Archive for the 'Philosophy' Category

TiECON East 2008

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

I’ve said before TiECON is one of the best values for the money I’ve found. It is focused on entrepreneurs and I am still impressed that the conference finds new ways to be innovative each year. It makes sense since the attendees are innovators on the cutting edge struggling to come up with the next big thing. That kind of thinking is contagious.

This year the new thing that stood out for me was an entrepreneurs’ forum. I enrolled and got three half hour sessions of face-to-face counseling about my business with venture capitalists and attorneys who specialize in startup businesses. It didn’t cost me anything extra. How would I normally even get access to people like this for a little bit of undivided attention to my business?

I contrast this with my experience working with the PDMA. Even though they preach innovation, it is very much from the large company perspective. That’s where most of their members and speakers are from. Having seen both I’d say slower, more cumbersome and less risk taking in comparison. I joined the board of the local PDMA chapter briefly this year to help them develop a schedule of speakers 6 months in advance instead of the month-to-month scrambling they’ve been doing.

Essentially, I was going to do a simple VOC exercise to find out what kind of speakers the membership wanted to hear from, prioritize, and then recruit speakers with that guidance. I’ve done the same thing with great success for other organizations in the past. I didn’t really want another volunteer activity but offered that I could do that for them. They liked the idea when they recruited me to join back in January

It seems like this project was too novel for someone. After 2 months they still couldn’t email my simple 5 question survey to the membership. Plenty of announcements went out in that time. Another month later there was still no response to my weekly email queries, no attempt to communicate any issues or resolve them. I’d only get a call when someone desperately hoped I would drop what I was doing to arrange sandwiches or name tags for a meeting that night.

I am sure there was nothing personal here as I saw the same thing happening to other initiatives. I’m still waiting for someone to respond and close the loop with me. For all I know I might still be a member of the board though I’ve given up. I’m not going to let this drag out until I’m stuck scrambling each month to get a speaker at the last minute. I only got involved to extricate them from that pathology, not participate in it. (I’ve become more careful how I invest my volunteer efforts over time.) The point I’m getting to is that this is very much how I felt working at a Fortune 200 sized company. Any innovation has a lot to overcome and is often filtered out in spite of the lip service paid to it. There are exceptional bright spots throughout large organizations so a generalization isn’t fair to everyone but I think it describes the norm. Let me know if you see it another way.

My recommendation to people working in the innovation space at large companies is to spend some time attending entrepreneurial events and mixing with people from much smaller companies. I think exposure to this faster innovation lane will help you innovate a little better than your large compatriots in the slower lane and gain you a competitive advantage.

Back to TiECON East I was also struck by how social responsibility was an underlying theme especially from some of the keynote speakers like Bob Compton (documentary “Two Million Minutes”), Alan Rosling (Executive Director of Tata Sons), and Craig Newmark (founder of Craig’s List). A lot of these business leaders are focused on more than just making money. Ironically, I think they will make (or have been making) more money as a result. I see this in contrast to the narrow focus on the numbers in the large companies, (looking beyond what they say, to what they do).

Understanding the big picture helps you avoid costly trouble in the future. The lesson here is that success really is about people one way or another. Be it how you treat your employees, the community you operate in, or your customers, it’s good business to know that you are touching lives.

Does innovation have to be original?

Friday, July 6th, 2007

My new business cards have been flagged in a recent blog as innovative. See Business card innovation

While that is flattering, in all honesty this is just my incarnation of an idea I took from Marcus Wigan, a friend and colleague in Australia. He also includes his photo, which makes it easier for people to remember which of the dozens of faces they encountered that day correspond to his card. It nailed an unmet need of mine. Was this original to Marcus or was he prompted by an earlier influence?

I don’t think it matters. I think it is a mistake to be too proud to adopt someone else’s good idea if it is better than mine. So I created my own version sans headshot. Is it still an innovation?

(Why not the photo? I don’t know. Perhaps for the reason I was with the radio station rather than drama club in high school.)

Most dictionaries define innovation as “introducing something new.” I don’t think it has to be new to the world to count, just new to the context. That’s why I like cross-disciplinary work. Something old hat in one field can be innovative and revolutionary when finally brought into another. For example, I created a new kind of machine vision sensor for traffic detection based on something I saw in robotics. So for now, most people that notice the card think it is novel. I introduced something new to them, to our environment … though Marcus certainly had the more original idea and in my opinion is the real innovator here.

An invention has to be original, an innovation does not.
An innovation has to be useful, an invention does not.

Let me close with a quote from They Made America.

“An innovator’s essential contribution may be to realize the promise of the known.” — Harold Evans