Archive for August, 2009

Cirque Du Soleil’s Visible and Invisible Innovation

Point: Behind-the-scenes innovation makes visible innovation shine

Story: I saw the premiere of KOOZA in Denver last week. Actually, it was my second time seeing KOOZA (the first was in Boston), and it was even better the second time.wheelofdeath1_th

The first time, I was mesmerized by the overt innovations in the show, like the “Wheel of Death.” Imagine two connected hamster-wheels, each of which spin while both together revolve vertically as well. Suspended high above the stage, the performers run, dive and somersault inside the wheels. And just when it looks like the act couldn’t get any more thrilling, the performers switch to running on the outside of the wheel.

contorsion1_thMy second time at KOOZA, I sat in the second row, so I had a closer look at the costumes. Even from the very last row (where I sat the first time), I remember the dazzling shine of the juggler’s suit. The second time, I had a chance to see the intricacy of all the costumes, which led me to wonder about the R&D that must go into them. The costumes hug tight body lines yet flex with all the contortions the performers make.

How does Cirque Du Soleil create these amazing costumes? First, Cirque hires talent: specialists in textile design, lace-making, shoemaking, wig-making, patternmaking, costume-making and millinery all work together to combine their knowledge.

Second, they actively seek out new materials which can be used. A “technological watch team” tracks global advances in adhesives, batteries and miniature lights to see how they could be incorporated into costumes. The team looks beyond boundaries of standard textiles to encompass fields such as avionics, plumbing, water sports and even dentistry for components that achieve the imagined task.

Third, the artisans of Cirque Du Soleil’s Costume workshop custom-make all the costumes, dyeing the colors in-house or painting costumes directly. They mold each individual hat on a plaster model of the artist’s head for a perfect fit. They consider comfort during these very athletic shows: the wig-making team, for example, builds wigs one hair at a time to achieve optimal ventilation. The attention to detail is staggering: the Bungee costumes used in Cirque’s Mystre each have over 2,000 hand-glued sequins. The juggler’s suit in KOOZA consists entirely of mirrored squares, like a disco ball.

Whether visible or hidden, Cirque du Soleil innovations shine.

* Hire specialists in multiple related disciplines to work as a creative team
* Explore beyond the expected. Cirque’s costume team doesn’t just use fabrics but expands into composite materials such as silicone, latex, plastics, foams and urethane
* Let team members be hands-on to devise ways to make an innovation work.

Further information:

If you’re in Denver, take advantage of seeing KOOZA yourself. It plays through Sept 27, with tickets available here. The show then moves to Santa Monica, CA in October and Irvine, CA in January. Info on future cities is here.

2 Comments »Case study, How-to, Innovation, New Product Development

High-Value Innovation: Innovating the Management of Innovation

Point: Inventing new management techniques offers big paybacks.

Story: What’s more valuable than a new product or service innovation?  An innovation in a management technique, said business strategy expert Gary Hamel at the Spigit Innovation Summit last week. Innovations in management techniques have far-reaching impact.gary-hamel-photo

Consider Thomas Edison. He’s credited with 1093 patents, but one underlying invention is what made such a multitude of patents possible: the invention of the corporate R&D lab. Edison was the first to bring management discipline to research & development to enable a more powerful method of invention than the lone inventor of the past. Edison’s 1093 patents had less to do with technological genius and more to do with management genius: creating and managing an R&D lab that could efficiently and effectively crank out new inventions.

So, what steps can you take to innovate the management of innovation? Management is the effective control of resources to execute tasks that achieve goals. What, then, does effective management of innovation look like? Hamel talked about the need for a combination of freedom and discipline: the freedom to come up with ideas but also the discipline to find the best ideas, refine them, and channel them into something that creates value for the firm. He posed it as a paradox, which is always a clue to generative potential.

As you think about improving the management of innovation, think about the recent inventions that you can draw on. For example, in my previous post, I wrote about how social media tools support innovation processes. These tools let you invite ideas from across the whole organization and provide a way to refine, track and vote on those ideas. Other advancements, like open sourcing and open innovation (see earlier post), help you tap into almost-free resources. Furthermore, widespread adoption of smartphones changes the fundamental equation of management in terms of reach and timeliness. All these technologies support new approaches to management, especially the management of innovation.


  • Take a step back from inventing and innovation to think about how to improve the management of innovation
  • Ask: how can we generate new ideas more effectively with available resources? (freedom)
  • Ask: how can we develop and validate new ideas more effectively with available resources? (discipline)
  • Create coherent processes that balance resources between freedom and discipline

Further information:

Gary Hamel’s book, The Future of Management and his blog

I enjoyed hearing Gary speak and having the opportunity to ask him questions. If you’d like to do the same, consider joining me at the World Business Forum October 6-7, 2009 in New York City. Gary will be one of the speakers, along with former president Bill Clinton, Jack Welch, George Lucas, Paul Krugman and others. You can see the full agenda here.

Comments Off on High-Value Innovation: Innovating the Management of InnovationHow-to, Innovation, Productivity, Strategy

Using Social Media to Improve Corporate Innovation

Point: Social networking tools help capture the “quiet contributions” from the fringes of your company

Story: In the typical company, innovation relies on a hand-picked team leading an innovation project. The trouble is, these teams often have no good way of tapping the expertise of the whole company. They tend to call on the small circle of colleagues they know or on the acknowledged experts in an established field. But they have a hard time identifying people whom they don’t already know but who might have new knowledge relevant to the problem at hand. As a result, potential good ideas are lost or hidden.

That’s where social software tools come in handy. With a tool like InnovationSpigit, for example, a company can start a discussion on a topic and employees who know about the topic self-identify by posting ideas, refining the ideas of others, and voting on ideas.

For example, a company could start discussion like “Can we develop a new water filtration product?” People from market research might identify the top-selling filtration products and their value propositions (e.g., “BrandA removes chlorine and lead”).  Someone from HR, who recently bought a water filtration system for her family, might contribute her own insights gathered from what blogs and outside websites were saying about all the competing products (e.g., “BrandB sucks because it’s hard to install”). Unforeseen expertise & spark-generating ideas might come from an employee who’s studied marine animals who might suggest “have you looked at how fish gills work? Perhaps we could base an idea around that.” Other employees might point out the engineering deficits of a proposed technology (e.g., a potential filter material is too expensive for consumer water filters). Another person might have good suggestions for how to solve the cost problem (e.g., to coat the expensive filter ingredient on a cheaper material).

The point is that these contributions can come from anywhere, not just the hand-picked team members and their inner circle. Happenstance insights and contributions from non-obvious personnel help increase the volume and quality of ideas. Reputation systems and voting mechanisms, built into innovation-specific social applications like InnovationSpigit 2.0, help direct innovation efforts into the most productive directions.


  • Explore how innovation-specific social applications like InnovationSpigit can be used to improve innovation in your organization.
  • Look for tools that expand the range of idea sources to more people and leverage the intelligence of crowds to focus innovation efforts.
  • Create a vibrant set of communities around open-ended problems to get new and disruptive ideas.
  • Use small incentives, reputation engines, and voting systems to encourage fast feedback that focuses efforts on the best ideas.

3 Comments »How-to, Innovation

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