Monday, April 28, 2014

Innovate Carolina Conference 2014

While I am an innovation consultant by day, once a year I become a conference "chair" and help our Carolinas PDMA chapter plan and host a one day innovation conference.  Our 2014 Innovate Carolina conference was held Friday, April 25th, and as you might expect, I'm here to report on what we did and what we learned.

As a bit of background, the Carolinas Chapter of the PDMA set out six years ago to plan and conduct a local one day innovation and product management event that would attract PDMA and non-PDMA members.  Further, we wanted our event to rank on par, if not better, than the national innovation events based on content, speakers, networking and other factors.  I'm pleased to say that after five years of running the event, the feedback we receive is that our event ranks on par with the national events from the feedback we receive from our attendees.  Each year we pick a theme and recruit speakers to add insight and clarity around that theme.  A few years ago we looked at Open Innovation.  In other years we examined the innovation process and innovating under tight resource constraints.  In 2014 we recruited speakers who had deep functional knowledge and expertise in a range of innovation tools and techniques.


We were pleased to recruit Keith Sawyer as our keynote.  Keith is a new arrival to North Carolina, having recently accepted a role at UNC Chapel Hill.  Keith is a noted researcher on creativity and innovation, and has two excellent books:  Group Genius and Zig Zag which belong on the desk of anyone thinking about creativity and innovation.  Keith spoke to the group about the fact that creativity and innovation isn't linear.  It often "zigs and zags" hence the book title.  We had a lot of great feedback about Keith and his presentation.

For our breakouts we recruited some of the top thinkers and speakers in a number of innovation tools and methods, including:

  • Riley Kirby from IMR Magellen who spoke on customer research topics
  • Dave Matheson from SmartOrg to talk about Product Portfolio Management
  • Barry Brager from Perception Partners to talk about Intellectual Property Management
  • Joe Dury from Kalypso to talk about product lifecycle management
  • David Phillips to talk about turning customer insight into product requirements
  • Gary Golden from FutureThink to talk about understanding future disruptions
  • Doug Powell and UJ Jatar from Blue Earth to talk about leading innovation teams
  • Paul O'Connor from the Adept Group to talk about Product Roadmapping

My Takeaways

I had the good fortune to sit in on many of these presentations, and talk to a number of the exhibit vendors and attendees.  It's interesting, given how much we hear about innovation how few common definitions we have.  Innovation remains a poorly understood and poorly defined term.  Is it the responsibility of "business development" to find interesting partnerships?  Is it the responsibility of R&D to create new technologies?  Does innovation drive new channels or business models, and if so, who is responsible for that?

Further, the size and scope of innovation varies widely.  Incremental change, event continuous improvement is often labelled as "innovation", but what most people talk about is the disruptive change that Apple has in its space.  What we need to realize is that all of the above is "innovation", and probably much more.

I'm frequently troubled by the fact that innovation is a highly distributed responsibility. That is, innovation seems to be "everyone's" job, yet no one is ultimately responsible for delivering results.  This distribution of responsibility is damaging, because executives think that many people are hard at work on innovation tasks, when the truth is that most people are heads down, focusing on day to day issues and paying lip service to innovation.  We need people in our companies who wake up every day worried about driving innovation value and benefits, and who have the funding and resources at their command to make things happen.  You can't be an "innovation tourist", you'll need to go native.

Finally, there are a lot of excellent providers of tools, methods and innovation capabilities.  Our speakers demonstrated a lot of innovation experience and knowledge.  Weaving that knowledge together and applying it to your existing processes and culture is what will turn an incremental, efficient organization into a winning innovator.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:22 AM


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