- Why innovation is a team sport
- Tricks for breaking down organizational barriers and getting cross-functional teams working together
- How to use systematic inventive thinking to come up with ideas for new features and products
- Why "innovation rooms" and "innovation retreats" aren't all they're cracked up to be
- Why companies should treat innovation like a regular business process
- Business skills employees should develop to make them more innovative
Janelle: Hi, everyone. I'm Janelle Kozyra, your host for another Inmagic podcast. Today we are joined by Drew Boyd. And Drew is a corporate practitioner, teacher, researcher, and writer on innovation, marketing, and persuasion.
He is the Executive Director of the Master of Science in Marketing Program and Assistant Professor of Marketing and Innovation at the University of Cincinnati. He also blogs at InnovationInPractice.com. Drew, it's a pleasure to have you with us. Welcome to our podcast.
Drew: Thanks for having me.
Janelle: So you have an interesting background that's brought you to where you are today. So tell us a little bit about your professional history and what you do today.
Drew: Right. I'm sort of a hybrid practitioner and academic. I've spent 17 years with Johnson & Johnson, all of it in the medical device side of things, and that's where I really learned this stuff about innovation and methods and things like that.
And now I teach this material at the University of Cincinnati and it's been a real nice transition to take my experiences from the corporate world where it's practiced day in and day out where companies depend on their survival for innovation. And to be able to take that into the classroom and teach my students, not just the theory, but how you actually put it in practice, how you use it day-to-day to create growth.
Janelle: So you said you were at Johnson & Johnson for 17 years and one of your roles there was to teach employees about innovation to more systematically invent new medical products and integrate the inventions into their long-term strategic plans.
Drew: All my background is marketing and planning. I started at J&J in marketing and just moved through different parts of the commercial organization -- international marketing and market development. I did a couple of years in Merck as an acquisition.
A lot of strategic planning and things like that and we woke up one day and realized that we had a problem. We had great people and we forced people from all different parts of the company and externally, but they were all speaking a different language about marketing. They were speaking a different language about commercializing products, launching products, etc.
And my boss's boss happened to find out that I had a background in teaching, I was very passionate about it, and so I was asked to start essentially an internal marketing university, a training program, a collection of training programs to give our team a common framework, common vocabulary, and all the courses were taught by external faculty.
One of them, of course, was innovation methodology. So it was a lot of fun. It was fun essentially running an academic unit within a corporation and, of course, it's a big reason why I'm doing what I'm doing now at the University of Cincinnati.
But it allows me to experiment, to find new methods in current practices, best practices, to benchmark with people that did my job at companies like GE and Procter & Gamble, and things like that. It was a lot of fun. And that's where I had a chance to experiment and do things like how do you take innovation methods and how do you take strategic planning and marketing planning methods and fuse them?
How do you get them to work together so the teams are more effective in what they do? And that's really the thing that came out of that experience more than anything. That is what I blog about today and what I'm writing a book about and, of course, teaching at the university.
Janelle: So where did those new ideas come from?
Drew: Where do new ideas come from? Do you mean in general?
Janelle: In your experience at Johnson & Johnson.
Drew: Yeah, you know, it's a great question. I mean, what I find is you really want to give students and people a good underpinning of what anything is, you know, what's the research, how do things work in theory, what do the studies say about a particular issue or topic. But then people have to cut loose.
They have to do these things. They have to use these methods they have to create ideas using brainwork and using tools. We don't want people just using their brain in sort of an unconstrained way. The old notions of brainstorming have been proven long, long ago to not be effective, a thing that most people don't realize.
Brainstorming was invented in the late '40s and early '50s. It doesn't work. It doesn't make sense to have people just think in an unconstrained way. It is far better to have them use a tool that's going to channel their ideation process, that's going to regulate their thinking, and let them come up and generate ideas on a systematic basis.
And that was the whole point of this program at J&J to have people be able to innovate on demand routinely any time they wanted, but also do it within the context of strategy. It doesn't make sense to just come up with ideas that are off strategy with the firm. They need to be brought together to really have viable growth opportunity.
Janelle: So who specifically were you training at Johnson & Johnson to do this?
Drew: You know, it started off as a program that was meant for the commercial team, the marketers of the organization. And what happened was word spread and we found that engineers liked to come to these courses, finance people liked to come to these courses, and people in operations. And it made a lot of sense because at the end of the day, innovation was a team sport.
You don't put a person in a room and let them innovate. You need to have a diverse cross-functional team apply these methods if they're going to get the best results. And that was a big learning for me at the J&J experience. And so we expanded our scope.
We wanted people from different functional departments to be able to participate in these, learn these tools, and still be the commercial organization. I'm committed to the idea that it's the marketing team, it's the commercial leadership, that drives the innovation process, but not in a vacuum.
They can't do it by themselves -- they have to have others involved. And that's why expanding the scope to allow other people to get into these courses made a lot of sense. And, of course, they loved it.
They were able to contribute and give so much value to these workshops that we would do and you'd end up with a team generating great ideas and all being aligned around the value of the ideas because they were all there when the idea was generated. So it had this side benefit, too, of not only creating great ideas for the business, but also a team walking out of these workshops arm-in-arm, aligned in terms of what they're going to do going forward.
Janelle: So there's a few interesting things you touched upon there. And one of them was how you tried to get the teams together and tried to get cross-functional teams working together. So what sorts of tools and techniques did you use to break down whatever silos might have been in place and get teams collaborating together?
Drew: I had a little secret. I would fool people. But if all else fails, just try deception is what I used to joke about. But what I did is essentially give the aura of training. I'd create what looked like on the outside a course when, in fact, what I was trying to do is get people in a room of a cross-functional nature learning the tools, but then applying them to actual parts of their business.
To real products and real services that the teams were managing. And nothing makes a believer out of people more than just having them experience the innovation methodology and seeing the result of it and saying, hey, this worked pretty well. We should do more of this.
And so you start off with a few training programs, word starts to spread, people start to get interested, and want to commission these programs on a more formal basis. Not so much training but real workshops. And then the trick just came down to how do you pull the right 12 to 14 people in the room so you have the diversity that makes all the difference in the world?
You need functional diversity but you also need gender diversity, you need some experience diversity, you want people that have been in the business a long time, as well as some new folks. And if you can get it, you'd like to get cultural diversity as well.
And I've spent a lot of my time working with my colleagues, creating what we would call the dream team, the dream innovation team. How do you get the right people in the room to use this one particular method and innovate new ideas for the business? And when you got those people in the room, it was like magic.
Janelle: So it sounds like you have developed several best practices for turning ideas into innovation from your experience at Johnson & Johnson.
And just from hearing you talk, a few that are apparent to me are having teams working together and coming up with ideas together so everyone is onboard, having these ideas apply to real-world situations, and then having all that diversity you were just talking about. Is that correct or anything else you want to add to that?
Drew: Well, yeah. I think the big thing that I've come to realize, too, is the method. There's a lot of methods out there for generating ideas and I talked about one of them. The issue of brainstorming which comes as a surprise to people that this has been proven in research not to be effective.
So what does work? Well, it turns out that there's a method based on patterns. For thousands of years innovators have been using patterns in their inventions, usually without knowing it. They essentially use these patterns and embedded them into their invention. Those patterns now reside in those products and services like the DNA of the product.
And if you could figure out a way to extract that pattern and apply it to anything -- a medical device, an aircraft, a consumer product, a musical instrument. If you can apply that to those things, you can create new inventions any time you want. And that's essentially the message that we work quite closely with at J&J and the method now that I teach at the university.
And it's highly effective at getting people to structure their thinking -- apply these methods in a systematic way, and the pattern essentially forces you to innovate. You don't have a choice. And it's great to see when people apply the method correctly and get the results and realize how effective and creative it can be by using something like a pattern.
What most people don't know is that creative people of all kinds have been using patterns, but they usually don't want you to know about it. I'm talking about people like the Beatles, Agatha Christie, and Salvador Dali. These highly creative people used creative templates but they didn't want you to know it because somehow it seemed to take away from their creative genius.
And Paul McCartney has actually confided in a biography that he and John Lennon used a template. They had a specific pattern that they would follow to create the many winning songs that they've created.
Janelle: So when you say a pattern, one of your approaches to innovation is to start with the solution, essentially break it, uncover problems that are worth solving, and then solve them. Is that what you mean when you're talking about patterns or is that a different concept of yours?
Drew: Okay, so it works like this. The usual way people think innovation happens is that you start with a well-defined problem, usually derived by going out and talking to the customer. Once you understand those problems, then you try to think of ways to solve that problem. You go from the problem to the solution.
I want to turn that 180 degrees where you're actually starting with the solution and working back to the problem that it solves. That sounds very weird to most people and it's actually something that humans are very good at with a concept discovered by a psychologist named Ronald Fink. He called it function follows form.
The idea that you can start with a configuration and work backwards to what it does better than starting with the benefit you're looking for and trying to figure out the configuration.
So, for example, I want you imagine I'm holding in my hand a baby's milk bottle. And if I told you that this baby's milk bottle changes color as the temperature of the milk changes, tell me what would that be beneficial for? Who would want something like that?
Janelle: Well, a mother, a parent would like to know that so they'd know if the milk is still good.
Drew: They would know if the milk was still good or too hot so it doesn't burn the baby, exactly. Any audience I speak to can immediately come up with that connection. On the other hand, if I said to you, hey, guys, we need to come up with some ideas on how to not burn the baby with milk that's too hot, how long do you think it would take us to come up with a color-changing milk bottle?
It would take a very long time, maybe never. And so where humans are very fluid at going from this idea of a configuration that seems abstract and then working back to the benefit it delivers. What these five patterns do is essentially help you create that hypothetical ambiguous solution that, at first, you don't know what it does.
And only then do you work backwards and try to figure out benefits that it delivers or target markets that it would serve. It's a unique concept and it's a relatively new method. It's only been around for about 15 years now and slowly working its way out into the corporate and academic community.
Janelle: So what are these five patterns, then?
Drew: The five patterns, they have somewhat of a mathematical ring to them, but they're not really mathematical to us. The five patterns are subtraction, task unification, division, attribute dependency, and multiplication. What the patterns do is they take something like a guitar -- let's just say a musical instrument, a guitar.
They take it and they, by applying the pattern, they morph it. They change it into something that is very odd or seems very unusual in this so-called hypothetical solution. And once you've morphed and changed your starting point, that's when you kick in and start to work backwards to benefits that it might deliver.
Janelle: So, Drew, you're an inventor yourself. You have a patent for a device that makes spine surgery easier. When you invented it, did you take this solution working backwards to the problem approach?
Drew: So this particular idea came out of a workshop at J&J and it was a workshop that we did between two different divisions of Johnson & Johnson. It's the first time we actually experimented with working with two different groups.
One was in the orthopedic business and the other one was in the surgical instrument business. And the pattern that we used is called task unification and it works like this. The spine surgeon who operates on your spine has to put small instruments through a little tiny hole that's already in your spine, but the instruments kind of get in the way.
It's hard for the surgeon to look beyond the instrument to see what's in the little hole. So my colleagues and I, using this pattern, applied a pattern and came up with a way for the instrument to basically bend around the corner. So that the surgeon now has a clear view of the hole that he's operating in or she's operating in, yet still is able to place the instrument in there to do the surgery.
It's a simple idea. What's true is this -- I'm not a surgeon and I'm not an expert at all in surgery, but the patterns essentially force you to create these configurations. Then you figure out the benefit that it solves. And it was a nice example of how the patterns essentially can take somebody like me, who is not an expert in this, and still get me to come up with useful beneficial innovations in that particular space.
Janelle: Can these patterns be used by virtually any company in any space? You know, B2C, B2B?
Drew: That can be used in essentially anything that can be broken into components you can apply this method to. We have used it on medical devices, consumer products, food products, pharmaceutical products, capital equipment like motors and engines, and things like that.
I've even taught this to children -- young children, sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. And even at that age they're able to take the pattern and apply them to come up with new innovations. It's really a wonderful thing.
Janelle: Is there a name that you have for this approach?
Drew: Yeah. It's a method called systematic inventive thinking, or SIT. It was discovered by a guy named Jacob Goldenberg, Professor Jacob Goldenberg at Columbia University. And he and several of his colleagues held together these ideas of pattern, function follows form, essentially a way to extract the pattern out of them, and then reapply it to other things.
Dr. Goldenberg and I are now working together to write a book on this method to spread the word. To get it into people's hands so that they can read the book, apply it, and be able to use it in their particular products and services.
Janelle: When do you expect your book will be out?
Drew: We expect it will be out in the first half of next year. I'm happy to say it's been published by Simon & Schuster and the manuscript is due in December. So just before you called, I was busy working on a chapter, and right after we finish here today, I'll be back at it.
Janelle: Do you have a working title yet for your new book?
Drew: We have a working title and it's only that. I's called Inside the Box and it's kind of a tongue-in-cheek title because there's an interesting story about the famous saying, thinking outside the box. And I'm sure you've heard that term. There's only one problem with that term -- it's an empty idea. There is no box.
What a researcher had done in the '70s is a study that suggested that if you could get people to think outside this so-called imaginary box, that they can be more effective. But another researcher came along right after him and showed that even giving people the instructions on how to solve a problem that was outside the box, they couldn't do any better at it than by getting the instructions than if they didn't have the instructions.
There is no box. So Jacob and I sort of tongue-in-cheek write the joke about better innovation comes inside the box right close to home, right basically right under your nose. He applied a method in a systematic way to think that right near you in your vicinity, you're going to come up with what I call the definition of innovation.
Something that is new, something that is useful, and something that is surprising.
By surprising I mean, have you ever noticed how some innovations you see, some new product or new thing, and you look at it and you go, gee, I never would have thought of that. Or you slapped your forehead and say, gee, why didn't I think of that?
Well that's that third element -- surprising. And I think the best innovations are the ones that fit all three of those definitions -- new, useful, and surprising.
Janelle: So many of our listeners, Drew, are in the B2B space and they're in the early stages of building an even more sophisticated culture of innovation in their organization. What are some guidelines that you would give them to help them build that culture of innovation?
Drew: Yeah, it's a good question and certainly an important one. The advice I would give is that, first of all, you have to see innovation as a skill, not a gift. It's not something that you're born with. It's a talent that you can develop and learn like any other skill. Like a business skill which is accounting or marketing, like learning a new sport like golf or tennis, how to play an instrument, or speak a language.
It's a competency. And if you start with that premise that innovation is a skill, something that we can build into a competency model, then it's something that you can train against and develop like you do other skills.
And I sometimes tell sort of the absurd story like this. Imagine a company like Intel, the CEO comes in front of all the employees one day and says ladies and gentlemen, our future, our success depends on one thing. It depends on all of our ability to speak Latin. Now, just forget why. Just work with me here, OK?
Imagine that was true, that the success of Intel depended on its ability to speak Latin. Can you imagine what would happen? People would be running around going "we need to create a culture of Latin." We need to get teams motivated about Latin.
What would the company do? It would go out and hire people that speak Latin. They would hire consultants to come in and teach people Latin. It would hold Latin competitions. It would do all the things that companies do today to instill things like leadership, productivity, or safety.
Guess what? Do the same things you do for those subjects and do that for innovation as well. Hold innovation competitions. Hold people accountable. Have an innovation plan. Have an innovation development program.
Just fold innovation in as another business process. One of my big frustrations, I think, with innovation is that a lot of the innovation community has created this aura of this mystique about innovation. And it's things like having innovation rooms with bean bag chairs that somehow people think that just creating an innovation room is going to make people more innovative.
I have news for you -- it won't. It won't do that. And I encourage companies to treat innovation like a regular business process and do the same things that they do to get awareness, competency, and sort of an actionable mind-set to do innovation as professionally and as routinely as they do other things like accounting, performance evaluations, and year-end planning. All those routine processes are done well today and companies can do innovation the same way.
Janelle: But isn't innovation more of an abstract concept than learning Latin, for instance? I mean, learning Latin is a hard skill. Innovation is a soft competency, I would say.
Drew: I'll tell you what -- this method is not so much that it's hard to understand, but like anything, it takes some practice. It is something I've taught to many people over the last 10 years and I've seen people at various levels of adoption and I ask myself why do some people learn this much better than others? And the same thing goes with any skill, whether it's tennis or whether it's marketing.
It really drives down to how well people apply the tools, how well they learn the nuances of it. And it's a soft skill in the sense that it's not quantitative, necessarily. I guess we could call leadership a soft skill, as well. But it is something that has to be learned and seen as a skill to develop and perfect and practice over time.
So I just wouldn't dismiss it or categorize it and say, ah, it's a soft skill and it's something that we can put over here. Because not only do you have to teach people how to generate the idea, there are other business skills that have to be packaged around it, too.
Once you have a great idea, how do you build a business case for it? How do you quantify the value? How do you persuade an organization and align an organization around your idea? How do you become a champion for that idea and work to push it through the organization? Just generating an idea in a large company like Intel or J&J isn't enough today.
And it's got to come from more skills. Generating the idea, valuing it, and then pushing it through the organization is going to make all the difference for getting these ideas into the marketplace.
Janelle: What would you say are some business skills to build around the development of innovation?
Drew: Additional skills would be the following. You have to have -- this is where the commercial mindset kicks in -- but the commercial mindset needs to be able to take and test ideas, to solicit customer feedback, competitive feedback, and to get an idea of how a new idea is going to fare in the market. You've got to go out and essentially build the case for what the new invention, the new idea, can do in terms of generating value for the market.
And that is a tough step. But once you quantify it, you also have to be able to turn it into dollars and cents and the basic acumen to say at this price point, at this margin, we could have this kind of impact at the bottom line. So it takes a little bit of financial skills and marketing is essentially a cash-generating activity and great marketers today have to have finance skills.
In fact, some of the best marketing people I know came from finance because they automatically think in terms of quantifying the value of programs. And then one of the things we taught at J&J was the skill of persuasion.
Persuasion can be done in a systematic and ethical way as well, again, using patterns coincidentally, and so we would teach people how to be what we call an entrepreneur -- right? How do they take the idea in the business case but then they go around and they persuade people to their point of view? How do they get people to align with them about the idea?
It's not enough to just have good, well-trained people. These people have to have a point of view and the courage to go out and get people to adopt their point of view. And it's tough. Working in corporations can be very difficult for people who are not cut out for it and especially if they don't see themselves as empowered to go and try to change people's minds.
It's not enough just to do a job today. It's doing a job and seeing opportunity and trying to change people's minds to put some resources and emphasis on your idea to get it adopted.
Janelle: Drew, do you think there are any companies today that come to mind right away that you think are particularly practicing innovation well that our listeners could look to as an example?
Drew: Well, I think the best one -- and believe it or not, I'm not going to say Apple because that's probably thrown out there so much it's almost trite now. But the company that I think practices innovation well, probably my best example, is GE. I think GE is a particularly interesting company because they're so darn big that the mandate to grow is just so onerous.
I mean, to grow at 8 percent a year, that company has to produce enough revenue each year the size of a company like Nike. How do you do that? How do you do that year after year after year? So it's good news and bad news. The bigger you get, the more successful you are, the tougher it is to be successful the next year.
And GE has a pretty well-developed culture up and down starting with top-tier management down to the business units and the teams, people that are working very hard. These people work hard, they are smart, they are no-nonsense, and they want to use methods and approaches that get them to the answers.
They're not into innovation rooms, you know? They're very pragmatic and they practice thoughtful innovation and get good results. They're a great company. That's one company. But there are a lot of companies. Procter & Gamble certainly has a track record of success with innovation.
Companies like Kraft on the consumer side is also very effective. And you look outside the U.S. too. I mean, companies like L'Oreal. I think is highly effective in the kinds of ways that they come up with innovation. Interestingly, not so much listening to the market space -- they kind of define the market. And when L'Oreal says that the lipstick shade should be this, then they're in this unique position to be able to cause the market to come to them and adopt that.
Not everybody is so fortunate. So those are some examples of companies that immediately come to mind. I would say AirBus, the air frame company, and let me think of some others here. There are a lot of medium-sized companies, too, these are very large companies.
You look at a company like Kennametal. Kennametal in Pittsburgh is a machine tooling company, very successful and highly innovative company. They won the award last year for our Outstanding Corporate Innovator through the PDMA, the Product Development and Management Association. You don't get that award by accident. That's a tough award to get and so it's not just the big companies that are successful. Big, medium, and small can use innovation methods very successfully.
Janelle: Drew, one thing, you mentioned this a couple of times -- the idea of innovation rooms. You know, Google is well-known for having rooms like that that have the couches and they've got all kinds of perks for employees to chill out and let their ideas flow. What are your thoughts on that when you think about a company like Google?
Drew: If I asked you to walk in the room right next to where you are and speak Latin, would you be able to do it?
Janelle: Personally, no. I don't know Latin.
Drew: I just don't see any research whatsoever that suggests that an innovation room is all of a sudden going to magically make a person come up with better ideas. Now, I get people that push back and say, hey, the work environment can have an effect on innovation. Well, that's true.
The work environment can have an effect on lots of things -- morale, safety, your state of mind, your loyalty to the company. All those things, by the way, help also with innovation. So I just don't buy the fact that an innovation room is going to be successful. I am quite certain Google could shut down all those rooms and nothing would change at Google.
And I recall recently where AOL, you know, a company that's having problems, it's losing -- honestly, it's losing its shirt. And I have my doubts about the future of a company like AOL. They just built a 225,000 square-foot complex on the West Coast with innovation rooms to stimulate innovation. And they believe that that's going to do the job.
When they believe that a building can make a difference in how people think and develop ideas, I get worried because I just don't see any tie whatsoever to the rooms you're sitting in is all of a sudden going to make your brain work in a different way and give you a result.
Now, is it nice to have rooms with white boards and comfortable chairs to do work? Absolutely. But those rooms come in handy for many more things than just innovation. So that's where I had a real bone to pick with this idea of innovation rooms.
And I ask companies, I'll say to them, do you have leadership rooms? Their answer is always the same. It's, no, we expect leadership everywhere. But innovation has to happen in these rooms. And it just doesn't make sense. The same thing with productivity. Do you have productivity rooms out there? No. You expect productive people and the same goes with innovation. So I just don't buy it.
Janelle: So, Drew, then, just to wrap things up, what would you leave our listeners with as maybe your top couple take aways to help them start thinking about a new innovation strategy?
Drew: Well, I think the thing that I'd leave people with is this. My corporate career, I had a lot of experience with a lot of different people in the innovation space. A lot of innovation consultants and academics, practitioners, inventors, patent holders, engineers -- many different walks of life -- scientists, technologists, etc.
And I was always particularly intrigued by methodology. I guess I'm not a creationist. I believe that the creation of the idea is paramount. When companies say, you know, we have plenty of ideas, we just need to learn how to implement them, I don't buy that. If you had plenty of good ideas, you wouldn't be talking to me, right?
But companies lack the creationist power, the creative power. And when I meet people in the innovation space that tell me they have a method, I'm always interested. But here's the point. Here's what I would leave your listeners with.
When we meet somebody that tells me they have an innovation method, you have to ask them two questions. The first question is -- do you know how to innovate? I think that's a fair question for somebody that says they're in the innovation space.
And if they answer yes, the second question should be -- how? And they should be able to explain how they innovate to the degree that you could listen to it, go home that night, sit down with your neighbor, explain it to your neighbor, and your neighbor could start using that methodology pretty much on the spot.
And if they can't, if they start telling you, oh, well, it's a complicated process and we're doing a lot of market research and da, da, da, da, da -- forget it. I just don't buy that. I think people have to hold the innovation community more accountable for stepping up and giving people practical tools that can be deployed by the entire organization. That really isn't too much to ask, and that's the final thought that I would leave people with.
Janelle: Thanks, Drew. Appreciate your insights today. Everyone, that was Drew Boyd who is the Executive Director of the Master of Science in Marketing Program and Assistant Professor of Marketing and Innovation at the University of Cincinnati. And you can get more from Drew by following his blog at InnovationInPractice.com. Thank you, Drew.
Drew: Thank you very much.