Archive for July, 2015

Plantbeat measures the health of crops

July 25, 2015 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Cool Inventions and gadgets
Courtesy: Phytech

Courtesy: Phytech

Have you heard of PlantBeat for farms? It’s being developed in Israel thanks to an Open Innovation partnership that is bringing the so-called “internet of things” to the U.S. and Central America. More on what it is in a moment.

First, the partnership. Israeli agritech firm Phytech, is partnering with ADAMA Agricultural Solutions to sell its plant-alert system to farmers in North and South America.

Says Phytech CEO Sarig Duek, “We believe that ADAMA’s grower-focused approach will ensure the successful implementation of the technology for the benefit of growers worldwide.”

PlantBeat service equips crops with sensors that record the surrounding growing environment of the crop or individual plant. It tells farmers when the plants need water, the soil temperature and other information. All of the data is uploaded online in a cloud system to be accessed by scientists via their mobile apps. When they get the report, they can take the appropriate action.

They call it “plantbeat,” because the monitoring system mimics the way heart patients are monitored these days by physicians using the cloud to keep track of heart rhythms and abnormalities.

The company says the popular system is already used by 60 percent of Israel’s tomato farmers. It went to beta in California last year, and was a huge success.

Read more here:

Could hologram technology change how wars are fought?

July 23, 2015 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Cool Inventions and gadgets

Courtesy: Wiki CommonsHologram technology is going even more sci-fi, in this report from the Boston Business Journal:

It may sound like something from “Star Wars,” but Waltham-based defense contractor Raytheon Co. is developing hologram technology that could change how wars are fought.

In a patent application published last week for “digital infrared holograms,” Raytheon (NYSE: RTN) said its technology could be used to generate “dynamic scenes for purposes of simulations or tutorials, such as training exercises for military personnel.”

But the technology could also be used in other ways, such as creating hologram decoy versions of tanks, for example, which “may cause the enemy to be reluctant to fire-on or attack as a result of a strong showing of force, or if the enemy does attack, may cause the enemy to fire-on the decoy tanks initially, thereby providing military personnel additional time to prepare to engage the enemy.”

Read the rest here

What if you were displaced on the job – by a robot?

July 21, 2015 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Cool Inventions and gadgets

Screen Shot 2015-07-25 at 6.54.17 PMMcKinsey Research predicts that in ten years, 140 million knowledge worker jobs could be replaced by office automation, and 75 million jobs by robots. Already we’re seeing it happen. What if it happens to you? Do you have a strategy?

My friend Robert Tucker over at Innovation Resource shares four ways to ensure your future viability:

Four Ways to Make Yourself Indispensable

Honk if this sounds like you: You’re rushing from meeting to meeting putting out fires. You’re multi-tasking, texting, and counting the days till vacation. Lately you’re noticing a trend: job automation. Airport ticket counters staffed by fewer and fewer agents. Parking garage attendants replaced by self-pay machines. Once hot jobs like data center manager disappearing into The Cloud. Could your job be next?

Call it the Great Restructuring — a megatrend that’s gaining momentum by the day. From accountants to X-ray technicians to lawyers, jobs are vaporizing, replaced by software, algorithms and robots. By 2025, predicts McKinsey Research, 140 million knowledge worker jobs could be replaced by office automation, and 75 million jobs by robots. What can you do, not just to ensure your employment, but your employability in the years ahead?

As a futurist and innovation expert, I approach the automation challenge much the same way that I approach industry disruption. If you are willing to embrace its imperatives, this brave new world of work can become your opportunity. If you’re willing to study up on the issue, and take action daily to adapt, you’ll ride this wave into the future. Here are four ways to ensure your viability going forward:

1. Do an assessment. If your job can be “routinized,” it’s probably going to disappear. Begin by asking yourself some questions: How can this trend be approached with an Opportunity Mindset rather than a Defeatist Mindset? What are other forward-thinkers doing to make this trend their friend? And what will the workplace look like in 10 years and what might you do starting now to prepare?

According to much-cited MIT research, if a job involves learning a set of logical rules or a statistical model that you apply to task after task, day after day, that job is ripe for replacement. What jobs will be left, in high demand even? In my work with “high potential” managers in companies like American Express, Johnson & Johnson, IBM, Cisco and others, I observe the qualities that are much needed, but that most companies are desperate for.

After interviewing 43 standout managers and contributors from a variety of organizations for the book Innovation is Everybody’s Business, I have identified what it takes to be successful in the emerging non-routine world. These contributors don’t just master the functional and technical skills that got them hired in the first place. They go beyond. They develop subtle aptitudes and abilities that enable them to get new things done. I call them Innovation Skills, or I-Skills for short. For example, can you lead a cross-functional team tasked with doing something the organization has never done before? Can you sell your ideas to superiors, to colleagues, to your reports? Can you challenge assumptions that hold back fresh unfettered thinking? Do you see the big picture? Can you empathize with the end user? To assess your I-Skills, I’ve developed a simple survey that will give you a quick idea of where you stand.

2. No matter what lies ahead, your I-Skills will differentiate you.

While constantly looking for ways to reduce headcount, organizations are in need of people who know how to add value no matter where they’re placed. Paulette, a facilities manager in a large Canadian tech company, described her I-Skills this way:

“A lot of people in this profession think what we do is provide space for people to work in. They leave it there. But it’s really much more: it’s looking at the life cycle management of buildings, looking for greater cost savings and green buildings; it’s finding new and better ways of doing things.”

Whether you’re in facilities management, human resources, manufacturing, or brand management, things are changing so fast that you’re confronted daily with situations you’ve never faced before. So it’s how you deal with them that matters.

I encourage you to read the rest of Robert’s article here.

From thought to 3D in a moment!

July 21, 2015 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Cool videos

Check out this amazing capability from HP, and it’s new project: Sprout.  It’s an all-in-one computer and 3D scanner that makes it easy to go from thought to expression in an instant. This is sure to bring about a dramatic shift in the retail industry! Take a picture of an object, manipulate it and re-print it in 3D.  What business application can you imagine with this?

Leading Transformative Innovation – Gaining Speed, Agility and Higher Margins

July 8, 2015 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Conferences

An exclusive interview with Jean E. Spence
Former Executive Vice President, Research Development & Quality, Mondelez International, Inc. (formerly Kraft Foods, Inc.)

Most firms today have had to change their game to compete. The economy, industry fragmentation, increasing cost of goods, consumer price-shopping, the Internet, globalization – the list of reasons goes on. While everyone talks about innovation, the reality is that pressure is even higher to improve profit margins and productivity. As a result, many organizations have been restructuring to boost ROI. Often this means cuts, which can actually inhibit the creativity required to fuel growth.

Under such circumstances, how do you lead people to do their best? Especially when you lead R&D – which is often viewed as a cost center, yet expected to innovate new products and technologies.

To find out, we talked with Jean Spence. Jean was a senior leader at Kraft Foods’ restructuring, three-year turnaround, and Organizing for Growth (OFG) initiative. She then went on to lead innovation and collaboration initiatives at Mondelez International, the remaining company after the Kraft Foods spinoff. Jean was a key member of the executive team that spearheaded both the people and product side of Kraft’s major transformation. If anybody could speak to the implementation challenges and success factors, it is Jean.  Here is what she shared:

What do you think, especially coming from the R&D perspective, is the key to future growth and success in today’s disruptive, digital, and fragmented marketplace?  What would you advise innovation leaders to focus on?

JES: In Food and Consumer Packaged Goods, there is tremendous pressure on margins now. While there have always been ebbs and flows, the focus on margins is all-consuming.  It’s a structural change. Under Heinz [post- acquisition of Kraft], growth has actually declined. There is no R&D leader, but there should be. There also has to be a rise above cost.

Mondelez now has a Chief Growth Officer who reports directly to the CEO and oversees strategy, R&D, CMO, and all global categories. He has helped R&D do more – and do it better. One of the things we learned is that decentralized organizations still need some centralization; the Chief Growth Officer changed this. R&D is back to central now. R&D also had to show the organization, including the CFO, its own inefficiencies which we did by benchmarking against our peer set.  This has been important in making fact-based decisions and being proactive.  To identify new breakthrough technologies, we collaborate with the business team – this is key to getting investment, showing it’s not just technology for technology’s sake.  Finally, we look at trends (consumer, economy, politics, science) and at what we can do.

What, in your view, were the most effective and successful mechanisms to gain and maintain alignment during the major transformation you just went through? Can you talk about how these worked?

 JES:  Every function was expected to transform, and every function had a target.  The way it worked was: 

  • Everyone was benchmarking against best-in-class (within their industry sector). They benchmarked such things as headcount per dollar revenue; QA headcount per audit, results metrics, capabilities, costs, etc. Mondelez was already in top quartile but still expected to become the best they could.
  • We identified the right people for the right jobs, and created new career path opportunities.
  • Made sure specialists knew they were valued, not just management.  This meant changing salary grades, bonuses and long term incentives aligned to function.
  • Senior executives had more responsibility for corporate results; The percentage varies but the more corporate alignment, the more the executive team focuses on corporate results and not just their own business results.
  • Communication was key.
  • Perhaps the most important factor was changing where P&L decisions were placed, giving more influence to managers at the regional level.

How did metrics and performance indicators change during the restructuring? How were metrics calibrated to avoid conflicts between the functions and business units?

JES: The growth team has a set of pipeline metrics which the whole team is measured against.  Our metrics focus on where change is needed most, otherwise you can get swamped.  We did not drop metrics needed to maintain, but those were more automated.  For R&D specifically, we measure percent spend against long-term technology since we need to strengthen our performance there.  The goal is to go from 3% to 10%.  Finally, we took things to the staff level so targets would be specific. 

What were the biggest challenges for you, personally, as a senior leader in your role during the Kraft/Mondelez restructuring?

JES: For me, it was trying to be dispassionate.  By that I don’t mean without passion, I mean not emotionally attached — you have to be VERY fact-based in this role.  I had lots of long talks with people in HR to get counseled on this, I also participated in a ‘Leaders at Their Best’ program.

In a major transformation, everyone has to share the pain — and the cuts – equally, even at the top tier. As I said before, we found our own inefficiencies and the end-points to spend against for growth, R&D, and marketing.  While Kraft chose to ‘drain the swamp’ and then build back, at Mondelez we were careful not to cut too deep. I wanted to make sure and protect functions like QA and packaging with hard-to-get expertise that would be difficult to replace. It’s a balancing act.

What role does transparency play when people ask you questions, but you don’t have all the answers? 

JES: You have to be very honest and open, there’s no such thing as over-communication.  If you don’t know specific answers, give timelines.  Don’t overpromise, though. Say ‘in 30 days we will know more,’ or whatever the correct timeframe is. No matter what, we didn’t miss deadlines.  We balanced speed with doing things right, even though we prefer to do it right than fast.  We realized we are vulnerable, and if we don’t do it to ourselves, someone else will do it to us.


Jean Spence recently retired as Executive Vice President of Research, Development & Quality for Mondelez International, Inc., a position she held from January 2004 to April 2015. She was responsible for all product and packaging development, research, nutrition, quality, food safety and scientific affairs activities worldwide. She held the same position at Kraft Foods Inc., the $50B predecessor to Mondelez International, prior to the spin-off of the company’s North American grocery operations in October of 2012. In both roles, she reported to the CEO, sat on the Executive Team and was a frequent presenter to the board of directors. She was responsible for technology and innovation strategy for the company. The innovation performance went from bottom to Top Tier – resulting in top 4 customers naming Kraft ‘Innovator of the Year’.

Jean Spence will be the featured speaker at an exclusive strategy session Innovation & Growth Leadership Summit on Monday, April 25, 2016 in Chicago IL.  For more details or to reserve your place, call 800-338-2223 or 781-891-8080 or go online. 

Questions? Contact Jackie Cooper at or 508-641-0043

Six Essentials to Cultivating an Innovation Culture

July 2, 2015 Cheryl Perkins No Comments » Culture of Innovation

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 1.45.05 PMMy friend Robert Tucker over at the Innovation Resource has some thoughts on cultivating culture, something I’ve learned a lot about as the business climate and model has changed over the decades. What have you learned?

A decade ago, cultivating a culture of innovation was a “nice to do” activity. Today it is becoming a “must do” discipline for organizations that want to be around tomorrow. Here are six essential steps to cultivating an innovation culture:

1. Understand what an innovation culture is, and why it’s essential to work on improving it. Culture refers to the values, unspoken rules and subtle cues that guide people’s behavior and suggests how they should act within your environment to be effective. Culture is heavily influenced by an organization’s leadership. If risk-adverse, just-make-your-numbers behavior is rewarded by leadership, this message cascades to the far reaches of the company. But when a disruption starts to occur, the culture will ignore it or deny its existence until it becomes a full-blown crisis. By then it may be too late. Unless you’re working constantly to improve your culture, it will inevitably veer toward the kinds of behavior that Nokia’s high potentials revealed.

Before you start trying to improve your culture, you must first figure out what behaviors your organization genuinely rewards and sanctions. Then ask: is this the type of behavior that will help us meet the goals we’ve set and the market challenges we face? My strong suggestion is that leadership must spell out the behaviors you want more of, and catch people exhibiting them, and reward them in every way. Reward the mid-manager who emails the chief a disturbing story from the front lines where your product was no longer competitive. Compliment the millennial generation employee who speaks up in the meeting and asks an assumption-assaulting question. Laud the salesperson that rents the truck and drives through the night to personally deliver the customer’s order after a snafu. Reward the receptionist who contributes the most ideas to your Innovation Portal. Share stories that illustrate the desired behaviors, and make these people heroes. Behavior that gets rewarded gets repeated.

2. Put somebody in charge of cultivating the culture. Studies by Booz & Company show that companies with “highly aligned innovation strategies and highly aligned cultures generate 30 percent higher enterprise value growth and 17 percent profit growth.” All well and good, but in most companies, nobody is in charge of creating and maintaining an innovation culture, much less in aligning it with an the organization’s strategy. It is a colossal mistake to assume that the human resources department, just because it is in charge of people, should perform this role. My experience is that they are ill-suited for this role. Instead, I have long advocated a systematic approach to innovation whereby innovation strategy and culture alignment become the responsibility of the firm’s chief innovation officer.

3. Periodically assess the climate for innovation. There are a lot of things a company can do for itself, but understanding your culture’s strengths and weaknesses is not one of them. “There’s a rumor around here that we punished someone for failure,” said the division chief of a major chipmaker. “But we don’t have a clue what they’re talking about.” Surveying employee engagement has become commonplace in recent years, but a workforce can be engaged and still be anti-innovation and risk-adverse. Climate surveys enable you to objectively assess such cultural essentials as: the level of trust people feel towards each other and towards management; amount of collaboration across functions and silos; receptivity to new ideas; availability of resources among other attributes. Pay attention to gaps that exist between where people rate your company on an attribute, and how important they judge that trait to be. And make sure to contrast your company’s results with how a sample of other innovation Best Practice companies perform on these attributes before you seriously start thinking of launching a company-wide innovation initiative. The value of periodic assessment is that it gives you an objective pulse of how your people are feeling about the climate for innovation today, and enables you to gauge progress in your journey to cultivate a more open climate.

4. Make innovation a part of everybody’s job. Until recently, innovation was considered the responsibility of the R&D department, new product development, or the marketing team. Few companies included mention of creative initiative when assessing individual performance. Today more and more firms expect employees to operate from the principle that innovation is not what you do after you get your work done, it’s how you approach your work day-to-day. There’s growing recognition that a firm’s next breakthrough might arise from the supply chain arena, from a new manufacturing method, from entering a new market or championing a new business model. Progressive companies are training their high potential contributors not only to meet their numbers and be operationally excellent, but in the mindset, skillset and toolset of innovation. Some are even creating early warning systems to apprise them of asymmetrical threats such as Nokia faced. In our two day master classes for standout managers, topics include: How to spot opportunities in changing customer requirements; disrupt or be disrupted; how to lead change initiatives: how to sell new ideas up, down and sideways; and how to set expectations in the case of high-risk ventures or business models. Experience in this realm is becoming the biggest resume-builder, rather than avoiding high profile but “risky” projects.

5. Incentivize and reward broad-based innovative thinking. Why would anybody in their right mind volunteer to work extra hard to bring an idea to life if the result might be getting fired if things don’t work out as planned? The risks must always be born by the organization, and not the individuals involved. My experience is that in the vast majority of organizations there are abundant disincentives, but few incentives strong enough to encourage people to take risks. Recognition via salary increases and promotions are not usually enough to change behavior day to day. To change behavior, change the rewards, dinner for two to a nice restaurant, a bit of time off after completion of a major task, a handwritten note from the chief.

6. Improve the work environment. Innovate solutions to things in the office that waste people’s time. Eliminate policies and procedures that annoy people. Pay attention to enhancing the physical environment. Install white boards in all conference rooms. Hold meetings to exchange information, and brainstorming sessions to surface new possibilities. Set the example. Seek constructive feedback on your performance from the people who report to you. Ask continuously: how can I improve? Do you feel I am listening to you? Focus on improving communication skills. Change meetings by encouraging people to ask different questions. Invite people to think big. Say something like, “Guys, I think we’re getting in the weeds here. Reframe the question. During one brainstorming session with a client, the question “how can we increase productivity” got few responses. But when the question was changed to: “how can we make your job easier” ideas poured forth. If one of your top barriers is “lack of time to think” plan a “No Meetings Friday” and invite people to use the day to think up new ideas. Give out an award for the best ideas received.