January 2009 - Posts

Welcome to the Innovation@Merage Blog
The Paul Merage School of Business is pleased to provide this blog for discussing information on all aspects of innovation and how it is impacting businesses and academics. We hope you will find our blog to be an engaging way to communicate about the latest topics on thought leadership.  

  • Good News for Bad Times

    Amidst all the bad financial news, you may have overlooked a column in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal by Innovation Guru Clayton Christensen.  According to him, these times are actually good for innovators.

    Why would that be, since R & D budgets are usually the first ones axed in a downturn? The answer lies in a number and inside the human psyche.  First the number: 93% of all business innovations that are successful originally start off in the wrong direction. So when times are flush, people stick with their initial vision and keep throwing money at it through market failure. When budgets are lean, you’re more apt to say “oops” and try something different. Or as the inventor’s maxim goes, “fail early, fail often.”

    The second reason is really inertia.  When the economy is plugging along, there’s no reason to try something different and take that kind of risk.  When you’re pinching pennies, that upstart company’s cheaper alternative might be worth a try.

    There’s an interesting story about how we came to have two major soft drink companies when Coca-Cola once cornered the market.  During the Depression, little PepsiCo offered twice as much soda for a nickel. As a side note, they started advertising in an unexpected place: the push bar of screen doors on little corner groceries. As a result, all the little kids who learned to read during the mid-thirties became lifelong fans of the brand that was there at eye level—and offered enough soda to share.

    So if you’re an innovator, take heart.  This year is exactly when you’ll have your best shot at success.

    Also, check out the New York Times 8th Annual Year in Ideas.

  • Do Innovation Prizes Work?

    In Business Week’s Innovation supplement dated November 20, Steve LeVine offers a summary of innovation prizes for everything from space travel and hydrogen-fueled vehicles to faster airport checkpoints. Citing Peter Diamandis, who sponsored the X prize and now heads other incentive efforts, he highlights the virtues of these prizes (it worked to measure longitude, begin the canning industry, and create a chess-winning computer program) and the problems (doesn’t work all that well for big challenges where lots of money has already been spent.)

    So what does motivate people to solve the insoluble? The answer, of course, is as different as the people who create the breakthroughs. The first element, of course, is the natural curiosity that is inherent in the human brain—everybody has some of it, although some people seem to be born with characters that are more open to novelty and exploration. 

    The second element, as Malcolm Gladwell notes in his new Outliers, is just plain practice.  People who put in 10,000 hours of practicing anything tend to be pretty good at it. As he also notes, the third element is circumstance. If you are in the right place at the right time with the right skills and character and the right contacts plus the right idea, you might be the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.

    The fourth element, however, just might be those prizes. For the thirty years I spent in advertising and marketing, I knew that the best motivators for creative people to do their most original and effective work were little plexiglass trophies.  In fact, in advertising, there’s a whole industry devoted to delivering awards and their attendant publications and black-tie dinners.

    Why are those prizes so effective? I suspect that the admiration of your peers is a very powerful incentive—it speaks to social networks and the pecking order, not to mention the desire for fame in a media-driven world.  The multi-million dollar sums that go with the prizes are nice, but I think they help rationalize the thousands of hours and millions of dollars inventors spend to win them.

    Would a prize help to speed up the breakthroughs you’d like to see in your industry or the world at large?  The answer, according to LeVine is a solid “it depends”.

    To read more: Can X Prizes Spur Innovation? ; Pop!Tech Gives Social Innovators a Boost; Ford's Green Plan to Drive Sales

  • Design Innovation & Research Conference

    Why on earth is this fellow driving on the highway with a metal helmet blocking his view? Why is mythology important to the launch of the world’s least expensive car? What do consumers mean by “green” behavior? What do different family members want from their computers, and how do neighborhoods use private computer networks? Why does design thinking drive everything from retail store experiences to new products to social networking?

    These topics were just a fraction of the insights in the Design Innovation and Research Conference organized November 15 by Alladi Venkatesh, Lynda Lawrence and Raymond Pirouz of the Paul Merage School of Business, co-sponsored by the Design Alliance and CRITO.

    Gathering experts from the U.K., India, and all over the U.S., the conference offered the latest research, design publications, ethnography, semiotics, and business case studies to reflect the importance of integrated design from the consumer, designer and business perspectives. In a world where innovation is key to success, design thinking is increasing vital in every aspect of life and business.

    For more information and complete presentations: Design Innovation & Research Conference