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Business Innovation Conference 10/6/2009 - Second Session

| On 06, Oct 2009

Ellen Domb

Three breakout sessions = tough choice.   I will report on the session by Irena Suznjevic from SimBex company in Croatia, who reported on her research AND application of methods of personifying innovation.   That means I passed up session on Homeland Security innovation and on leveraging centers of excellence–kudos to our colleague Praveen Gupta and the Illinois Institute of Technology organizers for a speaker line-up that makes choosing a session so hard.


Irena defined innovation as new solutions to known problems, and as new views of the problem to make the solutions visible.  SimBex makes medical products and supplies for mothers and babies, and operates clinics.    Fast and simple solutions are preferred because of the speed of change in the customers’ lives and the speed of change in the producers’ and competitors’ environment.  They make a lot of use of web-based technology, but have made extensive investigation of how to make it user friendly, and non-technological at the point of user contact.  


Two types of innovation are those you can feel and see, and those you can’t feel/see.  The first type includes all technology innovations.  The company has great emphasis on the second kind–they are known throughout Europe for their smiles and for their caring for each other and for their customers.   They create an identity for a personification of their products, using a general concept that I would call “avatars.”   The identity has a name, a color (be careful because of the extensive psychological baggage that some colors bring with them, and be willing to use different colors for people–your end user, distributor, and salespeople might need different colors), a purpose & goal, a face and arms and legs–then the innovation is alive!   An unusual example was the internal innovation process of getting the ISO 9001 certification:  it was blue (clear, water, transparent), the purpose and goal was to have processes that are not dependent of specific people, the image was a person relaxed and smiling at his desk, the arms and legs were the employees. This was an experiential talk–there was no research comparing this to other methods, but Irena’s examples were quite persuasive.


The Chicago Innovation Awards are 8 years old now, and have had an exciting career both rewarding and stimulating innovation. See http://www.chicagoinnovationawards.com/  for details, history, and this year’s process.   Winners have lunch with Mayor Daley (and the organizers) and get lots of publicity through multiple publicity channels, as well as the award.    Founder Tom Kuczmarski told stories that ranged from charming to astonishing about the Bionic Wrench (product), Threadless Tee-shirts, (business model), Ocean Tomo intellectual property auctions (business model), CDOT Green Alley Program (product and service and business model), Tundra Fire Extinguisher (packaging revolution), TurboTap beer dispenser (product, multiple benefits to different customers), Walgreens prescription lables in 14 languages (service, system). 


Tom’s  data comparing “the Best” companies to “the Rest”  got a lot of audience discussion, particularly the observation that Best companies have almost double the portfolio of new to the world OR new to the company products and services, even though the failure of these innovations is typically 80%  — makes it obvious that the 20% is worth a lot!   (He left it to other presenters to talk about decreasing that 80%)   He used Yahoo, Blockbuster, and Motorola to illustrate the transitory value of being first in a new market.   I won’t reproduce his list of ten best practices of innovation (yes, he has a book for sale)  but it was fascinating to watch the audience’s reaction, especially in areas where he disagreed with Hartung, the earlier keynote speaker.   In contrast to some rather passive conferences I’ve been at where people politely listen then go back to what they’ve done before, it was a joy to see people get interested — even angry! — about innovation practices.   


Lunch break was very informal in the atrium at the university conference center, with many people talking about the morning’s papers and presentations, with a refreshing lack of consultants all pushing their own systems and methods.