10 Reasons Colleges Fail At Business Model Innovation

October 13th, 2016


Higher education has a business model problem. The business model for U.S. colleges and universities — how they create, deliver, and capture value — hasn’t changed since Harvard, our country’s first college, was founded in 1636. Our higher education system is a national treasure that creates enormous societal value, but its 380-year-old business model fails to deliver affordable access and post-secondary credentials to an increasing percentage of our population.

The American social contract was clear throughout the Industrial Era. While many jobs moved out of reach for those without a college degree, there were still ample opportunities for everyone to earn a good living in order to support a family. The U.S. became an economic powerhouse with a robust and thriving middle class.

Then the rug got pulled out from under the economy. The Industrial Era ended, taking with it most of the career opportunities for those without a college degree or relevant post-secondary credential. Read more

Welcome To #BIF2016

August 31st, 2016


#BIF2016 on September 14–15 in Providence, Rhode Island marks our 12th annual Collaborate Innovation Summit. I’ve been looking forward to it all year. The BIF Summit still gives me that first-day-of-school feeling complete with butterflies in my stomach and giddy anticipation for the unexpected ideas, possibilities and connections it always delivers. I can confidently say after twelve years that we’re on to something with the idea of enabling random collisions of unusual suspects!

People always ask me what has changed over the years. As I reflect on the blessing of hosting twelve years of BIF Summits there are some things that haven’t changed as well as a few things that have.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the caliber of the BIF Summit storytellers. I’m biased but the storytellers have always been amazing. From our first summit in 2005 to today we have been blessed with over 380 incredible innovators and change agents from around the world who have been vulnerable on our stage, sharing their genuine stories of personal reinvention and transformation. We challenge them to leave their go-to presentations at home and grant them the freedom to share their real personal experiences. We tell them it isn’t about them but about catalyzing a reaction among summit participants. They willingly check their egos at the door. We never select storytellers based on how famous they are but on how genuine and generous they are. BIF storytellers have always risen to the occasion and have inspired us year in and year out. Buckle up, the #BIF2016 storyteller lineup is amazing!

Every year serial BIF summit attendees tell me that this year was the best summit ever! In my opinion it isn’t because the storytellers get better every year, they’re always great, but because the participants get better. The BIF Summit is less of an event and more of a community. While the size of the Trinity Rep Theatre and number of BIF Summit participants hasn’t changed over the years the level of engagement of summit attendees has gotten progressively stronger every year. It’s you, the participants of #BIF2016 that will make the experience great. The magic of the BIF Summit happens during the breaks between summit sessions. It happens when you, the participants, take the responsibility for deciding what’s important, which patterns emerge, what connections are relevant and what collaboration possibilities emerge. We create the conditions and trust you to deliver the magic. You always do!

Another change over the years is the increasing level of virtual engagement in the summit by fellow innovation junkies from around the world who watch the storytelling sessions via our free live stream on the BIF website and by engaging directly in the conversation on Twitter at #BIF2016. Social media platforms have exploded on the scene over the last twelve years and changed the way we communicate and engage with each other. They have changed the summit and enabled our community to model the social behaviors and self-organized networks that are essential to any transformation process. Engagement goes way beyond the two days of the summit as the BIF community increasingly connects and collaborates now throughout the year. We are living and working-out-loud which enables us all to get better faster.

Perhaps a less noticeable change in the summit but equally important to recognize are the changing market conditions swirling around us. BIF has always been a place for like-minded innovation junkies to connect. We’re an optimistic tribe that has known for a long time that tweaks aren’t enough and that nothing short of transformation is needed. When no one else would listen to us we were exploring human centered design and storytelling as levers for enabling business model innovation and transformational change. We have been stubborn and persistent and now after a long, often lonely, journey everyone wants to talk about what our BIF community has been talking about for twelve years. It’s game time!

I don’t think we can take credit for changing the market although we certainly influenced it. The market changed because more and more leaders have figured out that disruptive threats aren’t going away and are only accelerating. More leaders now recognize that traditional approaches to innovation that produce only incremental improvements to today’s business models aren’t enough. In private CEOs tell me that they’re sick and tired of hearing Uber and Airbnb disruption stories, they want their organizations to be more proactive in launching transformational business models. CEOs recognize that their current approach to innovation is producing more tweaks than transformation. They are looking for a different way forward. They want to be market makers, not just share takers.

This is our time! The market is finally ready for what we’ve been preaching and practicing for the last twelve years. It is the innovator’s day and we are ready. As innovation junkies it is always tempting to move to the next new thing but we are sitting on the ideas, tools and approaches to enable the transformational change that the 21st century screams for. Now is the time to make our self-organized networks more purposeful. Now is the time for us to go from the BIF Summit into the real world to help leaders of all kinds explore and test new business models that will deliver the transformational impact and results that we all want and need.

I know #BIF2016 will be great because you will make it great. I also know that today the market conditions are right for us to take the behaviors we will model together during the summit and put them to work in the real world to reinvent ourselves, our organizations and our communities.

Welcome to #BIF2016

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Topics Are Overrated!

July 7th, 2016

Go Off-Topic To Find New Ideas And Opportunities


Ever notice that we seem to learn more from conversations and experiences that careen off-topic? Topics are overrated!

Admit it. In every conversation, it’s always the throwaway or tangential comment that sends whatever neurotransmitter through whatever synapse, goading our brains into action.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a discussion in a corporate conference room, cocktail party chatter, or banter at the family dinner table. It’s always the same. The one comment that sticks out, or the idea worth more thought, was off-topic: It had absolutely nothing to do with the topic being discussed.

If we want to stretch our thinking and get better faster, the more off-topic the better! Read more

So Many Corporate Innovation Labs, So Little Innovation

April 19th, 2016

Innovation Lab

It’s the innovator’s day. CEOs everywhere know that keeping their companies relevant in a rapidly changing world is imperative and that innovation is the solution. Corporate leaders also know their legacies depend on their organization’s ability to reinvent itself.

It’s not going well.

The CEOs I talk with admit privately that they’re getting tired of hearing Uber, Airbnb and Netflix disruption stories. They want their organizations to play more offense. They want to be market-makers, not just share-takers.

In response, CEOs have climbed onto the innovation-lab bandwagon. Corporate innovation labs have sprung up like weeds across industries around the world. Any self-respecting CEO now has a corporate innovation lab!

I have visited many of these innovation labs and spoken with those who’ve been tapped on the shoulder to start and lead them. My overall impression is that, at best, most of these innovation labs will produce only tweaks to today’s business models.

Read more

You Don’t Have to Go to a Conference to Enjoy It

October 6th, 2015


This post originally appeared on the Harvard Business Review site here.

Are you jealous of your colleagues as they jet off to attend yet another innovation conference? Do you suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out) when you see people in your network sending tweets and posting pictures from TED, SxSW, or Burning Man? How do they have the time, money, or connections to always wangle their way into every cool conference? You don’t have to be envious though. For a growing number of conferences, you can now participate without actually going. I’m not talking about passively reading a post-conference report, or perusing blog posts that summarize key points after the fact, or watching videos like a voyeur. I’m saying you can actively engage, learn, contribute and even influence the conversation. This is becoming more and more possible as social media platforms increase access to content, speakers, and participants in real time. You don’t need to be in Austin or Vancouver or Black Rock Desert. You can attend from wherever you are.

As the host of a global innovation conference (BIF Collaborative Innovation Summit), I’ve been watching remote conference participation play out over the last 10 years and I’m convinced that it’s a good thing. Lets face it; professional conference goers are a pretty homogeneous bunch. But fortunately, social media platforms are enabling anyone with a web connection to join, breaking down the socio-economic barriers that limit the diversity and ultimate value of conference interactions. Attendees are sharing their experience, not to promote themselves or the event, but to increase engagement around new ideas and the likelihood of real action as a result. Read more

The Human Side Of Innovation

September 21st, 2015


Many smart people I know are going all in on an Internet Of Things. I’m going all in on the human side of innovation. It’s the only way to accomplish the kind of innovation that the people I respect and hang out with want. I suspect it’s the kind of innovation that most of you want too. I’m not talking about the tweaky kind of innovation that makes what we currently do incrementally a little better. I’m talking about the transformational kind of innovation that will rock our world and our lives, creating the new business models and social systems that we all want and need. You know, the kind of innovation that the 21st century screams for. The kind of innovation that rises to the level of the social challenges we face. The only way to realize the full potential of the 21st century is with transformational change that starts with the human side of innovation.

Last week I had the great honor of hosting over 500 innovation junkies from around the world at #BIF2015, the Business Innovation Factory’s 11th annual Collaborative Innovation Summit. I glimpsed the future at #BIF2015 and I can confidently report that the future is about unleashing the human side of innovation. Every year we ask 32 storytellers, not speakers, to take the stage, share a personal story of transformation and to catalyze a reaction among all summit participants. And what a reaction we started. I’m still shaking from the experience. Storyteller after storyteller shared a personal story leaving their normal conference talks at home. They all shared genuine experiences and reflections. It was inspirational beyond words. What each storyteller shared wasn’t about a fancy new idea, although they had plenty of those, but about how they connect their hearts to good ideas in order to catalyze real transformational change. It was raw human emotion, it was genuine and it was moving. Read more

Reinvention As A Life Skill

August 18th, 2015


Ask any group of people if they’re doing today what they thought they would be doing when they started out. I begin every speech that way. Occasional a few people in the audience raise their hand, very few. Almost everyone will readily admit that they have had to reinvent themselves multiple times over their lives and careers. And yet if you ask them how they did it or if formal education prepared them for reinvention you get mostly blank stares. You hear answers like, I just did it because I had to. Most seem unable to share useful knowledge on how they reinvented themselves. If anything is clear about the 21st century it’s that change happens faster than it used to. Reinvention isn’t something to be done only as a last resort. It’s something we need to do all the time in order to stay relevant in a rapidly changing world. We have to make personal reinvention safer and easier to manage. Reinvention has become an important life skill.

If we wait until we have no choice but to reinvent ourselves it’s too late. It’s sad beyond words to see how many people and families have been devastated by the latest economic downturn. Politicians may take credit as the unemployment rate improves but we know better. Good high wage jobs with career ladders are few and far between. People not seeking work and the underemployed aren’t counted in the unemployment rate and their numbers are growing. The gap between the skills of our workforce and the needs of a new economy are also growing. If we wait for our political and institutional leaders to act we will be waiting a long time. If we wait for things to return to the way they used to be, we will be waiting forever. Everything about our current economy screams for making personal reinvention more of a natural act. Read more

Welcome To #BIF2015!

August 12th, 2015



Maybe I’m just getting old, but the self-imposed pressure to get better faster, and to rise to the occasion of the enormous social system challenges we all face, has never been more acute. I feel a heightened sense of urgency.

I don’t know about you, but #BIF2015 comes at the perfect time for me. I need the annual fix of connection and inspiration I get from hanging out at our BIF Collaborative Innovation Summit with you — the BIF community of like-minded innovation junkies from around the world. I’m betting you can use an inspiration fix too!

I never know what collisions, patterns, and stories will most move and inspire me in advance of each summit. I do know that each and every Summit has surprised me in unique ways. I look forward to the two days of the Summit every year. I’m grateful and blessed to spend them colliding with you. Bring on the random collisions of unusual suspects and let the inspiration begin! Read more

Emerging Tech Is Society’s Shadow Future

June 8th, 2015



Buckle up fellow design and innovation junkies we are the proverbial kids in a candy store stocked with a growing inventory of brain-exploding emerging technologies. The shelves of our candy store are overflowing with exciting new technologies including genomics, robotics, Internet of things, big data, artificial intelligence, drones, and 3D printing to name just a few. Any one of these emerging technologies alone could change the world. Resist the temptation to gorge on any one of them before sampling the full cross section of possibility. Perhaps a better metaphor after appreciating the full breadth of possibility is to feel like a kid in a sandbox. A sandbox filled with both existing and nascent technologies beckoning design and innovation junkies like us to come play together to unleash the adjacent possible. To combine and recombine technologies in new ways to unleash a steady stream of transformational business models and to change the way we solve the important social challenges of our time. You know, little system challenges like education, healthcare and government!

Nascent is a beautiful and optimistic word. Emerging technology stories are about capabilities in their formative stage when they are most malleable and offer the greatest possibility frontier. Nascent technologies are the stem cells of society’s future. There’s a reason so much biology research focuses on stem cells. Stem cells are undifferentiated; they have the potential of becoming differentiated into most other kinds of cells. The hopes of human regenerative medicine lie on stem cell research and application. I’ve always been fascinated by the salamander, the highest order animal capable of regeneration. When a salamander loses or injures a body part stem cells rush to the cite enabling it to regenerate the body part. It’s amazing. Nascent technologies are undifferentiated, they have unlimited potential for regeneration to unleash incredible value. We live in a magic time when technology is no longer a limiting factor in solving the big social challenges we face. It’s on us humans to unleash our inner newts! Read more

Where Have All The Corporate Stories Gone?

June 1st, 2015

CorporateStoriesA good transformation story is hard to find. Especially when you’re searching inside big companies. I’ve been collecting inspiring cross-sector transformation stories for BIF’s annual Collaborative Innovation Summit for over a decade. It’s alarming to me how few of them have come from big companies. Believe me, it’s not for lack of trying or looking in the wrong places although we’re always open to suggestions. We look hard, and we’re fortunate to have a network of like-minded innovation junkies who are generous with storyteller suggestions. At BIF we’re equal opportunity curators searching under every rock for great, undiscovered transformation stories.

Each year over 500 innovation junkies from around the world convene to celebrate what we at BIF call, enabling random collisions of unusual suspects. The BIF community of innovation junkies loves transformation stories from across every imaginable societal silo. The more eclectic the mix of stories the more learning, engaging and doing. We find the best value creating opportunities emerge from the grey areas between our sectors, silos and disciplines. The most memorable and inspiring stories at the BIF Summit always come from the least expected people and places. A typical session at a BIF Summit sounds like the start of a bad joke with stories from a rabbi, police chief, corporate leader and a 10 year-old prodigy! Read more