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Innovation, Collaboration and Engagement

"Innovation occurs at the intersection of fear, opportunity and talent.” — Bruce Cleveland, Venture Capitalist at InterWest Ventures.

Over the last few weeks I have had a number of conversations about innovation, collaboration and engagement — I've seen some new tools, and exchanged philosophies on enterprise collaboration with other vendors.

The Intersection of Fear, Opportunity and Talent

One of the best definitions of innovation came from an old (past) boss of mine from Oracle. I worked with Bruce Cleveland in helping to start the Unix group at Oracle 20 years ago. Bruce has gone on to work at Apple, Siebel Systems and other well known companies. He now is a Venture Capitalist at InterWest Ventures. What he said to me the other day was,

Innovation occurs at the intersection of fear, opportunity and talent.”

He went on to prognosticate that for most enterprises, innovation is a virus and the company itself is the anti-body. Innovation is by its nature disruptive, and it is hard to change processes, culture, compensation, shifting power, etc. and most companies want to keep the status quo, especially those at the top being paid handsomely. I hear recently that the average difference between a corporate worker's salary (called $X) to the CEO salary is usually US$ 40 - 400X. That is quite a difference!

Bruce believes that innovation can only occur successfully in these situations if you spin out or create a new group/company that is independent, not bound by company rules and processes, and those in this company get some equity. Furthermore, if this new company is funded by the old enterprise, there has to be a plan to spin it back into the enterprise if they are successful.

One good example of this is Procter & Gamble. A few years ago its CEO set a goal to have 50 percent of its new products come from outside of P&G. What they will do is look at new ideas from outside and if they have merit they will partner with the person, group or company that has the idea and help them with bringing it to market (of course through P&G).

The other good example is bio-tech or pharmaceutical companies. Often people, groups or companies come to them with a new molecule they have found or created. It can do something to help with Type 2 Diabetes for example (a big market in the U.S.), but the start-up does not have the capital to take the drug through human trials which can cost millions of dollars.

So the big pharmaceutical company partners with the start-up to get through clinical trials and get the product to market, and the big pharmaceutical company then has the rights to that drug, and the start-up not only gets compensation, but also often offered jobs at their pharmaceutical partner.

The Tools

There are probably several hundred innovation tools in the market today, everything from Spigit, BrightIdea, Imaginatik, Mindjet and ??? Many of these tools provide innovation frameworks, and Spigit works best with larger companies while BrightIdea can work with smaller sized companies (as well as big ones). They essentially provide a stage-gate process for dealing with new ideas.

But there are other ways to innovate. You can also focus around a topic or a relationship. Pearltrees looks at connections and relationships through an add-on to most of today’s browsers to create an “interest graph” and last year got US$ 6.6 million in funding. An interest graph (below) is more about what you know rather than who you know. What you know seems to be correlated to purchase intent.


Figure 1: Interest Graph from Pearltrees

The interest graph is a graph of social connections based on topic interest. Facebook (and others) focus on what you have in common with your friends and how you react to their recommendations. Pinterest, Foodspotting or GetGlue all work the other way, making social connections based on shared interests. This type of social curation is becoming very popular through tools like Fancy, Storify and Tumbler. Even Evernote allows you to collect these different objects in a note and index them so they can be easily found again.

I recently looked at a new tool with a different take on this. is very graphically and multimedia oriented and it allows you to drag and drop documents, videos and other objects into a topic space you create. You can invite others to this topic space and also share or have them contribute to the space.


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