Harvesting Innovation from the Desert

Harvesting Innovation from the Desert

I had the opportunity to chair the recent Back End of Innovation 2018 conference in Phoenix, Arizona and I thought I would share some of my notes and takeaways from the event. It’s definitely an event worth attending next year if you’re an innovation professional and missed this year’s conference.

Day One

The conference opened with a workshop choice between a leadership workshop by Amy Rossi of M&B Rossi consulting or a session led by Michael Ackerbauer, an Agile coach in the training department within IBM HR that was sharing a mashup of innovation, agile, and design thinking.

Michael’s session focused on a framework for four key stages:

  1. Clarify
  2. Ideate
  3. Develop
  4. Implement

One of the key takeaways from Amy’s leadership workshop was the idea of, similar to a safe word during you know what, for management teams to have a language they can leverage to redirect the efforts of the team when things start to go off track – i.e. a word for when people are playing it too safe, a word for when people are being critical at the wrong time, etc.

After lunch the main event arrived, my workshop teaching people how to use The Experiment Canvas™ to gain a competitive advantage over the competition, and transition from a fail fast mindset to a learn fast capability. 😉

If you’d like to organize a workshop at your company to teach everyone how to use The Experiment Canvas™ to accelerate your innovation efforts and increase their success, please contact me.

You can get a poster size version (35″x56″) of The Experiment Canvas for FREE by clicking this link or by clicking the image below, or if you would prefer to get the 11″x17″ (scale to fit A3) version and a few other bonus items (including the Visual Project Charter™), click this link.

On Day One there was also a group of Ask the Expert roundtables with more than ten choices. I chose one that was about measuring your innovation opportunity cost led by David Matheson of SmartOrg, and his thesis was that in many organizations people talk down the upside from a potential innovation to a number that they think is more achievable so they don’t disappoint. At the same time, the chances of potentially achieving that upside is influenced greatly by how well (or poorly) the project is resourced and how distracted the executives and key resources are that you need to participate in the project for it to be successful.

Day One closed out with the first keynote by Melissa Steach from Herman Miller speaking about how workplace design influences innovation, how people are inspired and uplifted by nature, and how no redesign will take hold unless people see leaders using the new spaces. It was amusing to see that even after two redesigns, the corner offices (all four corners of the space) still remained.

Day Two

John Kolko of the Modernist Studio (ex Frog Design, etc.) kicked off Day Two and the primary takeaway from his talk was the difference between rules and constraints and how if you want people to be creative you want to try and reduce the volume of rules and increase the volume of constraints. His new book is called Creative Clarity. He also made points about how many people struggle with creativity because they personalize things – “if my thing that I’ve made is bad, I’m bad.”

Other points included:

  • Artifact as negotiation
  • Rules destroy creativity, constraints don’t
  • Tame ambiguity by building a starting artifact
  • The importance of stating “This is the problem we are trying to solve”
  • Help people see and articulate constraints
  • Build trust vs. build craft
  • Create safety
  • Build a team artifact – together
  • Leaders own the consequences for removing rules

Next up on Day Two was an innovation leader from DuPont. He spoke extensively about how they look at their innovation portfolio, basically categorizing things in a two by two with risk/certainty on the vertical axis and upside on the horizontal axis. They spoke about how they revisited all of the projects in their portfolio with the intention of de-cluttering their portfolio. The reason? They discovered that nearly every project was under-resourced, increasing the risk of their projects and decreasing the potential upside of their projects (and lengthening the timelines to potentially receive said upside). Their goal was to revisit the projects and push on the certainty and upside estimates and to make selections of projects to kill so that they could better resource the remaining projects and increase the likelihood and magnitude of the upsides on the remaining projects. Upon further evaluation they found some projects that were likely to have up to 10x the previously estimated upside.

Day Two’s main event was the keynote of Eric Ries, author of The Startup Way and of The Lean Startup, and the Q&A session I led with him afterwards. He’s a bit of grammar geek so he was insistent that it is The Lean Startup, not Lean Startup, which I can respect. After all, it’s The Experiment Canvas™, not Experiment Canvas™. 😉

The biggest takeaway from Eric’s talk and extensive Q&A was that companies committed to innovation and to existing years from now need to treat Entrepreneurship as a core capability of the company that they need to properly invest in and organize in the same way that they dedicate attention and resource to Finance, HR, Operations, etc. Ideas being developed in the Entrepreneurship part of the business need to be handled differently and have different resources available to them than things that are part of the existing operations of the company. The question of course then becomes, if you do this well with new ideas, when and how do you transition them from the Entrepreneurship part of the company to the Operations part of the company.

This was kind of a recurring theme to the conference and the consensus from innovation practitioners working in big corporates seemed to be that often ideas are developed and passed to the business too soon. The business units too often steal the resources from the NEW THING and give them to the OLD THINGS, subsequently claiming that the new thing just failed on its own because it was a bad idea… He also spoke about the importance of taking a VC type approach – series A, series B, etc – Give people limited funding and define what must be achieved to get the next round of funding…

From here they went to a session track choice and I went to a session that was supposed to be interactive with innovation leaders from 3M Healthcare on ‘Making Change Happen’. They were big believers in the Business Model Canvas, but they don’t use the Osterwalder one, they use Peter Koen’s FEI Canvas. By using canvases earlier they believe that you set expectations for what is needed and prime people’s thinking.

Braden Kelley speaking at Back End of Innovation 2018 conference

Day Three

Paul Campbell, Chief Innovation Officer at the Gore Innovation Center for WL Gore kicked off Day Three. Paul is passionate about corporate entrepreneurship and has been working as a consultant before being hired to serve in his present role. He likes to use the business model canvas to help people first identify how the traditional business operates and then imagine how it could be done differently outside the company. Very useful for helping people identify how to tear down/deconstruct the existing model/solution to build the foundation for the new thing. He gave a great example of challenging constraints in a regulated industry where 2.5 years was the initial estimate for go-to-market, which they then scaled down to three MONTHS by change the type and content of the claims they were making. Don’t hand over new ideas to core business too soon. The Gore Innovation Center is WL Gore’s attempt to give ideas a place to be developed to the right level of maturity and scale using an accelerator model to allow them to grow to $25m, $50m, etc. first. Other key points:

  • 60% of his successes have come from the innovation graveyard (innovation projects that started and failed, ideas that have been tried before) – BECAUSE there are a lot of great ideas there that failed because they didn’t do the deconstruction work
  • 75% of innovations in previous work failed after being handed to the business
  • They operate an Accelerator Business Unit surrounded by M&A, Open Innovation, Procurement, etc.
  • WL Gore protects its IP by doing manufacturing themselves – the patents on Gore Tex and other core products have expired but they’re still able to make and sell a premium product because they’re the only ones who know how to make it at scale – widening the moat

The WL Gore Innovation Center in Silicon Valley is attempting to move beyond Lean Innovation and Design Thinking by focusing on the following four main steps in their process:

  • Ideate
  • Deconstruct
  • Incubate
  • Scale

Paul Campbell also had another model that had Strategy at the top and Culture at the bottom with the following inbetween:

  • Open Innovation
  • Venturing
  • Design Thinking
  • Business Models
  • Lean Innovation
  • Accelerator

The next keynote on Day Three was Alex Goryachev, Managing Director, Innovation Strategy and Programs, Cisco Corporate Strategic Innovation Group.

Innovation is a state of mind (strategy & culture require):

  1. Fear as a motivator
  2. Clear business case
  3. Combat fake innovation
  4. Embrace the ecosystem
  5. Ditch company politics and bring everyone together
  6. Missed this one ?
  7. Missed this one ?
  8. Clear/Measurable Milestones
  9. Bringing it All Together

Looking outside for innovation allows us to see around corners and have more complete solutions (Ecosystem approach).

Alex had a nice graphic of a Table of Strategic Elements (like the periodic table), organized by markets, technologies, and business models as a way to help focus their innovation efforts at Cisco (VISUALIZING the Vision). Here are some other random notes I captured:

  • Startup/Cisco – accelerate with the latest methodologies (learn from the startups)
  • Innovation group should facilitate and be invisible to avoid antibodies
  • Create an innovation ambition for each team in Cisco (goals) – good/bad examples
  • Pivot vs Persevere (a decision to be made many times)
  • Cisco has protected job rotations to allow people to develop ideas (paired with coaches/mentors)

Compensation challenges came up during Alex’s talk:

  • Internal vs External compensation for a brilliant idea and emerging business
  • Acquired innovators get more $$$ than internal innovators
  • How to fix?

I then attended Igniting a Grassroots Movement of Intrapraneurs from two Exxon Mobil innovation leaders – Christopher Bailey and Kimberly Bullock – introduced a Build Card, kind of like a scaled down version of The Experiment Canvas™, with the following key elements:

  • We believe that
  • To verify that, we’ll measure
  • And generate data by
  • We are right if

They also highlighted the role of coaching in helping teams working through the innovation process.

And, then the final session I attended on Day Three at BEI 2018 was hosted by Mike Rehorst (formerly an Innovation Leader at Northwestern Mutual Insurance) and Mark Leung, Director of Rotman DesignWorks (University of Toronto) – This workshop was one of the highlights of the event, but it was hard to take notes during a workshop like this where you’re engaging in activities. I hope they post their slides soon to the event web site.

They had a two-by-two matrix (level of support and level of certainty) that they had us progressing through using a set of scenarios and a set of roles (or strategies really) and identifying which roles or strategies given the current states we were given as the scenario progressed (work done in groups).

Overall, it was a great event, I met a lot of great innovation practitioners, and even though I’m not quite ready to talk about what I’m working on at Oracle yet, it was still great to be among kindred innovation and transformation spirits. I enjoyed chairing the event, leading the conversation with Eric Ries, and I look forward to continuing the conversations we started there and attending future events.

Change Planning Toolkit Million Dollar Value


Image credits: Unexpected Art Gallery and Michael Graber

Wait! Before you go…

Choose how you want the latest innovation content delivered to you:

[author image=”https://www.disruptorleague.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Braden-Kelley-70.jpg”]Braden Kelley is a Director of Innovation and Human-Centered Design at Oracle, and a popular innovation speaker and workshop facilitator. He is the author of two five-star books, Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire and Charting Change, and the creator of a revolutionary new Change Planning Toolkit™. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter (@innovate).[/author]

Braden Kelley

Braden Kelley is a Design Thinking, Innovation and Transformation Consultant, a popular innovation speaker and workshop leader, and helps companies plan organizational changes that are more human and less overwhelming. He is the author of Charting Change from Palgrave Macmillan and Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. Braden has been advising companies since 1996, while living and working in England, Germany, and the United States. Braden earned his MBA from top-rated London Business School. Follow him on Twitter and Linkedin.




The Roles of Risk and Luck in Innovation

By Jesse Nieminen | January 21, 2021

One of the most controversial, and perhaps even misunderstood topics in innovation are the roles of risk and luck for…

Read More

Diversifying the Corporate Boardroom

By Dan Blacharski | January 18, 2021

Diverse talent is abundant, but do you still need to know the secret handshake? A small group of tenured leaders,…

Read More

Leave a Comment