Archive for October, 2009

How Boston Scientific Accelerates Innovation

Point: Capture, share and reuse knowledge to make R&D engineers more productive


At Power to Innovate 2009, Boston Scientific’s Randy Schiestl (VP of R&D) and Jude Currier (Cardiovascular Knowledge Management & Innovation Practices Lead) described how Boston Scientific is redesigning its innovation processes. The goal: to accelerate time to market, increase the productivity of innovators, and reduce costs and risks.

Boston Scientific is an $8 billion company committed to delivering innovative medical technologies that improve the quality of patient care as well as healthcare productivity. The company has a broad portfolio of 13,000 products. The new products in its pipeline include drug coated stents, bare metal stents, catheter and bio-absorbable technology.

In the past, Boston Scientific drove innovation from business strategy to technology development to product development. In this staged approach, engineers created technology-driven products that were then shown to business units and customers at the prototype stage. The trouble with this process was that the later groups often found gaps or risks in the proposed product late in the product development process. As a result, the company had to spend more money than expected putting out fires while trying to hold to a launch schedule.  Boston Scientific decided to change its innovation process to bring more knowledge and resources into the earlier stages of innovation.

As part of the new innovation process, Boston Scientific began bringing in key “voices” into the innovation process earlier. By getting these voices — the voice of the customer, the voice of the business unit, and the voice of regulatory bodies — earlier, the company uncovered its knowledge gaps and risks much sooner. The second part of Boston Scientific’s innovation process redesign gave employees access and pointers to relevant information, whether that information resided in a document or in the tacit knowledge of an expert. The goal here was to reduce the amount of time engineers spend looking for knowledge. Schiestl said engineers spend 30% of their time looking for relavant knowledge. To improve upon that, Boston Scientific used Goldfire (innovation software from Invention Machine) to capture, share and reuse knowledge.  Goldfire’s semantic technology automatically categorizes concepts can and ties relevant intelligence to specific innovation initiatives. For example, engineers used Goldfire to identify past research and then validate whether that research could be repurposed. The result: Boston Scientific engineers who used Goldfire spent only 10 percent of their time researching intelligence, compared to 20-30 percent by non-Goldfire users.

Boston Scientific’s new innovation process illustrates what Mark Atkins, CEO of Invention Machine, called an innovation intelligence ecosystem.  This ecosystem represents the aggregate of information, communities, and processes that collectively contribute to innovation. Here’s how it works: using innovation software like Invention Machine’s Goldfire, companies capture and reuse information and intellectual capital created by employees as well as by external sources. Goldfire further enables collaboration by accurately reconstructing a user’s past thinking and research process, making it visible and explicit to other users. Employees avoid reinventing or duplicating research already done, thus saving time and improving innovation productivity.

Boston Scientific shared two examples of its success using Goldfire and the company’s new innovation processes. First, the company improved the design of cardiac stents to reduce a patient’s injury-response to the device. By combining knowledge from across the innovation ecosystem, the company mapped key clinical knowledge about heart disease and how different heart artery conditions affect the patient outcomes with different stent designs.

In the second example, Boston Scientific used Goldfire to solve a technical problem in manufacturing that was reducing product yields.  Using Goldfire, Boston Scientific found that previously undocumented thermocapillary effects were leading to clogged spray nozzles. By understanding the physics of the cause, Boston Scientific was able to make a simple change to the manufacturing line to eliminate the clogging and thereby improve yields.


  • Uncover all the “voices” that have a say in the success of innovations (the voice of the customer, voice of technologists, voice of manufacturing, voice of regulatory compliance, etc.).  Connect key people and communities in a more collaborative, sharing-oriented environment
  • Identify, organize, and access information (internal and external) needed by these communities to do their innovation-related work.
  • Develop knowledge and innovation processes that find and resolve knowledge gaps or risks early in the innovation process.

Comments Off on How Boston Scientific Accelerates InnovationCase study, How-to, Innovation, New Product Development, Productivity, R&D, Software tool, Strategy

Bill Clinton & Bill George on Leadership (World Business Forum #wbf09)

Point: Leaders must communicate and connect, which means providing vision and revealing vulnerability

Story: At the World Business Forum last week, former President Bill Clinton was asked about his lessons on leadership.  His answer was threefold: ClintonPhoto

  • It begins with a vision of where you want to go: you have to articulate where you are, where you want to go, and how to get there
  • A leader has to continually communicate and sell the vision
  • Leaders need to understand people, not just policies

That last point about leaders needing to understand people was the comment that was most retweeted during the live-tweeting of Clinton’s talk. It was the point that resonated the most deeply with the audience.

Fittingly, Clinton’s closing comments provided the perfect circle back to Bill George’s opening keynote the day before.  Bill George, former Medtronic CEO under whose leadership the company’s market cap grew from $1.1 billion to $60 billion, spoke about authentic leadership during a time of crisis.

Being authentic builds trust and helps people understand who you are as a leader.  “In a time of crisis, you bill-georgeBlogPhotoneed people who tell you the truth,” George said.  Authenticity requires strength because it means, at times, revealing vulnerabilities. Although revealing vulnerabilities seems counterintuitive and very hard for leaders who want to seem all-knowing, George has said:

“When you open yourself up to others and share your fears and shortcomings, you connect with people at a deeper level.  Exposing your vulnerabilities is an open invitation for others to share openly with you. In the process, you gain a higher level of support and commitment from people, as well as their respect.”

How much do you share? Bill George offered an example from his own life:  As Medtronics’ CEO, he regularly sent out emails to all the employees about the state and health of the company. In 1996, seven years into his tenure as CEO, George’s wife was diagnosed with cancer.  George found himself writing an email to employees revealing his wife’s personal health rather than presenting the company’s financial health.  To George’s surprise, 18,000 employees (more than half the company) replied to his email, offering their support and sharing their own stories of loved ones who had battled cancer.  “It was a personal connection,” George reflected. “We’re hungry for those connections.”


  • Build personal connections with those you lead
  • Create, communicate, and cultivate a vision
  • Be authentic, revealing both weaknesses and strengths

For More Information

Bill George is the author of the new Seven Lessons for Leading in Crisis and bestsellers Authentic Leadership
and True North

Bill George’s blog is at

[Bill George shared the email story during a pre-forum reception he held for World Business Forum Bloggers on Oct. 5, 2009]


2 Comments »Case study, CEO, How-to

Kraft: the “$40 Billion Start-Up” Spurs Innovation

Point: Open innovation can accelerate new product development

Story: When Irene Rosenfeld took over as CEO of Kraft, she saw an anemic innovation pipeline. IrenePhotoThe company had 2000 corporate R&D staff — scientists, engineers and chemists — but new products weren’t flowing rapidly enough.   Her solution to encourage innovation?  To get everyone to “Think of Kraft as a $40 billion start-up,” she said at the World Business Forum on October 7, 2009.  One way to emulate start-up thinking is to be open to new ideas from anywhere and quickly turn them into something valuable. Kraft reached out beyond its corporate R&D to enlist the help of employees across the whole company, as well as suppliers and partners, to spur innovation.

For example, Kraft runs an online “Innovate with Kraft” program whereby anyone can submit product ideas.  Although skeptics call such programs gimmicks or fads, Rosenfeld maintains that they’re not gimmicks if the programs and the ideas generated from them are being used.

Kraft’s recent new product introduction, Bagel-fuls (frozen bagels pre-filled with Philadelphia brand Cream Cheese), for example, came from an unsolicited idea from a third-generation bagel maker in a niche market. The idea was a win-win for both companies: it solved some technical challenges that Kraft had faced in delivering a bagel and cheese combo, and it expanded the bagel-makers product beyond his niche.

Rosenfeld also mentioned the value of platform-based innovation (ideas that span multiple brands and geographies) in the innovation process.  Now, “Our innovation pipeline is quite full,” Rosenfeld remarked, with new products coming out in four core areas: Snacking, Quick Meals, Premium and Health & Wellness.


  • Look for ideas in the corners: reach out to employees and suppliers, especially niche people, to uncover obscure ideas that merit more widespread use
  • Celebrate the use of submitted ideas to show the value of participation in innovation submission programs.

For more information:
Irene Rosenfeld at the World Business Forum on Oct 6, 2009 #wbf09

Staggs, Sandy. Foster Innovation at Kraft Foods, Oct 27, 2008.

New York Times, Sept. 9, 2009

Comments Off on Kraft: the “$40 Billion Start-Up” Spurs InnovationCase study, CEO, Innovation, Strategy

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