Sunday, October 15, 2017

Book Review: Corporate Innovation in the Fifth Era: Lessons from Alphabet/Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft


Book review written by Phil Marks

This paper reviews:
Le Merle, M.C. & Davis, A. (2107). Corporate Innovation in the Fifth Era: Lessons from Alphabet/Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft. Corte Madera, CA.  Cartwright Publishing.  ISBN: 978-0-9861613-8-4

Change creates business winners and losers.

Corporate Innovation in the Fifth Era functions on the premise that we are living in a “dramatic transition between the Industrial Era and a new Fifth Era being driven by the Digital Revolution, Biotechnology Revolution, and a host of other disruptive technologies…that will transform the way humans exist on the planet.”  Only those business leaders who capitalize on the disruptive changes will be winners in the Fifth Era.    

Written in a straightforward and pragmatic style, full of the authors’ personal experiences, and data-driven, the book is sure to resonate with business leaders trying to improve their innovation processes.  Business leaders who want a how-to manual for innovation will be drawn to this approach.

Corporate Innovation in the Fifth Era is filled with practices and tools employed by Alphabet/Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft, and the reader is encouraged to adopt as many of these practices and tools as might be relevant to their business.  The practices and tools are excellent, and span all four creative elements: person, process, product and environment.  The tools also make sense from a general leadership perspective; that is, a leader’s vision should be reflected in the organization’s agendas, conversations, strategies and plans, and culture.  Additionally, the authors provide an excellent toolkit of 17 specific activities for capitalizing upon external innovations (e.g. incubators, advisory boards, collaborative research, etc.)  This toolkit alone is worth the price of the book, as it provides a type of checklist for developing an external innovation strategy.

One of the more interesting insights from the book relates to the balance between incremental and disruptive innovations.  Many business leaders are consumed with developing a balanced innovation portfolio, leading to extensive debate about which projects to pursue from a risk/return perspective.  A Microsoft executive gives insight to the prevailing mindset of an innovative organization with his response: “We view innovation as being the process and customer benefit as being the objective function.  Whether a given innovation ends up being disruptive or incremental is a result of the impact the innovation has on meeting customer needs.  We can’t begin by trying to predict whether an innovation will be disruptive or not.  The result of innovation is an output variable – sometimes disruptive and sometimes incremental – but not something we know in advance.”   

Most interesting, Le Merle and Davis clearly identify a gap between leaders’ stated beliefs and their actions: Leaders universally say that the most important innovations affecting their industry will come from outside their own company and very likely from outside their own industry.  However, these same leaders also say that 70-90% of their company’s innovation resources (people and money) are allocated internally.  The authors use their own observations and evidence to support the prevailing view that disruptive innovations will most likely come from the outside.  However, they don’t address why leaders don’t act more in-line with their beliefs. 

Which gets to the hollow feeling I had while reading the book.  As a creativity student and practitioner, something seems amiss here.  The authors identify that leaders are not acting consistently with their stated beliefs.  Instead of helping the leaders identify the root cause of that inconsistency, the authors instead console and encourage the leaders to just copy successful leaders in other businesses.  At no point in the book is the leader asked to clarify why he isn’t acting consistently with his beliefs.  The book calls their attention to the contradiction without questioning why it exists.  Since the book goes on to provide advice about what to do, it then provides helpful solutions to perhaps the wrong challenge.  I believe leaders could follow many of the actions and wonder why nothing changed in the culture. 

In fact, the authors devote a whole chapter to building an innovation culture, but don’t base their recommendations on solid creativity research.  The authors identify “customer obsession” and “pride in products and services offered” as the top cultural attributes that support innovation.  While these are certainly well-known attributes of commercially successful organizations, the authors fail to recognize the underlying climate dimensions that enable a culture to convert customer obsession into leading products and services: namely, the climate dimensions understood through Ekvall’s Creative Climate Questionnaire or Amabile’s KEYS instrument. 

With insight and potential new tools, Corporate Innovation in the Fifth Era has helped me to become better equipped to change culture and set innovation strategy within my company.  Aside the aforementioned concerns, this book could be useful to boost conversation about innovation and invite leaders to think more deeply about how to achieve long-term organizational viability through increasingly disruptive change.  These would be positive steps for most organizations.  Additionally, it might help creativity practitioners to become more aware of the current activities being pursued by corporations who hope to increase innovation, as well as to understand the corporate leadership mindset just a little bit better.

 Phil Marks is the Global Director of Product Engineering for Federal-Mogul’s Systems Protection business unit.  He holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from WPI (Worcester, MA), and recently became a certified professional coach.  He is pursuing his M.Sc. in Creativity Studies at ICSC/SUNY Buffalo State.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Spotlight on CEE Presenter: Helene Cahen


By Michelle Neumayer

Helene Cahen is founder of Strategic Insights, a consulting firm in the U.S. offering innovation training, facilitation, and coaching customized to each organization's unique needs, culture, and environment. Helene studied business at elite schools in Paris and received her Master's of Science degree in Creativity and Change Leadership from the State University of New York. In addition to her consulting work through Strategic Insights, Helene teaches executive MBA classes at Berkeley's Haas School of Business.

Cahen is known for her knowledge of both Creative Problem Solving and Design Thinking. Her Master's Project as a student at the International Center for Studies in Creativity (ICSC) was titled, “Designing a Curriculum for Design Thinking for Creative Problem Solving Users.” Her 2016 Creativity Expert Exchange (CEE) Conference presentation was about Design Thinking.

While passionate about the need for using both Creative Problem Solving (CPS) and Design Thinking processes for innovation, Cahen stresses that it is critical to include an ethnographic approach that infuses empathy into the process of problem solving. She believes that in order to influence change, it is important to look at cultural and human-centered insights that are based upon a deep understanding of end-user needs for driving ideation. Iterative prototyping, testing, and feedback completes this ethnographic cycle, as more understanding of end user needs is gathered and utilized.

Cahen believes that gatekeepers of creative change want more than just a written “plan” in order to make decisions. They will be more open to embracing innovative solutions when provided with rich end-user information made possible through the ethnographic approach. They may also feel less anxious about the uncertainties of embracing truly novel ideas when given the rich end-user information and more tangible results of iterative prototyping, testing, and feedback.

According to Cahen there appears to be a gap currently in the field of innovation coaching. Business executives need more than just training sessions and workshops in innovation processes. They need help effectively applying learned innovation processes when they return to their work environments. Her solution to address this gap is to offer executive clients ongoing coaching over a period of months, as they work out the application of their innovation training “in the field.”

Over the last few years Cahen helped spearhead the inclusion of short, TedX style talks at the annual Creativity Expert Exchange (CEE)Conference, called “CEE Talks.” Conference participants are now able to enjoy a diverse group of short presentations about creativity from a wide range of people from all walks of life, including entrepreneurs, educators, consultants, and diverse people from within the community. We are grateful for her contribution to the field of creativity and innovation, and for adding the dynamic element of CEE Talks to the CEE conferences!



Michelle Neumayer has been called “uber creative” as a photographer, but is now also an “emerging creativity expert” as she completes her Master's degree in Creativity and Change Leadership from the International Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY Buffalo. She holds a design diploma from Sheridan College in Canada, and a BA in Creativity and Change Leadership from SUNY Empire State.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Spotlight on CEE Presenters: Janice Francisco


Spotlight on: Janice Francisco

Written by Alice Jacobs

My interview of Janice Francisco took place via Skype, 15 minutes late, as she was seated underneath a gorgeous blue and gold abstract painting.  She was late, she explained, as the recently hung painting had fallen off the wall overnight. She needed to rehang it as she was hosting a dinner party, presumably with it in the background, that evening.  As I reflected on my conversation with Janice, I realized the scene of a dinner party set underneath an abstract artwork was a good representation of her approach to instilling creativity and innovation in her client organizations.  Understanding how to take the abstract principles of creative thinking and innovation, and helping her clients realize how to inscribe them on the wall, to actualize them in the daily life of their organizations. 

Janice’s approach to serving her clients came from the realization that while the vast majority of companies will say they seek innovation, most also do not have an understanding of what that means, to translate the concept of innovation into their work. With the exception of companies engaged in the production of widgets, as everyone gets the concept of a new and improved widget, other types of clients did not look at innovation as something that needed to be internalized in their businesses.  Yet her clients needed an approach to deal with change.  Once exposed to the field of creativity, Janice saw that integrating learning around creativity and innovation into her toolbox opened the possibilities for clients to achieve better outcomes to the challenges they faced.   Janice has also found that while you can impart to clients the practical tools of a system such as Creative Problem Solving, this in itself, is not enough to evolve the organization into one in which creativity, creative thinking and innovation become part of the DNA.  Janice’s ideal outcome for her clients is the transformation of their environment into one in which creative thinking and learning occur continually, not just when attempting to accomplish change.  This positions organizations as ones that are capable of dealing with change as it is needed and occurs, on their own. 

Janice’s talk at this Fall’s CEE, entitled “Want to be more innovative?” , focuses on what she refers to as the  “learnscape” for innovation she has developed.  As I understood her ideal approach, it has three stages of development, getting employees to connect to their own creativity, helping them understand how to operate to optimize their creative thinking as a team, and then understanding how to use this creativity to have organizational impact.  To achieve these goals, there needs to be an organizational commitment to learning over time.  Just as many of us, as students at ICSC, developed our creative potential individually and within groups over time, it is unrealistic to expect others to fully internalize creative thinking without a commitment to extended learning over time.  Janice will also address the topic of how we, as creativity professionals, need to be contextual and mindful of how we talk about who we are and what we can provide.  When talking to clients, she focuses more on the product she can deliver to help them manage change, and less on the concept of a creativity expert. 

Janice is currently working on how to teach organizations to be more comfortable with the risk of failure inherent in innovation.  We all know the nature of innovation is that to fail is part of the process, and yet many clients are uncomfortable with this risk by virtue of their culture (she cited a group of auditors as an example) and also lacking the emotional tools to deal with the impact of failure.   As one part of her arsenal of learning tools, Janice designed a new course entitled:  “Risking and Learning From Failure”.   The ½ day course aims to reshape how employees think about failure: 

Viewed as a final and, unfortunately, fatal frontier, failure needs a makeover… We’re talking about the fumbles, foils, falls and “miss-takes” that come from making the choice to engage in our best work in a spirit of adventure and challenge – work that has good purpose where in the process we find ourselves saying “Oops!!! That’s not what I hoped for”. When this happens, if we choose to learn from it and share what we’ve learned, it’s called wisdom, resilience and growth.

Janice sees an area of growth in the field of creativity and innovation work around the affective skills, how to prepare individuals to manage themselves and others through the innovation process on an emotional level.  Her course on risk and failure is a step in this direction.

As I reflected on my conversation with Janice and my own work, I see a couple of connections with issues I am struggling with.  In the field of nonprofits, it is a particular challenge to impress upon boards the need to be innovative.  With limited resources and donor expectations of immediate impact from their support, the risks seem perhaps greater than in other contexts.  But innovation is difficult to understand and achieve in an outcome vacuum, it needs to be woven throughout the organization, to become part of its culture at all levels.  And changing the mindset of failure to one of constant experimentation might be a tool to utilize in talking to donors about the need to invest in new, untested initiatives.  Janice brings a great perspective to our field as someone who works over time with clients in the field.  I look forward to learning from more of her insights at CEE.


Alice Jacobs is well known in the Western New York community for her philanthropic leadership of numerous community organizations. She is an attorney who practiced corporate and business-related immigration law.  She holds a Graduate Certificate in Creativity and Change Leadership from the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State College and is currently pursuing her Master’s Degree.  Her philanthropic leadership includes service to the WNY Women’s Foundation, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Spotlight on CEE Presenter: Ginny Santos



Written by 
Nicole Colter

We are all on a creative journey of becoming and we can learn a lot from those that came before us.  As we wait to attend the Creativity Expert Exchange conference on Oct 13 - 15, 2017, we might consider what we hope to learn, who we hope to meet and how we want to be changed by this experience. 

Those were the questions simmering below the surface as I started my interview of Ginny Santos of NeOlĂ© Strategy & Innovation Consulting.  Ginny is hosting Diverge & Converge the Digital Way, a pre-conference workshop that will teach how to use Stormz to facilitate online problem-solving for 2 to 2000 people.  This training is offered over 5 weeks online at a cost of $300 USD so you won’t want to miss this incredible value-added training at no cost.

After a few minutes of getting attuned, which was incredibly easy as Ginny is a warm educator with a spellbinding Spanish/Canadian accent, our conversation broke open when I asked if her life changed after getting her Master of Science at the International Center for Studies in Creativity (ICSC). 

“Oh absolutely!  It's changed everything that I do!” exclaimed Ginny.  She proceeded to articulate what I can only suspect is a similar story for alumni of ICSC, a story of wayfinding, adapting and reinvention.  She emerged on the other side with a consulting business, a series of positions teaching creativity at the college level, most recently in entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship, and this passion for Stormz that is contagious.

A love of technology set Ginny on a quest to find a technological alternative for creative problem-solving (CPS).  She explored a variety of sites offering virtual post-it notes that can be moved around and voted on, but was never satisfied.  This dissatisfaction prompted her to keep trying to find a solution that would meet her growing need to facilitate meetings across time and space.  Eventually, she found Stormz and the rest is history. 

Ginny explained that Stormz is useful for any divergent or convergent stage so it can cover the whole CPS process.  She expounded “If I have a choice to use post-it notes or Stormz, I definitely go for Stormz.”  She has noticed that it makes people who are not used to ideating more comfortable.  A practical benefit is the ability to export data without having to retype post-its.  Ginny also points out that given the multipurpose nature of workspaces these days, the fact that the facilitation can stay active online and be accessed from anywhere makes it easier to come back to after a period of incubation.  She adds that people also tend to write clearer sentences than on Post-its. 

“It doesn’t do the facilitation for you” warns Ginny.  That’s good news for us skilled facilitators as we aren’t looking for technology to replace us. 


I must say, as a person more interested in teaching creatively and teaching for creativity, I wasn’t expecting to get so excited about a facilitation tool like Stormz.  Ginny intrigued me and I wanted to know more about her experience in higher education.  So I was surprised that our conversation ignited my own creative thinking for the potential of Stormz as a Massive Open Online Collaborative Community Engagement (MOOCCE) tool for solving wicked problems.  I was delighted to hear that Ginny created a series of Collaborative Learning Stormz templates for educators (see Collaborative Cheating and Collaborative Quiz).  I don’t know where you will be on October 13th, but I will be experiencing the future of facilitation at Ginny Santos’ Stormz training.  Hope to see you there!



Nicole Colter is passionate about hopes and dreams.  She’s on a mission to disrupt pervasive mindlessness and set people free from self-imposed constraints.  As she gets ready to complete her Master of Science in Creative Studies at Buffalo State College in May 2018, she is particularly interested in exploring education practices and environments that create self-directed learners and is currently focused on open education including connectivism, rhizomatic learning and emergent curriculum.  Her other interests include entrepreneurship education, mentoring, community development and cooperative business.