Innovation is a Process

IdeaConnection Interview with Mike Colucci, Owner of The SDG Group
By Vern Burkhardt
"When you identify a possibility you challenge people. You challenge their imagination. You set a bar or a goal that is higher than what they currently see."

Vern Burkhardt (VB): Would you tell us about The SDG Group – your services and where you are located?

photo of Mike ColucciMike Colucci: We're located in central New Jersey in the U.S.

We provide training workshops focusing on innovation. The focus is on building innovative thinking skills and using certain tools that allow you to continually challenge your perspective. These tools help you to be sure that you're not thinking inwardly within your own business when deciding what to do. It is about setting directions by perceiving things from the customer's point of view, and bringing this perspective into your daily tasks.

We provide half-day workshops that typically focus on one tool. Our clients have the opportunity to use the tool, apply it while they are in the training workshop, and then identify an opportunity to use the tool outside of the training environment so that they can better retain the information we provide.

VB: How old is your company?

Mike Colucci: We're a new firm – a year old.

I had done innovation training with a large firm, and felt it was time to multiply my impact as someone who is passionate about innovation. So I started the SDG Group in order to leverage my ability to help people increase their ability to innovate.

VB: What makes you passionate about innovation?

Mike Colucci: Innovation is something that defines us. It's a natural process that happens daily.

We tend to exclude most of the innovation that people do, because in business the focus is on making money with innovative ideas and activities. By doing this we have redefined innovation to imply that unless someone's going to pay us for it, it's not worth anything and therefore not worth doing. This is contrary to the fact that as human beings we are constantly innovating. It's how we respond to our environment. By always adapting to our environment we are actually innovating it.

As individuals we identify with what we innovate. It is an integral part of our internal conversation and self-perception of who we are. If we learn to moderate our conversation about innovation, we can leverage what we consistently do naturally. If we focus our natural talents we will come up with new ideas, products, and services that companies or individuals as customers will value and be willing to pay for.

VB: When you say innovation is a natural process do you mean in our personal as well as our business lives?

Mike Colucci: Absolutely. Innovation is a natural process that relates to having experiences and responding to those experiences. We constantly interact with our environment and provide responses to those interactions that we feel are necessary or valuable – especially to us.

When we do this in a business environment, we collectively define an experience as something we feel people will value enough to pay for. Then we go through a process to respond to what we've discovered, and present something which people are willing to buy. When they pay us, we say, "Hey we delivered an innovation" whereas we are constantly doing innovative things.

In business we think that if somebody is not going to pay for something it's not a valuable innovation. When we limit innovation to this type of definition we exclude the power that all of us have to partake in the process, leverage our new ideas, and contribute to innovation by realizing we are inherently always innovating.

This notion goes against the norm, which says there are people who are better than others at innovating. The difference is primarily that some have become more effective at processing their experiences and generating novel responses.

VB: Innovation is coming up with new ideas and being open to change.

Mike Colucci: The definition I use for innovation is this: It's the 'act or process of presenting as, or as if, new' in response to an event or an experience.

This definition can apply in all scenarios. It's an attempt to define innovation whereas many people merely describe innovation. It's the difference between saying, "What is a tree?" or "What looks like a tree, acts like a tree, and represents a tree to me?"

I argue that innovation, because it has a 'tion' suffix, is an ongoing thing. When I give innovation the definition of being the active process of presenting as or as if new, I can then say innovation is also about generating value. This describes what innovation may do or produce, but if we focus only on the output we negate the fact that innovation is a whole process.

We tend to look at the output in a noun form and say, "What does innovation do?" Innovation is value-creation. Innovation is creating sustainable value. Innovation is selling a product or the output of the innovation.

Innovation should be looked at as being a process and, because it's a process, there's a beginning and an end. Typically the end of the process is what we coin as innovation, not realizing that the entire process is innovation.

VB: I gather you would advise there is much more that is needed to enhance a company's innovation abilities than the CEO announcing more innovation is expected of employees?

Mike Colucci: Absolutely. This kind of statement from a CEO sets direction, but it doesn't necessarily empower employees unless there's something behind it.

When a CEO announces an expectation of more innovation in the company, the first thing the employees are going to ask is "How?" "How are we supposed to do this?" "How are we supposed to achieve what you are expecting of us?"

VB: Won't they also ask, "What is needed?"

Mike Colucci: They may want to know, "What specifically is it that you want us to accomplish?" They're looking at the company's operations and thinking, 'We have a good idea of what we currently do and now you want us to figure out what else to do'.

The first thing an employee has to understand is the answer to the questions, "How am I am supposed to be more innovative? What do you require of me personally?" These questions should be answered in the context of what type and scope of innovation is expected for the company so employees can respond accordingly.

VB: In your blog on October 31, 2011 you say, "Innovation is an individual responsibility." Are you saying that every employee in an organization should be held accountable for whether or not they are being innovative?

Mike Colucci: Absolutely, and it comes back to the definition of innovation. If you define innovation incorrectly it can exclude people from feeling that they are responsible for it. If the definition of innovation in your company lands on producing a product then employees working in an area that doesn't design or produce products can shun work, or not take the responsibility to innovate because they don't see themselves connected to this result.

If you define innovation as 'the act or process of presenting as, or as if, new', you can go to someone in the mailroom, marketing, customer service, or the senior offices and say, "When you have an experience or when you're presented with something challenging, I want you to come up with something new or a new approach in response." With this approach regardless of the roles people play in the company, they then will think, 'I'm not going to be satisfied with the way I've always done things until I understand why I'm doing them, and then perhaps I'll think of ways to do them differently and better.'

If you want to drive for a culture that promotes ongoing innovation, you must make people responsible for innovation and hold them accountable for it.

VB: No doubt this includes measuring the results produced by employees in an organization?

Mike Colucci: This is where it gets kind of fuzzy.

There are certain things that you can definitely measure. You can measure individuals' and teams' contributions toward innovation and towards the top or bottom line. These measures can be an integral focus during performance reviews with direct supervisors.

There are other things that are more nebulous such employees' contribution toward a culture of innovation. You will recognize it when employees are motivated to do things differently – to not be predictable in everything they do. It's the difference between training employees to act like ducks in a row rather than a flock of geese where the geese are lifting each other as they fly.

VB: In your blog on November 10, 2011 you say there are two backbones in the DNA of a culture of Innovation: Discovery and Learning. In what ways are they the backbones?

Mike Colucci: They are the backbones in the DNA because they are the actual make-up of the company. If you want a culture of innovation, you cannot achieve it without these two backbones that connect all of the other things.

Learning is retaining or putting to use what you've discovered. Discovery is making known or visible, which implies sharing what you've found. If there's not an ongoing process of people finding new things and sharing or making known what they've found, you're not going to come up with something new. The converse is people keeping their ideas and discoveries to themselves with the result the organization will not be collectively learning and putting discoveries to use.

For discovery, people have to interact with their existing customers, new customers, or the customers they want to acquire. Through this interaction they can uncover new needs, connections, and ideas and then these insights can be shared with others in the company. Putting these insights and knowledge to use either personally or in the marketplace is going to complete the cycle of innovation. It is all about moving from where you've discovered something new to where you've presented something new. This is implied in discovery and learning, and that's why I say they are the backbone of the DNA of a culture of innovation.

VB: The culture includes the value of having an inquiring mind?

Mike Colucci: It's about being unsatisfied, and asking, "What else?" "What's new?" "What if?" The culture encourages an environment where employees are encouraged to seek as opposed to being encouraged to simply re-iterate.

VB: "I am for petitioning Webster to remove any reference to creativity in the vernacular of innovation. At least in the corporate sense." Why?

Mike Colucci: There is a stigma about not being creative. People can shun the notion of being creative and say, "I'm not creative." They can say, "I was not born with the talent to play a guitar, sing, paint pictures, or draw." By saying and thinking this they begin to believe that they are not creative. When someone says, "We need you to be more creative" they can think, 'It doesn't apply to me as you can't learn creativity. I've tried to play music and I'm no good at it. I've tried to paint and I'm no good at it. I can't write poetry or write songs." So they reinforce their conviction that they're not creative." Based on this definition of creativity they have a strong defense.

If we throw that out of the traditional notion of creativity and say, "We want people to be innovative," we can clarify that innovation is a process. Someone who is innovative can learn the process. If you can learn how to make a cup of coffee or tie your shoes, you can learn to be innovative.

You need to place the responsibility back on the employee. You're not asking them to be something they believe they are not. You're asking them to do something for which they can be shown how and what to do."

When I think of people who are creative, I conclude they're just the fast processors of their experiences. What they've been able to do is take the process of innovation and apply it more quickly, because they've done it more often and in different areas. This is why I would petition to say, "Stop asking for creativity. Ask for innovation."

VB: What would you say to someone who argues that being creative is to generate new and sometimes radical ideas?

Mike Colucci: I agree that being creative is leveraging the process of innovation at a faster rate and across more connections.

It is more challenging to present ideas that are different. This is what will come from leveraging the natural process of innovation.

Most of the people who are considered as being creative live in a ‘state of dissatisfaction'. Not dissatisfaction in a bad sense, but in a state in which they're motivated to continue searching until they find something that satisfies them. They're going to continue until they see something they haven't seen before, or until they produce something that no one else has produced or at least produced here."

In the natural process of innovation, the end goal is always satisfaction. Living in a state of dissatisfaction pushes you further from a pre-existing habit or from responding in the acceptable, normal way. It pushes you to a different spot.

VB: Isn't a state of dissatisfaction uncomfortable?

Mike Colucci: I talk about satisfaction and dissatisfaction in innocuous, non-biased terms. I'm not referring to good versus bad. What I'm talking about is satisfaction in the terms of, "I have completed the process of innovation and here is my response." Dissatisfaction says, I do not agree that the answer or solution being proposed is the correct one and I will search for alternatives. It's a state of being uncomfortable and therefore motivated to make changes.

VB: Having common words and language is important in an organization for promoting innovation?

Mike Colucci: I'm big on using certain words that imply precise meanings. When you use a word that people can take in many different ways, it's much harder to get a common understanding and agreement compared to using words that are much more easily defined and agreed upon.

There needs to be a common language in order to ensure proper communication about innovation. This applies to terms such as discovery, innovation, and invention. If you have a common language, which is communicated throughout an organization, then the employees can have a productive dialogue. This is compared to the game of telephone where what some people are saying is not what's being heard.

VB: In your blog dated December 14, 2011 you say, "Innovation doesn't always mean you solved some big problem… it can also mean you made people believe they avoided one!" Would you explain?

Mike Colucci: The preconceived notion of innovation is it has to solve some big problem or meet a big need. The idea being that innovation is always meeting a need.

However, if you can do something that avoids a problem you are innovating. For instance, Six Sigma can reduce a lot of complexity and save you a lot of problems. Some might argue this is not innovation because you're not producing something that can be purchased. But I say by avoiding problems you've looked at a situation or experienced an event and have been dissatisfied to the point of presenting a new way to approach things in order to avoid problems, and that's innovation.

As I said earlier only a portion of innovation gets paid for. The rest of innovation is how we live and breathe. It's how we act all day. It's how we go about our lives. I want us to understand that innovation is a way of doing business, not just a way of getting business.

VB: "It doesn't always require invention… it can just as easily be a "re-packaging." Do you find the distinction between incremental and radical innovation useful?

Mike Colucci: Yes. It may guide you to whether you will be taking a long-term view, going after a significant profit margin, or ensuring you remain in a competitive position.

Incremental innovation is necessary in order to respond to customers as their needs, wants, or desires change, You're willing to fulfill those changing requirements.

It may be something simple like repackaging a current product – perhaps to the level of whether it is to be in a box or a bag. It could also be something you've seen and acquired from somewhere else and then presented to your customer or customers. Both would be incremental innovations. You haven't invented anything new. You've merely introduced your customers to something they were unaware of, but because you've made this connection if it is accepted you are rewarded for it. You are rewarded for your re-packaged innovation.

If I can foresee what you may want, need, or require 10 years from now and I build it, what I build may be so radical you couldn't have conceived of it in advance. In the case of a radical innovation I'll also be rewarded for it – likely at a higher profit level.

VB: When you use the term 're-packaging' do you also mean how to change your presentation of an idea or a product or service?

Mike Colucci: Exactly. Assume you're in a service business and you present a certain service to companies, let's say is involves moving one of their widgets to a new place. Some of the companies will pay you to carry their widgets and some will say, "No, we don't need this service." Then years later you meet with the companies who originally didn't want to purchase your service and say, "We provide safe and secure transportation services for your most valuable assets." You've repackaged substantially the same service. Now some will pay you because they now perceive what you are offering as being valuable. It will help them accomplish a job that they need to get done.

There's a lot of innovation that revolves around the customers' perception. It's important to understand their perception, and how they want and need to be spoken to. This is why in some senses it comes down to innovation being about a conversation – about effective communication.

VB: You make an interesting comment, "women are hard-wired to be great innovators… Because innovation is about making unique connections." What can we learn from the observation that women have exponentially more white matter, which acts like cables, compared to men who have exponentially more grey matter, which acts more like a computer?

Mike Colucci: You are probably referencing an article I wrote about why women are hard-wired to be great innovators. It's based on some research I've seen about grey matter and white matter within the brain. The biggest thing I gained from this observation is for innovation to be effective we need to collaborate. We need to push for diversity of people who are working together on innovation, and this includes taking into consideration how their brains are wired to think and what they're good at doing.

With innovation we're making new connections that are valuable. If there's evidence that people think a certain way such as physiologically male brains work differently than female brains, we need to leverage those differences as opportunities to enhance our innovation process. If women's brains enable them to make more connections while men's brains are more amenable to executing tasks, this is an important thing to consider when forming teams of people to work together. Having people in the group who are highly adept at making a lot of connections – in this case women – will enable the team to see a lot of alternatives, and therefore they may see more possibilities.

When you combine people who are able to make a lot of connections in their brains with those who are great at executing, following processes, and solving problems, you increase innovation potentials. Of course, these comments about the brain are tendencies, not absolutes. No doubt there are many women who are good at execution, process, and problem solving, and many men who are good at connecting. The key idea is to bring those two types of people and their related strengths together to collaborate.

This lends further support for the use of an Open Innovation model, because you can make a lot more connections with many more people involved – and often people you don't even know as they are outside your company. It enables you attract the right people to work on your problem or challenge. They can engage, listen, think, problem solve, and present to you ideas about what needs to be done. By collaborating through Open Innovation we can obtain many perspectives about a problem, and therefore increase the likelihood we will come up with a better solution.

VB: You identify four competencies necessary for employees to improve their innovation abilities. Would you talk about them?

Mike Colucci: The competencies are listening, discovering, thinking, and presenting. They are competencies – skills – that can be learned, and therefore people can be trained to learn and enhance them in their lives.

I identify these four because they line up with the idea that at its most basic level innovation is about a conversation. You have to engage your customer base or market, and this lines up with discovery.

You need to find out what it is your existing or potential new customers are saying, so you need to carefully listen.

Thinking is big because we're defined by the way we think. We have preconceived thoughts and notions. If we don't challenge the way we think, and this includes understanding the way we go through a thought process, we wind up projecting our thoughts and responses into what we're hearing. When we do this we lose the ability to listen. We need to be able to challenge how we think in order to listen and discover.

The 4th skill, presenting, lines up with my definition of innovation that, as I said earlier, is "Presenting as or as if new." Being able to tell a good story, to cast a vision, and to communicate a thought or an idea in a way that other people can grasp it is critical. To succeed you need to identify something your potential customers agree with, and a business relationship can then develop within that context.

If you take an effective presentation skills training program you may not value this training unless you realize these skills are critical in an innovative company. If you take interpersonal skills training and learn about how to listen or how to interview people, you may underestimate the value of these skills unless you are aware that they are critical to a culture of innovation.

For the skills of discovery and thinking it comes down to the way you see things. Your existing perception and how you can change your perception by deliberately taking off the colored lenses you currently see things through, and consciously wear a different set of glasses will help you drive innovation.

It's a positive message because the four competencies can be enhanced through training and a conscious will to change and improve oneself.

VB: You say, "Innovative thinking is a skill that can be learned." and "Change the way you think and you will change the way you act." Would you talk a bit about this?

Mike Colucci: Thinking is the act of using one's mind. Our thinking doesn't happen in our brains, which are the hardware. The way we use this hardware is the way we've either been wired or trained to use it. When we realize that we've been trained to think a certain way then we will understand that we can retrain the way we use our hardware.

It's important to understand that we can consciously change the software. The hardware might have certain capabilities, but you are able to do so much more when you realize the software does not bind you. You're in charge and can control it. This means thinking a different way can be learned as a process. For example, you can learn a tool to help you when you need to think outside the box.

You can learn how to think a certain way. It's in changing the way you think that you change the way you act. For those who like to follow defined processes they have learned the ability to think in a manner that is process oriented. If you want a high customer focus, you can learn to always think in a customer focused manner.

You can also learn to think of things along the natural process of innovation. If you want to deliberately aim for presenting 'something new or as if new', then you're going to act that way. You'll find yourself doing exactly what you're thinking. You'll be driving your actions by the way that you think.

VB: Is it also true if you change the way you act it will change the way you think?

Mike Colucci: Yes, data support this. I always reference the case where in a play a man wore a mask to cover a disfigured face for so long that when he took the mask off, his face had actually become disfigured because it conformed to the mask. It's a metaphor that tells us the longer you act like something the more you'll be like it. It is the same with tests, which have shown that if you smile a lot you'll be happy. If you frown a lot you'll be more frustrated and sad.

There's a correlation between your actions and your thoughts. We either take hold of our thoughts and act according to them, or we deliberately change our actions so our thoughts will change. All of the physiological and psychological responses line up.

Disciplining yourself to act in a certain way is going to change the way you think. Through socialization we've been disciplined to do certain activities and therefore we think a certain way. If we want to do something that is radically different, we need to start with how we think about it because otherwise our thoughts and motivations will take over and prevent us from doing something radical. This also applies to innovative thinking and being innovative.

VB: One of the three major anxieties you identify which affect the engagement and success of adult learners is fear of failure. Do you think this is a more debilitating factor than most business leaders realize?

Mike Colucci: Yes, I believe it is. Many people don't attempt to learn new things because they fear they'll fail. Fear of failure negatively motivates people.

When business leaders use the expression 'fail fast' they are trying to encourage their employees to overcoming something, to strive for stretch goals. The way they say this may have the opposite effect. If the message received is there's a chance of failure then many people will be less likely to approach the situation or tackle the task for fear of failure.

If you change 'fail fast' to 'discover sooner' then some people will be more likely to try new things. This approach takes into account that no one wants to be a failure, and that fear of failure is de-mobilizing. If you want to mobilize initiative and drive a culture of innovation you have to redefine the parameters. You have to almost take failure off the table and think of it as a journey.

In learning it's the journey. In life it's the journey. It's similar in business. Rather than contemplating and celebrating small failures, we can push the boundary a little bit and give people more freedom to experiment. If we do we might be surprised at the result.

VB: Few people brag that they failed.

Mike Colucci: Exactly. Most people don't brag about their failures but if asked they'll admit that they learned the most from them. If we were to re-position what we've typically talked about as failure as being learning opportunities and building blocks for future success, we would be less reluctant to talk about our ‘learning opportunities'.

There is a quote about failure that I love: "Failure isn't falling down. It's staying down." People's paradigms would change if they compared themselves with Thomas Edison who said, "I know 10,000 ways that won't work and I'm that much closer to the one that will." Through failure we learn to be an expert in an area of endeavor.

VB: You consider training to be a necessary element of ongoing innovation in an organization. In your experience what are some of the tools employees often need to learn to acquire in order to enhance their innovation skills?

Mike Colucci: Tools could be something as easy as a framework, or a template which enables you to develop innovative thinking skills. The tool could be a process that you follow in order to be more innovative.

Innovative thinking skills, which challenge us to think differently, can certainly be learned through training. An example is a tool called 'Starbursting', which is a form of idea generation that focuses on generating questions rather than answers. Another template can be used to develop a customer-focused concept. Innovative thinking can also be enhanced within marketing such as learning how to conduct a good interview, about research needs, or to identify or categorize peoples' wants.

When you learn these basic skills you become more innovative, because you become more engaged in the conversation with your customers, suppliers, colleagues, and others.

VB: Is one of the skills required for innovative people ‘cold calling'?

Mike Colucci: I would think that it could be a skill if placed in the right bucket. Cold calling is a part of marketing, and marketing and innovation are inseparable – they're 2 sides of the same coin.

The 4 pillars of marketing are engaging, indentifying, pursuing, and capturing. In the first pillar, engaging, you are mining for value and discovering insights that can lead to innovation. During a conversation until you are engaged you are merely adjacent to the conversation, and you will only pick up bits and pieces of what is being said. Much like the game of telephone, you miss things and misinterpret things.

Identifying an opportunity overlaps with engaging because many opportunities are discovered while in close contact with the customer. It not only requires that you have an idea, but also that you bring the idea to a concept stage and determine the feasibility and fit. You need to engage with various types of existing and potential customers so you can find out what they're thinking, doing, seeing, hearing, and feeling.

When pursuing the opportunity, the third pillar of marketing, you need to understand the financial implications, plan forecasts, segment markets, rethink distribution channels, and build your business plan. Testing and validation with the customer or customer groups is part of this process. If necessary this will enable you to adjust your offering or approach.

Capturing the opportunity is where marketing supports sales with all of the required tools, information, training, and proof. It includes branding, messaging, and lead generation and capture. For an increasing number of businesses it also includes use of the social media.

VB: Cold calling likely helps you overcome the fear of failure.

Mike Colucci: That's a great insight. If you can learn how to do cold calling you have likely learned to overcome the fear of not being accepted – and of being rejected. It's back to our discussion of the fear of failure. When people think that their idea has failed, they feel like they have been rejected. When their business has failed or not been highly successful, they feel people will reject them.

The fear of cold calling – the fear of failure – reminds me that some people say they fear public speaking more than they do death. They fear failure; they fear rejection of their ideas and of themselves.

VB: If actually given a choice of death or making a public speech I suspect virtually everyone would choose public speaking.

Mike Colucci: True. If you were to say to somebody, "You can choose door number 1 which is death, or door number 2 which is to speak to a group of one hundred people for three minutes, and then afterward you may happily live the rest of your life, I am sure everyone would get up, sweat it, and go through with the speaking engagement. Some may be thinking, 'I'll probably pass out for two and a half of those minutes anyway.'

This saying resonates with many because the idea of public speaking doesn't always result in rational thought. Our emotions are irrational and they drive a lot of our thoughts. It explains why cold calling is an anathema to so many.

VB: Do you do a lot of public speaking?

Mike Colucci: I've done public speaking, yes.

I actually have a tremendous fear of getting up in front of a group, but my personality is such that I always want to challenge myself. I've always required of myself to do the things that I feared the most, so I've gotten up in front of groups as small as two and as big as a few hundred. Every time I do it I feel apprehension.

You just have to pretend you're the only one there and enjoy the moment, or it's going to be tough.

VB: Do you have any other tips for preparing to speak publically?

Mike Colucci: One of the things which always helps me is to realize that no one listens to me. I've actually told myself before a presentation, "No one will really listen to me and I'm not that memorable so they're going to forget what I say." "Unless I say something drastically wrong or stupid, and people would have to be paying close attention in order for it to resonate with them, it's going to be ok. It's not going to be a failure."

I know from my own experience, and from what people have told me, people in an audience will only retain about 15% of what they hear and maybe even less than that. So if I'm speaking for say 100 minutes, then only 15 minutes of what I say will be remembered by any one individual. Knowing that no one's really paying attention is a good thing. It gives you freedom to say, "Hey I can say whatever I want!"

One of the tricks I play is I'll say something completely irrelevant or backward, and sometimes there will be no response. If this is the case I know the group is not engaged, doesn't care, or people being kind to me because we have a nice rapport. This helps me retain a sense of humor, not fear failure, and give a better performance.

VB: Most audiences are much kinder to public speakers than the public speakers are to themselves about their presentation.

Mike Colucci: Oh absolutely.

VB: Your 1.5 hour online Building Innovative Thinking Skills workshop focuses on a single tool for helping to drive innovative thinking. A single tool helps?

Mike Colucci: As I mentioned before, it's called Starbursting. About 13 years ago I was introduced to Starbursting, which is a form of idea generation used to generate questions in a systematic and comprehensive way. It is useful for innovation because it supports problem solving and decision-making processes. It is also an aid for product design. By systematically asking what, how, where, when, why, and who questions the tool can help you leverage what comes to your mind as you explore a new idea. The key is the tool generates questions, not answers, and can be used iteratively to ask a layer of questions about answers given for the prior layer of these 6 questions.

From this I developed a four-step process that enables people to look at any opportunity or problem differently.

This single tool – the Starbursting tool – is the focus in the Building Innovative Thinking Skills workshop. I go in-depth with it in a workshop, and it's been very powerful. People have said it has helped them to think outside the box. It has helped them to change the way they were thinking. They were thinking one way about an idea or issue prior to the workshop, and they came away with a completely different perspective. This the kind of power that a single tool is able to give, especially when you give people an opportunity to work with it in a workshop setting. If so, they're more likely to retain and use it at work and even in their personal lives.

VB: It must be gratifying to receive positive comments about this workshop?

Mike Colucci: One of my most powerful and satisfying professional experiences was when I went to a conference room to set up for an activity and on the wall was a report someone had been doing using the Starbursting tool learned through my workshop. I knew a group of people was actually using the tool, and this was highly gratifying for me. I'll hold onto that moment forever because I know the workshop about the tool took root, it stuck, and this group is using it productively. They believed in it enough to put it to use – a most powerful moment.

VB: Would you describe what skills participants would acquire from this online Building Innovative Thinking Skills program?

Mike Colucci: It is a shortened time-wise version of the Building Innovative Thinking Skills Workshop.

They bring an opportunity or problem that they are facing at their workplace. They have some pre-work to do before, just like they would in the regular workshop. They work online as I deliver and work them through the Starbursting tool, how to use the tool, and then they have the opportunity to apply it to a case study. On their own time they are able to apply the tool to their pre-work.

They'll gain the same Starbursting tool. They don't enjoy the team building experience and team interaction that occurs when you bring a group of people together to take the workshop. Also, they don't get the opportunity to see how other people are interacting with the tool.

VB: You are online with the participants?

Mike Colucci: Yes. This is not like a pre-recorded webinar.

I facilitate and moderate the conversation. I talk about it as being a conversation, but it actually entails facilitating their experience online. I keep it live to facilitate 'aha' learning moments so the Starbursting tool will resonate with them.

VB: You also provide facilitation and coaching services related to innovation. Is it possible to make a difference as a consultant?

Mike Colucci: Absolutely. One of the most valuable things a consultant brings is a fresh perspective – a different set of eyes. Consultants aren't vested within the organization; they're vested in helping the organization do something differently. Typically people within the organization are not vested in change and doing things differently so consultants can be a powerful agent of change and improvement.

VB: In another workshop which you offer for all employees, "Speak It," you focus on crafting and using a "Powerful Opportunity Statement." What is an Opportunity Statement, and how does this tie into innovation?

Mike Colucci: An Opportunity Statement is a different way of looking at the situation or event you're experiencing. I'm a proponent of positive thought, of positive perception.

Often when people identify a Problem Statement they define it so well that they've predefined their response. It's like saying, "2+2 =." The problem is then restricted to the answer to the question of '2+2'. You've defined the result and the answer in the problem. But if you define it as an opportunity, it becomes like an open port and a lot more things can enter in.

When you have a positive Opportunity Statement and focus on the things you feel you can affect without giving an indication as to how you might want to affect them, you open up a conversation to more possibilities. By default this brings more people into the conversation, because they'll see intuitively that there are more options than just the answer '4'. It's not a matter of '2+2=4'. People begin to realize, Hey, I have an idea for this question. I have a different thought. I'd like to join this conversation.

The Opportunity Statement opens up the process of innovation. It moves you from incremental improvement to more substantial, radical, or disruptive types of opportunities to innovate.

VB: Why is it useful to recognize or identify possibilities?

Mike Colucci: Great question. When you identify a possibility you challenge people. You challenge their imagination. You set a bar or a goal that is higher than what they currently see. In the hierarchy of needs people want to make a contribution and add value that exceeds what is currently in existence. They want to make a difference.

When you are identifying possibilities it is useful to look backward to see what people dreamed about or foresaw and that came into existence. As an example, if you had watched some of the original Star Trek TV shows, you would know we now have almost everything in those shows but the teleport. We have many of the possibilities that they thought would be cool. We have non-invasive medical procedures. We have cell phones mimicking their little flip-top devices. We have all the things that in their mind they thought were possible, but had no way of doing in reality. They just did it as a trick.

Using this process we can ask ourselves what are the things you'd like to see 10 years from now? This is what a possibility is – something that you'd like to see. When you imagine possibilities people can rally and make them happen.

VB: Have you ever wondered why the writers for Star Trek were such visionaries?

Mike Colucci: I've not wondered it until you asked me right now. It's a great question.

My gut response is they defied norms. They lived in a state of dissatisfaction. They lived in a state of saying, "If I can see what needs to be done and I don't accept the way it's being done now, what are the possibilities?"

VB: Does it suggest we should pay attention to science fiction movies?

Mike Colucci: Oh, yes. Science fiction is a great way to see what people hope will be – what are the possibilities.

VB: You say that your workshop called "The Box" is an eye opening experience. How so?

Mike Colucci: 'The Box' focuses on the four kinds of customer valued innovation: disruptive, incremental, substantial, and radical. These are descriptions of innovation, not definitions of innovation. They are more from the customer's perspective, as plotted against three axes: technology changes required to provide, process and time changes required for customers to adopt, and customer value realized.

When I say 'The Box' workshop is eye opening I am referring to the fact that many of the participants begin to realize that in trying to achieve one or all four kinds of innovation they have been defining them with an internal perspective. They've internally agreed to define them based on how it impacts them, and based on the things they measure as a company.

An obvious point but an insight is we don't pay ourselves. Our customers pay us. When we look inside the box it should be based on plotting the different types of customer-valued innovation on the three axes. The insights for innovation are where the types of innovation line up within the box in this 3-dimensional space.

Looking at the different ways customers might respond using this model enables you to better gauge how long an innovation might take to get it to fruition and to market. In some cases an innovation project team may begin to realize when they take a customer valued perspective that they've been planning for an unrealistic delivery date. They may be setting a goal that is too high and therefore setting themselves up for failure and frustration. They may be planning for an incremental type of innovation when what is needed is something radical or disruptive.

The workshop helps people better understand their innovation portfolio and, when these skills are used in conjunction with the Trading Places workshop, insights may emerge about how they can change what they're doing to match the trajectory of their projections about adoption rates, potential resistance points, and ‘add-ons' that customers might react to. If appropriate, they can move an innovation project towards incremental. Or they can take something that's deemed to be incremental and elevate it to be a substantial innovation. The tool enables them to build a pipeline, or predict a pipeline, in a way that they weren't able to before.

VB: Do you have any additional comments or advice about "innovation through empowerment?"

Mike Colucci: People need to understand they innovate all the time. Innovation is a process that can be leveraged, and people can be trained to leverage the process more effectively and produce more innovative results.

VB: Who are the three or four innovation thinkers that have most influenced you?

Mike Colucci: Interesting question. It would have to be the people who have made me think differently, or have shown me that they're very innovative.

I'd start first with my wife, Donna. She's an amazing cook, and what she does all the time is very innovative. She can look into our refrigerator or pantry cabinet and see things I could never see. She can select items from what's available and present something I've never tasted before, and it always blows my mind. Chefs are constantly innovative in this way. My wife is a great example of someone who might think they're not highly innovative, but proves to be the most innovative person that I've ever lived with, seen, or watched in action. Her innovation is in a very practical sense.

Walt Disney was an early inspiration for me. I can still remember being at Disney World as a kid, going into Imagination Station, and hearing that it was a figment of your imagination – those words stuck with me. I thought it was amazing, and it has really impacted me.

Then probably Clay Christianson with his work, An Innovator's Dilemma. I had an opportunity to see him speak, and to speak with him. He freed me to continue doing what I was doing by documenting what it was I was already thinking. I appreciated that a lot.

And then John C. Maxwell is a leadership expert. He's written a lot of books on leadership. One book he wrote is called Thinking for a Change: 11 Ways Highly Successful People Approach Life and Work, where he outlined different types of thinking. It helped me to understand the process of thinking. It redirected where I was going with my approaches, and how I could positively impact people.

VB: If you were invited to the White House to provide advice about how the U.S. could become a more innovative nation, what would you say?

Mike Colucci: I would say that, as a nation, we need to revolutionize education. We need to find a way to tap into the younger generation, the kids at the high school level before they get into college. They're generally so tapped into what they want and need that they see possibilities better than other people. They haven't been biased by countless expectations.

If we could revolutionize education and provide incentives to schools so students could focus on innovation, and then have a way to submit these ideas and inventions to corporations to evaluate and perhaps buy. This would provide monetary incentives for the students involved in developing the concepts, and the schools would also receive financial incentives. This would result in our educational system having more money, not because people or the government is giving it to them, but because they're earning it. We'd be tapping into young people who can give us the most amazing ideas and concepts because they are not restricted by their past to only think within the box. If we could do it at the high school level think of the spill over effect at the college and university levels.

Look at all the great people in our current era, such as Steve Jobs. Look at Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. People started these companies when they were young. They had a vision, a dream, and they were able to drive it. If only we could create this type of environment for those students who think they couldn't be great on their own, or don't have the skills to collaborate with highly successful people.

We need to figure out how to engage our youth in helping us become a nation of learning and discovery. The result would be a much more innovative nation.

VB: It's a difficult challenge given the severe financial pressures the school system is currently facing.

Mike Colucci: Yes, it's unfortunate.

I've been privileged to visit schools in areas where there is need of increased government funding, and I can't use any other term than it breaks my heart to see that we're not providing more opportunities for youth in these areas.

If I were invited to the White House and asked for advice I'd say get the people who haven't been broken by the system yet and let them break the system so it can be changed.

VB: What advice or comments do you have about Open Innovation?

Mike Colucci: Companies, which are leery of an Open Innovation environment, might start by taking the necessary first step of opening up innovation across the company. This can be done through training and learning new innovation tools.

If there are 10 or 15 who are go-to innovation people within a company, and this number can be doubled or tripled, the company leaders will begin to see the power of increasing their focus on innovation. Starting internally provides a safe environment to prove the point that the more minds involved, the greater the likely of innovation gains – the wisdom of the crowd. Then ideas can emerge about how to generate ideas and solutions from people outside the company's walls. If you can develop a culture and style of collaboration, working together, networking, and teamwork within the walls of the large corporation it should be easier to break down those walls to embrace Open Innovation.

Perhaps companies are afraid of going outside too quickly because they don't know what it means. It's a big enough challenge doing innovation inside the walls. It's like a green house. If we can make Open Innovation an inside job first and give it a greenhouse environment to let it grow, then the possibilities with Open Innovation would be unimaginable.

VB: Does it surprise you that some companies still resist the idea of embracing Open Innovation?

Mike Colucci: It doesn't surprise me. Not at all. It goes back to the same reason why a single individual doesn't want to take on something new. It's the fear of failure. It's the fear of rejection. It's the fear of the unknown.

What CEO wants to be the person who bet everything on Open Innovation, only to find that they became locked in serious litigation because they didn't do something right legally. The new or unknown naturally result in a concern that ‘I could fail at this'. 'I haven't seen enough other companies and CEOs doing Open Innovation'. 'It's hard enough to measure innovation as it is when I'm controlling it so how much harder would it be if I'm relinquishing control?'

The more I think about it the more convinced I am that it comes back to the fear of failure more than anything else.

The key is to take a first small step to try it out and develop Open Innovation processes. Test the waters in a low risk manner.

VB: Thank you for telling us about the SDG Group and your ideas about innovation.

Mike Colucci: It's been enjoyable.

Mike Colucci has the interesting perspective that we are always innovating because we are adapting to our environment. Innovation is not to be left to the experts; it should be an expectation of everyone in an organization. And these are skills that can be learned.

He has an insightful definition of innovation. "The definition I use for innovation is this: It's the 'act or process of presenting as, or as if, new' in response to an event or an experience." It's an act or process.

Mike Colucci's Bio:
Mike Colucci is owner and president of The SDG Group that has been in existence for one year. He was Market Development Manager at Henkel of America from 2008 to 2011, and from 1994 to 2008 Marketing Manager Innovation at National Starch and Chemical Company in Bridgewater New Jersey.

Mike Colucci has a BS in Business from the University of Phoenix, MBA in Marketing also from the University of Phoenix, and a MA in Business Communication from Jones International University.

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Posted by 123 123 on December 7, 2012