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Report: Queens School of Business 1st Annual Innovation Summit

| On 21, Mar 2010

Ellen Domb

I’m at the Queens School of Business First Annual Innovation Summit in Kingston, ON Canada  (Friday-Saturday, March 19-20).  Over 160 students, faculty and alumni are talking, listening, and being creative about the process of innovation, with a few visiting speakers sprinkled in to stimulate the discussions.   Keynote speaker Stewart Beck, Canada’s consul general in the San Jose/silicon valley area of the USA, gave a very personal view of innovation, starting with the Grateful Dead (music group, for those of you too young to know…) and the experience of his 4 friends (physical education majors in college, now a London solicitor, an Ottawa dentist, the consul general, and a business school administrator.)    His conclusion about the Dead:  you don’t have to have a technology – you need a good idea and understanding your customers. The Dead only had one song on the top 10 list, but they have a 40 – plus -year history of fanatical followers, a concert and product sales business, and a gigantic business that is seen as non-business.   They did it via social networking with the telephone and personal contacts (now a lot easier with Facebook, MySpace, Twitter) but if they hadn’t done what they did in the ’60’s and ’70’s, it is possible that the technology – based social networks wouldn’t have understoon the potential.  


More history:   in 1985, working with Canadian companies in the US, the model was to help them find a distributor in the US,ke and the entrepreneurs would frequently back off from the relationship, wanting to fine tune the product before introducing it.   Now, 25 years later,  his observation is that Canadian companies are much more likely to be willing to take the product to market, but they are reluctant to pay local distributors for their services – they want to apply their home culture methods to doing business abroad.   This took Mr. Beck into a discussion of the need to innovate business methods as well as innovating products and services.    He used the S-curve model, and showed Canada’s strength is at the low end (academics applying R&D, developing concepts) and the high end (successful big companies) but with a big gap in the middle where the small companies grow, and the products/services are propagated into the economy.   He is observing some slow changes in the Canadian innovation ecosystem – more willingness to take risks, more experimentation in customer relationships and financial structures, more willingness to work on a global level – but he encouraged the university audience to take leadership in all these areas.  Beck’s personal experiences in China during the scale-up in globalization of production and consumption and in the Silicon Valley on his first assignment in 1985-90 have both strongly colored his views.  He compared the traditional Canadian view of bankruptcy to the Silicon Valley view (disaster, vs. something that happens that you learn from) and the traditional Canadian view of international commerce to the Chinese view (something risky to be very careful of, vs. something that is part of everyday operations of the company.)


Beck concluded with a report on Canadian leadership in the game industry, and in the health of the financial industry, and showed the mostly Canadian audience the video that he uses to tell people elsewhere about Canadian innovation (a few shots of Cirque du Soleil as well as green electronics industries and the Vancouver Olympics) to general audience delight.  


For the full program, see www.qsbis.com.  As always in these travel reports, I report on the sessions that I personally attend, so readers need to rely on the organizers and the program links to the speakers’ own sites to learn about the other points of view that were presented at the conference.   At Queens, I’m speaking in one of three morning sessions and doing a workshop during of the afternoon sessions, so my report will be more limited than usual.   In the first breakout session, Bill Burnett’s presentaion “The Foundational Elements for Business Innovation:   The Antecedents of Successful Innovation”  was filled with charming (true!) anecdotes ranging from Einstein and Feynman in physics to Domino’s pizza.   His observations on the contradiction between reward and innovation were right on target – he spoke to the business students about all the aspects of business school training that are just wrong when it comes to creating an innovation environment.  His concluding technique, the howitzer method,  (Ask “How”, use  wit, call other people “sir” or the culturally appropriate equivalent) is universally applicable as a way of demonstrating the trust and empowerment that are essential foundation elements for innovation.  Thanks, Bill!


My first talk about TRIZ (the afternoon talk is a “how to” workshop) got a great crowd.  Thanks, QSBIS!   Maybe we’ll have more TJ and RI readers in Ontario.  I met Queens’ students and faculty who had TRIZ experience in Germany and in multi-national situations, so I hope that I helped them gain a wider audience.


Stephen Benson from the UK presented both the theory and the reality of open innovation communities.  His success with moving from 90/9/1 (joiners who don’t participate, those who produce useless contributions, those who produce useful contributions) to 30/30/40 is both impressive and exciting.  Innovation Exchange is the particular group he used as his example, but the learning applies to many communities of practice.  Benson’s discussion of intellectual property in the global, self-organizing communities, and the issues of trust between the customers (generally large companies) who need to reveal their needs to get effective suggestions, and the idea generating teams, who need to reveal enough about the solution to get the customers to pay for an idea, stimulated considerable lunchtime discussion.


Robert Brands used his own experience as a entrepreneur/product developer and his book “Robert’s Rules of Innovation” as the basis for his keynote talk.  A quick summary doesn’t do justice to the depth of Brands’ research–see his www.innovationcoach.com  site for lots of extracts from the book.   


I had a great audience for the afternoon TRIZ workshop–50 people, about 2/3 students in the Queens MBA program, the rest faculty and members of the Ontario business community, with a sprinkling of other speakers.   It was a great opportunity to teach some TRIZ skills to people who will be in a position to use them very intensely in the next year.   This is a very global group – one student from Germany had extensive TRIZ experience in the automotive industry, a faculty member was a “fan” of The TRIZ Journal, and students came from 8 countries and 3 Canadian provinces.  


The concluding plenary talk was by Claude Legrand, “Walking the Talk on Innovation.”    Claude brought together many of the themes of the day, emphasizing that leadership has to be a daily, physically visible activity to be effective.   The day concluded with organizer Jameel Lalji thanking the university, the sponsors, and the 20+ graduate students who pulled the QSBIS together.    I hope that “First Annual” is an accurate label, and encourage the innovation community to consider a trip to Kingston next year.