Let’s Make Rejection Great Again

People hate being the bearer of bad news, but if you ask me, bad news is much better than no news.

One of the worst things that you can do to an innovator is to ignore their ideas, no matter if they are good ones or not. read more

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Technology Products Should “Just Work”

Judging by the state of consumer technology today, especially in the smart home space, one wonders if anyone ever ran any design thinking  sessions with customers who are genuinely not like the team who builds the product. read more

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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


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


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


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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    One Way We Innovate: Randomized Lunching

    Ever wonder why your rideshare driver is way more chatty than your typical cab driver? They may be doing this less for the money and more for the social interaction. 

    I was picked up the other day by an electrical engineer who was ridesharing during his commute times to a) talk to new people b) earn money to build a personal airplane and help send his college-age daughters through school and c) kill time until the commute level traffic had a chance to calm down. During our conversation, he said a few interesting things which turned into more than three blog topics, as well as possible new product ideas.  read more

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    Enough with the robocalls already!

    While I usually get a few robocalls a day, yesterday I broke a record: I had 11 robocalls and one lone telemarketer. It felt like I was getting a call every 45 minutes or so. These calls are getting ridiculous, and none of the calls were even political! There were “IRS is after you” calls, “renegotiate home loan” calls, “make big money from home” calls, “liens against your property calls” and some calls where I just hung up after hearing a stern male robo voice shout “We have been trying to reach you…” read more

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    Expressiveness Counts.

    Chris Kalaboukis is writer and futurist. He writes on many topics and for many publications. More importantly, you should hire Chris for your next writing project. Contact him for rates.
    See samples below… read more

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    The Most Interesting Thing in The World

     It’s In Your Pocket

    I was a fan of Last Man Standing before it was canceled and during a recent binge watch there was an interesting scene of a neighbor couple bickering over a smartphone – they were sitting at the kitchen table and the husband was looking at a cell phone and the wife was talking, or at least trying to talk to him. She saw him looking at his phone and said: “Are you finding that phone more interesting than me?” He started to explain that the smartphone was the window to all of the world’s information, entertainment and people, saw the look on her face, then put the phone down.

    But isn’t he right? Isn’t it true that the smartphone has become the most interesting thing in our lives?

    Its no wonder that many baby boomers and Gen X folks, trying to downsize are seeing resistance from their kids when they try to give them stuff which may have a lot of meaning for them – what is the value of a prized framed photo when a digital photo of it stored on a smartphone can have the same impact? One could argue that the sentimental value of an object cannot carry to the next generation, but at the same time, have we not revised our culture to the point were many of the objects which earlier generations used to cherish, are now worthless, and their digital twins have the same or even more value?

    We are starting to value the ephemeral over the solid, the rental over the ownership, the temporary use of an object as opposed to a permanent possession. At the same time, we are focusing more and more of our lives at that little screen. Because it contains all of the worlds information, entertainment, and connection to other human beings, it is the most interesting thing in your life. It will not only remain the most interesting thing in your life, it will become all that you may need, outside of things you need to consume.

    The future of retail may very well be split between those focusing on consumables and those focusing on digital objects. Advanced augmented reality glasses may eliminate the need for things completely. Why buy an object when you can paint it into your vision digitally where you want it to be? Why paint your walls any color when you can repaint them at will at any time?

    It’s true that time spent looking at screens has skyrocketed, and will only increase further. As we spend more and more time looking at screens, we spend less and less time looking at real things and each other.

    Will we reach a point where we will not be able to interact with each other unless it’s through a screen – with its ability to augment our reality?

    People will buy fewer things (unless they are consumables), need fewer things, and leave behind fewer things. Fewer things will need to be created, but their digital analogs will flourish. Digitizing then destroying real-world objects will become commonplace – like shredding trucks, I can foresee businesses focused on high definition rendering of 3D objects, then destroying the original objects.

    While the older generations may mourn the loss of these sentimental objects, just having fewer non-consumable objects in the world is a good thing.

    So yes, I do find my phone to be more interesting than you – but to be fair, you can’t compete.

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    Do We Need Corporate Philosophers?

    You may not know this, but I was a philosophy major. I was a philosophy major for about a year or two of college before I realized I couldn’t get a job in philosophy. But I digress.

    Ever since I was a teenager in high school, I was obsessed with trying to figure out the meaning of life. After dabbling in several religions, I moved into philosophy and was seriously thinking for a short period, that I should just become a philosopher. I wondered openly why it used to be a profession, but it seems to have dropped into disuse. Any contemporary philosophers I knew were professors who wrote about philosophy or wrote philosophy itself. read more

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    Strategists’ Guideline to Corporate Alignment

    Innovation is crucial in product lifecycle, especially to a company’s long term relevancy. However, innovators are often challenged by the mandate to focus on current demands. To begin the transformation from reactionary to visionary, innovators need to overcome challenges of being a visionary innovator.

    One of the most common reasons for failed strategic programs is the inability to produce demonstrable outcome of value i.e. consistent production of tangible deliverables regardless of how theoretical the innovation is. Though innovation programs are by definition the practice of exploring new and often unproven technology and markets, a good strategist is required to plan for tangible results of value in short-term increments.

    In a corporate setting, the disruptive strategist is required to be aware of the company short-term and long-term goals and offer a strategic roadmap with strict adherence to a timeline in alignment with company long-term goals and provide strategic sprints i.e. incremental, demonstrable milestones closely aligned to short term goals.

    Take as an example, an innovation project to create a wide-area network to track multiple dispersed outdoor objects using a mesh network of short range radio technology that’s ultra low power and self-powered. Break down the milestones and objectives to short duration achievable milestones.

    The project milestones may look like this:

    Milestone 1: Find existing ultra low power tracking solutions with key variables such as short range vs. connectivity (modem), outdoor vs. indoor, self-powering vs. low-power consumption. Assess the plus or minuses of each variable and note which are important for your use cases. If the project is stalled at this stage, at least you have a portfolio of off-the- shelf products you can leverage. read more

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