2,500 Innovation Articles

IdeaConnection Interview with Braden Kelley, Author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire
By Vern Burkhardt
"One of the lesser-known innovation truths is that a true innovation is often more than just a single idea, but is often several ideas coming together to serve a new key insight." Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire, page 52

Vern Burkhardt (VB): "The truth is that innovation, especially more disruptive innovation, often takes decades to be fully realized." Is it a mistake to ever expect quick wins?

photo of Braden Kelley Braden Kelley: It is never a mistake to expect quick wins, and in fact you should have some built into your innovation portfolio.

If I haven't said it yet, building and managing a balanced innovation portfolio is one of the keys to building a sustainable innovation effort. Just remember that the farther you reach and the more you try to create a disruptive innovation, the longer it will take to realize success, and the greater the chance of failure. The main reason this is true is that you leave the realm where explanation will suffice and enter the realm where education is required. Disruptive innovations require education of employees, suppliers, partners, and customers. All of this takes time.

VB: Are businesses increasingly recognizing that innovation has a quantifiable value?

Braden Kelley: Yes, businesses are increasingly recognizing this. Just look at the stock prices of Apple or Google compared to the stock prices of Wal-Mart and Microsoft. Both Wal-Mart and Microsoft are incredibly profitable, but their stock prices are flat because the market doesn't believe they are going to grow.

And where does most growth come from? Most comes from innovation.

VB: Do you have any key messages on how to stoke one's innovation bonfire?

Braden Kelley: One thing that is missing in many organizations is a common language of innovation.

Organizations that are serious about innovation should create a cross-functional team to define what innovation means for them. After that they should seek to create their organization's innovation vocabulary and the initial communication strategy for cascading it across the organization. Giving everyone a copy of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire would be a low cost way of helping to diffuse innovation knowledge across the organization! Of course, there are other ways.

However you choose to raise the baseline understanding of innovation in your organization and to instill a common language of innovation, your investment will be repaid a thousand times over. Getting everyone pointed in the same innovation direction is incredibly powerful – ideally with an innovation vision, strategy, and goals to snap to. Don't hesitate. Get started.

VB: What books would you strongly recommend to those wishing to successfully innovate in a repeatable fashion?

Braden Kelley: I really like the Myths of Innovation by Scott Berkun, Innovation to the Core by Rowan Gibson and Peter Skarzynski, and Design-Driven Innovation by Roberto Verganti as a trio to complement Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire.

I also like to read a lot of articles and books about consumer psychology and employee engagement.

For those seeking to break out of the four walls of their organization, A Guide to Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing edited by Paul Sloane is also a new book worth checking out.

VB: You say your tolerance for risk and failure increased as a result of working in Germany and the United Kingdom. What was it about these experiences that made you a greater risk taker than if you had only worked in America? Are there lessons here for others?

Braden Kelley: Any time a person takes the risk of packing their whole world into a couple of suitcases, boarding a plane, and successfully immersing themselves in another culture they realize that, while change is unsettling and often painful, great things are made available to them. If any of your readers are considering living in another country, my advice is don't hesitate, do it. You will benefit in ways you can never imagine, and you will definitely never be the same person ever again.

I'm not sure I would have opened up Blogging Innovation, and given up the safety and security of having my own small personal blog if I hadn't moved abroad and lived in a couple of different countries. I definitely wouldn't have had the courage to give up part of the ownership to create what I know will be an amazingly rich place for innovators to connect and share. It's called Innovation Excellence, and we are going to be launching it soon!

VB: Would you tell us about your speaking and consulting services?

Braden Kelley: In addition to running Blogging Innovation and writing Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire, I also travel the world speaking about innovation and creating conversations and stronger relationships with customers.

I wouldn't call myself an innovation or social media consultant, but that's definitely a part of my skill set. I would call myself more of a trusted advisor than a consultant. I've got the consulting skill set and can help clients in all kinds of different ways, but I don't have a turnkey consulting offering that I do repeatedly. Instead, I work side by side with my clients to figure out what their needs are and then work to deliver them. The needs of my clients are always different and everything ends up being highly customized and achieved in partnership with them for maximum success and sustainability.

I'm also really good at keeping secrets!

VB: You started Blogging Innovation in 2006. Would you tell us about it?

Braden Kelley: Blogging Innovation began as an outlet for me to express my passion for innovation, and over time through my knowledge of online marketing, web site design, and community dynamics, the web site started to take off. After a while it seemed wasteful to keep all of the traffic to myself, so I decided to open it up and bring in a lot of the best and most prolific innovation and marketing voices.

Opening up Blogging Innovation was the only thing that made sense given that the mission for the blog is to make innovation and marketing insights accessible for the greater good. I truly believe that the result of our organizations getting better at delivering innovation to the marketplace will be less waste of natural and human resources. My passion for this mission is what drags me out of bed at 5 A.M. seven days a week.

VB: What are your visions and goals for Blogging Innovation?

cover of Stoking your innovation bonfire Braden Kelley: When I go out on the road and talk to people at innovation conferences or communicate on social media it quickly becomes clear that, despite the success of the site and its place in the Top 0.5% of all sites in terms of traffic, it is still relatively unknown. As a result there is a lot of untapped potential for Blogging Innovation and I'm taking steps to unlock it.

The next step is to take this incredible archive of about 2,500 articles and build a true innovation community destination around it. This new site will be called Innovation Excellence, and it will enable greater on-site collaboration and engagement with new types of content including webinars, case studies, and more multimedia. I'm collaborating with Rowan Gibson, co-author of Innovation to the Core, and Julie Anixter, Chief Innovation Officer at Maga Design Group, to make Innovation Excellence a reality.

We'll be promoting increased engagement amongst the innovation community, bringing new high profile voices into the conversation, and opening the content creation up even wider with a moderated self-publishing infrastructure.

VB: What led to your passion for innovation?

Braden Kelley: I've always been a troublemaker. Luckily it has never resulted in me spending the night in jail. It's probably because my troublemaking has always been more about identifying where things could be better, and then trying to do something about it.

I'm lucky that in my first extended period of employment fresh out of university the leadership at Symantec was supportive of these tendencies. In fact, when I reached out to the CEO, Gordon Eubanks, with an idea that would improve the customer experience, instead of asking, "Who is this guy?", he tasked a VP with helping me to push the idea further. Ever since I've been trying to create new value for customers and only later while I was doing an MBA at London Business School did I discover that this is what innovation is all about.

I don't have a lot of patience for the status quo, but at the same time I don't believe in change for change's sake. If it doesn't deliver enough new value to offset the pain of changing, then what's the point? Needless to say, I'm always tinkering and thinking about where new customer value could be created, and I'll probably keep pushing until I'm pushing up daisies.

VB: Are your messages being heard?

Braden Kelley: Yes, I think my messages are being heard. The traffic to the website continues to grow all the time – we serve up more than 1 million pages per month – and my book Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire is being well-received.

I wrote the book to help innovation practitioners and business leaders identify and remove their own unique barriers to innovation. It was built with the mindset that too many published books imagine nirvana, and ignore the fact that organizations are in motion and have their own unique cultures and circumstances. This approach to the topic of innovation and the fact that the book is packed with insights has resulted in the book really resonating with people. At the same time, as it turns out, it can also serve as a textbook for college courses on innovation to give people a simple framework to structure their thinking and approach to innovation in their current or future organizations. Or heck, why not use it for a high school course on innovation?

The book and the website are just a start to what I hope will be a contribution to the global innovation community. The new Innovation Excellence site and other associated assets which we hope to create should help push innovation knowledge even wider and deeper into organizations all around the world. We invite your readers to add their voice, and to help us build a site that will assist people in making innovation a deep capability within their organization. Come join us!

VB: Thank you, and best wishes for success with your new innovation.

Braden Kelley concludes his book by saying, "If your organization is struggling to sustain its innovation efforts, then I hope you will do the following things:

  • Find the purpose and passion that everyone can rally around.

  • Create the flexibility necessary to deal with the constant change that a focus on innovation requires for both customers and the organization.

  • Make innovation the social activity it truly must be for you to become successful."

A lofty vision has been set for Innovation Excellence, and we wish Braden Kelley success with this global initiative, and in making it useful and valuable.

Braden Kelley's bio:
Author Braden Kelley earned a BSc (Finance and Management) from the University of Oregon in 1993, and a MBA from the London Business School in 2004.

He was an Internal Consultant at Symantec from 1994 to 1998, Senior Consultant at NEC Solutions during 1998 to 1999, Senior Consultant at Computer Associates 1999 to 2002, Strategy Associate (Laboratory Diagnostics) at Roche Diagnostics during 2003, and in 2003 he became the founder of Business Strategy Innovation and has been an "Innovation Evangelist" ever since.

Braden Kelley is a thought leader on the topic of continuous innovation and works with clients to create innovative strategies, effective customer marketing, organizational change, and improved organizational performance. He has published more than 400 articles for online publications such as CustomerThink and American Express OPEN Forum.

Braden Kelley is the author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire: A Roadmap to a Sustainable Culture of Ingenuity and Purpose (2010).

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