Category Archives: Knowledge Sharing

10 Tricks to Improve Memory

MethodofLociI found this short article and kept forgetting to post it! There are a couple of fun tips to improving your memory–some of them based on significant research and repeated results. Based on what I’ve read, the best is the “Method of Loci”.  Read the article here.

How to Kill Innovation

I read an article by Jason Hiner in Tech Republic talking about the 5 things that can kill innovation. Here they are:

  1. Don’t give ownership of projects
    His basic premise is that individuals do better at managing projects/ideas than teams. The old saying that “Too many cooks spoil the broth” is the acting principle here.  While it may seem “progressive” and socially acceptable to allow the team to make decisions by committee, in practice it just doesn’t work.   There is a difference between “working as a team” and being run as a team.  Consider the real world example of an airline cockpit.  Great effort has been put into getting the pilot and co-pilot to act as equals while managing the aircraft.  It’s called cockpit management, and resulted from accidents where one person–typically the pilot–acted without regard to the opinion of the other.  The pilot and co-pilot now work together, but ultimately, there is only one person in charge.  Consider the case of the USAirways flight that crashed into the Hudson river.  As soon as the birds struck the airplane and they began to lose power, captain Sullivan states, “I’ve got the plane” indicating that he is the one now in charge.  With that said, there is still an active collaborative dialogue as captain Sullivan asks his co-pilot, “can you think of anything else [to do]”.
  2. Create too many layers of management
    To create an innovative environment, Mr. Hiner states, “that you have to find ways to flatten your organization and create less hierarchy, while making sure every employee still gets a little bit of time with the boss on a regular basis in order to stay energized and on target.”  I agree completely.  Management is one of the most critical aspects of innovation, and in addition to his suggestions, you also need management that is supportive (and demonstrates their support) of innovation.
  3. Ignore brainstorming rules
    If you want to be innovative, he suggests that you keep good brainstorming rules, such as limiting negativity because, “some of the craziest ideas could morph into something amazingly useful.”  Unfortunately, the opposite seems to be true, as there is little evidence (in the research literature) that anything of industrial/commercial value has come from brainstorming.   There are plenty of examples of people coming up with a 100 different ways to use a paperclip, but commercially successful innovation almost never involves brainstorming.  It goes against our nature–we’re too competitive.    Nonsense, you might say, “everyone at our organization is happy to help others develop ideas,” and I believe this to be true.  But if you open an idea up to an entire group, you’re going to do a couple of things.  First, you’re diluting the inventors’ idea, possibly in a way that doesn’t make sense, especially if the group is trying to reach consensus.  Second, you’re removing a large part of the incentive for the inventor to push the idea to completion, because you’re reducing the impact of his/her reward. One of the best examples of this is in academia.  I used to believe that this was the most open and collaborative area around, however, this is not the case.  Researchers/Professors are extremely guarded with their ideas, and rarely “brainstorm” them with an entire group.  Why?  Because in most cases, their career, prestige, and funding are directly related to the number of successful ideas that they can come up with.  Sharing can be catastrophic.    Do they collaborate?  Sure, but usually with a very, very limited number of trusted associates.  These people are solicited specifically and are invited to participate because the originator believes that they’ll benefit. When I invent something, I hope (and expect) to be rewarded in some way, i.e., keep my job, get a promotion, get a raise, get a better position, etc.   There are very few people who freely give their best ideas to their colleagues.  More realistically, when people want to collaborate, they do so with some understanding of secrecy, such as NDAs and other agreements to guard their intellectual property.
  4. Rely too heavily on data and dashboards
    Innovation has a tough ROI.  Mr Hiner writes, “Beyond some of the basic data, such as sales and customer traffic, a lot of the data requires sophisticated analysis (because it’s so ambiguous) and many of the truths it contains are relative — or worse, they hide other truths.”  This is really true.  It’s hard to create a return on investment report for an idea.  If the idea is successful, the ROI could so high it would seem unrealistic.  On the other hand, innovation rarely lasts (beyond a 6 months to a year) without payback.   One of the best ways to generate payback and ROI is to innovate against specific problems/issues.  If you innovate against strategic issues, you already have a built-in ROI.
  5. Under-resource your hidden opportunities
    The article states, “Having too many resources makes people sloppy. When you have to get something done with fewer resources than you think you need, it often sharpens your wits, forces you to hustle, and leads you to break through barriers.”  Completely agree.  It’s a great mental challenge to find an answer with limited resources.  It reminds me of the story of the Apollo 13 mission where they had a catastrophic failure shortly after launch.  One of the pressing issues was that the carbon dioxide in the module where the astronauts were living was increasing.  In order to remove the carbon dioxide, the engineers at NASA had to figure out how to fit a “square filter into a round hole” using only the materials available to the astronauts.  They obviously did it and saved the astronaut’s lives.

Learning Strategies

In a study  by Nandagopal and Ericsson trying to determine how and why high performing student succeed, the authors looked at the use of self-regulated learning strategies in a group of advanced undergraduate students.  They selected students/courses that indicated that the students were actively picking in-depth study in order to eliminate unmotivated students.  (They selected advanced bioscience students/courses as opposed to entry level students/courses).

They asked the students to keep daily study diaries, and then grouped the study strategies into  six main categories: self-regulating (self-assessing, goal-setting, and planning), organizing, seeking information, mnemonic usage, seeking social assistance (for instance, seeking assistance from peers, tutors, and professors), and reviewing(reviewing prior problems, notes, textbook, and such). They compared the diary entries between high, average, and low-achieving students (as indicated by their GPA).

While they found that high-achieving students tended to employ a larger number of learning strategies, the most important strategies for predicting final grades were:

  1. Seeking information,
  2. Reviewing the textbook, and
  3. Seeking assistance from peers during the midterm week.

Here is a summary of the learning strategies as adapted by Zimmerman, B. J., & Martinez-Pons, M. (1986). Development of a structured interview for assessing student use of self-regulated learning strategies. American Educational Research Journal, 23, 614–628:

1) Self-evaluating: Statements indicating student-initiated evaluations of the quality of progress of their work, i.e., I check over my work to make sure I did it right.

2) Organizing and transforming: Statements indicating student-initiated overt or covert rearrangement of instructional materials to improve on learning, e.g., I make an outline before I write my paper.

3) Goal setting and planning: Statements indicating students setting of educational goals or sub-goals and planning for sequencing, timing and completing activities related to those goals, e.g., First I start studying 2 weeks before exams, and I pace myself.

4) Seeking information: Statements indicating student-initiated efforts to secure further task information from nonsocial sources when undertaking an assignment, e.g., Before beginning to write the paper, I go to the library to get as much information as possible concerning the topic.

5) Keeping records and monitoring: Statements indicating student-initiated efforts to record events or results, e.g., I took notes of the class discussion. I kept a list of the words I got wrong.

6) Environment restructuring: Statements indicating student-initiated efforts to select or arrange the physical setting to make learning easier, e.g., I turned off the radio so I can concentrate on what I’m doing.

7) Self-consequences: Statements indicating arrangement or imagination of rewards or punishment for success or failure, e.g., If I do well on a test, I treat myself to a movie.

8) Rehearsing and memorizing: Statements indicating student-initiated efforts to memorize material by overt or covert practice, e.g., In preparing for a math test, I keep writing the formula down until I remember it.

9–11) Seeking social assistance: Statements indicating student-initiated efforts to solicit help from peers (9), teacher (10), and adults (11), e.g., If I have problems with the math assignments, I ask a friend to help.

12–14) Reviewing records: Statements indicating student-initiated efforts to re-read tests (12), notes (13), or textbook (14) to prepare for class or further testing, e.g., When preparing for a test, I review my notes.

Give Me Your Patent License

Patent Trademark OfficeFollowing the flurry of patent litigation recently in the smartphone market, talks were held by the International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations agency responsible for ensuring phone-makers agree to standards so that their devices can interact with each other.

The basic premise is whether companies should be allowed to ban rivals’ devices if they do not agree to a license fee for using a patent.   There are many sides to the argument of whether this is good or bad, but essentially, it would require that patent holders of “standard-essential” technologies allow the technology to be licensed for a reasonable fee.  If you’re the firm that doesn’t hold this patent, it seems logical.  If you’re the firm that holds the patent, it doesn’t seem logical.  One side argues that it stifles competition by limiting the market to a few players (because of the patent), the other side argues that it stifles competition by not rewarding innovators.

Here’s a question.  You are driving down the road when you suddenly come upon a sign that says “road closed.”  What do you do?  Do you sit there and wait for someone to open the road for you, or do you find a way around it?   Innovators go around, and usually find an even better route.

Opposites don’t Attract

There is some convincing research that demonstrates that opposites don’t attract. Is this a problem? From a relationship perspective, this might be alright, but from an innovation perspective it isn’t.

Scientists studied a couple of different groups, but the main one was college students. They compared student relationships in a large college (25,000 students) and several smaller colleges (about 500 students) and determined whether “friends” were more or less similar. The researchers employed a variety of personality tests and questions to come to conclusions. The research showed that the friends at the larger college were very similar in ideas, tastes, beliefs, etc., whereas the smaller college had significantly less similarity. The researchers believe that a large reason for this is that at the larger college, you’re more likely to find someone who matches you more perfectly than at a smaller school.

In another study, researchers examined the question of whether people actually “mix” at mixers. Their model was a networking party for approximately 100 people associated with a school’s business program. In similar results, the researchers found that people where more likely to associate with people who they already were familiar with or where there was a third-party connection (two strangers have a mutual friend). One interesting conclusion was that people who came to the mixer with few friends were more likely to meet new people.

From an innovation perspective, you need to be careful that you don’t create a grouping of similar people when trying to solve complex, creative problems, or else you’ll lose the dynamic range of experience and opinions. While no ones to go on a long car ride with people we don’t get along with, from an innovation perspective, it might make more sense.

“Green” is Just Another Color of Innovation!

We posted a blog and press release last week abouta great new initiative for Earth Day. Flagpole wants tohelp companies become more “green” and “sustainable” by offering ourinnovation software. Theprogram was designed to assist companies that are not currently collecting ideas for Greeninitiatives and projects toquickly implement a solution forgathering suggestions in this area. Weknew that by applying the principles of Open Innovation, companies would find a lot of great ideas for improvement.

The reponse has been great and Flagpole has now implemented such “GreenIdea Challenge” sites for some of our existing customers, as well as some brand new organizations that we’ve never worked with before. We’ll be running our contests and “Green Idea Drives” through Earth Day, and somehave even chosen to extend the program indefinitely.We couldn’t be more thrilled to be helping companies honor Earth Day by becomingmore sustainable.

We look ahead and see another great opportunity for a similar event in the very near future -World Environment Day on June 5. Sanctioned by the United Nations’ Environment Programme, WED is a Global Effort to raise awareness,jumpstart local programs, and motivate folks towards a commonGreen goal. As Pittsburghers ourselves, MindMatters isproudthatourcity has been chosen as 2010’s North American Host City and we’ll beputting a lot of effort into special eventstohonor thisimportant day. More on all that later!

In the mean time, we would like to congratulate the companies that are taking part in our Earth Day initiative. We’re seeing some great Green ideas come in from all over the World and we honestly hope that success continues way beyond Earth Day!

Ben Franklin: Father of Collaborative Problem Solving?

In some of the most successful companies today, Innovation is constantly being pushed forwardby collaborative groups. Whether formally organized or not,teamslike thisuse a variety of tools available to share knowledge in a non-hierachical fashion.

You mightcall them ‘Communities of Practice’ or even’Innovation Committees’ at your company, but their function is to meet regularly toopenly discuss topics and information germane to their business. The goal is to solve problems through communication andto promote new ideas among the members.

Long before companies recognized and formalized any modern approach to innovation, one American forefather created what is recognized as thevery first collaborative group.Benjamin Franklin organized a group called Junto in Philadelphia which consisted of selected people fromdiverse backgrounds and varying occupations. Theymet regularly, usually in a tavern, tohave discussions and try to solve the political issues of the day. Franklinfelt that a braintrust of people with different perspectives would solve moreproblems fasterthan any lone individualever could. The small,dynamic clubdiscussed anything from philosophical questionsto community problems, political issues, and business affairs.

Franklin’sJunto obviously didn’t have coolweb 2.0tools oremailto faciliate the sharing of knowledge. They did their thinginan open forum that met weekly and listened to eachother speakabout mutually agreed-upontopics. The key to theirproductivity was strong organizationand a feeling of equity among its participants. Theyfollowed a formal order at meetings in which everyone hadthefloorto sharethoughts in a respectful environment. Does your company do this for it’s employees?

Imagine what you could do with a similar model using the tools available today.That’s what Flagpole’s ( about!

You can easily implement a simple, standardized process forsharingideas and knowledgewithin your organization. Your “Discussion Topics” will become the”Challenges” that you share outwardly. Your”JuntoMembers” areyour employeesorcoworkers, whowill share their unique perspectives to help you build on ideas and solve problems.

Building Your Own Market for Innovative Products

The more innovative andrevolutionary a breakthroughproduct is, themore likelythat you’ll have tobuild your own market for it. Customers don’t come running for products they don’tknowthey need yet. However the payoff is huge! If you can define the market from the ground up, chances areexcellentthat you will own that market for a very long time.

Back in the 60’s, scientists working atDuPont developed Kevlar – ablend of polymers with five times the strength-to-weight ratio of steel.Accustomed to their constant stream of success withinnovative products, the chemical giantnaturally assumed that the market would simply come to them. After all, Nylon, Teflon, and several other artificial fibers ofDuPont’s creationhad been adopted byscoresofindustries and usedin successful products that were selling all over the place.

Not so with Kevlar. It simply couldn’t find it’s place in the world. All of the uses and products DuPont had envisioned were not feasable and industries were just not interested in the revolutioary new product. The biggest failurecame when American tire makersrejected Kevlar. The companies optedtocontinue usingsteel belts in their radials, rather than switch to something new, even though Kevlar offered a significant weight reduction. After all, steel was reliable, easier to source, and still a bit cheaper than the new material.

It took some very creative thinking andmarketing on DuPont’s part to find a niche in which to sell Kevlar. The testing began to find out all the new uses for this new fiber. They knew they had amiracle solution, now they just had to find the problem it solved.They went out to some their largestcustomers askedfor their input and shared theirresearch data. The real breakthrough camewhen they found itcouldstop bullets. Once the US Government caughtwind of the findings, Kevlar became the go-to material for making things like bullet proof vests and army helmets.With the militaryon board,the police forces across the country came calling and the rest is history.

Because of thisclever market adaptation, Kevlar has since proven itself an extremely worthy material for all kinds ofproducts from better ropes to boat sails to protective devices that workers use.History has proven it to be one of the biggest selling products DuPont ever introduced. Quite miraculously,it also totally redefined how DuPont proactively builds a market space for it’s new products before they move forward with developing it.As a result, they control the markets they create. Can you think of a product that challenges Kevlar in its own market space? I’ll give you a hint: In the 80’s a very similar material called”Twaron” was introduced by a competitor. It neverput the “tiniestding” in DuPont’s “armor”.

Lots of companies introducegreat ideas and productsthat just can’t quite catchtheir stride, and many that could performmuch better if the company spent more time to understand the marketplaceand the needs of potential customers. By going outside of your company walls toresearch and investigate trends and feedback you can begin tobuildbetter, and in a lot of cases brand newmarkets for your ideas.You just need to get innovative with how people are using your products and ask them for their ideas.

You can jumpstart this process withemployees and customers -they all have great ideas and will share them if you present the right challenge. With Flagpole ( you canshare business and marketing challengeswith everyone in and around your organization. Best thing is, you won’t spend billions on research like the “DuPont Corporations” of the World: You can get started for free right now.

Finding New Areas for Innovation

In many companies, innovation is only focused on finding ways to directly improve the product or service they offer. In reality, there are many opportunities to innovate that you may not even be thinking of.

By analyzing the entire breadth of the customer’s interaction with your products, you’ll uncovernew strategies for differentiating hidden aspects of your offering from your competitors’. You can begin to do this by asking customers (and employees that interface with customers) key questions like these and analyzing the findings…

  • How do customers discover their need for your products?
    Are customer aware that you can satisfy their need? Do they even know they have a need in the area that your product or service covers? There may be a better way to create the feelings of need or desire for your solution.
  • How do customers find and purchase your offering?
    You may need to make your product easier to search for, find, order, or purchase. Can you make the availability of your product more prominent or your advertising more ubiquitous?
  • How do customers make their final selection?
    Maybe you can find a new way to help your customers narrow down the possibilities, or make it easier or more convenient for them to make a selection in your marketplace.
  • How is your product or service delivered?
    How does it get in the hands of the customer and what happens once it’s there? Can you make this experience better, faster, or less costly for them or you?
  • What is your customer using your product for?
    Can you change or add new ways for them to use (or reuse) your product?
  • What are the difficult things about using your product?
    Can you make this experience better? What are the common Customer support issues? Can you change something to make it easier to use?
  • How is your product supported or repaired?
    Can you change the methods of fixing products or resolving issues? Can you eliminate some problems entirely? Would spending money to change or redesign something now save you a lot in support costs?

These are just SOME of the many areas you can improve by learning more about people’s experiences and interactions with your company’s offerings. It all starts with gathering feedback and interacting with customers and employees. They KNOW what the problems are and they WILL tell you if you ask.

With Flagpole (, you can present questions like these to your audience to get honest responses that could help you innovate in new areas that your competitors aren’t even thinking about.

Collaborate to Innovate

Todays Organizations are isolated geographically. Collaboration and cross fertilization are key to help an organization become successful. For Innovation to happen efficiently there needs to be a means for a group to work together within and across organizational boundaries. There must be an ability to work over the internet and integrate diverse application assets in the innovation process. This can happen with diverse teams representing a wide range of stakeholder interests working both face to face and online.

In a PricewaterhouseCoopers poll, 55 percent of CEOs in the 427 fastest growing U.S. Businesses innovate through new product development methodologies. Most realize that to become successful, product improvements will not suffice. The article also describes an idea called a ThinkCycle. Its a shared online space for designers, engineers, domain experts, and stakeholders to discuss exchange and construct ideas towards design solutions in critical problem domains. Its the new products hitting the market that define success in the 21st century.