InnovatorI was recently asked what were the three most important traits of an innovator. Before I could provide an answer to this question I paused to firstly consider the definition of an innovator. To most people an innovator would be someone who comes up with something new and novel, typically an invention or a new concept that may also be protected by a patent. These types of innovators that come to mind include Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Michael Faraday and Thomas Edison. However, I challenge the traditional view of an innovator and present a revised definition as someone who applies creative ideas or innovative concepts to create something of value in the market, which could be a new product/service, a new process or organisational system. True innovators include Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Richard Branson who all have built successful businesses through their creative ideas and opportunities.

Therefore, if an innovator is defined as someone who comes up with something new and novel such as a new invention then three major traits (there are numerous) required are CURIOSITY (open minded, asking why? or challenging the status quo), THINKING CREATIVELY (using imagination, intuition and lateral thinking) and EXPERIMENTATION (the power of observation, scientific method, analysis, deduction and recording outcomes). A good example of this type of innovator was Leonardo da Vinci, a great inventor but never applied any of his inventions to create true innovations. Conversely, if an innovator is defined as someone who applies creative ideas to create something of value in the marketplace, in society or in an organisation the traits for a true innovator would then include VISION (the ability to see opportunities before anyone else), PERSISTENCE (the discipline and commitment to see things through) and ENTREPRENEURSHIP (the ability to convert ideas into successful commercial outcomes that create value). A recent example of this type of innovator would be Mark Zuckerberg who created Facebook.

Dr John Kapeleris

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Creating an Ideas Factory

February 13th, 2013 | Posted by John Kapeleris in Ideas | Innovation - (1 Comments)

Ideas FactoryMany people come up with ideas on a daily basis. However, they don’t capture the ideas in a written or electronic journal and the ideas soon dissipate.

The process of generating, capturing and implementing ideas is the basis of innovation. Ideas can solve problems within organisations but can also generate opportunities for new products and services, innovative business models and organisational systems, and novel marketing concepts. Ideas also help organisations keep an eye on the future by anticipating future trends and technologies and applying these ideas to deliver the needs and wants of the future.

The concept of an “ideas factory” can be implemented within an organisation to capture the wealth of ideas generated by individuals but also ideas that come from customers and other external sources. Some of these external sources could include the internet, publications, competitors and suppliers.

How do you create and implement an ideas factory within your organisation? Following are some of the key steps in creating and implementing an ideas factory within your organisation:

  1. Create a culture that supports and encourages the continuous generation and flow of ideas. The continuous flow and capture of new ideas provides organizations with a source of new products and services, product improvements, and novel processes that contribute to the organization’s survival and growth. Creativity is therefore an important key driver of innovation by providing new ideas and new ways to solve organizational problems.
  2. Develop a well defined ideas management process – Generating, Capturing, Processing, Evaluating, Implementing and Measuring Outcomes. Organizations need to adopt a formal ideas management process to capture, develop, evaluate, protect and implement ideas and suggestions, which form the foundation of new opportunities that satisfy needs and wants in the market.
  3. Provide the skills and tools for employees to develop competencies. Harnessing the creativity of the workforce forms a critical component of an innovative culture. Professional development of employees should include skills development in creativity tools and techniques. Furthermore,  creating an environment that encourages participation, learning and fun allows new ideas to be generated and improvements implemented.
  4. Evaluate the ideas using a set of pre-defined criteria – impact, strategic fit, value, cost, risk, timeframe etc. In evaluating ideas an initial feasibility should include a preliminary market, technical and risk assessment to determine the viability of the opportunity. It should also include an intellectual property search to determine whether someone else has already patented the idea, and to confirm that you have the freedom to operate.
  5. Implement the ideas to solve a problem, capitalise on an opportunity or transform your organisation. One of the most difficult steps is the implementation phase. Implementation requires the development of a project plan and then the execution of the plan through action. A typical implementation process may involve:
    • clarifying the objective,
    • developing the plan,
    • identifying key processes and tasks,
    • prioritizing activities,
    • resourcing and budgeting,
    • funding,
    • assigning responsibility, and then
    • doing it!

An ideas factory will require top-down management support, in addition to committed and disciplined champions who can drive the processes and methodology. Collaboration will also be an important element in the ideas factory. Champions can also make a significant contribution to the implementation stage.

Dr John Kapeleris


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Entrepreneurship is defined as the process by which a new venture is created when an entrepreneur identifies a new opportunity in the market to create economic products and services. An entrepreneur is therefore someone who is willing and able to convert a new idea or invention into a successful innovation in the market. The innovation could be in the form of a product, a service, or a novel business concept or model.

The typical characteristics of an entrepreneur include:

  1. An enthusiastic person with a vision
  2. The ability to identify new opportunities
  3. Calculated risk-taking
  4. Responsible in decision-making
  5. Overwhelming urge to succeed
  6. Discipline and persistence
  7. Confident and persuasive communicators
  8. Driven by the sense of accomplishment
  9. The ability to coordinate and manage scarce resources (time, money and people)

Studies according to Arthur Cole (1959) have identified four types of entrepreneurs:

  1. The innovator
  2. The calculating inventor
  3. The over optimistic promoter
  4. The organisation builder

Entrepreneurship is a very difficult undertaking, where many new businesses fail. Only a very small percentage (approximately 1%) of people who go into business succeed. Entrepreneurial activities range from solo businesses, many now being created online, to establishing large businesses, such as mining, employing large numbers of people. Entrepreneurs can also exist within existing organisations who identify new opportunities able to grow the existing organisation or alternatively are involved in spinning out new businesses. These entrepreneurs are referred to as intrapreneurs. An innovative high performing organisation should nurture and support the development of intrapreneurs as this activity can create significant growth for the organisation, either through the internal development and commercialisation of new ideas or through the creation of subsidiary businesses. If organisations do not identify, nurture and support intrapreneurs then many will leave the organisation and create their own businesses.

Entrepreneurship has been identified by many economists, including Joseph Shumpeter, as a driving factor that creates value in the economy through the following benefits:

  • Creating new jobs
  • Expanding new markets
  • New products and services
  • Satisfying domestic consumption
  • Developing new and existing industries
  • Income generation and economic growth
  • Healthy competition creating higher quality products
  • Supporting the existence of government and their budgets

Dr John Kapeleris

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Beyond Mediocrity

September 10th, 2012 | Posted by John Kapeleris in Innovation | Personal Development - (0 Comments)

Having grown up in Australia and being exposed to its unique culture and beautiful environment one of the disappointing aspects has been the “fair go” mentality. From a legal and human rights perspective giving people a fair and safe environment to live in is extremely relevant and important. However, when we as Australians use the “fair go” or the “she’ll be right mate” mentality it unfortunately reduces our competitiveness to a playing field that is well below some international standards, thereby negatively influencing our attitudes and productivity. We begin to blame the system or someone else, instead of taking responsibility and massive action to change the current situation.

When one of my children states, “It isn’t fair Dad!”, I reply with, “Yes you are right, because life and business is not fair, but highly competitive”. If our sporting heroes and teams adopted a “fair go” or “she’ll be right mate” mentality, Australia would not have been so successful in many of its sporting achievements. Business and work life is no different, therefore we need to have the passion and the desire to succeed in a very competitive global arena.

One of the drivers of productivity is innovation and I don’t mean just research and development, although this is a very important component of the innovation ecosystem. Innovation in the sense of the practical application of new and creative ideas to generate value in the market, either through, new products and services, processes, organisational systems or novel business models, can provide competitive advantage for an organisation and stimulate increased productivity. A good example is reflected in traditional manufacturing firms that adopt innovative practices through design integration, business model transformation or simply adopting advanced manufacturing concepts, such as additive manufacturing or systems integration, that can differentiate themselves in the market place, increase productivity and transform into a high performance organisation.

Australia’s recent productivity metrics have been well below international levels, continuing to deteriorate despite the mining boom. The deteriorating trends can be confirmed in the recent article “Australia’s Productivity Performance and Real Incomes“. Many sectors, in particular retail and manufacturing have been suffering in the current economic environment.

It is important to note that the majority of productivity improvements can only be made as a result of management decisions and strategies implemented in firms. Public policy can also play an important role in improving Australia’s productivity, particularly in areas of regulation reform, taxation reform, public spending and skills development. Australia is already the third highest cost environment for businesses in the world and with diminishing productivity this can only get worse for Australian businesses.

I believe innovation is the key to improving productivity in Australia. Innovation can create higher value products and services, improve production process efficiency, design new business models, and differentiate firms in the global market. There is no doubt we have to work harder, but more importantly work smarter to improve productivity efficiency. Having a “fair go” or a “she’ll be right mate” attitude is not going to help Australian businesses become more competitive on the global arena.

Dr John Kapeleris

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Australia is now characterised as a high cost environment due to a number of factors, including increased labour costs, increased regulatory costs and the increased value of the Australian dollar. Many traditional businesses are struggling to survive in this competitive environment. For businesses to become more competitive and gain significant advantages in the current global environment, they must innovate their business models, not just focus on products and services.

According to Osterwalder, a business model describes the value an organization offers to various customers and portrays the capabilities and partners required for creating, marketing, and delivering this value and relationship capital with the goal of generating profitable and sustainable revenue streams.

Business model innovation involves the design and management of innovation at the organisational and systems levels of businesses. It involves re-thinking the business approach, focusing on the unique offering, servicing clients, re-designing the business and creating value. Innovation requires constant thinking, planning, experimentation and learning by doing, to create new capabilities and to successfully implement a new business model.

IBM’s global CEO study conducted in 2006 indicated that firms innovating their business model exceeded the growth of firms that were innovating their products, services, markets or operations. A summary of the results is outlined in the figure below:

A great example of business model innovation is Dell Computers. The computer hardware industry has become a highly competitive industry where we have seen a number of consolidations through mergers and acquisitions but also divestment of existing business, such as IBM making the decision to stop selling desktop and laptop computers. Dell however was willing to rethink its business model and develop a new approach to remain competitive in a highly dynamic business environment.

Dell’s business model was redesigned, refined and modified by focusing on the following components:

  • Direct customer relationships
  • Direct sales
  • Customer segmentation for sales and service
  • Build-to-order production

The Dell business model was refined by removing the elements and activities that did not create value for Dell or its customers. The following diagram campares the Dell business model with the traditional personal computer distribution model.

The business model innovation implemented by Dell has provided the following advantages for the company:

  • Increased market share for personal computers
  • Ability to deliver a “made-to-order” customised PC quickly to the customer
  • Increased client satisfaction
  • Reduced cost through minimising inventory
  • Increased profit by utilising a direct sales strategy

Businesses should consider reviewing their existing business models and determining whether business model innovation can create competitive advantage.

Dr John Kapeleris
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“Dealing with complexity is an inefficient and unnecessary waste of time, attention and mental energy. There is never any justification for things being complex when they could be simple”. Edward de Bono.

In today’s complex world many people are trying to simplify their lives but sometimes it becomes very difficult as we have built layer upon layer of interdependent complexity. Edward de Bono, creator of the Six Thinking Hats, stated at a recent seminar that simplicity is more innovative than complexity.

We are living in a world that has become more complex and we need to somehow make it simpler to allow us to focus on the more important aspects of business and personal life. The only way we will do this is through innovation. Edward de Bono in his book “Simplicity” outlines Ten Principles of Simplicity, summarised below:

  1. Assign a high value to simplicity. To get simplicity you have to want to get it. To want to get simplicity you have to put a high value on it.
  2. Continuously pursue simplicity. People quite like simplicity if it does not cost anything but are usually unwilling to invest resources in making something more simple.
  3. You need to understand simplicity. If you do not seek to understand a situation or process, your efforts will be ‘simplistic’ rather than simple. Simplicity before understanding is worthless.
  4. Design alternatives and possibilities. It is not a matter of designing the ‘one right way’. It is more a matter of designing alternatives and possibilities, and then selecting one of them.
  5. Challenge and discard existing elements. Everything needs to justify its continued existence. If you wish to retain something for the sake of tradition let that be a conscious decision.
  6. Be prepared to start over again. In the search for simplicity, modify if you can or start afresh if you cannot.
  7. Work through concepts. Concepts are the human mind’s way of simplifying the world around. If you do not use concepts, then you are working with detail.
  8. Break down problems into smaller units. The organisation of a smaller unit is obviously simpler than the organisation of a large unit. The smaller units are themselves organised to serve the larger purpose.
  9. Trade off other dimensions for simplicity. A system that seeks to be totally comprehensive may be very complex. You may need to trade-off that comprehensiveness for simplicity.
  10. Know for whose sake the simplicity is being designed. A shift of complexity may mean that a system is made easier for the customer but much more complicated for the operator.

What are you doing to make things simpler in your business and work life, or are you happy working in a complex world?

Dr John Kapeleris

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The rapidly changing biotechnology environment, influenced by globalization, competition, financial pressures and the advancement of new technologies has impacted on the small to medium biotechnology firm. Entrepreneurship and innovation, in addition to collaboration, are the key factors that are needed to ensure emerging and small to medium biotechnology firms survive the discontinuous change.

Commercialization is broadly defined as the process of taking an idea to a successful outcome in the market, whether it is a product, service, process or organisational system. Commercialization should also include knowledge diffusion, consulting services and contract research rather than just the linear transfer of technology or intellectual property (IP).

The following five strategies for successful commercialization are founded on the three key factors of success: entrepreneurship, innovation and collaboration.

Create an Entrepreneurial Culture

The small biotechnology firm is exposed to a number of challenges impacting on its survival and sustainability. Therefore, an entrepreneurial culture must be implemented to ensure the effective leadership and management of the limited expertise, resources and funding that may be available to successfully commercialize opportunities. Many small biotechnology firms are dominated by a research or academic culture that must quickly evolve to become entrepreneurial and commercially focused. Establishing an advisory board with the required business expertise will ensure access to a balanced resource pool. Furthermore, the small to medium biotechnology companies, at an early stage, need to start defining the products and services that will address a market need, rather than focusing on the technology itself. Companies that quickly develop the products and services that customers need or want will have a greater chance of success.

Undertake Early Stage Market Research

Biotechnology companies need to carry out market research early to identify the specific market needs in order to drive their product and service development strategy. Firms need to identify a differentiated market niche to ensure that a demand exists for the specific type of product or service. Market research therefore informs a market driven strategy that allows biotechnology firms to commercialize more effectively and rapidly. Speed to market of a first generation product for a defined market allows the biotechnology firm to leverage success in an initial market to further fund and develop core technology to migrate into secondary markets with similar customer needs.

Embed Innovation across the Organization

In today’s environment, to achieve success, embedding innovation across the whole organisation is required, not just within the R&D functions. Innovation should include process innovation, organizational innovation, business model innovation and marketing innovation, in addition to product and service innovation. Biotechnology entrepreneurs need to better understand the business aspects of biotechnology and what is required to ensure successful commercialization. They also need to think creatively in order to solve complex problems and to differentiate their business model from their competitors. The ability to leverage the intellectual capital of employees through idea capture and encouraging team participation will impact on the firm’s future success.

Establish Strong Alliances and Networks

Biotechnology firms also need to establish strong alliances, research collaborations and commercial relationships, if they are to be a significant player in the biotechnology industry. One of the impediments to converting biotechnology opportunities into tangible outcomes is the “commercialization chasm” that divides the early stage “proof of concept” from the latter stage translation of the technology to a product or service.  To overcome this chasm small biotechnology firms need to adopt an open innovation mindset that facilitates networking and collaboration in order to access expertise, channels to market and novel funding options; not just continue to rely on government support and funding.

Identify Novel Funding and Resources

A novel approach to accessing expertise, resources and funding that has successfully been used in biotechnology is the “stepping stone” approach to commercialization. The approach involves the small biotechnology firm establishing a collaborative strategic alliance with another larger, established organisation or institution to co-develop the technology. The technology is essentially “incubated” in the other organization where expertise, resources and funding can be applied to fast-track the development of the product or service. The small biotechnology firm will need to offer the other organization either an equity contribution or a percentage share (royalty) of the revenue generated by the product or service.  The terms of the arrangement will need to be established during the preparation of the collaborative agreement prior to forming the strategic alliance.

In conclusion, in order for a commercialization strategy to be successful it must be effective, efficient and focus on outcomes as soon as possible. A biotechnology commercialization strategy, specifically, should focus on creating an entrepreneurial culture in the firm, founded on early stage market research, leverage innovation and creativity across the firm, integrate strong alliances and networks, and incorporate novel funding and resources where possible.

Dr John Kapeleris

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Biomimicry simply means imitating nature. By observing and studying nature, its elements, processes, models and systems, through biomimicry, we can design, develop, engineer or emulate new innovations and technologies to solve a range of simple and complex human problems. An everyday example is solar energy which is essentially related to the process of photosynthesis – the solar cell is modelled on the function of a leaf.

The study of biomimicry can provide insights into nature and how natural elements and systems can provide inspiration and solutions for the development of sustainable and environmentally friendly innovations. One of the well-known serendipitous discoveries that is now used worldwide was the development of Velcro®. In 1941 Swiss electrical engineer George de Mestral, after returning from a hunting trip with his dog in the Alps, noticed that burrs had stuck onto his clothes and also on the fur of his dog. Being curious he decided to view the burrs under the microscope to determine why these burrs were sticking to fur. He noticed a large number of little hooks on the ends of the burrs. De Mestral was inspired by these observations to emulate the function of the burrs using synthetic material. He settled on using nylon which was an emerging material at that time and invented Velcro® which is now used widely in a range of different applications.

Incorporating biomimicry concepts into design and innovation processes can provide a number of  advantages when developing new products or solving problems:

  1. Sustainable – Nature inspires products and processes that are natural and adapted to the environment.
  2. Efficient – The natural environment seems to be more efficient than the environments created by humans.
  3. Cost effective – Nature has a tendency to design structures and shapes that utilise materials efficiently thereby cutting down on materials and associated costs.
  4. Energy saving – Nature maximises the use of natural resources by using processes and systems that optimise energy usage.
  5. Minimal waste – In nature, materials and waste are minimised or recycled into value-added products.  Both waste and new materials are integrated in natural systems.
  6. Differentiated brand – Nature has a tendency to create its own unique shapes that define its brand which becomes enduring.

Leonardo da Vinci was an exemplar for utilising the concept of biomimicry through his observations of nature to bring to life his paintings and drawings. Many of Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions were inspired by observations of natural phenomena. For example, Leonardo’s design for a flying machine was inspired by closely studying the wings and flights of birds, while his designs for a parachute and a helicopter resulted from his observations of seed pods and flowers falling from trees.

The Biomimicry Institute’s Student Design Challenge shows some amazing design’s inspired by biomimicry

I encourage you to take some time and connect with nature as a means to providing inspiration in your work and personal life. Who knows; your next idea for a new product or design may come from your observations of nature!

Dr John Kapeleris


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Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” Albert Einstein

The “Red Queen Effect” refers to the Lewis Carroll (1872) story “Alice Through the Looking Glass” where we read that the Red Queen runs hard but never gets anywhere because the surrounding landscape is also moving. The Red Queen tells Alice, “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place”. The Red Queen Effect metaphor is very relevant to business – you need to run hard to stay up with the competition, otherwise if you do nothing you will fall behind.

Innovation speed (which is implied by the Red Queen Effect) refers to the length of time it takes for a product or service to move from idea to commercialisation. Many entrepreneurs and organisations struggle to quickly translate an idea to a successful product or service, and therefore are left behind. Some of the reasons may include lack of available early stage risk capital, lack of skills and experience, difficulty in aligning the product or service to the market need, fear of failure, difficulty in accessing resources or inability to manage risk. Improving innovation speed provides a number of advantages for the innovator, including:

  • First to market advantage
  • Reduced R&D expenditure and other costs
  • Improved profitability
  • Maximising value before patent expiry

The “Red Queen Effect” is occurring all around us; in new technology developments, increased competition through globalisation, climate change and the rapidly evolving business environment. We also find the “Red Queen Effect” impacting on our personal lives. Rapid and discontinuous change is the main cause of the “Red Queen Effect”.

To stay ahead of the competition organisations must take the advice of the Red Queen, “If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” The metaphor implies that for businesses to be able to run at least twice as fast, they will require innovation to allow them to think differently and outperform their competition.

Does the Red Queen Effect apply to your organisation or personal life?

Dr John Kapeleris

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“Everything that can be invented has been invented. Charles H. Duell, (Commissioner of U.S. patent office, advising President McKinley to close the U.S. patent office in 1899).

We live in a time where more and more ideas are converted into successful outcomes that create value for society. We need people who come up with ideas and new inventions (inventors), but also the people who are able to convert these ideas into successful products, services and businesses (entrepreneurs). Generally both inventors and entrepreneurs are able to come up with new ideas, and share some common characteristics, however, the key difference is that inventors are usually focused on the tangible invention, while entrepreneurs are more focused on the business opportunity. Off course some inventors are also entrepreneurs and vice versa. Inventors are interested in developing a novel product but not necessarily bringing it to market (i.e. commercializing it). Entrepreneurs procure, organize and manage resources (human, capital and other) through a new venture to bring a product to market, without necessarily having invented the product.

Therefore, how can we be more entrepreneurial in spotting patterns and trends, and seizing opportunities that can provide the next breakthrough concept, service or product? The simple answer is that we need to develop our entrepreneurial mindset and the characteristics associated with entrepreneurship.

Following are some of the characteristics of the Entrepreneurial Mind:

  1. Serendipity – The aptitude to identify opportunities through observation or by accident e.g. Scotchguard, Velcro, penicillin.
  2. Flexibility – The ability to change your business to accommodate changes in the external environment e.g. business model innovation
  3. Ingenuity – Possession of original thought allowing new concepts and clever adaptations e.g. Apple iPod.
  4. Niche picking – Identifying specific customer needs and wants that you can deliver faster, cheaper and better e.g. Dell computers.
  5. Speed and multiple agendas – Moving through multiple “gates” and “corridors” faster than the competition e.g Microsoft.
  6. New channels – The ability to notice and exploit expanded or new distribution channels e.g.
  7. Hypothetical thought – The ability to re-evaluate an existing product or service through questioning e.g. Leonardo da Vinci
  8. Comparative thinking – The ability to see what competitors or other businesses are doing successfully and applying these to your business.
  9. Radical thinking – Developing totally new opportunities that no one else has considered e.g. Apple iPad.
  10. Action and discipline – Developing an action plan, and having the discipline and commitment to implement successfully.

To achieve the above entrepreneurial characteristics we need to undertake further education, mentoring and on-the-job learning. A great service that can assist inventors to better understand the entrepreneurial process in taking their ideas to market is the AIC’s Inventor Service.

Dr John Kapeleris

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