HBR October 2013


Imagine my delight when I received my monthly HBR and saw “The Radical Innovation Playbook” displayed on the cover. There were two great articles/sections in this issue, one entitled “Putting the Breakthrough Back Into Innovation” and the other “Consulting on the Cusp of Disruption”.

In “Putting the Breakthrough Back into Innovation”, HBR explores the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the use of Corporate Venturing. These topics were both explored in the context of how to make repeatable and sustainable innovation within corporations. Without spoiling the article (which I highly suggest you download), DARPA has been able to overcome the age old issue of balancing risk with disruption understanding that by taking a low risk approach you rarely get a high reward innovation. They assemble “task teams” of high performers from a variety of fields, and often on a contract basis, to solve tough and ambitious problems in a fairly autonomous manner. Many companies have tried to simulate this approach but to limited success, the “formula” and key success factors within the article lay out why DARPA has been able to consistently replicate disruption with their innovations. In terms of Corporate Venturing the explore the use of VCs and how they can help companies rapidly respond to outside pressures that fall outside the core company’s area of expertise. The article explores how to successfully set up an internal VC function and how to ensure the organization does not bog down the agile nature needed by the VC group. I have seen more and more corporations adopt this approach to finding new capabilities and technologies but often struggle with the execution, the success factors laid out in the article are good ones to follow.

The article “Consulting on the Cusp of Disruption” definitely sparked my interest the most as I currently work for one of the firms mentioned in the article. Following the release of this article I have been a number of conversations about the findings and have seen people take fairly strong sides to the opinion presented. In essence, the article argues that new forces are changing the ways consulting companies operate and these firms are beginning to explore new service models. An interesting note in the article mentioned that when talking to key leaders in the industry they were very quick to dismiss the need of such disruption and state that the status-quo would remain. I find this interesting as this belief is a characteristic of most industries that don’t keep up and end-up being disrupted. I definitely see the lines between software and services and integration within the client’s business (i.e. Joint Service Development) being needed to keep the industry afloat. Whether services need to go broader, more niche, upstream or downstream there are changes that clients are requesting as more players enter into the market with unique service offerings (take IDEO’s or McKinsey’s new software offerings or GEs new service offerings). There is definitely a need for the consulting firms to do some innovation consulting/design thinking to differentiate their positions in the broader ecosystem.

In conclusion, great issue this month and one I would highly suggest purchasing!


TED Books


I recently downloaded the TED Books app and am very impressed with the way TED can continue its message in written format. TED provided the following guidelines for varying types of content that is available and where TED Books fits in:

Tweet: 4 seconds
TED Talk: 18 minutes
Magazine article: half-hour
TED Book: an hour
Non-fiction book: a week
Moby Dick: never really get around to finishing it.

I opted to subscribe for the year which was only $15 and provides access to all books published. Admittedly, there are not many books published but the ones that are available look very intriguing. The books feature pictures and beautiful design and are great short reads.

I will be reviewing various books over the next few months, but I did do a fun read from the founder of Found about developing connections with strangers through the use of intriguing questions. I have included some screenshots below.




IDEO Method Card Review


I’ve had my IDEO cards for a while (and in fact IDEO originally published these cards in 2003!).  The deck includes 51 different methods straight from the design firm to help you innovate and create.   They are a longstanding resource in the field of innovation and ideation and an essential tool to keep in your Innovation Toolkit.    My favorite part of these cards is how they are divided into 4 sections; “Learn”, “Look”, “Ask” and “Try”.  Depending on the help you need you can easily flip through these cards and try out the activities detailed on one side or get inspired by the colorful pictures on the other.

You can buy them on Amazon or download it on the App Store.


Stanford Venture Lab: Design Thinking Action Lab


Stanford’s Venture Lab is by far my favorite provider of MOOCs and I have complete a few courses with them including Crash Course on Creativity and Technology Entrepreneurship.  I was more than excited when they announced their new course “Design Thinking Action Lab” over the summer and I jumped on the opportunity to participate.

This course was a great introduction to the design thinking process and had many unique and fun features to it, including pre-release access to a design thinking documentary.   I found this course in comparison to others I have taken had assignments that were a reasonable amount of effort without being too unwieldy.  There were short videos and interactive learning opportunities throughout that added to the experience. The community of students taking the course proved very engaged and provided me with more resources and ideas than I have found in other courses (many of which I will profile in upcoming posts).   This is a course I would highly recommend others to take. You can view upcoming sessions on their website and I have created an Accredible slate that contains some of my past assignments.

Quarterly Co. dSchool


I recently started subscribing to Stanford dSchool’s Quarterly Co. subscription and just received by first exciting shipment.  The dSchool’s mailings are meant to provide a new creative experience delivered to your door every quarter.  The box aims to help you “a) see differently; b) act radically; and c) have some good old-fashioned fun.”  This is a great way to get a peek into the dSchool’s process and access exclusive activities and materials straight from the school.

This quarter the experience is focused on “Sketching”, a key creative skill set and something I’ve had on my list to improve.  The kit contained a couple notebooks (one meant to act as a guide with sketching lessons/prompts), pencils, a pen, a bullet shaped pencil sharpener and an elastic band to hold it all together.  I’m really excited by the kit and eager to jump in and start putting my skills to the test






Apps for Ideation


Ideation is an important part of all Innovation processes and I have collected a number of my favorite iPhone/iPad apps that can help you both generate and capture your ideas.


Oflow is one of my favorite apps to go to when I need some inspiration or need to try a new method to generate ideas.  Not only is the design sleek, but there are over 150 different methods and activities that you can try.  You can also email your favorite methods and takes notes as you go. iTunes


Concept Maker

This app features a good set of Inspiration Cards, a Random Inspiration section that generates photos, an Idea Clock which challenges you to complete a certain number of inspiration cards in a set timeframe as well as a Notes feature.  The app is bright cheery and fun, just what you need to generate ideas.  iTunes


This app has a vintage feel and is quite fun. First pick your brain size (correlated to the difficulty of the vocabulary), press “Go!” and you will get three random words to prompt your creativity. iTunes


Idea Generator

Idea Generator is another random word generating app but has a few unique features.  First, it has a ton of words! Second, when you randomize the three wheels of words, you can lock certain words.  I use this one the most to come up with new ideas. iTunes



As someone who generates ideas wherever I am I have really enjoyed this app.  You can set reminders, take pictures, document regular text notes, make voice recordings and even develop checklists and you can categorize all these documents into “spaces”.  It is easily searchable and you can share your notes or spaces with other people. iTunes



I downloaded this app recently and have loved the structure it has given me around my ideas, not to mention it is beautifully designed.  While the app is geared primarily for new business ideas, I think it can be used to structure anything from new products to internal intrapreneurship. iTunes



Thoughtback is a really unique concept when it comes to both capturing and recalling ideas.  As you go throughout your day you can add ideas, quotes, thoughts,pictures or observations to the app and categorize them with hashtags.  Then the app stores these ideas and at some random point in the future will ping your entry back to you.  It’s a great idea to re-inspire yourself!   iTunes



10 Faces of Innovation


I recently learned about the 10 Faces of Innovation, of course developed by Tom Kelly of Ideo, in the Stanford course on Design Thinking  I am taking and thought it warranted a post of its own.  There is a book on this concept available but also a very good overview of the personas on his website and I have placed them below for reference.

I found this method of looking at teams and individuals particularly interesting as it relates to Innovation.  At most companies we often use personality tests and models which are great for analyzing how we work in teams, but I believe this is a particularly relevant model for how teams can generate innovations together. Interestingly, many of the personas are similar to behaviors organizations already promote (i.e. the Collaborator)  and most represent skills and people that we informally select for our teams already (e.g. the Storyteller and the Director).  Having a mix between the three key styles, Learning Personas, Organizing Personas and Building Personas is key for both generating innovations and executing them and this is an interesting model to apply to teams who are driving innovation within their companies.

When I looked at the personas, I saw myself in many of them but mainly in the Learning and Organizing categories.  Primarily though, I see myself in The Hurdler and the Anthropologist.  This was an interesting self-exercise to determine what activities I enjoy and how I can seek our roles or opportunities that cater to that persona within the work I do.

The Learning Personas

Individuals and organizations need to constantly gather new sources of information in order to expand their knowledge and grow, so the first three personas are learning roles. These personas are driven by the idea that no matter how successful a company currently is, no one can afford to be complacent. The world is changing at an accelerated pace, and today’s great idea may be tomorrow’s anachronism. The learning roles help keep your team from becoming too internally focused, and remind the organization not to be so smug about what you “know”. People who adopt the learning roles are humble enough to question their own worldview, and in doing so they remain open to new insights every day.

The Anthropologist is rarely stationary. Rather, this is the person who ventures into the field to observe how people interact with products, services, and experiences in order to come up with new innovations. The Anthropologist is extremely good at reframing a problem in a new way, humanizing the scientific method to apply it to daily life. Anthropologists share such distinguishing characteristics as the wisdom to observe with a truly open mind; empathy; intuition; the ability to “see” things that have gone unnoticed; a tendency to keep running lists of innovative concepts worth emulating and problems that need solving; and a way of seeking inspiration in unusual places.

The Experimenter celebrates the process, not the tool, testing and retesting potential scenarios to make ideas tangible. A calculated risk-taker, this person models everything from products to services to proposals in order to efficiently reach a solution. To share the fun of discovery, the Experimenter invites others to collaborate, while making sure that the entire process is saving time and money.

The Cross-Pollinator draws associations and connections between seemingly unrelated ideas or concepts to break new ground. Armed with a wide set of interests, an avid curiosity, and an aptitude for learning and teaching, the Cross-Pollinator brings in big ideas from the outside world to enliven their organization. People in this role can often be identified by their open mindedness, diligent note-taking, tendency to think in metaphors, and ability to reap inspiration from constraints.

The Organizing Personas

The next three personas are organizing roles, played by individuals who are savvy about the often counter-intuitive process of how organizations move ideas forward. At IDEO, we used to believe that the ideas should speak for themselves. Now we understand what the Hurdler, the Collaborator, and the Director have known all along: that even the best ideas must continuously compete for time, attention, and resources. Those who adopt these organizing roles don’t dismiss the process of budget and resource allocation as “politics” or “red tape.” They recognize it as a complex game of chess, and they play to win.

The Hurdler is a tireless problem-solver who gets a charge out of tackling something that’s never been done before. When confronted with a challenge, the Hurdler gracefully sidesteps the obstacle while maintaining a quiet, positive determination. This optimism and perseverance can help big ideas upend the status quo as well as turn setbacks into an organization’s greatest successes—despite doomsday forecasting by shortsighted experts.

The Collaborator is the rare person who truly values the team over the individual. In the interest of getting things done, the Collaborator coaxes people out of their work silos to form multidisciplinary teams. In doing so, the person in this role dissolves traditional boundaries within organizations and creates opportunities for team members to assume new roles. More of a coach than a boss, the Collaborator instills their team with the confidence and skills needed to complete the shared journey.

The Director has an acute understanding of the bigger picture, with a firm grasp on the pulse of their organization. Subsequently, the Director is talented at setting the stage, targeting opportunities, bringing out the best in their players, and getting things done. Through empowerment and inspiration, the person in this role motivates those around them to take center stage and embrace the unexpected.

The Building Personas

The four remaining personas are building roles that apply insights from the learning roles and channel the empowerment from the organizing roles to make innovation happen. When people adopt the building personas, they stamp their mark on your organization. People in these roles are highly visible, so you’ll often find them right at the heart of the action.

The Experience Architect is that person relentlessly focused on creating remarkable individual experiences. This person facilitates positive encounters with your organization through products, services, digital interactions, spaces, or events. Whether an architect or a sushi chef, the Experience Architect maps out how to turn something ordinary into something distinctive—even delightful—every chance they get.

The Set Designer looks at every day as a chance to liven up their workspace. They promote energetic, inspired cultures by creating work environments that celebrate the individual and stimulate creativity. To keep up with shifting needs and foster continuous innovation, the Set Designer makes adjustments to a physical space to balance private and collaborative work opportunities. In doing so, this person makes space itself one of an organization’s most versatile and powerful tools.

The Storyteller captures our imagination with compelling narratives of initiative, hard work, and innovation. This person goes beyond oral tradition to work in whatever medium best fits their skills and message: video, narrative, animation, even comic strips. By rooting their stories in authenticity, the Storyteller can spark emotion and action, transmit values and objectives, foster collaboration, create heroes, and lead people and organizations into the future.

The Caregiver is the foundation of human-powered innovation. Through empathy, they work to understand each individual customer and create a relationship. Whether a nurse in a hospital, a salesperson in a retail shop, or a teller at an international financial institution, the Caregiver guides the client through the process to provide them with a comfortable, human-centered experience.