Mark’s Innovation Expertise – 24 Things to Explore

I recently had a follow-up conversation with a judge at the Hult Prize and we got talking about innovation. My current work has been on Scaling, now put into book format (available at

Scaling: Small Smart Moves for Outsized Results

Scaling is highly relevant for innovation. I consider innovation to be the process of developing new things that deliver value. The key is delivering value. Many innovation programs are great at idea generation but lousy at extracting the business value needed to support the business. These programs over-focus on creativity and concept development, and under-invest in the techniques and methods to scale successful ideas. Scaling is able to help by designing the concepts so that they are more scalable – an activity done at the idea and concept development stage. Then, once the concepts are ready for prime time, scaling is used to push out these ideas, to gain traction, and to spread them to generate value.

Now, that being said, the conversation then moved on to innovation in a more broad perspective. I founded a company called Imaginatik in 1994 and, while I was running the company, we pioneered many of the techniques that are used in successful innovation programs (see my 2002 white paper on the topic – ‘Idea Management and the Suggestion Box‘). I have had zero to do with the company since 2010 and I find its performance since then to be abysmal, but nevertheless I had a chance to think about and work on a bunch of cool areas of innovation. A lot of my work did not enter into the company as we were focused on idea management software rather than consulting, so this is side-project stuff I did for my own amusement, and to spend time with some great leaders in innovation in brainstorming ideas and inventing new things.

Keep on running!

I decided to make a list of the things I worked on. It turns out that my work was leading edge in the 00s, and is still largely leading edge today. They say that pioneers, being first, do get the best land. Unfortunately they often end up buried there with arrows in their back!!



If you are interested in learning more (and I have started to do some innovation coaching work again for Chief Innovation Officer and CEO types interested in this stuff), just let me know at Treat this as a menu of projects, each line item having a bunch of other ‘stuff” and references living behind it.

  1. Innovation Gap – gap between target growth (1-5 years) and expected growth with known elements (used to define innovation budget, etc) – early day working with P&G, GE, Chase and others
  2. Innovation Pipeline Valuation – how much is the current pipeline worth – I became fascinated by the question ‘how much is an idea worth’, and ended up working with folk at Masterfoods to value pipelines.
  3. Innovation Budget – how much and what spend it on, how to structure, governance – was very important as when I started innovation work in 1998 there were very few budgets available for innovation so we have to help companies justify creating them
  4. Innovation Metrics – divide up targets across divisions and regions, put in place metrics to measure progress for innovation engine (process, value in pipeline, outputs) – I presented at metrics conferences on this, this was a huge topic.
  5. Disruption / Incremental Balance – right focus for business – I found Larry Keeley‘s work at Doblin very inspirational in this, mainly because it highlighted how poor an ROI most disruptive innovation programs had. I also liked work on incremental innovation, the bread-and-butter activities that aren’t quite so sexy, but deliver significant value
  6. Innovation cycles – cycle time for innovation for parts of the business, drivers of the cycle – this was based on observations at Georgia Pacific’s consumer product division, digging into the lifecycle of tissue paper with Cedric Steele (now at Coca-Cola)

    Who’d have thought that tissue paper had a 7 year innovation cycle?

  7. Passion for Ideas – how do you get people to be passionate about someone else’s idea (TDP model), building commitment to concepts as a filter – ah, the famous TDP model (t stands for ‘twist’… the rest will remain secret!)
  8. Valuing Ideas – how much is an idea worth through the pipeline (historic cost, expected value) – Whirlpool were great in this area, having been hounded by their accountants in the early days of Sarbanes-Oxley  to prove that revenue did indeed come from new products and not rehashed product codes in a SAP database.
  9. Designing Evaluation Processes – criteria design, submission filtering, reviewer calibration – this is a big, big area so the title does not do this justice at all. Tons of great insights, starting with my first reviewing session that I ‘sat in’ on at Goodyear in Luxembourg ages and ages ago.
  10. Innovation Pipeline Design – from strategy to execution and expansion – I really liked making a split between concepts and projects, breaking the logic of automatically turning ideas into projects.
  11. Innovation definition – how do you design an innovation definition and ensure that it sticks and is appropriately adopted and utilized – Hibernian Insurance in Dublin taught me a lot on this, as we found you can have 10 executives, and 12 definitions of innovation!!
  12. Idea Warehouse review – checking on IP from past ideas (and existing) to see if additional value can be extracted – a great initiative at a pet food company, plus an ice cream company (btw do not mix these products!!)
  13. Prototyping capability – how companies are able to test ideas and concepts in a lean way – a chance conversation at Visteon about prototyping axels led to a lot of work and thinking in this area
  14. People & Innovation – organizational design, personal assessment tool (ORCHID) – that Goodyear project taught me a lot about how people are different, and that we could somehow uncover preferences and fit people into the right positions. That and almost going bust a few times because as a Creator myself, I hate doing invoices (not a good thing!) but things were fine when I switched jobs with someone who was more a Doer.
  15. Reward & recognition programs – employees, special roles, point-based reward programs and others – I still have Archie Kohn’s book, Punished by Rewards, on my shelf at home
  16. Idea Management – system design, process design, roll-out plans, time-limited campaigns – lots and lots in there. I was literally in the room when many of the ways of doing this were invented (usually alone but I had some wonderful people at the firm… many of which went on to other firms)

    A suggestion box at a Dublin office - ideas in the top, into the trash directly at the bottom

    A suggestion box at a Dublin office – ideas in the top, into the trash directly at the bottom

  17. Executive Immersion – designing experiences so that execs buy in to programs and concepts – this came about in chatting with Unilever personal care people, then some P&G people, then a CFO at a big hospital system. It turns out that executives need to experience some of the problems, and potential solutions, in order to get behind them (or kill them faster)
  18. Open innovation programs – how to design programs, set objectives, partnering – I used to love the interplay between Clorox who had a tiny R&D spend and had to go outside to compete with P&G… and P&G who realized that, even with all their money and resources, they could do even better if they tapped into the planet
  19. Corporate to Start-Up – how to connect the start-up world with corporate world – a big topic these days, now my friend Werner Wutscher is doing this with German, Swiss and Austrian companies
  20. Innovation Capacity & Innovation Landscape – mapping a firm’s capacity to innovate, comparing it to competitors, and defining means of extending innovation potential – I was inspired again by the work at Doblin on landscapes although their actual implementation of the technique I thought at the time was slightly wrong headed. They used public information to assess capability on various dimensions and used that to determine which industries were more innovative. Unfortunately it also just highlighted which industries talk about things more in the press than others.
  21. Analytical Building Blocks – reduce the time and cost of making business plans for internal and external improvements whilst improving the quality and trustworthiness of the outputs – I remember a great Innovation ROI conference run by IIR USA back in 2007. I met a great guy, Martin Curley (now VP at Intel) who shared work Intel IT had done to simplify business case analysis. I called this ‘analytical building blocks’ – cool stuff!
  22. Sharing Successful Ideas – designing programs to replicate good ideas across large enterprises – I cut my teeth on this at Weyerhauser, Amcor PET Packaging and Wal-Mart. One idea for cost savings or work place safety is cool… but if you can replicate it 100 – 5,000 times that is really cool!
  23. Special Program Design – extreme problems, multi-stage problems, highly confidential, highly complex, politically sensitive, strategic, etc – these were always ‘chef’s special’ items, trying to find ways of doing the impossible using the techniques, methods, and knowledge of history and lots of programs to come up with some very special unique solutions. Things like crowd-sourced election monitoring in Zimbabwe, for instance.
  24. Scaling – design for Scaling, scale what comes out – my first consulting employer was GM / EDS. They took me, a PhD student, under their wing and showed me collaborative working (‘collective intelligence’) at mass scale. They didn’t buy PCs… they had Compaq (at the time) ship 16,000 in freight trains. I then got an aha from McDonald’s: ‘it’s not enough to have an idea for a lettuce burger… you now have to source 2 billion pieces of lettuce in 50+ countries’). Scale is everything when it comes to extracting value from ideas… hence my book on Scaling (the new stuff).

I may come up with others as I get prompted in discussions with people. I have always been curious about interesting or odd things, projects that get explained in public but seem to hide some extra pieces behind the scenes. This curiosity led me to getting involved with many more things than my firm could handle at the time, there being a necessity to focus to actually get things to scale. Still, it kept me intrigued enough to keep ploughing on in the world of innovation, inventing new stuff. I hope some of you find this list useful, and if you would like to know more, feel free to connect.


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