TED Active 2014: Recap


In mid-March I had the privilege of attending my first ever TED conference, and while it has taken me a while to finally post a recap from my experience.  Many people have asked me “How was TED” and I usually just respond “Amazing” because it is so hard to describe.  So here goes my attempt at outlining some of the most fun and intellectually stimulating days I have ever experienced.

When I was getting ready to attend the conference, I knew I was going to be watching a plethora of TED talks but outside of that, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect.  The experience ended up being so much more than just the Talks themselves, it was the people, the discussions, and the experiences that truly makes TED what it is.  Here is what I found:

  • The Talks – Yes the talks were amazing, but very hard to sum up. Some were just funny, others about the newest developments in technology and others from people really trying to affect change.  I made a commitment to attend each talk, and even the talks I may not have normally clicked on when watching TED at home, I attended.  This proved to be so valuable because of the truly broad and inspiring set of ideas I was exposed to (i.e. Sting singing, Firefly communities, etc.).  I found this post from TED following the conference outlining the 5 days of talks on one page.
  • The People – This is by the far the best part of the conference.  I found 700 other people all on my wave length and all doing very interesting things.  From a successful venture capitalist to the head of Target’s design group to a NASA space economist I truly met and made connections that I will foster for a long time to come.
  • The Experiences – TED really knows how to put on a world class event.  From mountain top parties to design workshops hosted by leaders in the field, there was always a ton of activities and stimuli to choose from.
  • The Follow-Up – Its been a few weeks but I am still talking to and in touch with many of the people I met during the conference.  The global connections are likely ones I will rekindle as I travel but we have even been participating in Google Hangout sessions to keep the conversations going.

All in all, TED was an amazing experience and one I hope to repeat for years to come.  It’s more than great ideas, its a community and movement that is something worth experiencing and being a part of.



101 Design Methods


I had been recommended the book “101 Design Methods” by Vijay Kumar a few times and finally got around to reading it over the holidays.  Vijay is one of the leading thinkers in Innovation and I have enjoyed everything I have read from him.

101 Design Methods was much more practical than I had thought it would be.  I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted with an easy to use and understand framework to follow the design process and also a very comprehensive set of frameworks, models and tools to use.  While some tools air on the side of obvious i.e. “Popular Media Search”, others are extremely detailed and almost scientific i.e. “Symmetric Clustering Matrix”.

Before he gets deep into the tools, Vijay highlights some key realities of innovation and some guiding principles.  This one stood out to me “Current Innovation practices don’t reliably deliver breakthroughs.  There is a lack of a set of reliable tools and methods for creating breakthroughs rather than incremental or random improvements,” and “Innovation Planning is not an oxymoron”.  I am always arguing that Innovation is not a set of Eureka moments but rather something you can control and guide, so I am glad Vijay and I are aligned on this 🙂

In each chapter (framework step), Vijay provides a set of “mindsets” to adopt when looking at executing the step.  Each step includes “What it is”, “How it Works” and an example case study of where it was successful.  This makes the book very tangible and gives you pretty much everything you need to know to use that particular tool/step.   Not only are the tools easy to use, but the tools are great, the book is filled with mindmap meets excel type tools which made me feel like I was in a candy-store.

Vijay breaks down his framework into four quadrants and 7 steps and I thought I would highlight some of my favorite tools aligned with each step.

  • Sense Intent
    • Buzz Reports – Collect information on a topic from a wide array of sources to catch Buzz on it
    • Innovation Sourcebook – Find successful examples of offerings, organization and people and create a book/excel listing of these with descriptive data.  You can then compare across them to determine similarities or things you might be able to incorporate.
    • Trends Expert review – Interview with experts focused on: 1) Seeds – What are the early, emerging tredns and innovations? 2) Soil – How are the fundamentals affecting growth 3) Atmosphere – How are the surrounding conditions affecting growth 4) Plant – How do innovations grow to become robust 5) Water – How are the catalysts affecting growth
    •  Ten Types of Innovation Framework – The Doblin model
  • Know Context
    • Eras Map – Map events and innovations by era to track progression, development and trends
    • Analogous Models – Look at models similar or adjacent to the one you are solving for
  • Know People
    • 5 Human Factors – Look at the physical, cognitive, social, cultural and emotional aspects of people as they interact with products/services/offerings
    • POEMS – Look at these 5 factors when observing: People, Objects, Environments, Messages, Services
  • Frame Insights
    • ERAF Systems Diagram – Assess systems based on entities, relations, attributes, flows
  • Explore Concepts
  • Frame Solutions
  • Realize Offerings
    • Innovation BriefAn innovation overview template for communicating your innovation

I would highly recommend this book, at the very least as a resource you can hold onto and pull out for when you need some inspiration or a new approach for your work.

Innovator’s DNA



The Innovator’s DNA is one of the best books on Innovation from some of the best thought leaders on the topic.  The book focuses on two key areas, how to be innovative individually and how to create innovation within an organization.  The findings are backed by a survey of CEO’s (both innovative and not) as well as interviews and general study of innovative CEOs and organizations.

In the study of Innovative CEOs as compared to general CEOs (ones who were less likely to disrupt and more likely to deliver), they found that “Innovators were simply much more likely to question, observe, network, and experiment compared to typical executives.”  The following are the key skills that make Innovators who they are and how to build them:

  • Associating – This is the underlying principle that allows the next four skills to realize their full potential. The next four skills build up a stock of “building block ideas” of which innovators can then combine and associate, like the Medici effect. “Put simply, innovative thinkers connect fields, problems, or ideas that others find unrelated.”  How to build: attend ideas conferences (TED, Aspen,WEF, etc.), keep an idea journal, set “idea quotas”, build an inspiration box (a box of items to jog your creativity).
  • Questioning – The study showed that Innovators constantly ask questions and challenge the status quo.  As well, questions can be used to appropriately frame problems as Einstein famously quoted “xxx”.  How to build: Ask “What Is”, Ask “What If”, Ask “What Caused”, Ask “Why/Why Not”, Engage in Questionstorming, Track your Q/A ratio.
  • Observing – Innovator’s observe the w0rld around them to find new inputs and ideas.  How to build: Observe companies, observe customers, observe with all your senses.
  • Networking – Innovator’s spend significant energy finding and testing their ideas through their networks (usually large and varied networks).  How to build: Attend conferences (in and outside your industry), expand the diversity of your network, “mealtime” networking, start a creative community.
  • Experimenting – Innovators “try new things, seek new information, and experiment to learn new things.” How to build: Live in other countries, read new content, develop a new skill, disassemble a product, build prototypes, trend spot.

Innovator’s also dedicate approximately 1 day more per week to discovery skills than their non-innovative counterparts and typically are most skilled in the Associating and Questioning skill sets.  If you are interested in learning more, you can visit http://www.innovatorsdna.com to take a test to learn how you measure on each of these skills.

“Fast-growth companies must keep innovating. Companies are like sharks.  If they stop moving, they die.” Marc Benioff and CEO, Salesforce.  The authors create their own ranking of the most innovative companies globally by determining an “Innovation Premium” added to a stockprice based on the expectation of shareholders for the company to innovate.  The authors then say the way to disseminate innovation into a company is to focus on the 3Ps (people, processes, and philosophies) and that innovation must be present at top leadership levels in order for the whole organization to adopt innovation principles.  At the risk of spoiling the rest of the book I will close off there with a strong recommendation to pick up the book to find more frameworks, models, and interesting facts to help you and your team innovate.

GIM Certificate


I was recently browsing Innovation Excellence, a great Innovation Blog (you can check out my post on other Innovation Blogs here), and found the GIM certificate being administered by the Global Innovation Management Institute, Hult and Innovation Excellence.

The certificate has a number of levels but they are offering an initial free level called “Catalyst”.  The overall program helps to provide training in skills, frameworks and tools to help innovation workers and has some great content.  If you are interested in learning more I suggest checking out the free version, the initial test and study guide is pretty lightweight and a good way to get oriented into the basics of innovation.


Innovation Blogs


There are a number of great Innovation Blogs that I follow on a regular basis to learn more about the field, I’ve decided to share my list below but would love to hear from you what blogs and websites you follow that I might have missed:

Innovation Experts



Stanford Quarterly Co – DSC06


I have to say, when I receive my Stanford Deign School Quarterly Co shipments it feels a little bit like early Christmas.  I did an introductory post on the shipments, but essentially the boxes are created by Stanford Dschool to give you a peek inside their design thinking methodologies and activities.

This month the challenge read as follows, “Your challenge is to construct a light sculpture using the elements provided.  Vary the number of pieces you use and you’ll discover both a different product and process.”  This particular activity has been part of the “Creative Gym” class at the dSchool so it was exciting to have it sitting on my kitchen table.  Inside the box there was a socket and identically shaped and sized inter-lockable plastic pieces.

I definitely underestimated the difficulty of the challenge (luckily I had a whole Saturday afternoon to attempt it).  I played around with the pieces and made a few different shapes.  At first I thought there was one answer for how to interlock them, and while true (straight edge to curved edge), there were many ways to connect the pieces differently.  I ultimately decided I would try to use them all in a pattern where each “corner” had 5 interlocking edges.  While I thought I was making a more spherical shape, what resulted was more of a “cranium” but I think this was appropriate given how much this challenge stretched my mind so I decided to keep it.

It was amazing how many different outcomes could result from seemingly identical inputs used in different ways, overall a great innovation lesson.

dschool2    dschool6 dschool7 dschool8 dschool9 dschool10

HBR “On Innovation”


If you are new to the study of Innovation, HBR’s 10 Must Reads On Innovation is a fantastic place to start.  Like HBR’s other 10 Must Reads, this book features the top articles on innovation from some of the field’s greatest minds.  The book covers topics ranging from specific methods for innovation development and management to how to drive more innovation within large organizations.  The articles are engaging and can easily be picked up over multiple sittings.

I’ve included the titles of the included articles and some of my favorite key points on each:

The Innovation Catalysts by Roger L. Martin 

The book starts out with this great article focused on how Intuit leveraged design thinking throughout the company to move from “satisfying customers to delighting them”.  There are a number of really interesting tactics that intuit put into play from creating a team of 9 design thinking coaches or Innovation Catalysts to create prototypes and learn from customers to a “painstorming” exercise to understand the customer to hosting a series of jams to quickly prototype solutions to customer problems.

Stop the Innovation Wars by Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble

This article focuses in on the role of the “innovation team” and often the resulting conflict these groups have with the company at large, where often the Innovators as seen as undisciplined creatives and the rest of the business as ‘bureaucratic dinosaurs’.  The authors propose a simple test or set of questions to help companies decide the appropriate structure of an innovation team such as the capabilities, the composition and the governance/resources around the team.

How GE is Disrupting Itself by Jeffrey Immelt, Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble

This article highlights a case study by GE focused on reverse engineering from emerging markets back to developed markets that often seems counter intuitive to organizations but can actually result in large innovations.  GE reinvented product lines, established a new local growth team model to capitalize and identify these opportunities and challenged their basic assumptions on the role of emerging markets in their business.

The Customer-Centered Innovation Map by Lance Bettencourt and Antony Ulwick

This article introduced a tool for identifying new offerings aligned to customer needs.  The basic premise is to instead of using traditional ‘process mapping’ you instead ‘job map’ for customers to identify what jobs or needs they are trying to satisfy .  This can be a powerful tool for solving customer needs in novel ways.

Is It Real? Can We Win? Is It Worth Doing? by George Day

This article focuses in on the risk/reward profile of an innovation portfolio.  Up front the author mentions some startling facts such as the fact that only 14% of new product launches were substantial innovation but those accounted for 61% of profit from across all innovations.  In order to find this balance between risky disruption and reward the author outlines two tools, the first being a risk matrix and the second being the R-W-W test.  The risk matrix is relatively standard and can help ensure a portfolio is well balanced across disruptive and incremental innovations  The R-W-W test walks through the questions “is it real” or does it have a substantial market and a product feature set that is feasible, “can we win” or can the product/company be competitive, and lastly “is it worth doing” which highlights the profitability and strategic benefits.

Six Myths of Product Development by Stefan Thomke and Donald Reinertsen

This article highlights the biggest fallacies around successful product development.  The assumptions that are challenged center around not treating product development like a manufacturing process.  My favorite false assumptions include “The more features a product has, the better customers will like it” and “Projects will be more successful if teams ‘get it right the first time'”.

Innovation: The Classic Traps by Rosabeth Moss Kanter

This article starts with a fantastic sentence, “Innovation is back at the top of the corporate agenda. Never a fad, but always in or out of fashion […]”. The focus is on sustainable innovation and not falling into traps that have been found previously.  The traps include mistakes from strategy, process, structure, and skills as it relates to innovation and the author outlines a number of steps and lessons learned that can be used to avoid them.

Discovery-Driven Planning by Rita Gunther McGrath and Ian MacMilan

The Discovery-Driven planning method outlined in this article is one of my favorite methods.  It seeks to minimize risk in new ventures by reversing the traditional planning methods and to challenge basic assumptions.  The article uses Disney’s European operations as a case study of how poor assumptions and top down planning led to failure and how by leveraging reverse planning or a reverse balance sheet you can better identify assumptions and determine viability of an idea.

The Discipline of Innovation by Peter Drucker

Peter Drucker is one of my favorite thinkers within Innovation and this article does not fall short.  Peter argues that innovation capability is less based on traits or personality and more based on the “systematic practice of innovation.”  He outlines some areas you can look to have a ‘conscious, purposeful search for opportunities” that result in success.

Innovation Killers by Clayton Christensen, Stephen Kaufman and Willy Shih

This article focuses on why traditional financial tools kill innovation.  Specifically, the authors look at Discounted Cash Flows, fixed and sunk cost evaluations and impact on earnings per share as poor measures to use when evaluating new ventures..  They also explore stage gates and the negative impact these can have on innovation.

You can buy the book from Amazon here