Tag Archives: innovation

Nurturing the Seeds of Innovation

I have been preparing to teach the summer AIM Program course on creating business solutions and have been thinking about the seeds of innovation. Where exactly do these seeds come from and what helps them to germinate? What forces stifle them, preventing them from growing and maturing? We will explore all of these points in the course and this post reveals some of my thoughts on the early stages of the innovation process.

Nature vs. Nurture

Ideas can come from many places but I have found they sprout from well-cultivated soil. Nineteenth century chemist Louis Pasteur said, “chance favors only the prepared mind.” Innovation may seem to spring up in unexpected ways and in unique places but it comes as a result of preparation, observation, and hard work. It comes from days, months, or even years of thinking, pondering, and studying a problem.

Are innovators born or made? A 1973 study of fraternal and identical twins showed that while there is some genetic predisposition toward creativity, most of it is learned. That is good news for people who don’t think they are natural innovators.

Creative Ecosystem

How does an organization foster creativity and innovation? How do they build an ecosystem that allows and encourages everyone to think beyond the immediate issues? Companies such as 3M and Google allow employees time to explore ideas outside the scope of their job. But it takes more than time to foster creativity, it takes an atmosphere or ecosystem that encourages experimentation and allows failures. Thomas Edison is purported to have said, “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” It is not easy for an organization to allow time and effort for “ways that won’t work” but this is part of the preparation necessary for that big breakthrough idea.

Barriers to Creativity

We often place barriers to innovation and creativity. These may come in the form of hardened ideas about “how we do things around here” or inflexible rules and regulations. Examples of companies fighting barriers are Tesla and Uber. In March 2014, New Jersey, among other states, banned direct sales of Tesla automobiles in the state because they did not comply with the decades old “dealership” model. Tesla traditionally sells cars directly through small storefronts and not through the conventional dealer and service center model. New Jersey reversed that ban a year later. Uber faces similar barriers. Traditionally, taxi companies are highly regulated and limited by municipalities. Drivers work for a taxi company that pays franchise fees to the city. Uber drivers are not full-time employees, they are only contractors, so the whole regulation and fee structure begins to fall apart. Several cities initially banned Uber from operating in their area because its business model did not conform to the traditional standard. Tradition can often be the greatest enemy of innovation.

Thoughts

To those who will join me in the business solutions course this summer, I look forward to an exchange of ideas on ways to promote and stimulate innovation for individuals and organizations. With proper preparation and dismantling of barriers, creativity can flourish and can lead to invention and new revenue sources. Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Academic Research: Benefits of Collaboration

I have been researching technology collaboration between research universities and corporations. There are brilliant students and professors in university research programs but limited funding. Companies are hungry for innovations to fill their pipeline and generally have substantial resources. This week we’ll take a look at the practice of technology transfer and point out some of the successes of the last few years.

Innovation

In my AIM innovations course we debate potential sources of ideas. Sometimes it seems as if companies are pulling from a dry well or merely creating extensions of existing technologies because that is what they are most familiar with. Psychologist Abraham Maslow once said, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” This is true when trying to diagnose psychological issues or developing breakthrough technology solutions. Student scientists, researchers and inventors often have no knowledge of what has or has not worked in the past. They ask “what if” as if there were no barriers and proceed to develop new products and applications.

Applications

Here at the University of Oregon there have been several technology transfers in recent years, both to existing companies and new companies spun off for the purpose of commercializing research. One of the most recent start-ups is Suprasensor which focuses on precision agriculture or what they call “the introduction of science and technology to farm management.” They have developed green farming practices by using sensors which enable growers to use less water and fertilizer while enjoying a greater yield.

On the UO campus, the new Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact seeks to turn laboratory discoveries into tangible innovations that improve lives. This program is just getting off the ground thanks to a generous donation and promises to work with other universities and corporations in breakthrough solutions. Also here at home, the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI) was formed to coordinate research and commercialization work done by companies and academics in the state and help create new products.

From Research To Application

The nicotine patch came out of research from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). The technology was developed and patented by UCLA and licensed by Ciba-Geigy as a commercial product. This is a great example of university research that led to a beneficial and potentially lifesaving product for millions.

The Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) grew out of the early University of Oregon Medical School in order to expand education and research and to include new focus areas such as biotechnology and biomedicine. A search of the OHSU license portfolio reveals new drugs, devices, and therapies that benefit people worldwide but also helps the university through revenue that can be put back into research for breakthrough treatments. It is a cycle for the university and an example of a profitable collaboration that can save or improve lives for patients.

Thoughts

Research and development is not as efficient or effective when done by one cloistered group. It pays to collaborate with others and reach outside of the traditional walls of development to discover new ideas. That graduate researcher may have just the answer you have been looking for.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Looking For Innovation In All The Wrong Places

Photo of lit lightbulb facing opposite direction of unlit bulbs.Our AIM course “Creating Business Solutions With Technology” will be starting soon, so I have been thinking a lot about innovation. This is an important course in the AIM Program where we explore the landscape necessary to innovate. Our students learn how to create an environment where new ideas can flourish and be converted to a competitive differentiator for the individual or organization. So, how can we create business solutions?

Innovators Are Born

In his new book “Originals,” Adam Grant dispels the myth that innovators are born, not nurtured. In fact there are multiple types of innovative people. There are those who can create solutions for new problems and those who can create new products or processes out of existing components. Both are effective in developing new ideas and both are needed to lead new product teams. Innate curiosity is the critical trait among those who devise solutions, and that can be developed in an individual or in a team.

How Do I Foster Innovation?

If everyone in the organization is capable of coming up with new and creative ideas, how do I tap into that to become competitive in the marketplace? A simple way to foster a creative environment is a suggestion box. Sometimes it takes someone outside of the organization to come up with a new idea because they are not entrenched in the daily operations and are not shackled by the current constraints. They are free to think beyond the real or perceived boundaries.

However, a suggestion box will fail if the organization does not embrace risk and new possibilities. If suggestions are rejected simply because they are too risky or do not align with current products and services, then the box will soon be empty. We talk a lot in our course about the organizational culture. Are they risk averse or are they open to new ideas and new ways of doing things? Companies such as 3M and Google require employees to set aside time each week just to think and create and innovate.

Procrastinators Unite

Grant makes another point that gives me hope, that procrastination is not always a bad thing. He suggests it is actually a way for creative people to mull over ideas on before they are introduced. He cites examples of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln both of whom were both editing and rewriting their famous speeches the night before or even right up to the speech. Innovation does not always follow a neat timeline; it may be messy and unorganized. The important point is that it is possible to harness that creative for positive change.

Thoughts

As I prepare for our upcoming class I realize that innovation and creativity do not always follow prescribed rules. The innovative people in your organization may not always be who you expect. It could be the janitor who devises a better seating layout as she works and thinks night after night, or it could be the IT worker who devises a better distribution process by connecting disparate data points. Encourage innovation in your organization and learn to look for it in the usual and unusual places.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Benefits of the Greenfield Approach

Green meadow under a  blue sky.In the AIM course that I am leading right now, we talk a lot about innovation and the best ways to introduce a new product, process, or technology. One way to introduce new products or features is the incremental approach. This adds new features to an existing technology. Another method is the greenfield approach, where a new application or technology is developed with no consideration of what has been developed in the past. The term greenfield comes from the construction and development industry to define land that has never been developed, as opposed to brownfield, where you need to demolish or build around an existing structure. There are advantages and disadvantages to the greenfield approach that I would like to explore in this post.

Advantages and Disadvantages

The advantage to a greenfield approach is that you can start fresh without any legacy equipment or applications to work with. You are free to innovate without having to consider previous iterations and restrictions. You are not tempted to create a small incremental change but are free to reinvent the core processes that were in place.

The disadvantages are high startup costs. With nothing already in place, you need to create new infrastructure, procedures, and applications. The fresh possibilities can be exhilarating, but the high initial costs can be daunting.

Greenfield in Action

In 2006, Hewlett-Packard used the greenfield approach when deploying new worldwide data centers for internal applications. They built six new data centers in Austin, Houston, and Atlanta and stocked them with new HP servers. All applications were ported to these new servers and off of the local servers in computer rooms and data centers around the world. I was involved in transitioning applications and shutting down the small computer rooms. There was a lot of weeping and wailing because people could no longer walk down the hall to visit their favorite computer. Some applications had to be shut down because they could not be ported to the new computers. In the end though, this approach yielded three main benefits:

  1. Reduced infrastructure and support costs from shutting down inefficient small computer rooms in many locations around the world;
  2. Decreased number of applications and data stores; and
  3. Improved computing capabilities, including enhanced disaster recovery.

There was an initial $600 million investment into these new data centers and equipment, but the cost was quickly recovered in better efficiencies and reduced support costs. This also showcased HP capabilities for external customers.

Greenfield Innovation At Work

When I was in Dubai in 2013, my host explained to me how a speeding ticket is distributed in that country. There are cameras located along the main highways and when you exceed the posted speed limit, the camera takes a picture of you, complete with license plate, and sends a text message to the phone that is registered to the owner. The owner can then pay the fine from their smart phone. Dubai is a relatively new country without a traditional traffic control system so they abandoned the old school police speed trap and court systems for this streamlined fine and pay system.

While not completely greenfield, I am also excited about the new parkbytext system in Ireland, the UK, and other locations, and a similar system in Russia. You can pay for a parking spot by texting your information and—in the case of the Russian system—you even get a refund if you leave the parking spot before your time expires. Associated with these systems is an app that allows you to locate an available parking spot. These are examples of where the traditional infrastructure and processes were abandoned in favor of a completely new approach.

Thoughts

It’s not always possible to start fresh, but it frees you up to imagine different innovations without being encumbered by structures and legacy systems. Do you have any examples where you were able to design something from scratch? Was it daunting or liberating? Let me know.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Making Education Accessible and Affordable

book of knowledgeHow can we creatively make higher education more affordable and accessible? I am wrapping up preparations for a course on innovation later this month and my thoughts turn to ways to apply innovative ideas to higher education. There are some new ideas that have developed over the last several years such as online delivery, but they have not always been implemented in a deliberate and holistic manner. I am hoping that you will weigh in and help me figure out how we can create new solutions to this long-standing problem.

What Is Our Mission?

Harvard professor Clayton Christensen suggests that there are really three purposes of higher education and that we as universities and colleges often dilute our focus and try to cover all three areas with a confusing combination of products. The three suggested areas are:

  • knowledge creation, or research;
  • knowledge proliferation, or teaching; and
  • preparation for life and careers.

Christensen claims that universities use three different business models to deliver these value propositions, creating confusing products in the process. He suggests that we be clear and purposeful about our mission, our value proposition, and how we deliver our product. This clarity can help reduce program administrative costs and therefore help reduce tuition.

Innovations in Education

Universities and colleges have been working through different delivery methods in recent years to make higher education more accessible. Several of these have been centered around online delivery. Correspondence courses have been available since the mid-nineteenth century and as technology and networking improved, these morphed into online courses. To make education more accessible, massive open online courses (MOOCs) were developed that enrolled thousands or even tens of thousands of students in various subjects. These are free or low cost but do not generally grant credit. Some universities such as Stanford are experimenting with hybrid MOOCs whereby a student can take the online course and apply and pay for credit. The University of Pittsburgh is experimenting with what they call a HOOC or a hybrid open online course. In this model, the course is offered online and onsite simultaneously and at some point during the course, the online students can join the onsite students synchronously, often offering input through tweets or other discussion applications. Online education—in all its forms—has made learning more accessible to those that are not near a college or cannot take courses at the time prescribed.

Employer Criteria

One of the most important factors in aligning higher education with employment is understanding what an employer wants in an educated worker. Are they looking for someone with a broad four-plus year education and exposure to many ideas and thoughts, or are they looking for someone that has proven mastery in a particular area? Would a series of technical certificates prove the worth of a potential employee, or do they need to produce an advanced degree from a recognized college or university? I believe the problem is two pronged and we need to address both areas. As mentioned earlier, universities need to develop expertise delivering in a prescribed area rather than trying to cover all business models. Additionally, employers need to be precise in their requirements for employment and not add layers of education that are unneeded. If we can tackle these two areas, then we can come closer to matching delivery to expectation and drive down the overall cost of education while increasing accessibility.

Thoughts

Do you have specific thoughts on innovations that will help lessen tuition and make education more accessible? I know that greater minds than mine are working on this very problem and I welcome your input and ideas. Perhaps together, we can come up with a solution.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Technology in Action—Utilities

On occasion I like to feature a job or profession that makes use of technology in new and unique ways. Recently I highlighted technology in farming and today it struck me as I was walking down the street that a lot of cool innovation is in use by our utility companies. This seems like a fairly staid industry at first glance, but utility companies are deploying some technologies that make their products (electricity, gas, water) more cost effective and their delivery and monitoring more efficient.

Electric Utility

Utilities such as Pacific Power here in the Northwest are installing automated meters that can be read from a vehicle on the street rather than requiring a person to enter a customer’s property. The new meters are equipped with a radio module for transmitting data and are read by a roaming utility vehicle equipped with a radio receiver and computer. That information is downloaded to billing and accounting systems to generate utility bills. Perhaps driverless cars can take over in the future, or data can be transmitted wirelessly to the utility, thus eliminating the use of a vehicle. This is a way that IT can add value to the electric utility industry.

Water Utility

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection is installing automated water meters that  transmit water usage to nearby rooftop antennas. This eliminates the need to drive around reading meters, which in New York City is a big plus. The technology reduces the need for estimated billing based on prior usage, which was always a best guess and caused a utility to either charge too much or too little. Automated meters reduce the error and the need to adjust bills. This technology enables customers to view daily usage via an online interface and may inspire them to conserve water.

Gas Utility

Natural gas meters use the same automated devices as water and electric utilities. One of the benefits of these devices, particularly in places like New York City where data is transmitted up to four times a day, is the utility company can promptly detect and respond to a leak. Current data is compared to a known baseline or to an averaged norm and if there is a large anomaly the system can flag an inspector to investigate. No more dangerous gas leaks, flooded yards, or large gas or water bills. IT to the rescue!

Thoughts

I began thinking about this technology while walking down the street and noticing black mushroom-looking devices on the lids of pit meters embedded in sidewalks and driveway aprons. I had never seen them before and my curiosity got the better of me, and there was a utility worker nearby I could ask. Many cities have already completely converted to automated meters and enjoy the conveniences of accurate data collection and billing. In future blogs, I will continue highlighting technology in other sectors. Have you ever thought about unique applications of technology? Sometimes it can come to you out of the blue while you are walking down the street.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Leaving A Legacy

Not long ago I wrote a blog post about the problems of legacy systems and the fact that they can hinder innovation because they leave you tied to old platforms, old programs, and old ideas. Recently, however, I have been thinking about leaving a positive legacy. I think that there are three basic ways that a person can leave a legacy.

1. Build Something

Perhaps your lot in life is to build something great. This could be a great product, a great company or maybe a great process that helps make the world more effective and efficient. Thomas Edison is an example of a person that had the need, the desire, and the skill to build something. He left a lasting legacy in many ways. Whatever you choose to build, I challenge you to build something that will last and not just something for the expediency of the moment or the day. Make it count. Make it last.

2. Teach Someone

Teaching is a way to broaden your reach and your influence. You don’t need to be a formal teacher or professor, but look for opportunities large and small to be able to teach someone a skill, an action or a principle. You may never know the far- reaching consequences of your actions. I believe that John Wooden, the late great UCLA basketball coach was an example of an excellent teacher. < http://www.coachwooden.com title= Information about John Wooden> Some may argue that his legacy was coaching ten NCAA championship basketball teams, but at the end of the day he was a teacher of young men. He taught them basketball, leadership, and skills that they would retain for the rest of their lives.

3. Inspire Someone

Inspiring someone does not have to be a grand production. Even quiet acts can move people to do great things, and a real-life example is the best kind of inspiration. A number of years ago I attended the funeral of a friend who was prominent in the community. He was generous with both his time and his money. The hall was packed with friends and relatives and I was inspired that day to raise my level of activity and leadership to help in a small way to fill the void that he left. You never know when you might inspire someone else to greatness.

Thoughts

We all have the opportunity to leave a lasting legacy by building something, teaching someone, or inspiring someone. A transitory legacy is just that, it is transitory. I challenge you to look at your calendar today to see if there is an activity or an appointment or a task that will start you on the road to building your legacy. Build something that will last.

What are you going to do today to build something great or inspire someone else to greatness? Let me know.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

 

 

Anatomy of a Startup–Part 1

I have been thinking recently about startups and the technology and information strategy around startups. This blog post will cover the basics of a startup and my next blog post will cover the information technology structure needed to accompany a successful startup. Technology needs change constantly, and I believe that it is easier than ever to start a new enterprise.

The Three Most Important Components

I believe that the three most important components of a startup are:

  • An insanely great idea
  • Awesome people
  • Enough money to get your idea off the ground

And, of course, a solid business plan, to pull all three of these together.

Great Ideas Are Out There

This is the most important component. Your product or service must be something that customers actually want. There are at least two different types of great ideas. There are those that are disruptive, or completely change the way that we live or do business and those that are innovations and improvements of existing products. An example of a disruption is the smart phone which is several devices all built into one mobile unit. You can talk, chat, e-mail, or browse the web while walking down the street. How cool is that? An example of an innovation is Google. Search engines existed before Google but they improved the process.

The Best People

Surround yourself with smart people who share a passion for your product or service. Involve them from the very start and let them help you formulate the startup plan. Look through your social media contacts to find people that have the time, talent, passion, and energy to help you succeed. After all, you have all those Facebook friends for a reason, right?

Funding

There are several ways that you can fund your new endeavor. One way is self- funding which means digging into savings, or by funding the second unit from the first unit’s profit, and so on. This can be a slow process and can deplete your own reserves quickly. The second approach is to use angel investors who can be family members or others willing to put up money in exchange for a share of your success. The third approach is a venture capitalist that can be persuaded to lend you large sums of money to go big. In return for venture capital, however, you often turn over portions of your rights to the idea and to the company.

Thoughts

In my next blog post I will talk about the information technology strategy needed for a startup. What infrastructure do you really need to start a new company and what is the most efficient and cost effective way to get your name, your idea, and your product out in the public eye?

Do you have an insanely great idea that you think others would want? Have you ever thought of going big enough to be able to put that idea into production? What is your biggest obstacle? Let me know your thoughts and ideas.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.