PDMA Innovate Carolinas 2012—What We Learned

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Year after year, we participate in what has become a must for area innovators to fuel their respective creative fires—the Product Development and Management Association’s Innovate Carolina conference. This year marked another stellar conference, hosted last Friday at Raleigh’s Long View Center, an emerging haven for entrepreneurs in the heart of the downtown business district.

As a platinum sponsor of this year’s event, Trig Innovation was proud to assist the conference organizing team with production in the areas of graphic design, direct mail marketing, video production, and photography. 

The conference was off to a roaring start with PDMA Carolinas President Jeffrey Phillips’s introduction of keynote speaker Stephen Shapiro of Boston’s 24/7 Innovation. The author of the recently-published innovation bible, Best Practices Are Stupid, Shapiro led the assembled crowd of nearly 200 Carolinas new product development professionals in an energetic, interactive, and thought provoking discussion on adapting our innovation processes in an age of increased time and budget constraints.

Shapiro provided great guidance for those of us who routinely lead innovation efforts in both consulting frameworks and as part of internal corporate teams. Shapiro predicates his innovation methods on first asking the right questions to reach the right solutions. He defines the right questions as neither too narrow in scope nor too wide in perspective. Perhaps the best line was when he challenged us to quit trying to “think outside the box,” since by asking the right, focused questions, we simply create a better box.

Iain Gray of Linux developer and servicer Red Hat of Raleigh led the group through a fascinating look at the many levels of community-driven innovation models, as exemplified by his own company and others. Gray made several key points, the first of which drives Red Hat’s innovation concept built around a global community of interested parties. It’s so obvious, but very few of us in the business world act upon the realization that no matter how big our companies may be there is always a greater abundance of creativity, tools, knowledge, and smart people outside of our company.

He defined today’s greatest management challenge as being able to properly tap that abundance of external resources in effective ways to drive business, leveraging speed, data, and the connectedness of the modern world. Gray reviewed the stunning Red Hat model for leveraging its outside world, through a three-step series of processes built around creating upstream projects (development goals or problems to solve), building and supporting communities around these upstream projects (a world of problem-solvers tackling the largest technology challenges on the planet), and then providing all of the support needed for those problem-solving communities as they move forward with solutions (services and certifications, security, stability, updates, and patches).

In addition to titans of innovation like Shapiro, Gray, and Greg Hopper of Research Triangle Park’s NetApp, who all gave larger-than-life presentations during the morning session, the afternoon breakout sessions featured a host of emerging leaders from diverse companies leading innovation in sectors ranging from energy to financial services and beauty products. Of this group, Garrett Putman of Durham-headquartered Burt’s Bees gave a very compelling presentation—a veritable rollercoaster ride through his own innovation team’s efforts to introduce a new range of beauty products for the 18-24 women’s market in the span of only 10 months.

Putman outlined the company’s efforts to launch its Gud line, showcasing a set of principles that his team followed consistently throughout its process. They leveraged existing market research in new and effective ways to understand their customer needs and wants for beauty products. In an effort to “zag while the rest of its competitors zigged,” the Gud team utilized packaging as an interactive marketing tool via QR codes (a sector first), reached out to influencers on the Klout social media platform, and created the first scented Facebook experience, reaching a total (to date) of 284,000 potential buyers to form a community around the new product line.

In addition to utilizing disruptive marketing techniques, the company laid out a high performance cross-functional team with clear roles and responsibilities. Senior management delegated decision-making authority to the team in certain areas from the outset, enabling the team to operate with greater speed, and the team operated with a “don’t overanalyze the data” ethos throughout the development process. And, in a turn reminiscent of one of Iain Gray’s most salient points, Putman noted that whenever possible, the Gud team turned to leveraging outside resources to flex out his team’s capabilities. In particular, he highlighted several creative agency and partner resources, who were able to spend critical time to conceive of the disruptive marketing techniques while Putman’s group focused on getting the products themselves right for market.

Ty Hagler

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