Trends, Futurism, and Research

    Four Criteria for Hiring an Innovation Speaker

    FourCriteriaFour Criteria for Hiring an Innovation Keynoter

    Let this post work as a guide for meeting planners. You don’t have to hire me as your innovation speaker, but if you hire one, you’ll be well served if you pay attention to these four criteria and my comments in bold. Innovation is a complex, wonky topic and it has some special requirements that go beyond the classic things meeting planners look for in a speaker.

    Let’s keep this simple and as neutral as possible — my shameless personal plug is at the very bottom. I’m even going to suggest my competition here. So here goes, in my view an Innovation Speaker should:

    1. Have a background as a successful entrepreneur and/or real world innovator. Innovation happens in the marketplace. If the speaker bio has inventions, patents, companies started-up, products introduced, brands created, processes improved, then you have a real world innovator. Social innovator’s aren’t about profit, but they also should be real world creators. You have to know, and have done, innovation personally to have a valid perspective — this is fundamental. Richard Branson is the ultimate entrepreneur/innovator speaker in my view.

    2. Be a theorist, because approaches to innovation are many, varied, and one size does not fit all. This usually means the speaker has written articles and/or books on the topic. That’s your proof. Read an article or two, you’ll hear their voice and get a sense of expertise. Theory matters because people interested in innovation are either seeking a theory, or, have one they know already to compare with the speakers. However, theory must be balanced. I wouldn’t hire an innovation professor unless they have significant experience beyond the classroom. Professors meet the theory requirement, but to me, are not credible unless they have actually created something using the theory. Apologies in advance to those academics who not only know, but practice well, the art and science of innovation. And, I hate to say this, but many of the scholarly types are too used to students who Must  listen to them. Their orientation as public speakers often leaves out the entertainment and engagement factor — see #4. The best theorist in innovation I know who is also a great speaker is Clayton Christensen. David Burkus on the more creativity oriented side isn’t bad either.

    3. Be a working practitioner, who is currently inventing or managing/consulting on a real innovation process. The world of innovation changes constantly. This is similar to #1 — but the wrinkle is “doing something now, and doing something new.” Does this speaker continue to innovate in some fashion? What’s the new thing the speaker is doing now that will capture the attention of those who’ve already read the books and heard a half-dozen innovation speakers? Dean Kamen is a model for a great “currently working” inventor/innovation speaker.

    4. Be a well trained, experienced, professional speaker. Being a content expert is not near enough.  Speaking skill is not a given no matter how great the level of expertise. A few years ago I heard a talk by one of the greatest living content experts in the field of creativity and innovation, a big name, and somebody I had (and still have beyond speaking) great respect for. What a let down — frankly the talk was worse than bad. It was a rambling, mono-tonish, scatter-brained talk with no central point, poor visuals, no stories, and no specific take-home tools. I had to pinch myself to stay awake, it was nearly worthless. Speaking skill matters, make sure the innovation expert is a communicator. Look at their video, talk to those who’ve heard him or her speak. This is true of any keynoter but perhaps doubly so in innovation, a very “wonky” topic. Get a Wonk who can engage and entertain (Sir Ken Robinson is the model here, profound AND funny). At the end of the day any keynoter has to be a good storyteller.

    I’d also be careful about getting the entrepreneur of the month. Yes, they’ve done it, so they’ve met the first requirement, but they often don’t meet #2, theory, or #4, speaking training. While I often enjoy entrepreneur talks, I typically walk away thinking “how could I replicate that?” Many entrepreneurs are not thoughtful about how they do what they do, and, sometimes they only know one way to innovate. They’re rightly focused on Doing It and that makes them great entrepreneur’s — but incomplete speakers. Hearing the story of a successful entrepreneur can be inspirational, but a day after the talk, do you have something you can use? There are a number of entrepreneurs who fit all four criteria here, just make sure you have one! An innovation keynote should have use-back-at-the-office advice.

    Generally, the challenge of an Innovation Speaker is to say something insightful, useful, and new in the 50 minutes typically given — and be entertaining and inspirational at the same time. Let’s face it, if a keynote doesn’t have a few laughs, and at least one deep reflective moment, people won’t listen anyway. Most professional keynotes focus on a central point and have supporting stories. But the thing is, there is not One Thing with regard to innovation. It’s everything, and, it’s complicated. Simplifying it is convenient for a speaker, but not helpful for those trying to do it unless…the innovation speaker helps audiences sort out the complexity. This means providing concrete ideas on actions they can take in their enterprises — and this should go beyond “hire me and I’ll tell you.”

    Shameless Plug

    Okay, the above was neutral, the following is not: I, Gregg Fraley, am an innovation speaker. Here’s how I match the Four Criteria: I’ve created companies and new products for myself and for others. I say something new because I continue to invent new tools and techniques that are proving to be highly useful in the process of innovating (as part of KILN ). These tools and techniques can be used “back home” by those listening to my talks (without my help). I am a theorist — I wrote a book on structured creative problem solving called Jack’s Notebook, which is used by many prestigious business schools, and I’ve written provocative articles about many aspects of innovation. AND, I have a current practice, working with a wide range of companies from start-ups to multi-nationals. I’m a well trained and experienced speaker with a keen sense of humor (my Elvis impersonation is famous, and much better than Sir Ken Robinson’s). I’m a closet graphic artist, so, my visuals are full of meaning and color. My audiences and those who hire me consistently give me great marks.

    So, if you are looking for an innovation speaker, please consider me, I’m a high value alternative to those mavens — with huge price tags — I mention above.

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    Rural Broadband Necessary for Rural Innovation

    Tuesday– September 23, 2014 It’s nice to see that people are recognizing that innovation isn’t always in Silicon Valley. Writing you today from the countryside in Three Oaks, Michigan, aka “Michiana” — where my poky web access is satellite based. Steve Case’s article earlier this week in the Washington Post  – Why innovation and start-ups are thriving in ‘flyover’ country –  is spot on. Case, you may recall, was co-founder of AOL. He correctly identifies the reasons why Chicago, Denver, Cincinnati, and other smaller cities are becoming vibrant centers of start-ups. He’s asking for investments of time and money to be made in order to further the trend. I agree, and… He didn’t go far enough with his article — he missed one

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    Big Imagination is Blind Spot Remover

    Coming back from a trip to Toronto (visiting with the amazing Min Basadur) I spotted an interesting billboard at O’Hare airport. IBM suggests they can help “Remove the Blind Spots from Your Business” — by using Big Data and analytics. The visual of a man at a kind of virtual desktop that has visibility to ships, trucks, retail, and factories indicates that if you can just know more about what’s going on out there you’ll have nothing to worry about. If only that were so. I’m not bad rapping IBM here, I’m sure they can indeed provide lots of interesting insight using Big Data and analytics. Many companies would be well served to do a better job with this. Using

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    Let’s Tax the Boy Scouts

    Do you belong to a Credit Union? Many Americans do, about 97 million to be precise. A large number, although Credit Unions represent only 6% of financial transactions. I’m posting about credit unions because these beneficial organizations are under attack. The link to innovation is profound — credit unions are how many people establish their financial base. People with a financial leg to stand on are the kind of people who start businesses and fuel the economy. Have you ever heard the phrase “building up a stake?” You can’t start a new company, or even a family, with nothing. One must have at least seed money, or more, to get a start-up going. Credit Unions are a great way for

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    Yes, I Tweet a Bit (Innovators Use Twitter)

    I was just named as one of the Top 50 Innovation tweeters by Innovation Excellence. A tweeter is one who uses Twitter. It’s a fairly informal sort of top 50 list — I don’t think there is a great deal of analysis around content or reach, but still, it’s nice to be recognized. I crossed the 10,000 follower line about a month ago, and weirdly, it felt like a real accomplishment. Then I saw that my friend and colleague Dr. Cindi Burnet (@Cyndiburnett) is over 50,000 followers and I didn’t feel quite so glamorous. And, you get out of Twitter what you put into it. I’m happy with my results at my current time-investment level. 10,000 feels like a “very

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    The Value of a “Cross Domain” View

      Dr. Orin Davis (@DrOrinDavis) has written up two more short pieces — essentially his reflections from the talks of Rebecca Henderson and Dan Pink at the recent World Innovation Forum. His comments on Pink are somewhat provocative, so, be aware I do not share Orin’s views exactly. Orin is a well read academic (and practitioner as well) and he knows a lot about the wide array of literature that exists for creativity and innovation — that’s why I’ m publishing his insightful work here. His critique of Pink is interesting to me because I was not aware of who Pink borrows from, and, if he is borrowing faithfully to the original research. That said, I think there’s a real value for people

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    Trayvon, George, Fear and Creativity

    It’s all about Fear. I’m of the belief that fear is the opposite of creativity. Fear leans towards the darkness in our souls. Creativity leans towards the light. Creativity is high order thinking, fear is not thinking, it’s letting our lizard brain dictate our action. Fear is the hidden truth in what happened with the Zimmerman sentence and the Martin murder. Some would question, now, my use of the word murder when Zimmerman has been acquitted. I’m sorry, but George is responsible for the death of Trayvon Martin. He put himself in that position, he fired the weapon, in my view he’s responsible. George Zimmerman was operating from a fundamental place of fear. He could have chose differently. Fear is

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    Report from World Innovation Forum

    My good friend and colleague Orin Davis, Phd is covering the World Innovation Forum 2013 and I’m pleased to post his reporting here. Dr. Davis has the unique perspective of a bona fide psychology and innovation researcher, see his website here for more on his interesting work. Orin has worked directly with the famous Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of “Flow” — suffice to say he not only knows Mihaly, he can pronounce his name properly! Here he comments on PepsiCo’s Mauro Porcini’s talk at WIF. Stay tuned to this blog for more posts on WIF 2013. **** PepsiCo’s Mauro Porcini packed a lot of great information into a one-hour talk, but one of his key points was that design-driven innovation requires a focus on

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    KILN Continues to Innovate Innovation Services

    I’m off to the FEI show (Front End of Innovation) in Boston this week. In my view it’s the most serious innovation conference in the world, and the USA edition features speakers and participants from a who’s who of international organizations. I’m particularly interested in hearing Denise Morrison CEO of Campbell Soup about their use of culture in the innovation process, and also Nelson Farris of Nike about corporate storytelling. It will be great to catch up with Idea Management System vendors like CogniStreamer, and innovation service firms like Ideas To Go and Maddock Douglas. They’re always doing something new. I’m glad the show is in Boston. After the recent troubles it feels appropriate that a conference dedicated to positive change is

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    The Innovation State of the Union

    President Obama made mention in his state of the union address that he wishes to expand the National Netowrk for Manufacturing Innovation concept. I wholly applaud the idea, AND, there might be a more fundamental challenge that needs addressed first. I’ve made the acquaintance of a thought leader with her finger on the pulse of where the nation sits in terms of technological readiness to innovate. Her name is Pamela Menges, and she’s President of a high-tech start up in Cincinnati. She’s also a professor at the University of Cincinnati in their Engineering department. Steve Jobs once challenged Obama to find him 30,000 engineers so he could build a plant in California. That challenge remains a big one, and again,

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