Archive for the Tag 'Invention Machine'

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

Invention Machine’s CTO on Open Innovation

Point: When reviewing the ideas submitted to your open innovation portal, identify ideas that have momentum and ideas that are outliers.

Story: Open innovation efforts yield many ideas, often too many to use. So, what’s the best way to manage and make productive use of the ideas you receive? To answer this, I interviewed Jim Todhunter, CTO of Invention Machine, as part of the Open Innovation Summit held in Orlando December 3-4, 2009. I asked Jim about how Invention Machine Goldfire software can be used in open innovation efforts. He described three key tasks to do after you have received a set of submissions from an open innovation effort.

The first step is to organize the ideas into buckets.  Todhunter described how Goldfire speeds this process and reveals relationships among ideas as well. Goldfire uses semantic technology, which means that it’s not limited to finding exact keyword matches when searching or analyzing submissions. Rather, semantic engines understand the meaning of the words, so they can cluster related ideas regardless of the specific terms that users submitted. That’s a useful feature for open innovation, because people often use different terms or nonstandard words in their submissions. Semantic technologies find text that has similar meaning, even if it does not use identical words.

Todhunter illustrated the second step with a hypothetical example. Let’s say you’re a medical device company looking for innovations related to sphygmomanometers (the familiar arm-cuff device for measuring blood pressure). Goldfire will automatically divide your open innovation ideas into different tiers of concepts. Top-level tiers are general concepts and concepts around functionality. Finer-grained buckets under these meta-categories are categories like advantages and disadvantages that your customers see about your product or competing products.  For example, within the “advantages” cluster you might notice that a customer submitted an idea referencing an advantage of a competing product by saying “this other sphygmomanometer doesn’t pinch when people pump it up.” Regardless of the specific terms that a person uses, Goldfire can identify a concept like “pain-free use” and create a cluster of that concept.  If several other people use terms such as “pinch” “hurt” “discomfort” or “squeeze”, then you know that’s a key issue to focus on. Identifying ideas that have momentum helps the company serve existing customers better.

But it’s not just the momentum ideas that have value. In the third step, you identify a different type of potentially valuable suggestion. Specifically, Goldfire looks for what Todhunter called “singularities” — outlier ideas that had very little discussion. Outlier ideas may be worth nothing or they may be the future of the company.  On one hand, the dearth of discussion might mean that the idea wasn’t very useful. On the other hand, that singularity may be next new application that is just starting to emerge. “Singularities represent interesting, unique points of value that may relate to unserved audiences, new applications, new applications of technology, or new pockets of interest that you as a company haven’t served — these can be your underserved communities that create the opportunity for new disruptive market elements,” Todhunter said.

1. Gather as many open innovation idea submissions as possible
2. Quickly bucket the ideas (and parts of ideas) to look for patterns
3. Look for the most-mentioned ideas to find high-priority innovations
4. Also look for outliers to find potential high-value innovations.

For more information:

Open Innovation Summit

Invention Machine

Jim Todhunter’s blog: Innovating to Win


No Comments »Innovation, New Product Development, Opportunity, Software tool