Category Archives: Innovation Process

Apollo 13 Timed Challenges

Apollo 13 Command Module

Apollo 13 Command Module

One of the cornerstones of successful innovation is the use of Timed Challenges™, a concept originated by MindMatters Technologies that helps guarantee innovation results.  Timed Challenges combine the best of business processes and psychology to insure that your organization can rapidly tap the latent intellectual knowledge of your workforce.


The Timed Challenge uses:

  • Focused Problem Solving
  • Management Participation
  • Strategic Goals
  • Employee Engagement
  • Limited Resources, and
  • Time Constraints

to inspire creativity and innovation.  One of the most outstanding real-world examples of  Timed Challenges is the Apollo 13 event that turned a near-certain disaster into a spectacular save.  Apollo 13 had taken off from earth on its way to the moon with 3 astronauts on board.  Shortly after takeoff, there was an explosion that severely incapacitated the rocket and put the lives of the astronauts in jeopardy.  While there were many technical issues that were solved by Mission Control, one of the most critical was that the astronauts were running out of oxygen to breathe–their expired CO2 was not being removed and they were getting lethargic and hypoxic.  They was no question that they would die before they could return to earth.  To solve this issues, engineers had to use their limited resources (supplies available to the astronauts in the space capsule) to adapt equipment so that a “square filter would fit into a round filter” as quickly as possible.  Clearly it was a matter of life and death, and it required engineering experts in all fields to collaborate and engage.

Clearly it worked, and the astronauts made it safely back to earth.

There were many other innovations made during the entire flight that saved the crew.  It’s been over 45 years since this happened, but the methods and principles are just as applicable today.  Read the full story here.


Innovation Project Funding

remove_riskOne of the most important factors in innovation is funding. Without it, your ideas are worthless, even the small ones. When people think of funding, they initially think money, and they’d be correct. However, money is only one form. Funding might be allowing someone time off of a project to complete an innovation, or providing them a team to divide up tasks. It’s also necessary to talk about funding from the very start of innovation. Whether it’s explicitly stated or not, your innovators will gauge their participation (or lack of participation) based on whether or not your organization has the ability to follow through on the innovations that are created–therefore funding is critical.

Once project have started, funding obviously continues to play a strong part.  While many organizations periodically rank and evaluate projects for either moving forward or abandoning, they typically look at a myriad of factors, such as marketing, manufacturing, and competition.  One way of categorizing all of your analysis factors is on the amount of risk that is removed.  Consider an entrepreneur and venture capitalist.   The venture capitalist invests in the company for the primary purpose of helping the entrepreneur remove risk.  For example, I’m given money to build a prototype to answer the question of “Can it be build quickly and inexpensively”.  When you are managing many projects, the best way to look at a go/no go decision is a) did the funding in the current stage remove risk (and did it remove enough risk) and b) is the funding for the next phase being used to reduce the next set of risks.  This is why venture capitalists are not interesting in “paying salary” they are interested in remove risks.  Try this the next time you evaluate a project.

A Fictional Example of Innovation

Tara had just finished visiting with her largest customer, a network of 13 hospitals in her county. She had met with many people that day, but one meeting in particular had stood out. She had met with Dr. George Freeman, chief of surgery, who explained the problem they were having with their aging set of surgical instruments.   Dr. Freeman explained that they have the budget and are prepared to buy new sets, but they have one major reservation with the ones that Tara’s company makes.  They are uncomfortable for left-handed surgeons, and George happens to be left-handed.  He goes on to explain that without something different, the sale will go to Tara’s competitor.

Tara knows that this is a major problem.  This hospital system is a major customer and purchases millions of dollars of products from her company.  Letting her competitor get an advantage like this could be devastating.  Tara takes her problem to her supervisor.
Tara works in the marketing department and presents her issue to the group.  She explains Dr. Freeman’s problem, and how they’ll lose the sale without a change.  Tara champions a suggestion made by Dr. Freeman, which simply involved moving the finger clasp about 20 degrees off center.  Tara is familiar with her company’s manufacturing capabilities and realizes that although this is a significant change, they can (and have) made this accommodation in the past.  After they talk with a few others in marketing, they realize that this is their only chance to make the sale, and take their issue to the engineering department.

A few days later, a meeting is scheduled with engineering, and they make their presentation.  The engineering group has assembled their senior engineers, and they’re joined by the company’s controller and manufacturing VP.  Tara prepared slides outlining the issue, and she documents how sales will likely increase substantially as a result.  No one else has instruments with this capability.  Engineering spends a few days and designs a new set of instruments, noting that the clasp should only be moved 19 degrees off center.   Preliminary mock-ups prove the point, and the change to manufacturing is estimated at $850k (a fraction of what the potential sales will be).  Finance approves the money and the project is started.

Tara’s company is responsive, voice-of-the-customer oriented, and innovative.  They addressed the need of a major customer, secured new sales revenue, and improved their product.  But did they really do the best that they could?

Tara’s company has repeated the missteps of many organizations.  They answered the question for an important sale, but they really didn’t innovate.  Find out how using MindMatters’ processes and the Innovator™ software system can make supercharge your organization.  Click here to request a copy.

The Big Idea: Are you Ready for it?

Big Ideas and little ideasThe other day, I met with a client who told me that she was looking for big ideas from their innovation program.  When I asked her what she meant, she told me that she didn’t want cost-saving ideas, or process improvements, she wanted big, multi-million dollar businesses.  She wanted to know how to get them.

This is a fair question and a desired result of most any strategic innovation program.  But the real question is whether you are ready for it.

Imagine a brand new licensed driver stating that they want to take the car on a cross country trip alone.  If you’re like many, you’d be asking yourself if that person had the experience to not only handle the car in lots of different situations, like highways, during thunderstorms, or narrow mountain passes.  You’d also wonder if they have the experience to successful navigate in a safe and effective way.  If you’re a parent, you’d simply say, “No.”

Innovation is very similar, in that you have to walk before you can run.  If you don’t have a process for effectively capturing (the little) ideas and successfully reviewing and implementing them, then you don’t stand a chance on the big ones.   The big ideas are inherently more risky, both in terms of money and time, but also in possible success.  You have to consider your customers, the market, and political forces.  The other interesting aspect is that the big ideas are usually hidden within the little ideas.  You don’t have to look any farther than the Apple iPad.  I can’t think of a single pundit who predicted it would be successful, because it was so different, but it certainly was.  My guess is that this little idea probably was killed dozens of times in other organizations because of the risk.

Big ideas require a portfolio mentality, along with a willingness to fail—big.  You have to spread your investment across different market/product segments, i.e., new market-old product, existing market-new product, etc. to fully realize the gains from innovation.  The best way to get to this level of risk is to start small.  Become successful at capturing and implementing the little ideas, the ones that don’t necessarily have a large impact.  You’ll demonstrate your understanding of the process, your ability to accept risk, and you’ll build the confidence of your organization’s attitude toward innovation.

Idea Review Teams, Part 2

During my time with clients, I work with a lot of idea review teams. I thought I’d list a few of the principles and helpful hints that should be used when you create these teams.
idea review teams

  1. Mix of people/skills. If you’re reviewing technical ideas, should the entire idea review team be engineers? Likewise, if you’re reviewing financial processes, should everyone be an accountant? My answer is no. Your team should contain a mix of people/skills that are germane to the types of ideas that you are reviewing. If you’re reviewing lots of technical ideas, then it makes sense to have a larger number of technical people, however, a healthy balance of other skills, such as legal, financial, and marketing will provide better results and align with the personality of the organization more clearly. Besides, many people who are accountants today may have been engineers yesterday, in a previous job and/or organization. It’s not unusual at all to find people with very diverse backgrounds and experience and in fact you should seek them out. These types can add depth to your team and will often see ideas from a completely different (and better) perspective. You may also want to consider rotating people on/off the team frequently. While you may give up some of the productivity you’ll gain by having a consistent group, by rotating more people, you’ll keep the program fresh, and you’ll involve more of the organization. For many, this visibility is both an experience and an opportunity to be seen as a contributor, and can provide future benefits for the organization. Additionally, it opens your idea review process up for more people to see how the process works someone who might feel the process is unfair, would gain an appreciation for the intricacies and difficulties in making decisions.
  2. Reward. For many organizations, reviewing ideas is just another to-do among an already long list. While many will feel the intrinsic need to be fair and committed, others will lose this feeling quickly. Some rewards can be easy, like recognizing the team periodically, giving them additional titles, and (as mentioned earlier) giving them some accountability and control. However, you may want to consider other rewards, such as team lunches, apparel, or other small tokens.

Idea Review Teams, Part 1

During my time with clients, I work with a lot of idea review teams. I thought I’d list a few of the principles and helpful hints that should be usedidea review teams when you create these teams.

  1. Commitment. Obvious, but easily faked or eroded. Make certain that each member not only has the mentality for the commitment, but also put in place safeguards to ensure it. For example, get the idea review team out of the office to a neutral location. I can’t tell you how many times that someone will pop their head into an idea review meeting, and ask one of the members, I’m sorry, but can I talk to John for just a minute? Inevitably, the interruption is longer, as John usually must attend to something urgent. It’s really hard for me to believe that anyone in the company can’t have a few hours without interruption, even the CEO. Make sure that they have some interest in pushing some of the ideas to completion the idea that is first submitted rarely is in the final form and usually requires a bit of help to move it forward. Oh, I forgot my laptop, or I didn’t have time to… This goes hand in hand with commitment. If they can’t remember the tools that they need, or don’t have the time to prepare for the meeting, they’re doing not only the review team, but all of the idea submitters an injustice. Make it clear what needs to be done beforehand.
  2. Authority. While it may seem obvious that the idea review team is supposed to review ideas, the end result may not be so obvious. Will they have the final say or will they have to get their recommendations approved by some other group? If they must get their approved ideas approved again, you’re taking away some of the respect (and prestige) out of the process. There’s no question that some ideas require further deliberation before they can be implemented, but if every one of the ideas must go through an additional step, then you really don’t have a review team. Instead, allow the review team to approve ideas within certain parameters, such as money, time, or cultural impact. That way, you’ll keep the review process intact as well as reducing the need for two teams to review every idea.

7 Rules for Improving Innovation: #5 Process


Manycompaniestruly want to innovate, but don’t know where to start. It all begins with defining a clear, straight-forward process. If you want success, you simply have to create, implement, andenforce a process for how innovative ideas and projects will flow through your organization from early stage to completion.

Without getting too technical or obtuse in the course of a 300 word blog post,here are some of the general questions you’ll need to be prepared to answer up front:

  • Howareconcepts found or uncovered in your company? How could that be better?
  • Who needs to be involved in reviewing and making decisions on “go forward” strategies?
  • What are the stages a project or concept must go through to move from development to action? (Make it as few as possible).
  • What are the criteria and benchmarks for moving the concept through each of these phases?
  • Who are the folks who need to be involved in enforcing the rules and criteria at each various stage?
  • What are the approximate costs of each stage and do you have the money earmarked to execute?
  • Who is ultimately accountable?

If you can answer most or all of these questions, then you’re starting to fill out the data you need to mapthe process. Now think of the workflow whicha concept must travel through and create a diagram of all of these stages.

If at all possible, it’s highly important to hire employees that have “been there and seen it before”. Before you bring in a consultant toteach you the ways of innovation, see who you already have in your company that are experienced with process. Innovation is no different than any other strategic or functional business process, and needs to be built and managed by folks whose clear strengths are in these areas.

If your company does a lot of talking about innovation, but really isn’t producing measurable results, thenyou’re definitely in the majority. Chances are what’s missing is either strongleadership or a solidprocess.The good news is you can easily change both of those things.

7 Rules for Improving Innovation: #3 Better Planning

Better Planning.

Many great ideas will cost money to implement, but not as much as you would think. Spend your money and resources in the right ways. Provide your employees with a meaningful, exciting environment and innovation will explode.

Better yet, hire innovative people and give them the power andfinancial backingto make things happen. For instance, an executive we spoke with told us about his company’s failings when it came to planning for and implementing new innovations. All across the organization, there was never ashortage of ideas being offered, and employees interacted and collaborated freely to come up withsolutions to major issues. A team was even put together to review and vet the best ideas.

But when it came to implementing thechosensuggestions for new projects, that’s where the company completely dropped the ball. Itquickly became apparent that some of these new programs were going to take resources, time, people, and cost actual money. Some required the hiring or redirecting of staff, earmarking time to do research and testing, purchasing or upgrading of new equipment, investing in new partners, and so on. The company was ill-prepared and most of their new programs fell short, or never even got off the ground.

Maybe your organization could learn from this mistake and plan out not only the process of innovation, but what you’ll do with the projects and programs you decide to launch out of yourinnovationprocess. Youalready allocate a certain amount of money for marketing, capital purchases, hiring new employees,and R&D, to name a few. Innovation cuts across all these areas. Take a small portion of these budgets and earmark them to only beused for innovativenewprograms in these areas each year.

Customer-Centric Innovation: Challenge Yourself!

There’s no lack of opportunitiesfor businesses to “create” – creating new products or service offerings,creating new marketsto pursue, creating new advertising,and so on. But “creation” doesn’t always mean you’re innovating. The difference between creating and true business innovation is that the latterinvolves taking a serious, hard look at the needs of your customers and doing only that which you know will change the game for them and for your business.

For this reason, you only wantthe innovations that aregoing tobe meaningful to your customers andprofitable to you -two things that are not typically mutually exclusive.Creative endeavors are a crucial piece of this model,butif it doesn’t make a measurable impact on some aspect of your business and drive you to get more customers, then why do it?

Customer-centric innovation begins withexamining every point at which you interact with customers (current, repeat,and prospective) and asking yourself this set of questions:What are the barriers that stand in the way of how this person or businessbecomes our customer,obtains our product, etc.? What can I do to eliminate that barrier and make it easier for them? How can I do this in such a way as to remain true to my business’ core values, and stayfocused on our critical essentials? How can I do this with thefewestcomplications (a.k.a.keep it simple)? How can Ido itbetter thanany of my competitors? When you can answer all of these questions, you’re firing on all 8 innovation cylinders.

These things goMUCHdeeper than “let’s create ournext big product because our customer is asking for it.”Take the time to look at things like: pricing, delivery methods, your suppliers, materials costs, systems in use, inventorization, materials, your investors, your accounting,your sales methods, your marketing team,and everything else you can possibly think of. If it seems like too muchwork, just remember:this iswhat your competitors are already doing. You’ll quicklyfind ways to improve quality in all of theseareas, and these improvementswill aggregate to impact how your customer becomes yourcustomer, and how you keep them as your customer.

Assign people in all of these areasto create “challenges” for their teams on how to improve something in their department. These can be as simple as “How can we improve ourpurchasing practices?”, “Has anyone seen a better system that we can use for billing?” or “How can we save money on shipping?”, “How can we fill orders faster”,and so on.

Allow their teams to answer the challenges with ideas and suggestions. Take time to encourage these folks to vote and comment onideas received. Make sure to follow throughimplementing the best ones, andreward folks for sharingthem. After all, the best solutions and improvements will invariably come from thepeople who deal with the issues you’re trying to solve on a daily basis.

The key is asking the right group with the right expertise to answer your challenge. The possibilities for “challenges” are limitless, just likethe areas for improvement ina company.

Some of the innovations that you find and implement using challenges may impact your customers or improve their experience in ways they will never even know about,and that’s just fine! Let them just be thrilled to be your customer andwonder how you do what you do so well!

Flagpole is an inexpensive, easy-to-deploy application built around the above-described challenge model. You can use it to query your employees, partners, even customers out in the marketplace to find focused, impactful ideas and innovations to implement.

The cost of NOT innovating

Recently, a medium-sized company shared a story in which they neglected to patent their flagship new technology. Within a year of its release, two (much larger) competitors introduced similar products which now dominate what’s become a $300 Million market.

When contemplating a new strategy for Innovation and IP Management, the first question many executives ask is “what is the cost?” But visionary decision makers at highly successful organizations know that’s simply the wrong question.

The correct question is “how much does NOT capturing and safeguarding innovative ideas and products cost our company each year?”

Without the proper Innovation and IP strategy in place, you’re operating at a competitive disadvantage.  That disadvantage rears its ugly head as competitors commercialize your ideas, improve upon your concepts, and even hire away your employees, along with valuable knowledge and trade secrets.

For over a decade, MindMatters and Flagpole have helped companies like Sony, 3M, and Johnson & Johnson to capitalize on their own brilliance with a proven end-to-end strategy for Innovation and Intellectual Property Management.  We are the Enterprise Innovation experts and we’d like to make your organization more competitive.  For a limited time, we are offering a free survey to help you assess your level of Innovation effectiveness.  You can access the survey at: or visit our links to learn more about Innovation Management solutions.