Innovations to be thankful for

The past year has seen some incredible new inventions that are revolutionizing our everyday lives. Before we sit down to Thanksgiving dinners this week we reflected on innovations from five different industries that showcase some of 2012’s best ideas.

The Tesla Model S: Imagine your dream luxury vehicle. Now imagine that it’s emissions free. Tesla has created an electric sedan that can drive 300 miles between charges. The Model S features a 17-inch touchscreen dashboard and USB ports to charge devices. This car is the first of its kind that isn’t terrible for the environment. But what make it even more noteworthy is that is has done that without sacrificing any needs or desires of the driver.

The Velella Project: A company in Hawaii called Kampachi Farms has developed a netted pen that can contain up to 2,000 Kampachi fish. This free-floating fish culture system was constructed in order to harvest clean, unadulterated fish for consumption. This sustainable method of raising fish could reduce disruption to the natural ecosystem of the ocean and provide a healthier food source, free of growth hormones.

Bounce Imaging: Bounce is a “low cost censor system for first responders.” Before emergency personnel enter a dangerous situation, they throw this small ball into the area. It takes pictures, temperatures, and oxygen levels and transmits the information back to the first responders. This device allows emergency personnel access to invaluable information they’ve never had before. As a result, they make more informed decisions and ultimately may save more lives.

MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer: This printer allows you to make professional scale models of your ideas in the comfort of your own home. The only requirement on your part is to enter a design and the Replicator will create a model made from plastic. An accessible 3D model printer means more people can make prototypes and even manufacture products quickly and inexpensively.

Eliodomestico: Eliodomestico is an inexpensive, solar powered water distiller that takes in seawater and creates fresh water. The saltwater is steamed when the pressure and temperature rise inside the boiler, leaving behind drinkable water. It’s easy to use and does not require much maintenance, resulting in an excellent way to help developing countries.

Upcoming chat covers ‘real’ innovation

A recent Capgemini study said just 30% of today’s Chief Innovation Officers feel they have the necessary structure for innovation. This number could be higher, according to Imaginatik innovation advisor Sara Husk, if they just line up three key components: resources, processes and metrics.

On Wednesday, Nov. 28 at 11 a.m., we’ll explore these elements in a live Twitter chat with Sara for our new “Innovator’s Corner” series.

Sara (@innovationgal) will join us for one hour next week using the hashtag #innocorner. The chat is a continuation of her webinar on “Making Innovation Real” held last month – this is a great opportunity to further explore that theme as you consider your own organizational innovation strategy and goals.

During her webinar, Sara talked about all the aspects of making innovation a reality in any organization.  A few of the main points were the role of the Chief Innovation Officer, developing an innovation program, and employee involvement.

The Chief Innovation Officer is supposed to act as a coach, lead the discussion, and manage leadership.  However, this person needs a sound strategy and organizational structure to ”make innovation real,” Sara says.

A key component of a successful innovation program is the involvement of employees.  To be engaged, Sara says, they must be actively involved in the developing the strategy.  They must also be allowed to practice innovation skills through three different but integrated spaces – mind (an employee’s mindset), physical (places conducive to shared experiences), and virtual (adding speed and global reach by facilitating interaction via the Internet).  The combination of all these elements results in making sustainable, actionable innovation a reality within your organization.

Join us Nov. 28 on Twitter (#innocorner) to keep the conversation going.

USAA: A study in pervasive innovation

USAA’s campus in San Antonio, Texas

In USAA’s world, innovation is conducted with one goal in mind: benefit the customer. In this member-based insurance and banking organization, no idea is a bad idea – there’s a structure in place that makes an innovator out of each and every employee, and their efforts yield 95% participation.

It results in a company that looks and behaves like no other auto insurer – or bank, or car dealer, or home insurer …

Last week, USAA flew bloggers from the financial service, military and innovation spaces to take a peek under the hood of its innovation program. We saw the new innovations that may transform the way insurance companies and banks do business, in the same way USAA pioneered check depositing through photos taken with a smartphone.

Here, an Open Innovation Lab provides the headquarters for engineers to try the wild ideas that may or may not get them closer to the end game of ultimate customer service. They wheel out a workerbot – a Skype-equipped laptop on a column attached to a Roomba controlled by the person calling in on the other end. It’s a prototype, naturally, but it’s this type of idea that is given flesh by the innovation team.

It’s this kind of thing that surprises you most in strolling the company’s innovation space. Innovation is everywhere, and ideas can spark new insurance products or new tools to keep home inspectors safe.

USAA by the numbers


ideas last year


Participation Rate


patents in the last year

Mick Simonelli, the Enterprise Innovation Executive Leader at USAA, says ideas are vetted with an attitude of “fail fast, fail cheaply.”

His program approaches innovation in one of three ways – an open employee engagement program, continuous (incremental) innovation, and revolutionary, where ideas may have a higher risk of failure and not necessarily ROI-based, or even may run contrary to the business leadership’s desires. That doesn’t stop them from pursuing the ideas, because challenging convention is the name of USAA’s innovation game.

Called ICE, Innovation Community for the Enterprise has a presence throughout USAA’s sprawling campus in San Antonio. In its customer service center, ICE posters featured photos of employees in the department who have won innovation recent Challenges.

In the Innovation Lab, R&D brings those ideas to life. They demonstrated a prototype app that scans your driver’s license bar code to get your information and begin an application for a checking account. A telescoping pole with a camera on the end allows adjustors a peek at your roof without ever leaving the ground. And an iPad app allows members to re-create the scene of an accident using cars they animate with their own voice-over.

The mission of the Innovation Lab is to provide all employees a way to realize their ideas. The VIP – Volunteer Innovation Program – matches resources to individual employees to help develop their ideas, no matter where they work.

A key theme we heard over the two days was Leadership – strong investment from the top of the organization (in resources and in mission) helps fuel USAA’s innovation effort. It is directly tied to everyone’s work – teams working on new projects are often made of different departments or disciplines, helping eliminate or prevent silos from occurring.

Key to high tech innovation: A lean approach

Michael Davies

When it comes to technology, Michael Davies says conventional wisdom is wrong.

In a rational world, one would think that the more you spend on R&D, the more successful your product will be.  But the world and its inhabitants are not rational.

Davies is the chairman of Endeavour Partners and a guest lecturer at MIT. He joined Chris Townsend from Imaginatik this week at a look at some of the common myths about high-tech innovation, and how we can not only learn from these myths but also apply them to other industries.

He cited a study by Booz Allen showed that there is no correlation between money spent on R&D and success. On the contrary, Apple spends very little on R&D compared to its competitors and enjoys great success.

The key is not spending, Davies said, but rather the process and developing something that people actually want.

This irrationality also exists with consumers in the shopping world. It is natural to imagine that diverse choice, more features, and a plethora of information is what consumers want. But Davies notes that diversity and complexity are both overwhelming and distressful. A decision arrived at after being presented with too many choices can result in painful buyer’s remorse. What customers really need, Davies said, are fewer products and features, and simpler choices with less information.

From a technology standpoint, Davies talks about the importance of taking a lean startup approach by asking, “How little can you spend?” The goal is to outsource the various parts so you can focus on the bottleneck of your product. It’s also important to be aware of your leverage points and bargaining chips, in order to get what you need from other, bigger companies.

How do you make this happen? Davies says it’s all about good decision-making, insight, and foresight.

And all this doesn’t just apply to start ups or tech companies. Webinar attendee Mark Neff from CSC commented about Davies’ approach as applied to education.

“First translate what you do into a product and customer language. For education: What is your product? Learning or research. What or who are your customers? Students and researchers. Now focus on what you can do to help deliver learning better and help your researchers research better and faster and with more relevant material.”

To attend a future webinar in Imaginatik’s Innovation Leaders Forum series visit our website.

An innovation champion’s guide to success

Innovation Champion

So you’ve been appointed as an innovation champion. You’ve been tasked to help form your organization’s innovation strategy, or maybe just help carry it out, or both. Where do you start?

The trouble is that innovation doesn’t come in a standard package.  It’s a unique process that must be tailored to your company’s goals in order to be successful.

Simply gaining the title of innovation champion is not enough to ensure innovative progress.  You must be armed with tools in order to make a difference.  Without tools, a leader is like a cannon with no gunpowder.

For maximum effect, an innovation champion must:

1. Have a strategy.  As a champion, you are going to need a clear-cut outline that details exactly what you are setting out to do.  It should include what you want to achieve and your plan on how to get there.  You wouldn’t go on a road trip without a map – your innovation journey is no different.

2. Align that strategy. Almost as important as actually having a strategy is aligning it with company goals.  You don’t want your company’s executives and employees to resist your innovation efforts because they don’t believe in their value. Your strategy for innovation has to complement your organization’s mission, and should take into account how the organization currently operates.

3. Establish Metrics.  It’s OK for projects to fail, but learning must accompany failure.  In order to hone in on the ideas that are going to be a success, you have to learn from your mistakes.

4. Create a supportive environment.  When someone needs feedback about an idea or just has questions, provide them a support system.  It’s difficult for people to put themselves out there if they aren’t 100% sure that they will be received with open arms. By fostering an environment where people feel comfortable, the number of potential ideas will grow significantly.

5. Tailor the model to your company.  Innovation happens in different ways across all industries, in companies big and small, in countries all around the world. If the strategy isn’t working, it’s OK to improve that, too.

If you are an innovation champion, remember these points to be a catalyst for change. Innovation is a group effort, but every group needs a leader.

Want to meet some of the world’s leading innovation champions? Join Imaginatik’s Linked In group now to connect with fellow change catalysts today.

Be the disrupter, not the disrupted

To Saul Kaplan, a business model is “the story of how an organization creates, delivers, and captures value.” But in today’s world of constant disruption, that static business model could also lead to an organization’s demise.

Kaplan is the founder of the Business Innovation Factory and author of “The Business Model Innovation Factory,” which explores the concept of “connected adjacencies” when considering how to transform an organization’s business model. In it, he says a static business model is a threat to a company’s health. If competitors find a better way to create, deliver and capture value for your customers your organization will inevitably lose relevance. Just look at what happened to Blockbuster when Netflix hit the market.

Kaplan’s answer to avoid becoming irrelevant or being “Netflixed” is business model innovation. Innovating a business model can be done in two ways: incremental and transformational.

Incremental innovation is the small tweaks, while transformational requires completely changing your model to take an entirely new and better approach. Kaplan feels incremental innovation only gets an organization part of the way to market success; for a business to truly innovate it must also be capable of designing, prototyping and experimenting in the real world with entirely new business models.

“You must change the lens and refocus on the customer experience,” Kaplan said.

He recommends engaging an outside network to inform and support the business model innovation process. Constant real world trials and experiments will lead to faster failures and therefore faster adjustments, according to Kaplan.

Like any innovation, a transformed business model idea must be prototyped and tested to determine its potential success. There’s also a tension at play: while testing this new model an organization must continue its core activities uninterrupted.

So how do you test a new business model while sustaining the current one? Kaplan suggests facilitating a connected adjacency, or “sandbox,” in which new business model ideas can be tested while the organization still maintains its core activity. In this environment, ideas can be tested quickly and adjusted without the red tape of approvals from different levels of management.

The sandbox needs to stay connected with the core activity so once a new model makes sense to scale, the organization’s talent can be integrated seamlessly. Further, the connected adjacency should continue to experiment with new business models on an ongoing basis.

The key, Kaplan says, is to anticipate what could replace or disrupt your current business model by always experimenting with new ones. It’s better to be the disrupter than the disrupted.

COINS-operated innovation?

Paul Hobcraft’s innovation model uses three “horizons”

Paul Hobcraft sees open innovation entering a new age, and he hopes a new collaborative network providing a dynamic and definitive reference guide will unlock an “Open Innovation V 2.0” era.

His vision, called Collaborative for an Open Innovation System, or Project COINS, involves a virtual interactive community in which leading open innovation experts could collaborate constantly without having to spend too much time doing so.

He believes that the way to elevate and evolve ideas is by having experts continuously co-creating and sharing their knowledge.  Hobcraft feels this community can only be achieved by breaking down barriers of fear in order to build upon the thoughts of others. An expert’s desire to advance their industry will overcome the fear of someone taking the ideas to competitors.

“As we understand open innovation now, it’s version 1.0,” Hobcraft said.  “Somewhere out there will be open innovation 2.0, which gets rid of uncertainty and gets into collaborative innovation.”

“Open innovation tends to look backward, we need to project forward in thinking,” Hobcraft said.  He cites a ‘Three Horizon Framework” to explain how experts can evolve open innovation and bring it to the next level.  Each “horizon” represents a different way to consider innovative activities.  Horizon 1 is everyday life, what people are currently doing.  Horizon 2 is a space of transition, an uncomfortable space that pushes you to figure out what’s in the future.  Horizon 3 is the desirable future, which Project COINS is meant to facilitate.

Hobcraft believes open innovation “should evolve into an open innovation exchange” requiring requiring both collaborative ideas and recognition.  With an online community of open-innovation visionaries, Hobcraft hopes to develop a new place to share knowledge and practices on a narrow but important segment of the inno-verse. To that end, he next plans on finding the right platform on which Project COINS might forge those expert relationships for Open Innovation 2.0.

More of Hobcraft’s ideas can be found at,, and

A new reality for enterprise innovation

Get real.

That’s what Sara Husk, innovation advisor with Imaginatik, asks today’s organizations to do. In the latest Innovation Masters Series webinar from Imaginatik, Sara asked participants to honestly reflect about the current state of their innovation programs, if one exists. She asked some provocative questions about the ways in which organizations are structuring their innovation approaches – and the feedback was surprising.

Sara cited a recent study that revealed the number of companies hiring Chief Innovation Officers is on the rise.  However, those CIOs do not believe they have an effective structure for innovation, and many lack an innovation strategy that takes an enterprise point of view.

A key component of a successful innovation program is the involvement of employees.  To be engaged, Sara says, they must be actively involved in the developing the strategy.  They must also be allowed to practice innovation skills through three different but integrated spaces – mind (an employee’s mindset), physical (places conducive to shared experiences), and virtual (adding speed and global reach by facilitating interaction via the Internet).

The combination of all these elements results in making sustainable, actionable innovation a reality within your organization.

A recording of the webinar is now available. To learn more about Innovation Spaces, download our free thought paper.

Innovating “The Fabric of Our Lives”

The innovation story at Cotton, Incorporated used to be a familiar story – researchers innovated “by the seat of their pants” without a formalized process.

Earlier this year we talked to Kristie Browning, a senior textile chemist at Cotton Inc.,about the nonprofit’s efforts in transforming the way it approaches innovation.

Through an online collaboration environment supported by Innovation Central, Cotton employees have created a “more streamlined, more clear, and more formal” process.  It does what conference room meetings and laundry lists of potential ideas can’t do; innovators can collaborate anywhere, at any time. “Streamlining” is no longer a clichéd catchphrase – it’s a real, measurable facet of Cotton’s corporate culture.

“The Head to Head review process allows us to get through all of these ideas and get people’s input,” Browning said. “Then when we have a list that’s prioritized … we can focus our discussions on the top 10 or 20 ideas, and it’s much more efficient.”

Watch the full Cotton, Inc. case study video below, and visit for ideas on how to transform your business culture into an innovative machine.

Spiraling INTO control

Jose Briones

Dr. Jose Briones

Dr. Jose Briones builds bridges, the kinds that close gaps when managers are faced with two uncertain ends.

Briones is currently the Director of Operations for SpyroTek Performance solutions and specializes in innovation management, product development and ideation.  His approach to innovation comes from experience in R&D, marketing, and business development—a career he says gives him a perspective on innovation from all sides of the process.  He plans on sharing that perspective at the Back End of Innovation conference in Boston next month, in a talk about his “spiral” innovation system and how it can improve innovation program success rates.

To hear more about Dr. Briones’ innovation methodology, register for the Back End of Innovation Conference Oct. 9-11, 2012 at the State Room in Boston.

Briones’ innovation program applies a “true spiral approach” to market and business development.  This means that a project will potentially go through each stage of innovation or development more than once, allowing for better understanding and more effective changes as the process continues.

“Management needs to change its expectations,” he said. “It’s going to take multiple passes at each level to get the results they want.  With this, they will increase their precision and will be able to measure progress in innovation.

“While Waterfall and Stage-Gate innovation methods work very well for incremental and sustained innovation projects, they have always been slightly problematic for new projects or those that have a high level of uncertainty,” Briones said.  “Because it is impossible to get all of the information you need in one pass, you need to supplement these traditional innovation methods with a spiral technique in order to learn what you need to go forward.”

In other words, this system bridges the gap between wild chaos and guesses and what managers need to know in order to allocate resources effectively.

Briones’ approach begins by classifying projects by their degree of uncertainty.  Based on this categorization, companies can better determine the correct tool sets and resources to allocate to each project in their portfolios.  The more uncertain the project, the fewer resources it will receive until more information is known.

“Start by putting something out there as soon as possible in order to get feedback on it,” Briones said. “It is much more effective and you will learn a lot more from it than just from theorizing.”

Briones has found that the most successful projects start by getting something “good enough” out there, gathering as much information as possible, then perfecting them in stages.  Visiting and re-visiting each stage of innovation insures that you learn as much as possible about a project, preventing ineffective resource allocation and surprises down the road.

Making innovation real – free webinar

Making Innovation Real

The demand for innovation is rising. Instead of seeing it as an ad hoc, grassroots effort, business leaders are becoming more engaged in developing innovative practices across their enterprise.
Sara Husk

Today’s business leaders are evolving beyond seeking “crystal ball” solutions in suggestion boxes. They want robust decision-making and portfolio management practices and tools, and the momentum within the business to make innovation real.

Innovation advisor Sara Husk asserts that to gain this momentum, the key is to keep a blend of the CIO, the employees, and the strategy – and use them interdependently. The trick is making that interdependence work.

In this free webinar she will show us how to set up the right work environment for innovation, one that produces real, measurable results. By attending you will learn:

  • How to get out of the stop-and-start innovation rhythm and into a smoother, measurable flow
  • How to fully engage employees throughout their work day
  • The key attributes to model for a culture of innovation

All registrants will receive a link to the recording afterward.


5 reasons you’re not innovating

Yes, it is important to know what you need to do to innovate effectively.  However, it is equally, if not more important, to know why your innovation techniques might actually be stifling your innovation initiatives.

Does it feel like your innovation program isn’t quite living up to expectations or its potential?  The problem might be…

  1. You stop participating after the brainstorming session.  Innovation includes implementation and execution.  Imaginatik innovation advisor Sara Husk explains, “There are a lot of people who come up with all kinds of great ideas, but they never follow through.  Innovation doesn’t stop after the brainstorming stage.  It keeps going until the end result is achieved.”
  2. All your ideas are incremental ideas or “horizon one” ideas.  These aren’t big enough.  Starting your innovation with small, basic goals such as cutting costs or improving the product is great, but if you never go for larger, more long-term goals, your innovation program is not going to meet its potential.  Go beyond this; structure your innovations pipeline so that you’re earning those quick wins while also working toward a longer-term challenge.
  3. Failure is still an unacceptable or punished phenomenon.  Don’t let failure remain a taboo within your organization.  Instead, learn and grow from it.  “Really innovative companies learn from the things they have failed at,” Husk explains.  You can even celebrate it; make failure a data point by giving awards for the innovation letdowns that teach you the most.
  4. You have no sense of urgency.  People tend to get off track when they wait for perfection or spend too much time trying to perfect their ideas before putting them into effect.  Organizations don’t have that much time: “Everything changes so quickly that you just need to get out there and try it,” says Husk.  Think about the 80-20 ratio; don’t wait for 100% perfection.  Go for “good enough” rather than perfect so that you don’t fall behind.
  5. Your leadership is too involved, or not involved enough.  Leadership should set the tone for innovation by providing guidance, but don’t let it hover.  The role of an innovation leader should be to gather a group of talented people and provide resources, suggestions, and encouragement.  When innovation leaders become helicopter parents, everyone involved in the innovation initiative may develop a “fear of providing the wrong answer,” ending in a stifled effort.