Is Your CEO Serious About Innovation? 10 Questions to Ask.

October 7th, 2013


My friend and Boston Globe innovation columnist, Scott Kirsner, has launched an interesting new on-line platform for corporate innovation executives. You will want to check out and subscribe to Innovation Leader where you will find lots of food for innovation thought and where this post originally appeared.

I used to think that if I just yakked long and loud enough, I could convince CEOs to embrace transformational innovation. It took me 25 years as a road warrior consultant, author, and accidental government bureaucrat to realize that proselytizing doesn’t work. If leaders don’t want to change, all the consulting jargon and fancy PowerPoints in the world won’t convince them to.

In those situations, no matter what lofty rhetoric the CEO uses in public or at company retreats about “creating an innovation culture” and encouraging everyone to think outside of the box, the best result you can hope for are incremental innovations to improve the performance of today’s business model. You never get transformational new business models — and you always get frustrated if you were hoping for bolder change. If you want transformational innovation, you have to find leaders who want transformational change and are receptive to organizing differently for tweaks than for transformation. After learning this lesson the hard way over many years, I no longer try to convince CEOs who don’t want to change, and instead try to find those CEO’s who do. Read more

Welcome to #BIF9

September 16th, 2013

bif9-live-square#BIF9 carries a sense of homecoming, a reunion of sorts. The kind where all the crazy aunts and uncles gather, regaling us with tales of adventure and awe. Perhaps the family reunion metaphor is accurate; I believe that innovators are cut from the same DNA. We are insatiable optimists and see opportunity in everything.

We are curious about everything. We know that learning together is the best way to get better faster. We believe in transformation and disruption – both personally and across our industries. We are all storytellers, knowing that stories connect and unite us, and enable us to transform together. Read more

Reframe Failure As Intentional Iteration

June 28th, 2013

betterplaceThe key to unlocking the next wave of economic growth may be as simple as enabling more people to try more stuff.  The industrial era was all about scale and squeezing out the possibility of mistakes. As a result we are too afraid to fail. Companies only take on projects with highly predictable results. Employees fall in line for fear of making career-limiting moves. How will we get better if the fear of failure prevents us from trying anything new? How will we make progress on the big system challenges of our time, if every time someone tries something transformational and fails, we vilify them? What if we reframed failure as intentional iteration?

Take the example of Better Place, the startup that set out to create a world full of electric cars with a novel battery swapping business model. In my book, The Business Model Innovation Factory, I highlight Better Place and its founder Shai Agassi as one of the best examples of business model innovation and the importance of a real world test bed.   Read more

Innovation: In The Boardroom

June 26th, 2013

images (37)I had the pleasure of speaking at the 2013 Amplify Festival in Australia.  Now that my jetlag has subsided I’m able to reflect on what was a wonderful event hosted by AMP, a leading financial services company in Australia.  Congratulations to AMP and Annalie Killian, the festival’s remarkable curator, for catalyzing a week overflowing with inspiration and insight. More companies should consider hosting similar innovation immersion events open to employees and the local community.  It was an easy invitation to accept for this innovation junkie. They had me at the event’s theme, Shift Happened Transformation Required!

One of the highlights of my trip down under was meeting Lucy Marcus, provocateur and global expert on corporate governance best practices. Lucy is a force of nature in and out of the boardroom and I thoroughly enjoyed our conversations on the oversight role of the board of directors for a company’s innovation agenda.  We agreed that the board of directors has an important role to play and Lucy asked me to appear on her ‘In The Boardroom’ show on Reuters TV to share my top five board innovation imperatives for the board. The short video of our conversation below also serves as proof that we actually were in Australia. Check out the Sydney Harbor in the background! 

Read more

Breaking Down Generational Silos

May 18th, 2013

image1This post was co-authored by Angela Maiers,  founder of Choose2Matter, and originally appeared on The Huffington Post here.

Beware of random collisions with unusual suspects.

Unless, that is, you want to learn something new. In that case, seek out innovators from across every imaginable silo and listen, really listen, to their stories. New ideas, perspectives, and opportunities await in the gray areas between the unusual suspects.

It seems so obvious and yet we spend most of our time with the usual suspects in our respective silos. One of the most important silos we need to break down is the one between generations. Read more

Tech is Destroying the Line Between Manufacturing and Services

February 21st, 2013

images-36In his State of the Union Address, President Obama made a big deal about manufacturing jobs as a central part of his economic vision for the country. “Our first priority is making America a magnet for new jobs in manufacturing”, he proclaimed. I support the president’s aim and passion to revive manufacturing, but to accomplish it we first have to jettison industrial era thinking. The industrial era and the 7.1 million manufacturing jobs lost in the U.S. from 1979 to 2012 aren’t coming back. We must create new 21st century manufacturing jobs that leverage what America is great at, creativity and innovation. Manufacturing will grow in the U.S. when we accelerate the use of technology to increase productivity, enable new business models designed for mass customization and unleash the manufacturers in all of us.

To begin, we need to recognize that manufacturing isn’t an industry sector, it’s a capability with plenty of opportunity for innovation. We take industry sector definitions for granted. As if industries were clubs with exclusive admission criteria and secret handshakes only revealed to companies that agree to play by understood rules. The industrial era was defined by clearly delineated industries, making it easy to identify which sector every company was competing in. It was all so gentlemanly really, as if competition was governed, like boxing, by a code of generally accepted Marquess of Queensberry rules. Companies were all assigned a numerical Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code (now North American Industry Classification System, or NAICS) identifying which industry sector they fit in to. Read more

10 Reasons Companies Fail at Business Model Innovation

February 1st, 2013

guardianCompanies fail at business model innovation because they’re so busy pedalling the bicycle of current business models they leave no time or resource to design new ones.

Most companies focus innovation efforts on new products and on driving efficiencies into current models. These are important activities, but not sufficient in the 21st century when business models don’t last as long and face disruption. This means business model innovation is the new strategic imperative. In this post I outline the top 10 reasons why businesses fail to innovate.

CEOs don’t really want a new business model

The most obvious reason companies fail at business model innovation is because CEOs don’t want to explore new business models. They are content with the current one and want everyone in the organisation focused on how to improve its performance. The clearest indication is when any discussion about emerging business models is viewed and treated solely as a competitive threat. Read more

Dear Avis, Please Don’t Screw Up Zipcar

January 18th, 2013

zipcarDear Avis: If you want to win big with the Zipcar acquisition you will have to try harder. Resist the temptation to impose your core car rental business model on the upstart transformer. Zipcar is your sandbox to scale a car-sharing model with potential to disrupt the automotive and car rental industry. Stop with the number two shtick, Zipcar can help Avis become a market maker instead of a share taker. Your main competitor, Hertz, is a share-taker demonstrated by its recent acquisition of Dollar Thrifty. Your opportunity is tremendous but throw away the classic post-merger integration playbook. Here are five ways to do that: Read more

Stirring Up the Magic at BIF-8

September 4th, 2012

images-35I can’t wait for BIF-8. I am embarrassed and humbled by my profile written for the BIF-8 program book by Maureen Tuthill. Maureen writes storyteller profiles for our summit program book every year. This is the first year she has written one about me! She gets us and beautifully captures the essence of what BIF and I are all about.  I can’t resist sharing it with you. I’m proud to be associated with such an incredible team at BIF. Let the random collisions of BIF-8 begin.

For many BIF storytellers, the BIF Collaborative Innovation Summit boils down to one thing: Saul.

They speak of him with reverence and a deep appreciation for the way he “gets it.” His is the governing spirit that draws them to Rhode Island for a chance to luxuriate in the space of possibility he and Team BIF creates for them every year.

Saul Kaplan, Chief Catalyst of the Business Innovation Factory and engaging host of the BIF-8 Summit, has a superior reputation as a noted facilitator of meaningful conversations about community and transformation, broadly defined. But Kaplan himself is quick to credit his BIF colleagues for consistently killing it with an incredible slate of storytellers that makes him “crazy proud” of each Summit. Read more

How to Avoid Being Netflixed

June 25th, 2012

My friend Dan Pink asked me 5 questions about my new book for this post which appeared here on The Pink Blog.

images-34My pal Saul Kaplan is a self-confessed innovation junkie. That’s all he seems to think, talk, and tweet about (with occasional detour for Boston sports teams.) He’s the founder and chief catalyst of the Business Innovation Factory in Providence and the proprietor of the most excellent annual conference of the same name.

Now he’s taken the wisdom he’s acquired over the years and turned it into a book about an urgent, but often overlooked, topic: Business models. In The Business Model Innovation Factory: How to Stay Relevant When the World is Changing (Buy it at, or IndieBound), Kaplan outlines a set of principles that individuals and organizations can enlist to avoid getting steamrollered by competitors who do somewhat similar things but in distinctly different ways.

Because the book is so relevant to the issues many of us confront, I asked Saul to answer a few questions for Pink Blog readers:

You start off your book by saying “The goal for all leaders is to avoid being netflixed.” Could you explain a little bit about what it means to be “netflixed”?

Being netflixed means the way you do business today is disrupted, displaced, or destroyed by a competitor who plays by an entirely new set of rules. Blockbuster was netflixed. It was stuck in a bricks and mortar business model and was obliterated by the upstart Netflix. Today all companies, even Netflix, are vulnerable to being netflixed. Business models don’t last as long as they used to. The imperative for all leaders is to experiment with new business models even the disruptive ones. Read more