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Live Report from the Business Innovation Conference 10/6/2009

Live Report from the Business Innovation Conference 10/6/2009

| On 06, Oct 2009

Ellen Domb

Real Innovation Commentator Praveen Gupta is the chairman of the Business Innovation Conference that is running this week at Illinois Institute of Technology in Wheaton, a suburb of Chicago IL USA. This is a personal travel report, on the sessions that I am participating in–for the full program, see   

Monday was the tutorial day. I had a great group of more than 40 people who really wanted to learn TRIZ. In a half day they learned ideality, use of resources, and resolution of physical contradictions, and they did their homework (go online and learn how to access The TRIZ Journal and find articles on their field of interst). Other topics with equally vigorous audience participation were on developing organizational innovation cultures, right brain integration of customer data with design methods, and innovation measurement systems. Praveen led the group on a late-afternoon car/train/cab journey to the Microsoft Research Center for a fascinating view of Microsoft’s global perspectives on near, medium, and long term innovation. 

Adam Hartung, newly appointed columnist for Forbes, was the keynote speaker for Tuesday Oct. 6. He instantly engaged the audience with his topic “Overcoming Barriers to Innovation” and his reflection on the negativity of the title, which led to reflection on past management catastrophes. He has identified “the Phoenix Principle” which is NOT about the issues that other authors credit: it is not about core, not about focus, not about leadership, all of which he claims come from spurious correlations of past behaviors, not from rigorous causality analysis. His thesis for innovation success, and all of business success, is the process of managing lock-in, the well-known but poorly managed phenomenon of smart people getting locked in to the paradigm that had been responsible for the success of their company. The dramatic story of the last 60 years in making copies — from carbon paper to offset printing and mimeographs, to Xerography and desk-top publishing to non-paper systems, and the relationship between business innovation (the Xerox click meter, which made leasing on a per-copy basis possible) and technical innovation — made the point very dramatically. His history of Xerox’s rejection of desk-top publishing, as a Xerox PARC project to drive more demand for printing (raster scan, laser printer, graphical user interface, mouse, …) which resulted in the foundation technology that Apple, Adobe, and dozens of other companies benefited from surprised and engaged many of the innovation community members in the audience.  

Hartung’s research with more than 850 companies shows that 4 practices, organized as his “Phoenix Principle” account for success:

  1. Be future oriented (the whole browser world, pre-Microsoft)
  2. Obsess about competitors (not customers, competitors! Great story about how Tom Monahan at Domino’s Pizza, after going broke 3 times in 18 years, realized that his advantage was delivery, not the dubious quality of the pizza)
  3. Disrupt yourself (Honda making full-sized trucks, walking robots, health care systems, airplanes…)
  4. Create and maintain white space (Idea submission at Virgin from insiders and outsiders follow the same pathway, Fould’s Pasta learned to compete on premium, not commodity pasta, etc.)  

Hartung concluded by challenging the participants to evaluate their own opportunities to apply these 4 practices to their own businesses, and to experience the conference in terms of the 4 practices. This is what a keynote speech should do!

I’ll report later today and tomorrow on both plenary sessions and breakout sessions.