bits, added others, and started sewing. During the process, the four team members showed ourselves to be Four Faces of Book Creation:

Amy the Integrator (she’s the editor)
Jenny Lynn the Generator (she’s our designer)
Jeanne the Visionary (lead author)
Tim the Storyteller (co-author)

I wish our other commitments would let us hole up for a week, but that is not to be. So we’re counting on Amy Halliday to smooth out all the rough edges! Give us until September 30 and I’ll tell you how the project looks.

Decelerating the Corporate Innovation Accelerator

The economic slow-down of the past 20+ months has resulted in cut-backs among corporate innovation accelerators. The challenge remains the same — you can’t shrink your way to new growth — but the resources are tighter. The most positive result I’ve noticed is a much closer alignment between corporate accelerator units and the BUs they support.

As a result of these and other changes, I am revisiting a study I made of these structures back in 2006 to better understand the shifts that have occurred in the past four years. As part of that project, I just read an excellent article about IBM’s Emerging Business Opportunity (EBO) process when I came across this insightful quote:

“The basic problem confronting an organization is to engage in sufficient exploitation to ensure its current viability and, at the same time, devote enough energy to exploration to ensure its future viability.”

— The source is Wharton Economist JG March, writing in 1991.

The distinctions between “exploit” and “explore” align well with the time honored admonition, “Don’t let the urgent distract you from the important.” The EBO approach is one way to strike a balance between them. Corporate incubators are another, as are corporate consulting/accelerator units. Over the next 60 days I will find out the conditions under which each of these approaches works best, and why. Stay tuned.

Hot Rods and On-Ramps

Yesterday I met the Hot Rod Minister. I don’t know his name, but he parks his stunning, hand-crafted hot rods in public places in upstate New York and engages passersby in conversations about cars, life, and, eventually, about saving their souls. Not exactly what I was expecting when I took my two boys over to see his beautifully detailed 1930 Model A.

The Hot Rod Minister is a wonderful example of how to solve one of the key challenges of service innovation: creating an easy on-ramp to a new experience. One of the most common things people tell me about service innovations that are failing in the market place is: “The people who use it, love it.” That tells me that not enough people are aware of the experience and perceive the advantages to trying it out. That’s what an on-ramp accomplishes for you. And the Hot Rod Minister has solved for this failure mode.

A simple example of an on-ramp is the test-drive for a new car. The boldest, gutsiest on-ramp I’ve ever seen is the one used by OnStar: They give the device and the service away free for one year! Now THAT is a commitment to getting you to try it out. Recently, Starbucks has supplemented its morning coffee customers with a $2-off coupon for an afternoon cold beverage, in an effort to provide an on-ramp to an afternoon experience at Starbucks.

If you are introducing a new service, with a clever new business model, be sure to include a clever on-ramp to the experience. Or you might end up saying, glumly, “The people who use it, love it.”

Creativity: How to Find and Nurture It

I work at an innovation consulting firm, and creativity becomes a crucial asset at certain points of a growth project. We need to find employees with creativity in their repertoire, yet their formal academic disciplines must range from journalism to engineering.

I’ve often wondered if there is a simple test to help compare the creative potential in people (and exercises to build on it!).

The team at Newsweek gave me an idea today: The Torrance Test of Creative Thinking, developed by psychologists at the University of Georgia. It uses a complete-the-drawing format where the research subject is provided with a sheet of paper containing a partial image, and is asked to complete the image.

The drawing above started with just the box, the long straight edges of the hat, and the linking loop that forms the top of the hat. This drawing was made by an adult, Joshua, and was given a TTCT score of 15 points out of 18. The only weakness the scorer found was the use of a common object

a hat

as the basis for the otherwise creative response.

Yes, a weakness in the system is the requirement for a trained evaluator. Still, it’s intriguing. For more on this, see the July 12 Newsweek essay called “Forget Brainstorming” (

Design Thinking and the Top-5 "Moments of Stark Terror"

As part of my book project on Design Thinking, my co-author and I are thinking of including a section on the “Moments of Stark Terror” on a design project. To build a representative list of these moments, we reached out to ten experienced practitioners, asking them for a list and for a couple of favorite stories. The stories will require a little editing (and formal permission), but here are the top moments that came up.

1. The self-doubt moment.
This is when it dawns on you: “I just promised WHAT? By WHEN? With only BLANK resources to get it done?” Or the self-doubt might show up later in the project (see moment #5, below), but it will rear its head at some point.
2. The ethnography results moment.
You are fresh from reviewing the customer journey and other ethnographic research inputs, with a crystal clear sense of the latent need you can address. Then the executive sponsor sees the sample of 11 customers, none of which appears similar to any others, and she says, “Are we going to make decisions based on that?”
3. The morning after (the brainstorm) moment.
A typical brainstorming process generates at least 100 ideas (idea-lets, really, since they are often expressed in fragments that can fit on a post-it note), sometimes more than 500. When participants in the process step back and reflect on the results, they are very likely to think (or say), “Interesting, but I don’t think we discovered our next $500M line of business.” They may also think, “We’ve had 80% of these ideas before, and the other 20% are pie-in-the-sky.”
4. The short list moment.
This moment occurs when you have created three innovative combinations of elements, shaping them into new offerings that are ready to be explore in cooperation with customers (i.e., customer co-creation sessions). You show the three alternative concepts to the executive sponsor, and he says, flatly, “What else have you got?” As if, by reviewing the 15 or 20 concepts that didn’t make the cut, he can fix it.

5. The debut moment.
This moment occurs right before the project goes live for the first time, usually during the learning launch. Sometimes it is the executive sponsor who wants to abort immediately before take-off, and sometimes it is the team that says, “We are NOT ready.”
How do these match your perceptions? After finalizing our list, we will propose the best way(s) to manage your emotions — and your team — during these moments of stark terror.