Robert Brands

Mar 192013

abstract mind illustrationThere are plenty of reasons to innovate. Especially now more than ever before, sustained Innovation is the means to developing marketplace showstoppers that lead to profitable growth. Innovation is not a luxury that can be placed on the back burner, even for today’s successful companies. So before beginning your next innovation effort, here are some key questions to consider for mapping out an effective innovation plan.

What type of innovation does your organization need?

The key to implementing innovation is first defining the type your organization needs. The hardest kind of innovation to manage is Breakthrough – which creates an entirely new way to deliver value. Few and far between, these game changers hold the greatest potential for business success. Most innovations are incremental, which can mean a tweak on an existing product, process, or service. Examining how your innovation effort fits into the current organization’s needs is critical at this go/no go checkpoint. (There is nothing wrong to focus and start with Incremental Innovation or Line Extensions, get some early wins, get the organization engaged and excited and create a structured repeatable process)

Does your innovation satisfy customer needs?

Customer demand affects the successful outcome of your innovation. Beyond asking your customers what features they would like to see, ask them what their biggest concerns are and that will help shed light on the products and functionalities they require for a more successful innovation.

Who are your innovation champions?

The innovator-in-chief needs to truly champion this culture and drive it throughout the organization to make it happen. In order to defeat the devil’s advocates and become an agent for change, the leader must democratize the innovation process and select a group of people from different business groups, different backgrounds, and different skill sets joined together for a common purpose. He or She must engage, walk the talk and cannot just delegate the spiritual leadership. The companies with inspirational innovation leaders stand out with their results i.e Apple, Kohler, etc.

How will you measure success?

Innovation is ultimately about Return on Investment. It’s critical to use leading and lagging Key Performance Indicators, observe and measure time spent on each segment of the new product development (NPD) process to see how it’s progressing. Leading Metrics used in the industry can include ideas generated, ideation sessions held, number of patents filed, and for lagging new products released, and percentage of sales due to new products.

How will success be rewarded?

With successful innovation comes profitable growth and a win-win situation for shareholders, employees, and customers alike. Incentives are needed for all participants on your NPD staff, and often times the key motivator is less financial than it is about recognition for a job well done. Motivation does not have to be about money – but it is necessary, so reward your people. They are your best innovation resource.

By focusing effort in the right places, companies can avoid oversight and increase their chance of innovation success.

About The Author:
Robert F. Brands is author of “Robert’s Rules Of Innovation (TM) “Wiley, Spring 2010

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Feb 252013

global network of peopleOne of the hottest topics in business management today is open innovation. The concept uses an open business model for companies to “co-innovate” with their partners, suppliers, and customers – in order to accelerate the rewards of innovation. For example, a small or midsized company develops a game-changing new idea and works with a larger company to bring the product to market.

Through the collaborative relationship of open innovation (OI), companies are able to leverage new ideas and products, and conduct experiments at lower risk levels. However, OI does bring up some concerns, like who owns rights to the intellectual property (IP). OI should be conducted in a manner that promotes mutual trust and respect. It can be a double-edged sword when the larger company insists on owning the IP in exchange for their investment. The OI relationship can be a tricky one to navigate.

Large corporations like Nestle, Kraft, Siemens, General Mills, and Clorox all participate in open innovation practices. Here is a case study of the open innovation process at Proctor & Gamble, one of the most respected consumer product companies in the world. P&G introduced their Connect + Develop program on their website at The site is a place where the general public can submit their innovations, read about successful business partnerships, and even scavenge current IP needs of the company.

“Historically, P&G relied on internal capabilities… We did not actively seek to connect with potential external partners. Times have changed, and the world is more connected. In the areas in which we do business, there are millions of scientists, engineers and other companies globally. Why not collaborate with them? We now embrace open innovation…” reads the P&G website.In just over two years, the program has received 7,500 submissions. P&G has established more than 1,000 active agreements with innovation partners, and claims more than 50% of their product initiatives involved collaboration from outside innovators.

In the Connect + Develop program, innovators must have their IP in place before they submit their idea. This protects the innovator while the IP adds value to the organization – the key is to build relationships and produce win-win deals. Through working together and developing effective ways to manage IP rights, OI can further advance innovative culture and produce favorable results for all parties involved.

Here are some tips for nurturing open innovation in your business.

  • It takes leverage, courage, and toughness to create a balanced open innovation relationship. In a balanced relationship, the IP or technology of the inventors or small business should remain theirs.
  • Develop both reactive and proactive ways to address open innovation. On the reactive side, invite the world’s finest innovators seeking open innovation opportunities to develop your IP needs.
  • Proactively, tap into local universities, companies, and venture capital firms to meet inventors, set up networks, and make connections that are not readily apparent to most people.

About The Author:
Robert F. Brands
Author of “Robert’s Rules Of Innovation (TM) “Wiley, Spring 2010

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Feb 192013

happy business womanEvery organization needs an Innovation champion. This very important role requires exceptional people skills and communication skills, and the ability to be a master consensus builder among all players in the organization. Innovation champions come in a wide range of styles of interaction. Renowned psychologist Michael Kirton developed the Kirton Adaptive Innovation Inventory (KAI) as a profiling tool to measure problem-solving styles. The general characteristics of innovators are as follows:

  • Ingenious, original, independent, unconventional
  • Challenges problem definition
  • Does things differently
  • Discovers problems and avenues for their solutions
  • Manipulates problems by questioning existing assumptions
  • Is a catalyst to unsettled groups, despite their consensual views

Now here are general characteristics of adaptors:

  • Efficient, thorough, methodical, organized, precise, reliable
  • Accepts problem definition
  • Does things better
  • Concerned with resolving problems versus identifying them
  • Seeks solutions in tried-and-true ways
  • Reduces problems by improvement and enhanced efficiency, while aiming at continuity and stability

What is your problem-solving style? Each mode has its advantages, and the most successful leaders are those who can use both styles of creative problem-solving flexibly. These characteristics mark that of an Innovation champion and an agent for change within an organization.

An innovation champion can nurture a culture of sustained Innovation in a company by taking a three-step approach.

  1. Define the desired culture. Doing so will help the organization to understand what innovative behavior looks like and to bring that change to the company. Quantify the goal, such as “one new product to market per year.” Determine the champions and key players you’ll need to bring on board from all parts of the organization, including marketing, sales, finance, manufacturing, etc.
  2. Establish the foundations. Devise a method to properly measure success, with leading indicators such as amount of new ideas collected, and lagging metrics such as amount of sales attributed to new products. Be sure to communicate those successes with the entire organization! Surprisingly, this practice is often forgotten – but is instrumental in building team morale and support for the innovation.
  3. Engineer sustainability. This means creating regular activities with the purpose of fostering innovation. Meetings, news updates, and brainstorming sessions are all a part of the process. Develop imagery to bring the program to life such as internal innovation awards.

These are some basic steps in becoming an innovation champion and an agent for change. For more tips and a hands-on approach for creating and sustaining innovation, see ” Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival.”

About The Author:
Robert F. Brands is the author of “Robert’s Rules Of Innovation (TM) “Wiley, Spring 2010

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Jan 172012

five penquins in a rowAntarctica Thrives as Hub of New Thinking

Exactly 100 years ago December 17, an explorer found glory upon the Antarctic continent. One month later, his rival met a bitter, sad end. Yet, both share lessons in the power of innovation built on best practices – and the pitfalls borne of haste and poor planning.

Today, for those looking for rationales behind the need for innovation in pursuit of excellence, the race to the South Pole offers both cautionary tales and textbook examples of success and failure surrounding the innovation process for any business or mission.

Norwegian Roald Amundsen and Englishman Robert Falcon Scott shared a dream of being first to the South Pole. Though they both were able and famed explorers of their day, their tales revealed the power of intensive research, planning and best practices.

Yet where Scott decided to innovate on what he believed to be an ideal course of action, Amundsen – who, five years earlier, pioneered the Arctic’s Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific – studied best practices of a culture half a word from his destination. In September, National Geographic marked the centennial of their explorations.

Their examples of innovation range from the fine details to the mundane. Scott’s provisions, supplies and transport included 19 horses, 33 dogs as back-up, traditional wide-body sleds, and woolen clothing – all suited, or so he thought, to wintry exploration. To the contrary, each introduced inherent risk of failure. Horses’ hooves were ill-suited to trodding across snow and ice, which led to exhaustion in the harsh conditions. The wide sleds bogged down. Woolen wear soaked up human perspiration, which then froze to ice.

Amundsen, on the other hand, invested more than a year planning his journey. He painstakingly researched life lived in extreme conditions. He lived with Eskimos and modeled his outerwear on the furs they wore. He innovated upon modern sleds by making them longer and narrower so as to spread their weight across a greater length. Knowing extreme conditions likely would lead to attrition of his dog teams, he brought 53 sled dogs.

For mooring, he chose the Bay of Wales, or Ross Ice Shelf. Stationary for 80 years, it would provide the best shelter for his ship and base camp from strong winds. He built and provisioned three camps along the route. This way, his team would be lightened from carrying provisions the entire route. It’s a practice used by many explorers to this day.

On December 17, 1911, Amundsen made it to – and a month later returned safely from – the South Pole. A month later, Scott arrived at the Pole, only to find Amundsen had beaten him there. With his horses having perished or been shot along the route, Scott and his men began the return trek by foot. Ultimately, they, too, perished in a blizzard within miles from their own base camp.

Today, Antarctica remains a hub of innovation. Engineers are designing robots to navigate amid the extreme conditions. Architects who design living quarters used by scientists on the continent constantly are developing new buildings to withstand wind speeds topping 200 miles per hours and temperatures that can drop to 40 below zero.

This month, a three-man team from Thomson Reuters will drive its revolutionary Polar Vehicle – outfitted with bio-fuel, solar panels, and the latest in real-time GPS satellite communications and tracking. Staged to beat the Guinness World Record South Pole overland journey of two days, 21 hours and 21 minutes, the effort also will mark the centennial of Roald Amundsen’s achievement.

For those in search of innovation’s leading edge, it would seem Antarctica remains one of its final frontiers. One hundred years ago, Roald Amundsen realized – and Robert Falcon Scott lost his life to – the poles of innovation. Where Scott pursued his own vision of innovation, Amundsen followed well-modeled best practices as an imperative of smart innovation. In the end, he proved that innovating atop best practices maximizes the strengths of both.


About The Author:
Robert F. Brands is the author of “Robert’s Rules Of Innovation (TM) ” Wiley, Spring 2010

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Nov 092011

two penguinsOne hundred years ago, two men set out on a Race to the South Pole.

Both Englishman Robert Falcon Scott and Norwegian Roald Amundsen were experienced explorers. They knew the polar conditions of Antarctica. They knew with reward came inherent risk.

Their shared tale is one about best practices versus innovation. One relied on mere “innovation” to master a frozen continent. The other innovated best practices he’d learned through years of intensive research.

One traveled to the South Pole, planted his nation’s flag as the first, and returned safely. The other reached the pole, saw he’d been beaten, and paid the ultimate price for his poorly planned expedition.

Amundsen blended modern innovation with time-tested best practices common among people who lived in extremes. Scott relied mostly on what he thought was innovation, but in fact was a poor reinvention of the wheel. This is an important lesson for any business, venture, man or mission.

Amundsen meticulously researched Antarctica. He spent a year living with Eskimos. He knew Arctic conditions, and modeled his outerwear selection on the furs common among the people. He knew that dogs and sleds were the best means of travel atop deep snow and ice. But Amundsen improved upon modern sleds by making them longer and narrower so as to spread their weight across a greater length. To pull them, he brought 53 dogs.

Scott rushed his Terra Nova expedition’s planning. He thought 19 ponies, 33 dogs ( as back up) and three motor sledges would suffice. He and his crew of 24 dressed in woolen clothing. His was a rushed expedition.

Amundsen also knew the region. From prior exploration, he knew that the Bay of Wales, or Ross Ice Shelf, hadn’t moved in 80 years. It would provide the best protection for his ship and base camp from unrelenting winds. He built and provisioned three larger base camps – so as not to have to carry food with them the entire journey and markers with food at every degree South.

Amundsen’s camps and ample provisions kept his team and remaining dogs alive, Scott endured a different fate. His wools absorbed perspiration, which froze in the sub-zero temperatures. His horses’ hooves broke through snow and thin ice; the animals didn’t have the stamina for such conditions. Weak and starving, they were shot en route.

In the end, Amundsen made it to the South Pole and returned to his base camp. In January, 1912, Scott’s team arrived at the South Pole – one month after Amundsen. (See ” Race for the South Pole ” by Roland Huntford for a side by side unedited Journal entries)

Having planned for horses to make the return trip in short order, Scott and his men were insufficiently provisioned to make the return trek by foot. Ultimately, they perished in the white-out of a driving blizzard within miles from the final base camp.

What Amundsen knew – and Scott paid the ultimate price for not realizing – is that following well-modeled best practices are an imperative of smart innovation. Once best practices are learned, you then can innovate atop that. In any venture – whether a new business or exploration of seemingly uncharted terrain – innovation is key. Innovation drives growth and becomes the foundation for success. But it’s vital that innovation is laid atop best practices.

In the end, Roald Amundsen’s name is planted – along with Norway’s flag – as the innovating pioneer who first reached the South Pole. Robert Scott’s name, sadly, stands as an abject lesson in how haste and poor planning can prove fatal to man and mission alike.

About the Author:

Robert F. Brands is the author of  “Robert’s Rules Of Innovation (TM) ” Wiley, Spring 2010
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Oct 262011

woman dressed as the devilIn an organization, it’s human nature to resist change and to stick with the status quo that’s often more comfortable and safe. Some of your teammates in your company may be devil’s advocates who claim they want what’s best for the business while they oppose initiatives for Innovation. As a leader and innovator-in-chief of your company, it is critical to drive the culture of Innovation throughout the organization even in the face of opposition.

To defeat devil’s advocates, first you must examine why innovation efforts fail. A major reason is tied to an organization’s culture and its people. In a BusinessWeek survey of top-ranked companies in Innovation including Google, Apple, 3M, Toyota and Microsoft, the companies attributed their success to the avoidance of certain culture-related issues. These issues included Innovation that was only “lip service” – all talk and no support. Having isolated initiatives instead of an ongoing culture of innovation was a deterrent. Fragmented support within the company was certainly an Innovation killer, as well as resources concentrated by certain innovation blocs.

So how does one defeat the devil’s advocates to become a true innovation champion for change? I asked Nic Hunt, Director of Innovation for an international manufacturing corporation, who takes a three-step approach.

1. Define the desired culture. What does Innovation mean for your company? Quantify your goals, in terms of sales numbers and time frame, which will identify and justify the resources needed to achieve the goal. Identify who will be your key players from all departments within your organization.

2. Establish the foundation. Create an identity or brand for innovation in terms of something the business engages with, that becomes the overarching theme for programs and initiatives created over time. Then establish the framework necessary to achieve Innovation, such as quarterly idea reviews, monthly development meetings, brainstorming sessions, off-site team activities or recognition programs. Build a calendar and stick to it so these initiatives are taken seriously and do not fall off the map.

3. Engineer sustainability. Develop a system that brings the Innovation program to life such as awards, patent recognition badges and innovator lunches. Share success stories of great examples of teamwork that led to superior outcomes. Create regular activities that help build a sense of purpose and spread excitement of the new innovation program. Building morale sets the stage for organization members to want to actively participate and have their voices heard. In an organization, it’s human nature to resist change and to stick with the status quo that’s often more comfortable and safe. Some of your teammates in your company may be devil’s advocates who claim they want what’s best for the business while they oppose initiatives for Innovation. As a leader and innovator-in-chief of your company, it is critical to drive the culture of Innovation throughout the organization even in the face of opposition.

A successful innovation strategy is multi-faceted and involves many methods, but leads to big pay-off in the end.

About the Author:

Robert F. Brands is the author of  “Robert’s Rules Of Innovation (TM) ” Wiley, Spring 2010
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Oct 122011

young girl looking through a magnifying glassWhen was the last time you experienced your product like it was your first time?

Product development is a process of cycles – followed by closure. We innovate and create a new concept. Assemble teams to research, develop, manufacture and market the product or service. We then ship it to market.

And then… What?

We leave it out there for consumers to embrace, or ignore. Meanwhile, as our products mature on the store shelves of the marketplace, we mentally have moved on to the next next thing.

Instead, we should revisit our product to gain a fresh perspective.

The CBS Television show “Undercover Boss” follows the adventures of executives who embark on an undercover mission “to examine the inner workings of their companies…Working alongside their employees, they see the effects that their decisions have on others, where the problems lie within their organizations and get an up-close look at both the good and the bad while discovering the unsung heroes who make their companies run.”

When was the last time you were an undercover or boss or prospect? As the CEO or Chief Innovation Officer, when did you last sample your wares, walk your store, demo your product or read your user manual? Playing the role of a “cold prospect” often gives a new point of view on even the most mature products.

Innovation Manager-as-Mystery Shopper touches on several of the ten Imperatives to Create and Sustain Innovation. It allows us to Observe & Measure our products first hand. We take Ownership of our product lifecycle to an entirely new level. It may even encourage fresh lines of new product development. Hopefully, it encourages us to think about ways to train and coach other innovators – and even our customer-facing employees – on the finer points of the product, service or company mission.

Want to play mystery shopper or prospect?

  • Call your customer service or main office line to make an appointment or reach an individual. Do you get trapped in phone bank hell? Is it easy to “zero out” to a receptionist? I recently spoke with a physician who lamented it taking him almost an hour to get lab results over the phone – from his own office. “Welcome to our world,” I chided.
  • Record and listen to your customer service rep encounters. If your organization actually records customer phone calls (you hear it all the time, “This call may be recorded for training purposes…”), listen to the calls. Find high and low points. Look for ways to improve the user experience.
  • Walk the aisles. Watch your salespeople or retail associates in action. How responsive are they? How effective are they at engaging the customer? Are they upselling where possible? Stanley Steemer maximizes upsell opportunities once they’re in a customer’s home.
  • Keep a notepad handy. Be on the lookout for fresh ideas about process or product innovation.
  • Assemble or use your own product. Are your instructions clear? Does “Ready to Assemble” really mean ready to assemble?

The saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” may be only part true. Being an undercover prospect may give you that second chance to see your product like the first time – and innovate anew.

About the Author:

Robert F. Brands is the author of  “Robert’s Rules Of Innovation (TM) ” Wiley, Spring 2010
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