Wednesday, August 31, 2011 #

Visual Thinking for Problem Solving

This week I attended a business innovation conference hosted by COCABiz in St. Louis.  One of the keynotes, Dan Roam, author of The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures, spoke on the topic of visual thinking. 


Essentially, Dan promotes the idea of communicating via images as opposed to words.  His contention is that the use of a few simple stick figures, lines, and arrows can enhance the speed of grasping and internalizing complex concepts and helps clearly define problems so they can be solved effectively. 


An excellent example of using visuals to convey complex concepts is the legendary (but true) story of the Laffer Curve – the premise behind supply-side economics – being drawn on a cocktail napkin. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the concept, it’s hard to deny the visual succinctly conveys a principle whose explanation otherwise requires a good deal of written text.


According to Dan, visual thinking is comprised of six categories, each of which employs a different type of illustration or drawing:

·         Simple stick figures or line-drawn faces to represent “who/what.”

·         Charts or graphs to communicate “how many.”

·         Maps or visual showing relationship to a landmark to illustrate “where.”

·         Timelines or Gant charts to portray progression or “when.”

·         Basic flowcharts to convey “how” or cause-and-effect relationships.

·         Equations to represent “why” or rationale.


While I’m not convinced there is one “right” approach, I do believe visual thinking could enhance and speed along the development and communication of innovative offerings, processes, and approaches.


For more detail about Dan’s presentation check out this article by Juan C. Dürsteler on Inf@Vis!  And for a robust example of visual thinking, take a look at Dan’s healthcare reform visuals, Healthcare Napkins All, on slideshare.  And if you're interested in downloading some of his visual thinking tools, click here.

posted @ Wednesday, August 31, 2011 8:56 AM | Feedback (0)

Monday, July 25, 2011 #

Storytelling & Innovation

One of my early childhood memories centers on storytelling. No, not a memory of enjoying a wonderful tale while being tucked into bed. Instead, it’s of my mother walking into my room, pointing to a freshly-drawn bit of crayon artwork on the wall and asking, “Who did this?” Inspired by my four-year-old-creativity, I reply, “The little girl who lived here before me.” My mother then says, “Gwen, we’re the first family to live in this house.”


Had I taken my audience into account (one of the first rules of good storytelling), I might have been able to pull that story off.  Unfortunately, I was talking to a knowledgeable superior/parent rather than to a peer/best friend down the street, so I was sent to bed with a spanking.


On July 28th, our Innochat topic will be the use of storytelling and innovation. As my memory demonstrates, the inability to tell a good story can have lasting effects; conversely, the ability to tell a good story can be highly beneficial.


Some basic questions to guide our discussion are:

Q1. What is storytelling? (It’s always good to establish a common understanding before venturing into an Innochat!)

Q2. How do you feel about the use of storytelling in a business environment?

Q3. Where/how have you seen it used effectively?

Q4. Where/how have you seen it fail?

Q5. What approaches, advice, or techniques do you see as best practices?


If you’d like to dig a little deeper into the use of storytelling and innovation, here are some starting points. Feel free to reply with your own resources.

The Leaders’ Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art and Discipline of Business Narrative

Why We Need Storytellers At The Heart Of Product Development

Importance of Storytelling in Creative Leadership

Squirrel Inc.


Looking forward to seeing everyone on Thursday 7/28 at noon Eastern.



posted @ Monday, July 25, 2011 4:43 PM | Feedback (0)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011 #

Regulation & Innovation

When I first saw the word “innovation” coupled with “government” and “regulation,” my mind jumped to oxymorons such as “jumbo shrimp,” “act naturally,” and “seriously funny”. (Yes, I know that “oxymora” is the plural of “oxymoron”, but I just couldn’t go there today.) In my mind, those concepts just didn’t seem to go together.
 But over the last few weeks I’ve been reading about various programs and initiatives governments are putting into place to foster innovation, and some of them are pretty intriguing. I’ve included links to a few of the articles I’ve come across:
“How the Government Can Do Good with Less: Award-nominated government programs could become role models in efficiency and constituent services”

“Why The Government Needs To Invest In Innovation”   

“Government’s Role in Innovation” (Courtesy of Innocat Jeffrey Phillips, aka @ovoinnovation )

“The Role of Government in Innovation”
At the risk of introducing politics into our already spirited Innochats, I’d like to tee up the topic of whether and how innovation and government go together . Here are some of the topics we might discuss – my only request is that we keep things respectful and agree to disagree. :-)
Q1. Ideally, what should drive innovation?
Q2. Is there a difference between innovations that have been encouraged by government and those that have been driven by other things?
Q3. What environments are best at encouraging innovation?
Q4. Can government help create those kinds of environments?
Q5. What things would you like to see?
Looking forward to everyone sharing their experiences and thoughts. And if you know someone who might be interested in joining us, please let them know how they can participate. (My recommendation is to use and enter #innochat in the search field.)
See you Thursday Feb 17 at noon EST!
Gwen (@Gwen_Ishmael)

posted @ Tuesday, February 15, 2011 9:26 PM | Feedback (0)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011 #

Runaway Innovation

This week I'll be hosting #Innochat on the topic of runaway innovation. How many of us have experienced the following scenario? You’re on a team that has been charged either with conceiving or executing an innovation – something that’s either new to the company or new to the world. You’re making progress, and perhaps you’re even well into the project.

Then something happens and things begin to move off course. Perhaps an executive steps in with a different objective. Or a competitor launches a new initiative. Or someone who is not on your team sees this as the perfect time to test a new technical capability.

There are many reasons why innovation veers off course. My hope is that we’ll have a discussion rich in practical applications and thoughts about what to do when this happens. To get us started are some topics I’d like to pose for our chat:

Q1. What experiences have you had w/ runaway innovation?

Q1a. What specifically do you think caused the innovation to move off course?

Q2. Looking back, what things might have been done to correct course?

Q3. What things might be put in place to keep innovation on track?

Q4. Are there times when innovation should be allowed to meander and if so how can you manage those times?

Looking forward to everyone sharing their experiences and thoughts. And if you know someone who might be interested in joining us, please let them know how they can participate. (My recommendation is to use and enter #innochat in the search field.)

See you Thursday Jan 27th at noon EST!


posted @ Wednesday, January 26, 2011 6:42 PM | Feedback (0)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010 #

28 Oct Innochat Framing: Innovating Around Sacred Cows

Last year I blogged about innovating around sacred cows and the importance of challenging our assumptions regularly to achieve truly breakthrough innovation.


I was reminded of that post last week while listening to Jay Rogers (@johnbrogers) at the PDMA’s Global Conference on Product Innovation Management in Orlando.  Jay is President, CEO and Co-Founder of  Local Motors – a company that, in my opinion, is one of the most creative organizations out there, irrespective of industry.


In just three short years, Local Motors has innovated around just about every sacred cow in the manufacturing world. No mass production, community co-creation of design, and just-in-time production are some of the practices that allow the company to bring new models to market 5 times faster and at 100 times lower cost than tradition auto manufacturers.


With that in mind, this Thursday’s Innochat will be about challenging processes, assumptions, and histories that could dampen innovation. Questions we’ll be addressing are:

Q1: What organizations have done a good job of identifying and innovating around sacred cows?

Q2: What things might have made it possible for them to identify and challenge those sacred cows?

Q3: How can those successes be emulated in our own and/or in our clients’ organizations?

Q4: How can we keep from being held captive by our assumptions?

To join us this Thursday at noon EDT, just go to and enter #Innochat into the search field. And if you can't make it you can check out the transcripts that will be posted afterwards courtesy of @DrewCM.

Looking forward to sharing thoughts and experiences. If we’re lucky, maybe @LocalMotots will be able to join us!



posted @ Wednesday, October 27, 2010 8:18 PM | Feedback (0)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010 #

14 Oct. Innochat Framing: Innovation - Crossing The "O" Gap

This week's Innochat will be guest-moderated by Danielle Cass, National Public Relations and Media Communications Manager at Kaiser Permanente.
Danielle and I initially connected on Twitter and met at last week's HealthCamp SF Bay which she helps coordinate. And she and her fellow volunteers did an outstanding job! More than 260 consumers, health providers, health industry experts, and technology professionals came together to exchange ideas about how to improve, and in some cases revolutionize, healthcare.
Danielle will be leading a discussion on how to move innovation from the idea stage into execution. Her framing is as follows:
Spawning innovative ideas is easy. Implementing and diffusing them to cross the "O" gap (getting them into Operations) is difficult. How do you spur innovation crossing the O Gap? Moving from idea to execution and implementation in a large organization?
Questions on my mind:
Q1 - How do you create a culture that enables innovation through an organization?
Q2 - How can you begin building your own innovative culture?
Q3 - How do you move ideas from the test lab to the frontlines of operations?
Q4 - Are there any large companies you've heard of succeeding at this in their innovation programs, or is it all just nimble small start-ups?
Danielle also shared a couple of links worth checking out before our discussion:
This should be a wonderful topic with lots of lively discussion. Join us this Thursday at noon EST. Just go to and enter #innochat in the search field. Or, contribute your thoughts and suggestions for other topics here by replying below.
See you then!!

posted @ Tuesday, October 12, 2010 12:42 PM | Feedback (0)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010 #

9 Sept Innochat Framing - Setting The Culture For OI & Crowdsourcing

This week our topic is establishing cultures that foster open innovation and crowdsourcing – lots to cover in our hour together!
One of the biggest challenges I’ve had in preparing for this topic is clearly defining crowdsourcing and open innovation – and based on the various articles and blogs I’ve read, I’m not alone. Certainly there are times the lines between the two blur – both involve looking outside the company for ideas/solutions/approaches – but they are two distinct things. Aren’t they?
For the purposes of our discussion, I’ve chosen to view the two along the following lines (of course, your comments are always welcome!):
Open Innovation:
  • Most often a strategic, long-lived endeavor
  • Participants come from a select group, often universities, complimentary companies, and competitors
  • Involves detailed agreements regarding how the participants will work together and ownership of/rights to the results of the collaboration
  • The outcome is beneficial to all participants
  • Tends to be a more tactical, task-oriented, and short-term effort
  • Participants come from a broad audience, often user groups
  • Involves relatively uncomplicated agreements regarding the collaboration
  • The outcome primarily benefits the company rather than both the company and the participants
Assuming this as our foundation, we’ll be discussing the following questions:
Q1 – What examples have you seen of successful OI? Successful crowdsourcing?
Q2 – What was done culturally to support their success?
Q3 – What examples have you seen of failed OI? Failed crowdsourcing?
Q4 –What contributed to the failure from a cultural standpoint?
Q5 –What one piece of advice would you give a company interested in pursuing OI? Crowdsourcing?
Looking forward to our discussion on Thursday!

posted @ Wednesday, September 8, 2010 2:38 PM | Feedback (0)

Monday, March 29, 2010 #

April Fools' Post: Missing The Innovation Boat

Ah, April Fools’ Day – that 24-hour period when we can play harmless pranks and practical jokes on those who are near and dear to us.

I'll be co-hosting an April Fools’ Innochat about “Missing The Innovation Boat.” We’ll spend our time discussing how and why companies give away, pass on, or are completely overlook innovation opportunities.

To jumpstart our thinking, I’ll offer what I consider to be two reasons companies miss the innovation boat:

1. Listening To What Consumers Have To Say  Often companies will conduct focus groups to determine whether an idea has merit; unfortunately, consumers aren’t always able to see the potential of an idea right away, particularly when they are asked to evaluate it quickly and without much-needed context. I came across this wonderful
YouTube video about killing good ideas. Not only is it entertaining, but for those of us who have been behind the glass and in front of it, it’s so very true.

2. Drawing Conclusions Based On Personal Behavior & Habits  How often have we seen initiatives cut short because an executive could not related personally to an idea? Here’s an example from “
Why Ideas Rejected By Big Corporations May Profit Small Entrepreneurs” by Ronald Manalastas:

In the 1970s, a leading firm in the industry of importing and selling beverages had declined the idea of importing bottled water. The big boss categorically said, who would need water in bottles when you can simply get it from the tap, and who would want to buy sparkling water? The unknowing boss thought that there was no market in the US for mineral water such as Perrier, Evian, and San Pellegrino. The water was being drunk by millions of Europeans and Americans travelling to Europe, or with European origin. This addressable business potential gave the entrepreneur the courage to begin importing bottled water after establishing a small company, and the small business has become a large and thriving corporation.

And a bit of fun for you… While I was looking for framing content I came across this
Send Your Idea To The Fire site. Just something to keep you smilin’ while striving to keep those around you from being Innovation April fools.

As always, your comments are welcome. See everyone Thursday 4/1 at noon EST!

posted @ Monday, March 29, 2010 3:59 PM | Feedback (0)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010 #

Communities Of Practice In Open Innovation

While flying from NYC back to Dallas this morning I took part in an excellent Twitterchat about "Knowledge in Innovation" led by Christian De Neef (@CDN) at  #KMers.
The topic of using communities of practice (CoPs) as innovation sources came up, and I mentioned I'd used them in the past and had found them to be excellent sources if guided well. @AndreaMeyer asked what recommendations I had regarding guidance, and before I could answer the WiFi connection was turned off. :-)
So, in answer to Andrea’s question, here are six things I would recommend when working with CoPs as well as other types of communities. (By the way, these recommendations are covered in detail in a white paper I co-authored called “Enhancing the Open Model Through the Use of Community.”)
1. Start With A Clear Purpose – Answering this question early will keep your efforts on track. Do you really need innovative thinking, or something else called for, such as the sharing of best practices? 
2. Determine Who To Involve – Just because someone is a CoP member doesn’t mean they’ll be a good source of innovative ideas. Typically, my innovation activities with CoPs have involved a relatively small subset of community members – those who are capable of and willing to offer innovative suggestions. Spend time identifying the characteristics, behaviors, attitudes, and interests of your “ideal” contributor, and then create a profile of who you should involve. Also, there isn’t a magic number regarding how many people to involve; but keep in mind the larger the group, the more challenging it can be to keep everyone engaged and productive.
3. The third recommendation is to communicate parameters and the end goal clearly and appropriately to the participants. Innovation flourishes in a clearly-defined environment, one in which individuals can work together toward a common goal rather than wander aimlessly by themselves. Regardless of how innovative the members are, in order for them to offer creative, actionable contributions, they must understand the goals and what they have to work with.
4. The fourth recommendation (and this is probably one of the more difficult recommendations to implement) is to create an appropriate innovation environment. This doesn't necessarily mean sitting on the floor and playing with toys. However, if CoP participants are to offer up innovation suggestions and ideas, often they have to “leave their expertise at the door” – at least for a while. This is a situation in which being a subject matter expert can constrict innovation rather than enhance it. There is an appropriate time for asking questions, discussing pros and cons, and offering up past learnings, but it’s not while looking for sources of innovation.
5. If you intend use CoPs as innovation sources on an ongoing basis, make sure to motivate the participants in meaningful ways. Often a public acknowledgement of participants' contributions can be sufficient.
6. Again, if you intend to continue to tap into CoPs for innovative ideas, be sure to assess each person’s participation; if their contributions aren’t what you had hoped, don’t involve them next time. This can be done subtly so no one becomes disgruntled or feels disappointed. Participants can be given a “vacation” providing new people with the opportunity to participate in projects.
Hopefully you'll find these recommendations helpful; and as always, comments are welcome!
Gwen Ishmael

posted @ Tuesday, February 2, 2010 3:16 PM | Feedback (0)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 #

Social Media Tools For Use In Innovation

For those of you on the lookout for various social media and/or collaborative innovation tools,  I've pulled together a comprehensive list of the various social media tools and platforms discussed during last week's Innochat - "Social Media In Innovation".


I've opted to group them by contributor so you can quickly see who to ping on Twitter should you want more information. (Wish I also could have grouped them by functionality, but I'm not familiar with them all.)


If you've used any of these or have heard comments about them, please share that info by leaving a reply.  And of course, please add to the list


If you haven’t joined us for Innochat, please do! Every Thursday at noon EST 30+ innovation practitioners get together for an hour to discuss best practices, tools, and timely topics. I’d recommend going to, log in using your Twitter ID, and enter #innochat into the search field.


Hope to see you on Thursdays!



AndreaMeyer: @spigit 's idea market capabilities are very interesting & being tested by various Co's. Now an SMB version,too

AndreaMeyer: enterprise tools like @inventionmachin 's #Goldfire enable both #KM & SM

AndreaMeyer: I'd add wikis as way to manage the knowledge as well #KM

AndreaMeyer: InnovationSpigit by @spigit allows #sm for #innovation by voting on ideas, collab building, metrics

AndreaMeyer: wikis as tool to help build on & develop ideas

BlakeGroup: And more: IdeaNet Also: Bright Ideas + Kindling + Innocentive (TY @bpluskowski !)

BlakeGroup: So far: InnovationSpigit by @spigit + #goldfire by @inventionmachine + Idea Central from Imaginatik +

bpluskowski: #Spigit also has an interesting Idea market concept that attracts a lot of curiosity from companies I've spoken to

bpluskowski: @chuckfrey also has some good reviews on his website

bpluskowski: many more out there too - Innocentive, Bright ideas, Kindling, and not even counting all the PLM vendors

ColetteCote: IdeaNet also allows 4 idea vetting, open voting & commenting on/adding new ideas.

ColetteCote: SM monitoring, a la Radian6, for ex.

ColetteCote: We use IdeaNet web-based sm platform 4 open & sponsored innovation challenges internally.

ColetteCote: Yammer is gr8t internal #sm platform 2 help drive #innovation globally/cross-org.

cwebpresence: …I'm not sure I would look at Wordpress as a secure collaborative platform for ongoing R&D.

cwebpresence: Ning should work quite well for closed team collab. It's has complete tool set including live chat room.

cwebpresence: P.S. .. I use Ning (BIG fan) .. and, re: Open Source tools.. well.. one needs some technical knowledge to maintain use thereof.

cwebpresence: With Ning one can have specific sub-groups for specific projects, categorized forum, full team member profiles, etc.

DawnEva: Check this out if you're looking for more feedback about Radian6,

DrewCM: …tools to dialogue/capture (Twitter, FB) and tools for KM (Ning, wikis, SharePoint, etc.)

Gwen_Ishmael: I also use Scout Labs - quite similar to Radian6, but less expensive

innovate: In addition to Radian 6 - Visible Technologies also makes #sm monitoring tools

JohnReaves: …Our tool ( also based on Drupal!

jpamental: …in a trial now with Cox for a 'super high speed' internet offering, with a closed Ning comm. for feedback

jpamental: Have worked on a prototype based in Drupal to foster innovation challenges w/submission, commenting, voting & added roles 4 (cont)

jpamental: that's the great thing with Drupal, others: can foster both KM and SM, and time the results together in 1 place

jpamental: Wide open: FB, LinkedIn, Twitter.Ning can be open or closed. Yammer (Twitter for enterprise)-internal

jpamental: Wikis and other CMS options (Drupal, etc) can be set up open or closed (i.e. registration required/approval, etc)

mneff: …we move the discussion into a focused collaboration event in Idea Central when ready (to begin analysis).

mneff: Search their name, their products, their services, see if they have a twitter name - see what they are tweeting about.

mneff: We use Idea Central from Imaginatik. Very useful for focused collaboration and business initiatives management.

rtkrum: We could setup a collaborative review of #sm tools and let people add pros & cons. Maybe using MindMeister or a Wiki

sourcepov: Online www is outbound published IP. Internal IP needs secure platform: Cubetree, Basecamp, etc

sourcepov: Free? You're in luck .. pbworks, ning, drupal, joomla, cubetree, etc .. of course, there's a people cost ..

sourcepov: How to use #sm to better understand our competition? - Many forget that you can just search Twitter!

sourcepov: I did a short list of my favorites in comments on Gwen's framing post - Twitter, Tweetchat, Wordpress, PBworks, Basecamp, Cubetree, Socialtext

sourcepov: One thing I like about Wordpress as platform: All content exportable. Can change themes/skin. No lock-in. Low risk.

posted @ Wednesday, January 27, 2010 9:45 AM | Feedback (0)

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