Archive for August, 2010

Unilever, Cisco, Whirlpool: Communication in Open Innovation

Point: Good communication skills drive open innovation and collaboration

Story: At the World Research Group’s 2010 Open Innovation Summit, many presenters stressed the role of communication for both innovation leaders and in promoting open innovation initiatives.  Top-notch communication skills with senior executives, peers, partners help drive open innovation success.

Stefan Lindegaard, author of the The Open Innovation Revolution, and Greg Fox, Senior Director & CMO – Strategic Alliances at Cisco, held an invitation-only Think Tank group at the Summit to identify and discuss the key qualities of leaders of open innovation.  The group ranked communications in the top three characteristics (vision and adaptability were also key).  The Think Tank group emphasized the importance of leaders using a deliberate communications strategy with holistic internal and external communication.  Good open innovation leaders have the confidence to share what they know but also maintain proper disclosure limits with open innovation partners.

Nona Minnifield Cheeks, Chief, Innovative Partnerships Program Office, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center noted that consistent messages and behavior (i.e., walking the talk) improve trust and outcomes. It’s vital to establish clear sense of why the organization is doing open innovation, set context, and create sense of urgency, Cheeks said.

In addition to Think Tank members, other presenters at the conference concurred about the crucial role of communications in innovation.  For example, Dr. Gail Martino, Principal Scientist in the Open Innovation Group at Unilever, described seven soft skills communicators need to persuade, inspire and garner support for open innovation efforts. Communication involves being a good listener, she said, to build trust and feel empathy for others’ situations. At Unilever, top-notch communication skills include a balance of being convincing but also being an advocate for the partner.  Balanced communications also include conveying both the rewards and risks of innovation, not just mindless cheerleading.

Moises Norena, Director of Global Innovation and PMR at Whirlpool Corporation, described how Whirlpool aligned innovation to strategy through Whirlpool Foundations, which communicated to all employees and helped transcend silos. Whirlpool develop training programs for all levels of employees, including a mandatory half-hour web course that taught all employees about Whirlpool’s innovation strategy and created common language for innovation at the appliance maker.  Cisco‘s Sharon Wong recommended that open innovation platform operators communicate simply and often to maintain excitement and interest in the open innovation effort.

Jeff Boehm, Chief Marketing Officer of Invention Machine, focused his presentation on the role of communications as driver for innovation, collaboration and revenue.  He explained why and how marketing or internal communications supports the use of a good innovation platform and satisfaction of top-management mandates.

Boehm suggested that three key elements are necessary — but not individually sufficient — for creating successful, ongoing innovation programs. First, offering a powerful platform for innovation helps but doesn’t guarantee that innovation occurs.  A “build-it-and-they-will come” approach doesn’t work because too many people are too busy to take the time to find and participate in even the most exciting innovation initiative.

Second, top-down mandates may be necessary for engaging busy people, but mandates alone aren’t sufficient to ensure innovation participation, either.  Employees typically assume that daily operational pressures trump innovation mandates, so it’s easy for them to short-change innovation or allow it to slip out of awareness over time.  That implies using a third element — marketing or internal communications — to reach users, communicate the value of the program, remind them of mandates, and convey the excitement and accomplishments of the effort. For example, putting an innovation icon onto employee badges creates a natural reminder and talking point about the effort.

Boehm, who has extensive experience leading these communication efforts, listed the following four actions as the critical steps for internal communications the drive participation in innovation initiatives:

  1. Make innovation relevant. Ask different users (executives, peers, functional silos, external partners, etc.) about their struggles and challenges and show how the innovation initiative can help them.
  2. Promote innovation. Create a roadmapped stream of communications that spans time and multiple channels (e.g., lunchroom posters, emails, newsletters, tent cards, tchotchkes, badges) to reach, inform, and encourage people to participate.
  3. Provide easy calls to action for innovation.  Avoid obstacles such as convoluted registrations, approvals processes, and delays.
  4. Sustain the momentum of innovation with ongoing communications.  Continuously relay successes, platform improvements, ongoing activities, training, and new information to avoid attenuation of attention to innovation.

Open Innovation Summit Think Tank Members:

To join the 2nd Annual Open Innovation Summit LinkedIn group, click here.

2 Comments »How-to, Innovation, open innovation

How to Find Opportunities in Fragmentation

Point: If you’re looking for a new business opportunity, look for individually-fragmented but collectively large areas of economic activity, such as where individuals or small business own a large segment of the market

Story: A business model that connects small businesses and individuals to markets and automates tedious tasks was common to three of 11 new start-ups seeking  funding at Techstars Demo Day August 5, 2010. Here are their stories, followed by six action steps you can take to tap such markets. helps small-scale landlords. These landlords collectively own 30 million rental units in the US.  Rentmonitor offers an online service that automates many elements of the five key tasks that every landlord faces: 1) advertising available properties; 2) screening renter applications; 3) managing maintenance requests; 4) tracking rental payments; and 5) record-keeping for taxes. In exchange for a monthly fee of only $5-$50 (depending on the number of units), Rentmonitor gives the landlord a suite of online tools to manage their properties. Renters also have access to Rentmonitor to submit a maintenance request or make an online rent payments. addresses the needs of vacation homeowners who rent out their properties when they are not using them. Currently, many vacation homeowners pay a 30% to 50% cut out of their rental revenues to property managers. replaces that high-cost property manager with low-cost online services to handle advertising, booking, and housekeeping and maintenance contractors. Although VacationRentalPartner seems similar to Rentmonitor, the two start-ups differ significantly because the needs of ultra-short-term vacation property owners differ significantly from the needs of long-term lease-based landlords. For example, VactionRentalPartner has tools to help fill-in unrented days, such as by promoting off-season rentals to prior guests or with special deals to already-booked renters if they extend their stay to covered the unrented days. VacationRentalPartner also emphasizes the benefits of fast automated responses to booking inquiries. Would-be vacationers expect instant replies from property holders — a less-than-30 second response time to an availability inquiry increases bookings by 200%. targets outdoor advertisers with an auction and listing-based marketplace for the buyers and sellers of billboard space. Adstruc address the fragmentation of national, regional, and local billboard site owners that make it hard for advertisers, especially national advertisers, to find and buy the best billboard sites for a large campaign. AdStruc aggregates billboard sites and provides searchable data on available inventory.  AdStruc gives buyers virtual visits to billboard sites through Google Streetview. AdStruc also partnered with Circle Graphics on the printing and shipping of the extremely large format. AdStruc supports the sellers, too, in managing their inventory. “This-space-available” and obsolete signs represent $750 million a year in lost revenue. With AdStruc, sellers can upload their available spaces, automate sales to approve buyers, and auction off space. AdStruc makes money on a share of the transaction fees as well as monthly service fees for managing billboard inventories.


  1. Look for individually-fragmented but collectively large areas of economic activity, such as where individuals or small business own a large segment of the market
  2. Find the “pain points” in the lifecycle activities of these market participants (e.g., advertising vacant space, vetting renters, researching an opportunity, handling tax records)
  3. Automate these processes and offer an online, software-as-a-service tool suite
  4. Monetize the service with a low monthly fee, nominal share of transaction price, or through ad sales
  5. Connect these small businesses or individuals to large markets (or create them) with automated advertising, inquiry support, booking, vetting, etc.
  6. Help people on the other side of the transaction, too, such as with online booking, online payment, and online management of requests.

2 Comments »Case study, Entrepreneurs, How-to, Opportunity