Like Fake News, Fake Innovation Is Rampant.

Have you ever been the victim of Fake Innovation? Like fake news, sometimes it is so cleverly concealed that it can be very difficult to spot. Of the six types of innovation outlines below, can you spot the fake innovation?

  1. Develop real new products, some of which may make tons of money
  2. File patents for products you might build or license
  3. Look cool among your competitors
  4. Playing with cool new toys, but not launching them
  5. Playing catch-up to your competitors
  6. Motivating your employees

Let’s look at each of these in detail:

Innovation Type 1: Developing New Products

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If you expect to develop new products, the metrics are easy on this one, track the number of ideas which make it through the pipeline from concept to actual product. If this is your goal, then you need to invest the time, money and resources to make sure that these ideas get through the pipeline to an actual product or at least a prototype that you can throw into the marketplace (even a small, limited marketplace) and see what happens. Don’t spend all of your budgets on the program itself, save some of it for the product development, marketing and management of the trial.

In some cases, your operational voices will try to come in at this point and shut down prototypes and trials which have no immediate perceived value proposition. If the founders of Twitter or Snapchat had done that, there would be no Twitter ($17B valuation) or Snapchat ($16B valuation). Make sure that you can spend the money to get the damn thing out the door, and let it ride for a while.

The founders of WhatsApp were thinking of shutting it down a few months before it went totally viral. Remember it was bought by Facebook for $22B. Would you let your operational voices (some people call these the corporate innovation immune system) shut down what could be a $22B product, all for the sake of a few bucks? We are shooting for the moon here – we should be allowed to spend a few bucks to get there.

In my experience, many enterprises let their operational voices shut down their innovative voices, expecting something for nothing, that unless the product is an immediate viral success with tons of traction and revenue, we should shut it down right away. I’ve seen too many awesome products go that way, only to be launched by a startup a few months later to huge traction and potential revenues. Don’t be that innovation program: be ready for the operational voices to throw up a very strong case to shut you down early, sounding the hue and cry that “you don’t make any money”. Don’t let them stop you before you’ve even started.

Innovation Type 2: Filing Patents

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This one is a little easier and a little harder. A little easier because you don’t need to think about actually building the product, a little harder because you need to make sure that you are developing something that a) is patentable and b) you will be able to extract value out of some time at least 4 years from now. There is a cost involved as well, and your legal team will also need to be able to have the capabilities to manage outside counsel who will probably do most of the filing for you.

You can easily track this one as well: how many patents did you file? Some companies get into competition with their competitors on this one. Of course, it’s more important to have quality patents as well, but with patents, you typically never really know which idea will be really valuable when you are filing it – so a number of patents is a good metric.

This is a tough one for some companies who don’t think long term. It will take about 4-5 years for your patent to be issued, and once it’s issued, you can then license it or sell it. The cost to file a patent is typically in a $15k range, unless your company files many patents already and they are able to get something like a volume discount, paying $15k per idea for something that “might” show some value 5 years from now (5 years is like a bazillion in tech years, no?) is sometimes even a harder nut to swallow for some companies than the product goal above.

Then there are the patentability criteria: novelty, usefulness, and non-obviousness, and I’ll add one more which I like to look for as well, which is visibility. I’ll go into these in more detail in a future blog post, but in short the idea has to be new (no one else has really thought of this specific idea), useful (it has to do something which people will generally think is useful – this is why you can’t really patent a painting, even though they may be useful in calming your soul) and non-obvious (if your invention is something which is just an obvious extension of something someone else thought of – like using handlebars in your car instead of a steering wheel). I also like it to be visible – the idea is something that can be seen out there – for example, you may be able to patent an algorithm for a better search engine, but if I can’t figure out if someone is infringing on your idea because I can’t tell, then the value of the patent is typically not very high.

However, if you are enough of a long term thinker to wait it out – this is a good strategy. Make sure that you also have a reward program for your inventors at filing, AND at issuance, so that they get rewarded at both ends – might even be an incentive for them to stay with you.

Innovation Type 3: Look Cool to Your Competitors

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I’ve personally experienced something that feels like this: you have put together a very well thought out program, with seemingly the right people, processes and tools in place. You market the program, you run the program, get really great ideas out of the program, but then the ideas seem to just languish in the system without going anywhere. At the same time, you have many of the executives in the organization talking about how innovative they are, talk about some of the initiatives, like this one, talk about the great numbers of ideas generated and the number of employees engaged.

There isn’t even any real talk of any of the products generated, you just seem to hear the word innovation, innovative and innovator over and over again in the marketing materials, but nothing to back it up.

Where are the innovative products and services? What is this cool stuff that you are developing?

Of course, since the point of the program is to just look cool, it seems like you are just trying to out-innovate each other by blasting the word “innovation” from every loudspeaker than you can.

Talk the talk, but no walking the walk.

Listen, I’m all for touting every innovative product that you’ve developed from the rooftops. But first, let it be REAL. If you are worried about the IP – protect it via patent filing first.

Stop saying that you are being innovative and just BE INNOVATIVE. You don’t hear Google SAYING that they are innovative. You hear Apple saying it, though.

So by all means, innovate so that you can look cool in comparison to your competitors: it has many, many intangible benefits (and maybe a few you can measure)

  • People will see your company in a new light
  • It may become easier to hire more innovative individuals, thus generating more innovative products and services
  • Many innovators prefer “doing cool stuff” instead of “big salaries” so you might even see some relief there
  • If you are a public company, analysts might see you in a new light. If you are a large public company who may be seen as a has-been, overtaken by newer, cooler companies with more interesting products, maybe building some cool, new products and getting them out the door might go a long way towards revising their opinion of you. Innovation can even save you. Yahoo!, please take note.
  • You will get more favorable press – everyone loves innovation. As an example, check out the latest video that Amazon put out about delivery by drone. They teased us with that back in 2013, but nothing came of it. Now we are seeing full-on video demonstrations of a real drone supposedly delivering a new pair of shoes. This you can measure by reviewing your press mentions and “innovation”.

Innovation Type 4: Playing with Cool New Toys, But Not Launching Them read more

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Is Innovation Career Suicide?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: your CEO (or more likely new CEO) decides that your company needs to be more innovative, either generating profitable new products, becoming more of a leader in the space or trying to juice up employee engagement. Let’s do some moonshots! As a career innovator, this is what you like to hear.

There’s a budget for the development of an innovation program, and possibly even the creation of an innovation group, dedicated personnel charged to foster and encourage innovation within the organization. The budget may be for the program, or the people, or the budget may be to generate targeted IP, to help start or expand an existing patent portfolio. The mandate is “envision the future of our business,” and help take us there.

They announce with great fanfare. They hire innovation and facilitation gurus, and internal teams are built to foster more innovative processes, new products, and process improvements, leading to higher profitability and cost savings.

It starts strong, with a lot of initial employee engagement. Ideas are submitted and if the program is properly set up, reviewed and dispositioned by a team of reviewers, and some rise up to become attractive enough to prototype, or even lead into a possible patent application.

These are great ideas. The ideas could go on to become an entirely new product, opening up new markets for the company. Unfortunately, there is no current market for the products TODAY, so enthusiasm from leadership wanes (not always, but in most cases, we’ve seen). Plenty of great forward-thinking ideas are generated, but few to none come to fruition.

The next step is accountability. Instead of the innovation group developing future products and services, its asked to justify these ideas against current day business models, when the markets may not exist yet. There was no guaranteed market for Twitter when it launched. No guaranteed market for Slack. No guaranteed market for the iPhone. The product was launched, and the market picked them up.

But it doesn’t matter. The same leadership which gave the innovation group free rein to envision the future of the company now needs to develop for today, not tomorrow. All work requires sponsorship by a profitable business unit and show promise as a real product for today’s market.

There are no more moonshots, no more disruptive innovation. And we are back to square one when the leadership decides to disband the group or keep it as a non-functioning figurehead (to brag to others that they have an innovation group).

The innovation staff is then reassigned, leaves or is let go. Those who are let go move to another firm which is at the front end of the “innovation cycle,” and the cycle begins all over again:

  • Innovation is important, let’s budget for it and give it the freedom to be disruptive
  • Innovation is important, but let’s make sure that it will solve a real business problem of today
  • Innovation is important, but let’s make sure that we hit our numbers.
  • Innovation is so important; we don’t even need to have an innovation group. Everyone needs to innovate.
  • read more

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    How To Ignite Passion In Your Employees

    Employee engagement is at crisis levels in some companies – sure, maybe your people show up physically (or perhaps not, depending on your telecommute policies) but do they show up mentally? Are they willing to give their maximum effort to your company for what you are paying them, or are they just going through the motions and phoning in their job, waiting to jump to the next company that they may be more interested in (don’t worry, there are only a few of those, so chances are low).

    How do you take your employees and ratchet up their engagement levels? How do you get them to genuinely care about your company, and exceed your expectation of them in their roles? Driving this kind of passion requires a few things you may or may not already have – here are some things which help:

  • Do you have a strong vision, articulated by your leadership, for the company?
  • Does this strong vision talk about getting rich, or helping your customers realize their dreams?
  • Do you have a visible leader who provides this kind of guidance?
  • read more

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    Stop Running From Change and Embrace It

    Why do people run from change, even when that change is for the better?

    We always seem to fall back on the familiar, even if it causes pain. We stick with what we have, whether it works or not – even in some cases it’s worse for us. Most people fear change – they fear the future – they fear doing something different. read more

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    AI Recruitment: Not Ready for Prime Time, or Just Inscrutable to Puny Human Brains?

    Artificial Intelligence is great, but can it help you pick your next star candidate?

    Recently, Reuters reported that Amazon quit using a secret AI-based talent recruitment tool due to apparent gender bias – when it was trained by the recruiters to hire the best candidates, it ended up rating men higher than women. Based on past hiring practices, they created 500 computer models focused on specific job functions and locations. They taught each to recognize some 50,000 terms that showed up on previous candidates’ resumes. The technology favored candidates who described themselves using verbs more commonly found on male engineers’ resumes, such as “executed” and “captured.” read more

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    Have No Fear: Optimism Leads To Innovation

    One of my favorite new thinkers is Jordan Peterson. I’m ankle deep in the audiobook of his first opus, Maps of Meaning, and am already engrossed in his thinking on how humans think and process, in comparison to lesser animals. He describes a study on fright done with lab rats, where a rat is placed in a cage and then exposed to all sorts of stimuli to drive a fear response. read more

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