February 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.  

  • Top 30 Innovations in 30 Years

    Last night, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of PBS’s Nightly Business Report, they highlighted the 30 top innovations, selected by professors at Wharton. Since the focus was business, it was no surprise that many of the choices were key drivers in the growth of technology—and thus are known by the three-letter acronyms beloved by geeks: ATM, GPS, LCD, LED, MRI, DNA.

    Since the Internet was their number one choice, with the PC, mobile phones and e-mail rounding out the top four, it stands to reason that the list would include the technology that makes those possible and popular: microprocessors, fiber optics, open source software, media file compression, SRAM memory, graphical user interfaces, digital photography, online shopping, office software and even social networking.

    Medicine got a few nods, for non-invasive surgery, stents and retrovirals plus MRI’s, DNA testing and human genome mapping.
    Energy earned a few: wind-turbines, photovoltaic solar cells and bio-fuels.

    And while all this technology has indeed changed the world, there was only a single mention of a fundamental change to a business model: microfinance.  Arguably the biggest innovations in the next 30 years will come from rethinking business models, which in turn can accelerate the pace of innovation from the sharpest minds around the world. How will the world be different when today’s technology enables people to interact differently, using global resources, borrowing the best ideas from one field to apply to another, changing lives for the 97% of people today who do not have an Internet connection?

    Link: Top 30 Innovations

  • YouTube for “Innovation Seekers”?

    “Off and on” over the last couple of weeks I have been filling in my free time viewing inspiring talks from the annual TED Conference on the web.  The presentations are less than 20 minutes long and cover the wide range of topics which have been delivered during this invitation-only conference since 2006.  (The conference itself has been held for 25 years but, it was only in 2006 that the TED.com website was created to expand the audience.)  So, now you do not have to be a Bill Gates, Nicholas Negroponte, Rupert Murdoch, Jeffrey Katzenberg (or, one of the other 1,000 notable attendees) to gain useful insight and motivation from this forum where big thinkers are tackling big ideas. 

    I was prompted to check out the TED.com website after I met up with a friend of mine for dinner a couple of weeks ago that had flown in from the East Coast to attend the conference (now being held in Long Beach after they outgrew the previous Monterey, California location).  What I found was an easy to use website that currently has 388 videos posted which cover the official topics of “technology, entertainment, design” that have been sub-categorized by some 200+ tags.  A more leisurely way to browse the content is either by sorting the content in a variety of interesting grouping (e.g. most…emailed, discussed, favored, jaw-dropping, persuasive, courageous, ingenious, fascinating, inspiring, etc.) or; you can peruse via themes such as “tales of innovation”, “inspired by nature”, “to boldly go…”, “what’s next in tech”, “design like you give a damn”, “evolution’s genius”, and 30 other themes.   What I also found pleasantly surprising was the large number of truly interesting comments that have been posted on each of the videos which often provide additional sources of information and perspectives on the topic.

    I will not try to report on all of the aspects of the TED non-profit in this post but, I will encourage you to try out the TED.com site and see if it becomes as addictive to you as YouTube has become for web surfers of all generations.

    (FYI, beyond the TED Conference there are TED related effort which include TED Global, TED Prize, TED Talks, TED Fellows, TED Blog, and now a TED translation project which “aims to tap into the skills of the global TED community in a crowd-sourcing effort to translate the most inspiring talks into the world's myriad of languages”.)

    On a separate note…when creating the title of this post I struggled with trying to find a catchier term for “innovation seekers” so; I was hoping that some creative journalist had coined some attention-grabbing term along the lines of the digerati, glitterati, literati or even the Technorati.  But, obviously I have not yet found any such label yet for the scholars of innovation.

  • Blues Help Creativity

    Can color affect your creativity? In a study in the online version of Science magazine today, researchers at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia discovered that the wall color in your room or the color on your computer screen can influence your creativity—and your accuracy.

    Subjects in red painted rooms scored better on accuracy, but those in blue rooms scored significantly higher on creative tasks.  The effect even worked when blue was the predominate color on a computer screen.

    So if you’re hoping to get more innovative ideas from your team, you might think about designating an empty office as a discovery room (be sure it has windows), painting it blue, and adding some plants, toys and music. Easier still, make sure your accounting people have red backgrounds on their computer screens and everybody else has some nice, tranquil blue.

  • Innovation Begins Right Here

    In the January New York Times Education supplement, there was a piece on student innovation around the country. The editors raved about a solar-powered purse, a video game for the visually impaired, and a movie listing application for the iPhone. I wasn’t particularly surprised—because I’d seen similar or better solutions in my own classes.  And while most of the items in the Times were created by design students, the ones in my classes were created by MBA students.

    Last fall, the students in our Design Management class created a purse with solar powered chargers for phones and iPods (plus fast pass charging to speed checkout without fumbling for a wallet). Another team created a communication system, complete with emotional shading, for a colleague who could only move an eyelid.
    And last year a student team created a killer app for finding any location on our often difficult to navigate campus.

    In our Topics in Strategic Innovation class, one team invented a system to help curb childhood obesity—and won second place in the business plan competition with it.

    The point here is not simply bragging about the creative abilities of our business students. It’s that good ideas will flourish wherever there is a climate that encourages them—even among people who aren’t in the R&D department.  The challenge for companies today is to take those great innovative ideas and get them to the market, so that our companies, and our country, can sustain a competitive advantage.


  • Laughing All the Way to the Bank

    Falling sales. Rising unemployment. The economic outlook. So what’s to laugh about?

    Well, according to Dacher Keltner, author of Born to be Good, now is exactly when you should be laughing.  For one thing, it reduces stress and adds to your personal resilience.

    More important, though, is the new scientific evidence he cites on why laughter is key to the innovation that is the only way out of this mess.
    When you laugh, you get a nice boost of oxytocin, which makes you more expansive, generative and creative.  When you laugh with others, it builds trust and affinity, which is critical in bonding and collaborative work. Then it offers chemical reinforcement that makes you want to build those successful collaborations.

    Older than human speech, laughter lights up a part of your brain that isn’t activated either verbally or visually. “Laughter is a ticket to travel to the landscape of the human imagination. It indicates that alternatives to reality are possible.” And as any innovation expert can tell you, it’s that suspension of reality that helps you jump out of the rut and imagine the world as it could be. It creates a climate of risk-taking that drives new thinking, and that keeps innovative companies making money even in times like these.

    I’m reminded of a comment a client once made when meeting in my former ad agency. “When I walk in the door and hear the laughter, I know you’re doing your very best work for me.”