Tuesday July 14, 2009 | Innovation in a Down Economy

July 13, 2009 at 8:56 am | Posted in Coming Up | 14 Comments

The concept of using innovation in business has gained popularity in this difficult economy. Companies are working to “gain a competitive edge” by being more creative and innovative about the products and services they provide. We’ll talk with local innovation experts about how companies of all sizes- nationally and here in the Charlotte region- are using innovation, and how embracing a more creative and inventive way of doing business may help them survive and thrive in the down economy. Can businesses be “taught” to think creatively? We’ll find out.
Monty Montague – Co-founder and Design Principal, BOLT Group
Paul Wetenhall – President, Ben Craig Center Business Incubator, UNC Charlotte
Barbara Spradling – Director, Innovation Institute, McColl Center for Visual Art

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  1. The creative process depends on the tension between “current reality” and “vision”. When times are bad, the tension is greater, and thus there is more stress, tension, or fuel to achieve the vision. It is good stress, if you will.
    One needs to have a clear grasp of both poles. Clear reality. Clear vision. One can imagine two hands pulling on a rubber band. The wider, the more the path of least resistance will cause the two poles to come together.
    It pays to also consider the consequences of one’s vision, as sometimes unintended consequences can make things worse.

    As an Idea Consultant, I deal with the creative, visionary process all the time, and was a student of Peter Senge and Robert Fritz.

    • Necessity is the mother of innovation — or disaster?

  2. I disagree that innovation is simply a process that can be taught. I’ve spent ten years as a consultant, ten years in industry, and recently started a software company. I’ve been part of many brainstorming sessions and other processes to generate ideas. The process can help, but the core of innovation is not a process — it’s a mindset — a focus on what customers want (even if they don’t know it), the bravery to try things that might fail, and a courteous disrespect for the rules.

    Innovation comes from thinking differently and challenging existing beliefs — other people’s beliefs as well as your own.

    • Mark
      I like your description of innovation – a focus on needs, the courage to fail, challenging the rules. But I think these things can be taught – and through this teaching/learning a common language of innovation emerges within a company. This language or lexicon allows for clear communication about innovation and gets people in the organization talking about it and sharing ideas about it and in turn helps foster your “mindset” – which I agree is key to building a culture of innovation.

    • Your observation that innovation requires a focus on customer needs is right. As you suggest, it also requires the ability to think differently (or, in corporate-speak, “outside the box”).

      In particular the different thinking can be most powerful when it brings concepts together in new ways. For instance, a chemist might think of measuring oxygen in blood by obtaining a blood sample and testing it. However, an optics expert might use light to measure blood oxygen through the skin. This is an example of how innovation happens by involving different perspectives.

      Most of us who have been involved with organizations have experienced the negative effects of rote application of processes without regard to results. However, good processes enable organizations to achieve good results consistently and predictably. That is why innovation processes are, I think, important. But, the process must always focus on discerning customer needs and delivering the products or services that meet those needs sustainably.

      • I’m afraid I have to disagree with the “can’t be taught” comment. It may be true in the “soft” side of design (color, aesthetics, feel, etc.) but not on the technical side of product design.I used to feel that way about 10 years ago in industry where psychological tools such as brainstorming, DeBono tools, CPS, etc. were used to generate hundreds of useless ideas that had to be sorted through to find a few good ones. I accidentally discovered the Russian process known as “TRIZ” (Theory of Inventive Problem Solving) which has mapped the breakthrough patents of the world and codified the inventive principles in a retrievable and usable set of principles and algorithms that have solved any design problem I have encountered. Though this strikes at the ego of many folks (don’t have an answer to that problem), it is absolutely true and many current product design examples that I see from toothbrushes to building designs to wrenches illustrate this fact. Breakthrough designs are typically those that resolve Excedrin headache contradictions and TRIZ provides a methodology to do this in a reproducible way.

  3. Your panel today on the topic of innovation and innovation leadership is particularly competent. I see this as both a missunderstood topic, and the solution to the USA economic dilemma. The strategy of innovation is the strategy out of the ditch we are in. Thank you for this thoughtful program.

    • Your observation that innovation is the solution to our economic dilemma is an excellent point. The Kauffman Foundation and others have documented that the entrepreneurial sector has led the U.S. economy out of past recessions.

      Many of the public policy responses to the economic crisis have been anti-innovation. As examples, consider merging “too big to fail” institutions to create even bigger corporations and saving auto companies that had failed in the market.

      Public policy needs to evaluate capital access and incentives that will spur innovation and entrepreneurial action.

  4. I was so inspired by today’s discussion. This was such a great panel and an “innovative” (no pun intended) topic! Loved it! Thanks to everyone that put this together!

  5. Anyone interested in learning more about innovation in North Carolina may want to read the “Advancing Innovation in North Carolina” report published in December 2008 by the NC Board of Science & Technology. It is available at:

    An excellent resource for articles and reports about innovation and entrepreneurship is the Kauffman Foundation (a regular sponsor of NPR programming, I might add). In particular, the Foundation helps explain the critical role played by research universities in the innovation process. Their publications can be found at:

  6. […] Listen in… […]

  7. […] you what you need to do.” . . . Monty Montegue ’80, design principal at BOLT Group, discusses creativity and innovation in business on WFAE’s Charlotte Talks. . . . Former NC State women’s basketball […]

  8. […] week, Charlotte’s put some focus on local innovators and its impact on our town.  Charlotte Talks hosted three Innovation Leaders on its program on […]

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