63 Innovation Nuggets (for aspiring innovators)

Gold nuggets isolated on white background. Gold currency.

Innovation Nuggets

I’m always studying the world’s greatest innovators. From Apple’s Steve Jobs to Tesla’s Elon Musk, we can admire and emulate some of the practices that inspire creativity. Whether you are looking to boost your own innovative spirit, create an innovative team, or power your creative genius, you may find that regularly reading and studying others sparks new ideas.


“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” –Steve Jobs


One spark may be a new book by George Barbee.

63 Innovation Nuggets (for aspiring innovators) is a practical guide to boosting your innovation. George Barbee developed these nuggets during the span of his 45 year career as an entrepreneur and corporate leader. For the last 15 years, George has taught at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business.

I recently spoke with George about his many decades of teaching and living the subject of innovation.


“An innovative network can change the culture of an organization.” -George Barbee


Don’t Underestimate Your Ability to Innovate

George, I have heard you say, “Yes, Steve Jobs is a genius, but what about innovating for the rest of us?” What exactly do you mean by that?

Steve was in fact a true genius of “Invention.” He could imagine what people needed and wanted even before they realized it or could verbalize it themselves. He could see around corners into the future.

unnamedBut I believe most of the rest of us way underestimate our ability to “innovate”—especially with focus on techniques and methods within our control to improve this skill. And yes, it is a skill and an art, not an innate ability or something we are necessarily born with. I’ve witnessed this in my business career and the last 15 years teaching at University of Virginia, and interestingly across 40 countries. It’s a major theme underlying the book.

“Invention” is part of the broader scope of “innovation.” In fact, only a slice.

For example, the rest of us can be gifted and train ourselves to “innovate” in new and different ways. Key to the word “innovation” is doing something in a “meaningfully new and different way.” This takes us well beyond just product invention, but “innovation” now incorporates anything that is new and meaningfully different.

In the book we talk about dozens of “nuggets” or little gems that provide insights as to how to innovate. It is, in fact, remarkably easy to develop these skills. Like exercising a good muscle, the more you use it and focus on it, the better it gets. It’s a form of building innovative confidence through practice.

It’s learnable. It’s teachable.


“Innovation is best led by vision.” -George Barbee


Make Observation and Art

Of the 63 nuggets in 63 Innovation Nuggets, do you have one that is a favorite?

That’s a tough question. I started with over 140 nuggets and in an effort to winnow it down to 52 (one per week) I couldn’t bring myself to cut any more, so I went with 63. Not necessarily brilliant, but sincere.

So, a favorite? Well, not necessarily only one favorite but it’s a good place to start: Nugget #19: Observing as an Art. The power and concentration it takes to observe what is around us is quite challenging. As we say, put yourself in “receive mode.” Just take things in around you. Listen. Look. Smell. Maybe even feel and taste. We observe with all our senses. This is time out to THINK. The key is sensing. Thinking.


“Successful innovators have a keen sense of observation.” -George Barbee


We go on to encourage note taking. Practice alone or with a like-minded friend and confidant. Have some fun with the process.

We then go on to tell some stories about observing. Practical situations where innovation around us is often under our noses, but we haven’t taken the time out to appreciate it or document it. One example is ATM or teller lines at banks. It used to be that we would go up to one of three tellers or machines and pick one and hope for the best. Woe to the person picking the wrong line! The tendency was then to hop over to the faster moving line. Then came the great innovation in line management—the “I” formation, or lining up in a single line, with the front person going to the next available opening. Brilliant. It takes the early guesswork out of picking the right single line. Happier customers. True Innovation.


Innovation Tip: Start conversations with “imagine if…”


Think ACROSS to Progress in Your Career

5 C’s to Help You Plan for Your Next “Big thing.”

What Catalog Cards Communicate

The end of an era

Earlier today, OCLC said “goodbye” to a service that it had been performing since the early 1970’s: the printing of library catalog cards. Most of you are familiar, I’m sure, with those 3×5 cards and the drawers that housed them. There is a lot of nostalgia for those drawers among librarians—they’re beautiful pieces of furniture that can be put to many uses: as wine racks, jewelry and collectible cases, storage for tools, crafts and sewing supplies, etc.


Fact: At peak, @OCLC shipped 8 tons of cards weekly.


However, there is not as much nostalgia for the cards themselves.

You have to remember that, before the Internet, a catalog card was the closest thing to a hyperlink that most of us ever experienced. Like hyperlinks, catalog cards took us from a quick description of information to the full resource. They were, for more than a hundred years, the absolute height of information seeking technology. Those cards may seem quaint now. But the ability for patrons, on their own, to quickly identify and find one book in a building containing tens or hundreds of thousands is a remarkable testament to the genius and hard work of librarians.

But that work was tedious. Each book required, in many cases, multiple cards: one for subject, one for author, one for title. They had to be hand typed. Any small error required a complete redo.

OCLC's first catalog card; Used by Permission OCLC’s first catalog card; Used by Permission

“Your focus should be on the future not the features.”


An early example of crowdsourcing

Computerization helped, of course. That was OCLC’s original business: a centralized collection of records from which cards could be reproduced more efficiently. Rather than create the same card over-and-over at each library, members of the cooperative contributed to the shared database, which was then used to print cards for everyone. By some estimates, this process saved librarians about 90% of the time required to manually create new cards, a task that I’ve heard took around an hour.  OCLC has printed around 1.9 billion cards during the past 45 years, meaning cooperative cataloging has saved our industry about 195,000 years of administrative effort. Which is great! That’s time librarians were able to spend helping people reach their learning goals and get the information they need…

Instead of typing up billions of little cards by hand.

Which is why those cards hold so little nostalgia for many librarians. They were a necessary technology at the time. And a profoundly useful one. But the tool itself was never the point. In retrospect, that’s so much easier to see than when we’re looking at today’s newest technology.

Don’t get me wrong! I love the new stuff! It’s fun and it’s fast and it’s cool. And it’s important. But nowhere near as important as understanding the needs of the people our technology serves.

Skip Prichard with the last OCLC printed catalog card Skip Prichard with the last OCLC printed catalog card

What are your “5 C’s”?

37 Quotes on the Creative Force Within

Man praying, meditating in harmony and peace at sunset. Religion, spirituality, prayer, peace.


“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” –Albert Einstein


“Creativity doesn’t just love constraints; it thrives under them.” -David Burkus


“To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.” –Joseph C. Pearce


“Creative people are curious, flexible, persistent, and independent with a tremendous spirit of adventure and a love of play.” –Henri Matisse


“Quiet people have the loudest minds.” –Stephen Hawking


“Creating open teamwork is the best way to encourage innovation.” -Kay Koplovitz


“You can’t harvest big ideas unless you sow the right seeds.” -Rowan Gibson


“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.” –Dr. Seuss


“A thousand dreams within me softly burn.” –Arthur Rimbaud


“The earth has music for those who listen.” –Shakespeare


“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” –Robin Williams


“Creativity takes courage.” –Henri Matisse


“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” -Albert Einstein


“Innovation is the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth.” -Peter Drucker


“The world is but a canvas to the imagination.” –Henry David Thoreau


“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” –Alan Kay


“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” –Vincent Van Gogh


“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” -Thomas Edison


“Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.” –Carl Sandburg


“Every artist was first an amateur.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

45 Entrepreneurs Share Advice: Been There, Run That

Red and blue fishes

It’s not possible to list all of Kay Koplovitz’s achievements, but here are a few highlights:

  • She is the Founder of USA Network.
  • She created the business model for cable networks.
  • She launched the Sci-Fi Channel in 1992.
  • She is the co-founder and chairman of Springboard Enterprises.
  • She was appointed by Bill Clinton to the bipartisan National Women’s Business Council.
  • She has served on numerous corporate boards ranging from Nabisco to Oracle.

So, after reading her recent book, Been There, Run That, I jumped at the opportunity to ask her some questions about her unbelievable career. Been There, Run That includes writing from 45 entrepreneurs who share wisdom on building and launching new ventures.


“Creating open teamwork is the best way to encourage innovation.” -Kay Koplovitz


Trailblazing through Innovation

Kay, I want to start by saying that I think of you as a business leader.  Your track record and results speak loudly.  But, I am reminded that you’re the first woman to found and serve as president of a cable network, and that makes you an inspiration to many women.  What unique challenges did you face as a woman?

More important than becoming the first women to head a television network, I created the business model for cable program networks, which is based on two revenue streams: advertising and licensing. It reversed the TV model of paying television stations to carry network programs. We collected a fee from the cable systems and also sold advertising. This is the reason so many cable program networks have been successful.

In many ways, you were trailblazing a path, opening up doors for women behind you.  Were you cognizant of that at the time?

Absolutely, and I believe I was a leader for men in the industry as well, as I preceded most of them. Throughout my career, I tried to provide opportunities for women to move up the management ladder. I co-founded Women in Cable, now Women in Cable and Telecommunications, to provide management training and the opportunity to learn to be great general managers. Today, WICT is one of the best training organizations in the industry.

After USA Networks, you turned to venture capital and found that over 95% of venture capitalists were men.  What have you done about this?

I co-founded Springboard Enterprises, a non-profit accelerator for women-led companies in technology and life sciences, in 2000. We are seeking to level the playing field for women-led businesses that need to raise venture capital. As of yearend 2014, we have brought 562 companies to market, 83% of which raise capital and 80% are in business today. Collectively they have raised over $6.6 billion, and 35% have had liquidity events, including 11 IPO’s. Readers can gain great insight from the advice of these wonderful entrepreneurs who contributed to Been There, Run That.

My two partners and I also are launching a for-profit Springboard Fund to invest in companies completing the accelerator program. We have many great companies: Constant Contact, iRobot, Zipcar, Minute Clinic, Viacord, and many more.

What’s the best way to encourage innovation throughout a large organization?

Creating open teamwork is the best way to encourage innovation. Give people permission to experiment by offering them both responsibility and authority to break rules for creative destruction and innovation.


“Invest in creating the right culture and you won’t be disappointed in the results.” -Kay Koplovitz

How to Market Above the Noise

European man of thirty years in glasses closes her ears loud mus

Above the Noise


Does Your Marketing Matter?

What makes some messages stand out above the noise?


Marketers everywhere have been busy in the past several years keeping up with mobile, new technology, and the fundamental changes in a social media world. Though the pace is increasing, it is also important to review the basics of marketing to ensure that what you do matters. Linda J. Popky, in her new book, MARKETING ABOVE THE NOISE: Achieve Strategic Advantage with Marketing that Matters goes back to basics and offers an approach that combines timeless principles with today’s technology. Linda is the president of Leverage2Market Associates, a firm that helps transform organizations through powerful marketing performance.


“Asking for input and not using it is wasteful and dangerous.” –Linda Popky


The Promise of Social Media

How has social media changed the way companies interact with individuals? What are companies doing well? What are they not doing well?

The good news is that social media opens the possibility for powerful real-time communications and conversations between companies and their audiences—including customers, prospects, employees, and the local community. The bad news is that social media also raises expectations amongst those audiences, while creating distraction and noise that often makes it harder to be heard.

The result is many organizations do not use these channels effectively. The key point about a conversation is that it’s two way. It’s not a monologue of marketing or sales messages from a company to customers. And it’s not an opportunity to bombard them with information that doesn’t fit the audience.


“Successful organizations analyze external forces.” –Linda Popky


More and more companies are using social media to engage with their customers, and they’re learning to listen effectively. However, they also need to bring back what they learn to the right groups in the organization to effect change. Too often this is still lip service.

For example, several months ago, I had a very negative experience with a major national retail chain. I tweeted about this and almost immediately received a response and apology from their Twitter customer care manager. The problem was they assured me I’d be hearing from headquarters soon to resolve the issue. Not only didn’t that happen, but the Twitter customer care manager moved on and left me hanging—a huge missed opportunity on their part, which is indicative of how much room there is for improvement.


Timeless Marketing Truths