Takeaways from the PDMA Innovate Carolina Conference

Ty Hagler and Brian Castle from Trig Innovation attended the Innovate Carolina conference on April 15th, 2011.

As we fully expected, the Trig team took away many great ideas from the annual Innovate Carolina conference hosted by the North Carolina chapter of the Product Development and Management Association in Charlotte, NC.  We view innovation as a process of generating commercially viable ideas and refining them for our clients.  We can honestly say that all of the conference speakers inspired new thinking for our next generation of projects.  In addition, we discovered new colleagues who belong to our same tribe, making the conference a definite success all around.

Some of the presentations really stood out, as the speakers opened up for all of us to have a peek and see why they are so great at what they do.  The conference kicked off in grand fashion, with Louis Foreman, CEO of Charlotte-based Enventys and the PBS series, “Everyday Edisons,” laid out his multi-pronged vision for fostering invention for small inventors and big companies alike, opening up innovation by reducing the barriers to entry.  It’s not too hard to see how Louis has had such a huge impact on our industry and is such a mentor to many of us, whether he knows it or not.  The conference theme was open innovation, and Louis has built an inspiring business model around that concept.

Next up was the equally charismatic Dr. Gene Slowkinski, a Rutgers University professor, Director of Strategic Alliance Research, and veteran consultant from Alliance Management Group. He outlined the “Want-Find-Get-Manage” model for seeking innovation partners by drawing a simple, yet powerful equation:  internal assets plus external assets= meeting customer needs.  As Dr. Slowinski pointed out, the challenge of a successful alliance depends on getting that equation correct.  It never hurts to have someone of his stature to remind us that the value of any business activity depends on being able to meet customer needs.

We joined the afternoon session led by David Burney, CEO and partner at RTP firm New Kind.  A pioneer from his open-source days at Red Hat, David was quick and often to announce himself as “just a designer,” but his talk revealed him to be so much more than that.  Better than anyone else we’ve read or heard in quite some time, David outlined some real paradigm shifts in the business world, predicated upon emerging trends in social dynamics.  Drawing upon his deep experience in open-source and coupling that with lessons learned from emerging social networks and sparking community-driven innovation at New Kind, David gave us multiple examples of designers capturing the wisdom of the crowd.  David also showed an emerging dynamic of “mission-based” businesses like Tom’s Shoes and Starbucks, who proudly wear their ultimate mission of creating a better world with their products as vehicles to drive their respective missions.  The Tom’s example—for every paid customer pair, Tom’s donates a pair to needy people in Third World countries, was especially thought-provoking.

Finally, David Magellan Horth of Greensboro’s Center for Creative Leadership showed why his organization has its well-burnished reputation for cutting-edge executive education.  Horth utilized visual techniques designed to inspire and engage creative thinking from the audience and then applied those tools to a methodology for bringing cross-functional teams together in a cohesive culture of innovation.  Horth’s talk speaks mightily to the Trig Innovation collaborative approach to product development, where we strive to include voices from across the organization for the most cohesive representation of ideas and contributions to the complex process of delivering a new product to market. 



Ty Hagler

Trig, 510 Meadowmont Village Circle, Chapel Hill, NC, 27517, usa