Tag Archives: invention

To Change the World You Must First Learn Something About It

To Change the World You Must First Learn Something About It

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

Anybody who has waited for a traffic light to change, in the middle of the night at an empty intersection, knows the urge to rebel. There is always a tension between order and freedom. While we intuitively understand the need for order to constrain others, we yearn for the freedom to do what we want and to seek out a vision and sense of meaning in our lives.

Yet as we have seen over the past decade, attempts to overturn the existing order usually fail. The Tea Party erupted in 2009, but had mostly sputtered out by 2014. #Occupy protests and Black Lives Matter sent people into the streets, but achieved little, if anything. Silicon Valley “unicorns” like WeWork routinely go up in flames.

Not all revolutions flop, though. In fact, some succeed marvelously. What has struck me after researching transformational change over nearly two decades is how similar successful efforts are. They all experience failures along the way. What makes the difference is their ability to learn, adapt and change along the way. That’s what allows them to prevail.

Five Kids Meet In A Cafe

One day in 1998, a group of five friends met in a cafe in Belgrade. Although still in their 20s, they were already experienced activists and most of what they experienced was failure. They had taken part in student protests against the war in Bosnia in 1992, as well in the larger uprisings in response to election fraud in 1996. Neither had achieved much.

Having had time to reflect on their successes and failures, they hatched a new plan. They knew from their earlier efforts that they could mobilize people and get them to the polls for the presidential election in 2000. They also knew that Slobodan Milošević, who ruled the country with an iron hand, would try and steal the election, just as he did in 2006.

So that’s what they planned for.

The next day, six friends joined the five from the previous day and, together, they formed the original 11 members of Otpor, the movement that would topple the Milošević regime. They began slowly at first, performing pranks and street theater. But within two years it grew to over 70,000 members, with chapters all over Serbia. Milošević was ousted in the Bulldozer revolution in 2000. He would die in his prison cell at The Hague in 2006.

What Otpor came to understand is that it takes small groups, loosely connected, but united by a shared purpose to drive transformational change. The organization was almost totally decentralized, with just a basic “network meeting” to share best practices every two weeks. Nevertheless, by empowering those smaller groups and giving them a shared sense of mission, they were able to prevail over seemingly impossible odds.

Three Mid-Level executives See A Problem That Needs Fixing

In 2017, John Gadsby and two colleagues in Procter & Gamble’s research organization saw that there was a problem. Although cutting-edge products were being developed all around them, the processes at the 180 year-old firm were often antiquated, making it sometimes difficult to get even simple things done.

So they decided to do something about it. They chose a single process, which involved setting up experiments to test new product technologies. It usually took weeks and was generally considered a bottleneck. Utilizing digital tools, however, they were able to hone it down to just a few hours. It was a serious accomplishment and the three were recognized with a “Pathfinder” award by the company CTO.

Every change starts out with a grievance, such as the annoyance of being bogged down by inefficient processes. The first step forward is to come up with a vision for how you would like things to be different. However, you can never get there in a single step, which is why you need to identify a single keystone change to show others that change is really possible.

That’s exactly what the team at P&G did. Once they showed that one process could be dramatically improved, they were able to get the resources to start improving others. Today, more than 2,500 of their colleagues have joined their movement for process improvement, called PxG, and more than 10,000 have used their applications platform.

As PxG has grown it has also been able to effectively partner with other likeminded initiatives within the company, reinforcing not only its own vision, but those of others that share its values as well.

The One Engineer Who Simply Refused To Take “No” For An Answer

In the late 1960’s, Gary Starkweather was in trouble with his boss. As an engineer in Xerox’s long-range xerography unit, he saw that laser printing could be a huge business opportunity. Unfortunately, his manager at the company’s research facility in upstate New York was focused on improving the current product line, not looking to start a new one.

The argument got so heated that Starkweather’s job came to be in jeopardy. Fortunately, his rabble-rousing caught the attention of another division within the company, the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), which was less interested in operational efficiency than inventing an entirely new future. They eagerly welcomed Starkweather into their ranks with open arms.

Unlike his old lab, PARC’s entire mission was to create the future. One of the technologies it had developed, bitmapping, would revolutionize computer graphics, but there was no way to print the images out. Starkweather’s work was exactly what they were looking for and, with the Xerox’s copier business in decline, would eventually save the company.

The truth is that good ideas fail all the time and it often has little to do with the quality of the idea, the passion of those who hold it or its potential impact, but rather who you choose to start with. In the New York lab, few people bought into Starkweather’s idea, but in Palo Alto, almost everyone did. In that fertile ground, it was able to grow, mature and triumph.

When trying to get traction for an idea, you always want to be in the majority, even if it is only a local majority comprising a handful of people. You can always expand a small majority out, but once you are in the minority you will get immediate pushback and will need to retrench.

The Secret to Subversion

Through my work, I’ve gotten to know truly revolutionary people. My friend Srdja Popović was one of the original founders of Otpor and has gone on to train activists in more than 50 countries. Jim Allison won a Nobel Prize for discovering Cancer Immunotherapy. Yassmin Abdel-Magied has become an important voice for diversity, equity and inclusion. Many others I profiled in my books, Mapping Innovation and Cascades.

What has always struck me is how different real revolutionaries are from the mercurial, ego-driven stereotypes Hollywood loves to sell us. The truth is that all of those mentioned above are warm, friendly and genuinely nice people who are a pleasure to be around (or were, Gary Starkweather recently passed).

What I’ve found over the years is that sense of openness helped them succeed where others failed. In fact, evidence suggests that generosity is often a competitive advantage for very practical reasons. People who are friendly and generous tend to build up strong networks of collaborators, who provide crucial support for getting an idea off the ground.

But most of all it was that sense of openness that allowed them to learn, adapt and identify a path to victory. Changing the world is hard, often frustrating work. Nobody comes to the game with all the answers. In the final analysis, it’s what you learn along the way—and your ability to change yourself in response to what you learn—that makes the difference between triumph and bitter, agonizing failure.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog
— Image credit: Pixabay

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At What Point Does Smart Become Stupid?

At What Point Does Smart Become Stupid?

In addition to 2020 being the year of the Coronavirus COVID-19, some would also say that it was the year of the voice-activated smart device. Sales of smart speakers in 2019 reached 146.9 million units and 2020 will likely approach 200 million units or more. The final number depends on how many showed up under Christmas trees as the 4th quarter. In addition, during 2020 we started to see Alexa advertised for other contexts, including in Buick automobile advertisements. Which brings up a couple questions.

Question 1: Is the advertisement below a real advertisement or an April Fool’s Day fake advertisement?

Question 2: At what point does the trend that smart speakers began reach the point of stupidity?

To answer that question I recommend that we revisit my definition of innovation:

“Innovation transforms the useful seeds of invention into widely adopted solutions valued above every existing alternative.” — Braden Kelley

The one thing that many product managers often forget is that invention and innovation are not the same thing, and so at some point product managers are likely to invest past the invisible line on different value dimensions beyond what people are willing to pay for.

This leads to products being designed and launched that while they might be revolutionary and inventive, they actually end up being unprofitable and not innovative at all because the foundations of the new offering never reach wide adoption.

Are we approaching this point with smart devices?

Let’s try and answer this question by answering the first question about the video.

YES – This is in fact a real product.

Now, how many of you are going to rush out to your home improvement store and purchase one of these faucets to replace your existing kitchen faucet?

What if I told you that it would cost you $800-1,000 compared to very nice kitchen faucets that can cost under $100?

Very few people are likely to replace their kitchen faucet unless it stops working or starts leaking profusely.

At the same time, Moen will definitely sell some of these faucets to people who must have the latest gadgets.

If you were the product manager or innovation manager involved with this product, before launching it you should ask:

  1. Will we sell enough of this smart faucet to justify the cost of developing and marketing it?
  2. Will this smart faucet create enough of a brand halo to help us sell more of our traditional faucets?

The answers to these questions may very well be – yes.

But if not, then we have reached a point where SMART starts to become STUPID.

But, don’t stop there. You should also ask yourself questions like:

  1. Does it take longer to get a glass of water using the smart method than the easy manual way?
  2. Could my grandmother install and use it without reading the directions?
  3. Is this new capability valuable enough to drive replacement?

If you are an inventor or a product manager, these kinds of questions are the type that you must always be asking yourself – even if you don’t like the answers.

If you still decide to go ahead with a product that will be unprofitable, you will at least do so with open eyes – and for the right reasons.

For more on this topic, please be sure and check out my previous article – Innovation or Not – Amazon Echo Frames

Keep innovating!

Accelerate your change and transformation success

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Key to Innovation Success Revealed!

Key to Innovation Success Revealed!Achieving innovation success is not easy. Sustaining innovation success is even harder. The list of innovative companies that no longer exist is long, and some of the biggest enemies of innovation are ultimately complacency and resistance to change.

So what is the key to innovation success?

What lies beneath the artifacts of innovation success that we could point to in individuals or companies that we hold up as innovation heroes?

Well, as I tell the audiences of my keynotes, workshops and masterclasses around the world, innovation success rises up from the intersection of invention (which includes creativity), collaboration, and entrepreneurship. This is why you see these topics covered so much here on Human-Centered Change & Innovation.

Innovation is Invention Collaboration Entrepreneurship


Invention and creativity are incredibly important to innovation, but invention is not innovation and creativity is not innovation. Invention and creativity are but one component to creating successful innovation. And so yes, teaching your employees new creativity tools like SCAMPER or SIT, engaging in brainstorming activities after teaching people how to brainstorm properly, or providing your employees the space and time in their work lives to innovate will help you achieve greater innovation success, but they are not the secret. They are but one part.


There are a number of people traveling through the world of business and innovation literature spreading the myth that people are either innovative or they or not, that people either possess the innovator’s DNA or they don’t. To that I say “hogwash” (or sometimes something a little bit stronger). Innovation is a team sport and we all have a role to play. It is because of this belief that I created the Nine Innovation Roles and this framework for team-based innovation has resonated well with people all around the world. As a result, the Nine Innovation Roles from my book Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire have already been translated into Spanish, French, and Swedish, with Dutch and Chinese translations on the way soon. If you’re not familiar with the Nine Innovation Roles, they are:

  1. Revolutionary
  2. Artist
  3. Connector
  4. Magic Maker
  5. Customer Champion
  6. Judge
  7. Troubleshooter
  8. Conscript
  9. Evangelist

But understanding which of the Nine Innovation Roles you play on effective innovation teams is just the beginning. At the same time, we must begin to train our employees in the basic principles that power collaboration and teach them how to become effective collaborators. But collaboration is also only one component.


Other than leadership, no other topic probably occupies a greater percentage of the space for business books in an American book store than entrepreneurship. This topic captivates the minds of people in the United States and in many other countries, and everywhere you go cities, states, countries, universities, and private companies are setting up incubators or startup accelerators to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation. This is important, but the importance of entrepreneurship is not limited only to the entrepreneur. At the same time, we must not forget the importance of intrapreneurship to the continuing health of our organizations. In some ways, intrapreneurship is MORE important to the innovation success of a country than entrepreneurship because collaborative, creative intrapreneurship is the flavor of entrepreneurship that keeps a country’s great companies alive (through this innovation intersection of course). Entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs are both important and we must consciously try to grow both in a successful society, and while intrapreneurs may not have the same tolerance for risk as an entrepreneur, they also need to understand how to make a business case and other core tenets of entrepreneurship.

Build a Common Language of Innovation

The Need to Integrate and Educate

I can state in no uncertain terms the importance for companies that are serious about innovation, and yes even countries or states or cities that are serious about innovation, to educate their people in the core knowledge, skills and abilities that relate to invention, collaboration and entrepreneurship. Companies need to educate their employees. Governments AND parents need to collaborate to teach their children. If you do this, your employees or your future citizens will have a much better chance of helping you achieve innovation success for your company or for your society. But even actively encouraging the intersection of invention, collaboration and entrepreneurship knowledge, skills, abilities and practice are not enough. The reason is because the power of this intersection does not represent the secret of innovation success. This intersection is central to sustained innovation success, but the secret lies elsewhere.

So what is the key to innovation success?

In one word?

The answer is…


Importance of Curiosity to InnovationDictionary.com defines curiosity as “the desire to learn or know about anything; inquisitiveness.”

Merriam-Webster defines curiosity as “Desire to know… Inquisitive interest in others’ concerns…Interest leading to inquiry

The reason that curiosity is the secret to innovation success is that the absence of curiosity leads to acceptance and comfort in the status quo. The absence of curiosity leads to complacency (one of the enemies of innovation) and when organizations (or societies) become complacent or comfortable, they usually get run over from behind. When organizations or societies lack curiosity, they struggle to innovate. Curiosity causes people to ask ‘Why’ questions and ‘What if’ questions. Curiosity leads to inspiration. Inspiration leads to insight. Insights lead to ideas. And in a company or society where invention, collaboration and entrepreneurship knowledge, skills, abilities and practice are encouraged, ideas lead to action.

So, if you want to have innovation success in your company or in your society, you must work to create a culture that encourages curiosity instead of crushing it. Unfortunately technology and the educational system in the United States and the rallying cry of “More STEM!” are having the unintended consequence of crushing creativity and creating a generation of trivia experts and linear thinkers for our society. We as parents and educators and managers must as a result seek to undo some of this damage. If you haven’t already read it, I encourage you to check out my article ‘Stop Praying for Education Reform‘.

Key to Innovation Success Revealed!We must find ways to reawaken the curiosity of our employees, to keep them curious, and to keep the curiosity of our children alive. We must find a way to fight against the tyranny of linear thinking and the ‘right’ answer, and instead inspire our children to continue asking ‘why’ – despite the fact that sometimes it can be annoying. 😉

To close I will leave you with a bastardized quote from the most interesting man in the world:

“Stay curious my friend.”

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Innovation Quotes of the Day – May 24, 2012

“We have a moral obligation to invent new technologies. What if Mozart had been born before the violin and harpsichord?”

– Kevin Kelly

“For whatever reason it may be easier for humans to ascribe innovation to one person (Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Bill Gates, etc.), but it is not necessarily helpful to the success of innovation in organizations to popularize this myth. Instead when it comes to creating more innovation in organizations, we must DESTROY it.”

– Braden Kelley

“Pretty much, Apple and Dell are the only ones in this industry making money. They make it by being Wal-Mart. We make it by innovation.”

– Steve Jobs

What are some of your favorite innovation quotes?

Add one or more to the comments, listing the quote and who said it, and I’ll share the best of the submissions as future innovation quotes of the day!

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You Cannot Always Invent Your Way to Innovation

You Cannot Always Invent Your Way to InnovationI’d like to start today with a quote from a NASA article in Fast Company – “But sometimes the better part of innovation, is not invention but effectiveness.”

I’ve detailed my views before on how invention is not the same thing as innovation, but to build upon them and the quote above – sometimes progress or innovation is achieved by taking value out of a product or service. Southwest Airlines created innovation not by giving passengers more food, more legroom or more options, but fewer. Apple succeeded with the iPod, not by providing more capacity or more features, but by making the features they provided more beneficial than the competition.

People ultimately do not care whether a product or service is better at the tasks it is asked to perform, but whether it more effectively meets their needs. These are not the same thing, and in fact make success far more difficult.

A sponge may clean better than all other sponges at absorbing liquids, but if to do so it has to smell like a wet troll, it is ultimately not going to be the sponge most effective at meeting customers needs (or likely to make repeat visits to their shopping baskets). Success becomes more difficult because customers don’t always surface their needs. Chances are your market research wouldn’t have surfaced their need for a sponge not to smell like a wet troll. But if succeeding becomes more difficult when success is not purely a technology challenge, then this is a good thing for the truly committed, because difficulty creates opportunity.

So during the product development process, don’t ask yourself “How can we make X do Y better than the competition?”. Instead focus people’s attention on asking “How can we better meet our customers’ needs?”. If you focus on the second question, the competition becomes almost irrelevant, and you will become better at creating products or services that are more likely to be valuable instead of merely useful, and that is where true innovation lies.

What do you think?

Build a Common Language of Innovation

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Innovation Quotes of the Day – May 8, 2012

“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”

– Jack Welch

“An innovation strategy is not merely a technology roadmap from R&D or an agenda for new product development. Instead, an innovation strategy identifies who will drive a company’s profitable revenue growth and what will represent a strong competitive advantage for the firm going forward. Under this umbrella the innovation goals for the organization can be created.”

– Braden Kelley

“Innovation is part of a process that involves creating something new (invention), figuring out how to commercialize it (innovation) and then actually getting to adopt it (marketing)”

– Noah Brier, Percolate
Submitted by Jason Williams

What are some of your favorite innovation quotes?

Add one or more to the comments, listing the quote and who said it, and I’ll share the best of the submissions as future innovation quotes of the day!

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Innovation Quotes of the Day – April 26, 2012

“The thing you push against is the thing that lifts you up.”

– From a Delta Airlines advertisement

“Mommy, how come Daddy is not out in the garage inventing things if he is in innovation”

– My 7 year old daughter

“Pathmaker, there is no path. The path is made by walking. By walking you make the path.”

– Antonio Machado

What are some of your favorite innovation quotes?

Add one or more to the comments, listing the quote and who said it, and I’ll share the best of the submissions as future innovation quotes of the day!

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.