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Who's your Steve Jobs?

Every product Steve Jobs developed and marketed with Apple was created to delight consumers. But even though Apple is a B2C company, many of the ways in which Jobs led its product innovation can be applied to high-tech B2B companies that are striving to innovate to meet companies' needs.

This is one important theme we got from our interview with Drew Marshall, Principal of Primed Associates. He also gave us many other takeaways worth noting for creating and implementing a sustainable innovation strategy.

So we're posting the transcript to make it easier for you to save Drew's insights and share them with colleagues as you develop your own innovation strategy to meet customers' needs. Hope it is helpful to you. What do you think of Drew's recommendations?

Janelle: Hi, everyone. I'm Janelle Kozyra, your host for another Inmagic podcast. Today we are joined by Drew Marshall and Drew is the Principal of Primed Associates, which is a consulting firm based in Princeton Junction, N.J. And it focuses on improving the culture of innovation for their clients. Drew contributes to his company's blog which you can find by going to his website at and he has also contributed to So good to have you with us, Drew. How are you today?

Drew: I'm great, Janelle. Thanks for having me on the Inmagic blog podcast. I'm very happy to be here.

Janelle: So let's begin by getting to know you a little bit more. So tell us what you do at Primed Associates and generally about some of your client engagements.

Drew: Sure. A little bit about my background. I come from a management consulting background and a lot of the work that I was doing with clients was focused in and around project management. And over time I became the chief innovation officer of the consulting firm that I used to work for and a partner in that firm.

And I recognized over time that one of the challenges that our clients were facing was in adopting a set of behaviors that could support innovation for the long term. And that's when I decided to found Primed Associates. And when I was looking at the innovation consulting space, I found that many consultants focused on providing support for idea generation or ideation, as some people term it, and also on technology solutions for capturing and managing idea flow through organizations.

Both of those are incredibly important in terms of organizations' innovation performance and innovation success. But my focus when I was founding Primed Associates was to focus on the human factor in innovation. So the question I was asking was how we build the capability of an entire organization to support, promote and sustain innovations for long term.

So what we do is we seek first to understand the organization environment at a holistic level, and then we use a set of tools like social network analysis and organization culture inventories to discover the ways in which the organization is truly designed to perform. And I believe that an organizations' performance is actually a result of the choices that have been made about how the organization is put together, how it's organized, and how it uses and distributes its resources.

Our clients are in the consumer and technology spaces. However, recent projects have included a pretty wide variety. We've worked with contractors in the intelligence sector, pharmaceutical companies on new product development, worked with heavy industries with high-potential employees that are focused on innovation, and most recently, even a science museum out on the West Coast. And so the factors uniting all of these clients for us is their willingness to undertake what we consider the challenging work of building an innovation-capable culture.

Janelle: So in my experience in talking with various leaders in innovation, I found that there is some differing ideas on what innovation is and how they define it. So I'm interested to know how you define innovation yourself.

Drew: Well, the classic consultant's response is it depends. It really does depend on what the innovation intent is at the organization. For us, we take a very broad perspective on innovation. We feel that innovation can occur at all levels of an organization, across an entire organization, and include stakeholders both inside the organization and beyond the organization after all.

And we see the innovation at its most elemental level is the introduction of change into what are inherently stable systems to create value for a user. And that user could be a customer, a client, or some other constituent group that has a specific need that they want to address or that needs to be addressed that they may not know about.

Innovation comes from this Latin concept of to renew or change. And for us that constant renewal is a big part of the way we approach our clients -- how can they make the most of the resources that they have inside their firm? So it could mean the introduction of a new product, a new service, or it could mean innovation in processes or even systems or business models at the enterprise level.

Janelle: So one of the big subtopics in innovation is the idea of culture, and it's also something that is a fundamental part of how you approach consulting clients. So what is a culture of innovation?

Drew: In terms of innovation culture, I think this is really a timely subject with the very recent resignation of Steve Jobs from Apple. A lot of the concern around Apple's future performance is actually focused on whether or not the innovation at Apple is the result of one man's genius or it is now the result of the culture of innovation that he has developed over time.

There's a really great article at Harvard Business Review online which is titled "Why Apple Doesn't Need Steve Jobs." And it really addresses that at the heart the reason why Apple will continue to be successful is because Steve Jobs has actually made it his mission to build a team of people and a culture inside Apple that can sustain innovation over time.

Most organizations, when we work with them, especially large and growing organizations, are designed to drive toward efficiency and effectiveness. That's just the economic imperative that drives the top and the bottom line of businesses. And that drive reinforces the desire for repeatability across those enterprises.

So when you consider organizations such as Apple and its performance in the marketplace as being a powerhouse innovator, their culture is focused on innovation and the direct expression of innovation and innovative ideas in the marketplace.

But for most other companies, their primary focus is on directly driving out deficiencies across the board and avoiding inefficient use of resources. That said, innovation itself demands that something new be created and introduced.

By its very nature, innovation demands inefficiency because you need that inefficiency and spare resources in order to pursue exploration. In order to consume resources in new and interesting ways, it means you will probably end up using some of those resources in ways that may not have positive outcomes.

So an innovation-capable culture, from our perspective, prizes three key attributes -- it provides intellectual curiosity, an abundance of risk taking, and a resilience in the face of failure to be able to bounce back and take another step forward.

Janelle: Drew, you bring up a topic that I actually wanted to ask you about which is Steve Jobs' resignation from Apple. I think it's very interesting to take a look at that because there's a lot of speculation that Apple is going to be losing its competitive edge to other companies like Nokia and HP now that Jobs is no longer at the helm. So, personally, what do you think is going to happen to Apple's innovation?

Drew: Well, I'm a firm believer that innovation culture can actually trump charismatic leadership in the long term. I think a charismatic leader is really good -- it's good for publicity and it's good for marketplace performance because it gives the media a subject that they can latch onto and that they can explore. And it's much easier to tease out what makes a person work and ask inquiring questions about why someone does what they do.

But when you face a company and you have to try to figure out all of the complex inter-relationships across that company, it can become too much like hard work. So I think the default position of the media is Steve Jobs goes away because he's decided that he needs to pull back and take care of himself and his family and seek other ways to express himself, and that just means that the head has gone from Apple and Apple is going to slowly devolve into oblivion, so to speak. I doubt that. I highly doubt that.

And the reason I doubt that is because I think one of the things that Jobs recognized when he was ousted from Apple and saw Apple's struggles from the sidelines so many years ago was that it was great to be a charismatic leader of an organization, but when you remove that charismatic leadership, if you didn't build the systems in place inside the organization to foster and support and sustain innovation, that innovation did collapse in on itself.

So while I do think that leadership is an important facet, I think what Jobs has done is actually probably the true genius of who he is. And that's create a company that can actually continue to innovate without him needing to be at the helm.

This is very much a long-term play because Apple actually has a new product development pipeline that's going to take them through into the year 2015 -- so they've got a road map that takes them through the next three years of quite likely some more potential breakthroughs. So I think the jury needs to basically bide its time until the years beyond that.

So I'd be looking at 2016 and 2017 for the final word on whether or not Jobs' leaving Apple is detrimental to the company overall. I think the play in the market this week was basically people just panicking because they could. I don't think it was based in any sense of what's going on inside the company or what the company can actually deliver in the near term or the long term.

Janelle: So a little bit ago, you were describing what you think it takes to have a culture of innovation and you said intellectual curiosity, not being adverse to risk, and being resilient. And so, in light of what you just said about Apple, it seems to me that Apple has those three elements. With Jobs at the helm and considering what Apple has done for the tech market, is there a fourth ingredient maybe to fostering a culture of innovation and is the fourth ingredient having a charismatic leader?

Drew: No, I don't think so. I think there are plenty of companies out there that don't have charismatic leaders. They might have leaders that are of note primarily because they're leading such innovative companies and the media turns its attention to the executive suite because they seem to understand what's driving them. But I don't think that's a necessary ingredient. Can it be an additive ingredient? Certainly. Can it give a company more room in the market? Yes, it may. But I don't think it's a necessary ingredient.

One of the most innovative companies, for example, in of all places, the office furniture space is a company called Herman Miller. And Herman Miller has not had charismatic leaders. It's basically dedicated itself to innovating in that particular space through a series of quite wonderful partnerships with designers Charles and Ray Eames, for example, who have done some great early work in the 1960s with the flex of Herman Miller and that legacy continues today.

They continue to work with external designers and continue to innovate across the board, both in terms of their business model, the design of their products, and how they relate to those products over the long term. They've become a remarkable organization in terms of their sustainability practices as well. So in terms of the whole system, that organization exists without the benefit of a charismatic leader.

Another firm just up the road from Apple and Jobs is Salesforce. basically has created a whole new market. They were in cloud computing before cloud computing needed to be considered. Their software-as-a-service, which was primarily focused on client relationship management, has now infiltrated all aspects of business processes.

Now, Benioff, the head of Salesforce has been considered a charismatic leader, but he's nowhere on the same scale as Jobs in terms of this marked persona. And I think the reason he has any sort of note from a charisma perspective is because, once again, the company was being successful and we needed to focus on someone to be able to explain it.

But Salesforce's success is actually the factor of a whole range of inquiry that they've done into how to make software as a service more useful. They have this amazing ecosystem of developers and partners that they capitalize on.

They've created an ecosystem out of Salesforce that reaches beyond client-relationship management into customer support, into project management, into development, and so many more areas. So that's a long answer to a closed question that you asked, is charismatic leadership a critical fourth ingredient and I would say no.

Janelle: So whose job is it to foster innovation in an organization?

Drew: Well, I think it's the ring of leadership because I think innovation is increasingly becoming a necessary competency at the strategic level for most organizations. In order to grow over time, organizations are going to need to figure out what's coming next before their competitors do or they need to define what's coming next, regardless of what their competitors do.

So I think, in terms of overarching competencies, that attention and the elevation of innovation in the organization does fall to leadership. But the practice of innovation can exist anywhere in the organization.

It can exist in finance. It can exist in human resources. It can exist on the factory floor. It can exist anywhere and, by and large, should exist everywhere if you're trying to maximize the use of resources and create breakthroughs that can unleash new value, both inside the organization and for shareholders in the organization.

So the ownership depends at what level you're defining innovation. If we're talking about the overarching culture of innovation, that belongs at the leadership level because culture is actually one of the key components of a leadership's agreement for an organization. They are responsible for the culture of their enterprise. And if they don't pay attention to it, disastrous things can happen.

Janelle: So Apple is more of a B2C company.

Drew: Sure.

Janelle: A lot of our listeners are probably coming from B2B companies. Do you think innovation means something different for a B2C versus a B2B company?

Drew: I think the baseline definition that you're trying to address for specific end user's needs is the same for B2B and B2C. But I do believe there's a difference there. When you look at B2C organizations, they're focused on designing an optimum experience to delight their users.

So they're creating a retail experience or a food consumption experience or an apparel experience so that the person who buys their product or the people who buy their products have an optimal experience. So in the case of Apple, it's not just the product. It's every aspect from consideration of the product to purchasing the product in a Apple store to taking the product and using it at home.

Where B2B is different is B2B is focused on creating what I would consider to be an enabling moment. They're creating a capability, a capacity or a quality that previously didn't exist, so that their business clients can better meet the needs of their customers. So they're usually one step or more removed from an end consumer.

But what they're trying to do, through their innovation, is deliver value that creates capability or capacity or quality for their clients that those clients can capitalize on in the marketplace. So it's a slightly different approach to innovation in terms of the outcome, but the end result is that somebody needs to be delighted by what you're doing. They need to see that what you've delivered is delivering value to them and to their enterprise.

Janelle: So what would you say for a company who is trying to improve or maybe even just create a more sophisticated innovation strategy? What would you say are the top three things that organizations should think about before embarking on its quest for innovation?

Drew: I don't know that there are only three things. I think there are multiple things. I think you have to think holistically about innovation in order for it to be successful. And by holistically I mean you need to look at the system into what you're trying to foster innovation.

But places to start, first and foremost, you've got to align the vision and the strategy of the organization with the innovation intent. So what kind of innovation are you seeking and willing to sustain? And I think it's critical that you answer both parts of that.

More often than not, organizations stop at what kind of innovation are we seeking, you know, we want something new, we want something shiny. But the critical element that needs to be considered is how you're going to sustain that choice all the time. How you're going to sustain innovation so that it just doesn't become another fad and you're another one of those initiatives in your organization that gets pushed aside when the next bright shiny object comes passing by.

So alignment between vision and strategy and the intent at the innovation level. Then ensure that your expectations, commitment, and accountability align with that attempt. And what I mean by that is how do your performance management systems in the organization support the outcomes you desire on the innovation front?

So how do you set expectations for people? What are they going to do differently and how are they going to do it differently? Will they have the capacity and the capability to be able to do something different, to be able to introduce innovation into those stable systems that already exist?

And last, but by no means least, you have to increase the connectivity across the organization. Most organizations are designed along functional silos and that functional expertise enables them to drive efficiency and effectiveness and improved quality over time. But what you need to consider is who has knowledge, skills, or talents that someone else could capitalize on who exists outside their functional area of expertise?

So you need to be able to create a platform that loops people who might not have any awareness that they are a part of the same organization overall.

Janelle: You have written about the idea of front-end innovation. What do you mean by that?

Drew: Well, front-end innovation is actually a pretty common term in innovation circles. It primarily focuses on the idea that you've got a challenge that you need to address -- so an end user challenge, a consumer challenge. And that challenge requires that you also have an understanding of who you're designing for.

So what's the design challenge and for whom are we designing is the front end of innovation. And when we talk about that front end, we're talking about ideation. So what are the ideas that are going to address that design challenge and that particular constituent group?

On the back end, the back end is the execution. You've got to be able to take that idea and make it a reality. It's great to have lots of ideas, but if you can't do anything with those ideas and those ideas never make it into the marketplace, then you're not really innovating. All you're doing is inventing and those inventions are just basically going to die in place.

So you've got to have front-end ideation and you've got to have back-end execution. And there's a great Chinese proverb that says vision without action is a daydream and action without vision is a nightmare. So you've got to have both because many ideas fall at that last hurdle and they simply don't make it into the hands of their intended customer or the client that you hope will be satisfied or delighted by your work because they become trapped inside organizations.

And that's one of the reasons why culture is such a driving force in the consulting work that we do is because unless you address getting those ideas through an organization and through the cultural impediments that exist inside the organization, you're going to have a much higher failure rate than you'd like.

Janelle: So it sounds like this is probably a loaded question, I'm sure. So how do you link the front end to the back end?

Drew: For most organizations, there's a distinct separation between front and back end -- the concept that you have research and you have development. Well, research is ideation and development is, okay, now you've got that great idea -- what? Now what? What are you going to do about it? How can you design for manufacturing or how can you get it into the hands of marketing so that they can begin building a platform that you can sell against?

The key is an integration of what innovation means across the entire business. It's not just one thing or the other. It's the fact that it's a whole process. The concept of ideation needs to come up with a volume of ideas. But you also need a way of transferring those ideas into actionable elements and that conversion process can be handled any number of ways.

It can be handled through new product development systems that have stage gates associated with them and decision-making processes, the application of effective project management that picks up those ideas and begins introducing them into the different functional areas of the organization at the appropriate decision points to be able to capitalize on them at the time.

I think all of that needs to be considered, but the bottom line is how can you take that idea and learn about how that idea meets your customers' needs as rapidly as possible. So taking an idea and wedding it to the customer experience or the end-user experience as soon as possible gives you the opportunity to build a case for that idea and build a case for that innovation much earlier than most organizations would choose to.

Many organizations run the idea through the whole process of systematically breaking down the idea and discovering all of the failure points when you need to leap over that and you need to use simple and cheap experiments to begin testing ways you can make that idea work rather than trying to destroy it.

And that's a fundamental change in the way most people see product development. Many take what we would consider a destructive analysis approach to new product ideas when in actual fact I think you need to take a generative approach. It's mostly trying to destroy an idea early on in the process and hope that you'll find a good idea that can survive, kind of a Darwinian approach.

I think what you need to do is actually take a more nurturing approach to those new ideas and figure out what you can do to add to them and combine them to make them more successful in the long term.

Janelle: So we've touched on this a little bit, the importance of getting the customer involved in the innovation process. And I'd like to explore that a little bit more. So as companies develop their innovation strategies, how important is it to build a dialogue with customers in order to sort of surface, refine, and prioritize ideas, and then basically close that loop between your external communities and your internal communities and know what ideas are the right ones to put into the back end and actually execute on them?

Drew: Sure. Innovation for me is something that is human-centric. If you don't know for whom you are designing a solution, then you really should stop what you're doing and figure that out first before you take another step or spend another moment or another dollar or another resource. By human-centric, I mean you've got the customer or the end user or the client at the heart of what you're trying to accomplish.

Now, I'm a huge proponent and advocate for design thinking as a model for creating a common language around innovation and organization. And that means making your thinking visible. It means reinforcing a common language so that you can drive towards breakthrough innovation that responds directly to a customer need.

If you don't use observational studies or ethnographic studies as part of your innovation processes, you're missing significant opportunities to actually tie your innovation to that user experience. Because if you're not having a profound effect on the user experience, what good are you? I mean, that's the drive from an innovation focus. You should be heading towards having a significant impact on that end user experience.

So those organizations who choose to only test their innovations late in the game, they're missing some significant opportunities for improving their innovation process overall. Bring that process in earlier. Include customers at the outset. Include client groups, stakeholders at the front of the innovation process when you're seeking inspiration for what technical challenges or design challenges you're going to address.

Bring all of that information up front because that's where it can add the most value. Because if you're designing in a vacuum and without the benefit of being able to test that thinking against observation, so how does a customer actually use that product? Do they use it the way we designed it? Do they use it the way we intended them to use it?

I had a great story in terms of a client being very surprised by the way a customer was using their product. This is a personal care products company, and they have a pretty significant distributorship in Japan. And they make a face mask that is sold in a tube which looks remarkably like skin cremes and the like. But it also looked remarkably like toothpaste in the local market and this face mask was a very lovely minty green color. And when they went out to observe customers using the product, they were actually using it as toothpaste.

Now, it didn't have a completely pleasant taste, but the fact of the matter was because it was a clay-based material, it was actually incredibly good at cleaning teeth. I don't know if it was taking enamel off teeth, but their customers had discovered a new use for this. What they discovered was that there was a whole area of personal care products that could be open to them because the customers expected them to produce things that were of value to their personal care.

So there was a re-education process in terms of this particular face mask, but there was also a whole series of opportunities that opened up to them in terms of new product lines because they took the time to go out and see how their products were being used in the field.

Many companies do spot analysis so they might do focus groups to try to get close to that. But if you send teams out to do studies, to actually visit people in their homes, especially from a consumer products perspective, you can get some very rich data.

But I also think the value for the B2B innovator is just as important in going out and spending a day in the life of your clients -- see how they're using your products to help make their lives better. Or, if it's not making their lives better, how you can help capitalize on that poor experience and make it a better one with them?

Janelle: So my final question, Drew, for you that I'd like to leave our listeners with, just as sort of an overarching take away of what we've talked about today, what will make innovation happen in their organization? What is the number one thing, do you think?

Drew: I think one of the biggest challenges for innovation as a concept and as a practice inside organizations is that people fall in love with the idea of innovation. But when it comes to the hard work of actually producing a culture inside your organization that can produce innovations and sustain those innovative practices over time, the will across the organization is lacking.

And that's because people don't recognize that they actually have to pay any attention to that kind of motivation, that kind of excitement and enthusiastic for innovation as a practice. Most people focus on the outcome. But in order to make innovation a viable capability inside an organization, you actually must have the will to make it a part of your culture. You have to ingrain it into all aspects of your organization.

So if you're going to look to innovation to improve your stance in the marketplace, be prepared that you are taking the first step on what could end up being a multi-year journey in terms of transforming the culture of your organization. And, yes, it's hard work. But I would say that the end result is an organization that not only has operationalized innovation -- it's institutionalized innovation. It becomes a habit.

There was a great quote from a business leader recently who said, you know, innovation is all well and good, but I'm going to make innovation so much a part of our company that it's every day. Now, when we talk about innovation, we talk about innovation being something that's spectacular and it's breakthrough and it should be dazzling, and here's a leader who actually gets what innovation should be doing for his enterprise.

He's saying I want to make it every day so that kind of delight, that kind of excitement, is an everyday practice of his firm. And that's where companies need to start. They need to start thinking that innovation needs to be there in their organizations. We need to have the will to change and transform our organizations so we can deliver that kind of value to our clients and our customers.

Janelle: Thanks, Drew. Good to have you with us at the Inmagic blog today. We appreciate all your insights.

Drew: Thanks for your time.

Janelle: Everyone, that was Drew Marshall, principal of Primed Associates.

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