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Posts Tagged ‘Innovation’

By Joseph WilsonWhen touring, KISS use speakers from Toronto audio gurus Canadian Speaker Works Pro

When touring, KISS use speakers from Toronto audio gurus Canadian Speaker Works Pro

When Shane Shah was three, he blew up his first speaker. “My Dad taught me how to join two wires together so I wired up all the speakers in the house,” he says. “After they blew up I opened them up to try and fix them.”

Ever since, Shah, worked to hone his skills repairing and designing his own speakers. Now he runs Canadian Speaker Works Pro, a design and manufacturing studio in Toronto. His speakers are used by musicians as diverse as the Black-Eyed Peas, Shania Twain and KISS.

“Many of these artists will stipulate as part of their performance contracts that the stage be equipped with CSW speakers,” says Shah. In response, AV companies in the States are starting to use CSW speakers exclusively, to give them an edge over their competitors.

Usually, speaker manufacturers order pre-made components from all over the world and assemble them before they hit the market. Since Shah’s shop designs, manufacturers and assembles all their own components, the specifications are much tighter. “We’ve built the ideal box for speakers,” says Shah. “We go through a long testing process… to make sure the audio is the best it can be.”

And louder: “Our speakers are four times louder in the front than in the back.” Usually, he explains, speakers leak sound around them in a circle, making it difficult for musicians on stage to hear properly. “90% of the time, when you hear feedback at a concert it comes from the bass,” he says. “We direct the bass to the front of the speaker, which benefits the industry by reducing feedback.”

Now this industry innovation has been formally recognized in Canada. Shah was recently nominated for a 2011 Manning Innovation Award for “Canadian citizens who have demonstrated recent innovative talent in developing a successfully marketing a new concept.”

Named after the former Alberta Premier, the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation was created in 1980 by former CEO of Alberta Energy Company, David E. Mitchell.

Since its inception, the Foundation has sifted through over 2,500 nominees, and doled out $4 million in prizes to 216 winners, all in order encourage and recognize Canadian innovators like Shah.

Think you’ve got the next game-changing innovation? Nominations for the 2012 Manning Innovation Award are open until December 1, 2011 – click here for eligibility and judging criteria.

Reposted from MaRS

JosephWilson is currently an education advisor at MaRS. He also writes on issues of technology and culture for NOW Magazine, the Globe and Mail, Spacing and Yonge Street. He is the Executive Director of the Treehouse Group, dedicated to fostering innovation by hosting cross-disciplinary events.

The RIC blog is designed as a showcase for entrepreneurs and innovation. Our guest bloggers pro vide a wealth of information based on their personal experiences. Visit RIC Centre for more information on how RIC can accelerate your ideas to market.

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By Robert Brands

R&D, Marketing, Sales, Finance, IT – you’re familiar with the most common departments within a standard company, and have likely been involved with one or more. You know it can be a real challenge for unalike minds to understand where each other is coming from regarding any number of topics within a project. As an owner, you have to be the champion – the true driver of the process in order to create cross-divisional cohesion removing the silos.

First and foremost, never underestimate the importance of selecting associates who are passionate about your product (or service) and effort. Hiring employees who truly believe in your product and company possess an innate form of motivation, and are far less likely to derail your efforts if they aren’t being rewarded or recognized on a constant basis. Passionate associates always strive to give their top effort towards the cause. Choosing all employees this way will ensure that you’ve got a team that is ready and willing to cooperate.

1.       Assign specific tasks to a dedicated “owner.” Your associates will perform best when they feel as though they are essential members of the team. Not only is delegating crucial for organizational purposes, it has the welcome side effect of making each and every employee feel “special,” an invaluable reward all its own. This will also increase overall understanding and alignment by having defined innovation and mutual understanding of customer needs and wants, not just departmental needs. If you make each employee responsible for a specific task, each will feel like an equally vital part of the process, helping to create cohesion.

2.       Set specific goals: As the leader, it is up to you to create commonality and a common goal like “at least one new product per year.”

3.       Create common incentives: Create a common bond by having like objectives and incentive payouts for good results, like offering a new product sales bonus as a percentage of turnover.

Creating cohesion across all departments within your company is a challenge every business owner faces. But if you follow the aforementioned innovation rules, you are guaranteed to encourage mutual respect and cohesion among members from all divisions. For more additional tips on how to create the best possible team for your company, look for Robert’s Rules of Innovation.

Robert is the founder of InnovationCoach.com, and the author of “Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival, with Martin Kleinman published by Wiley. Helping to Evaluate, Improve and Deliver Innovation through 10 Imperatives that Create and Sustain “New” in Business or Organization.

The RIC blog is designed as a showcase for entrepreneurs and innovation. Our guest bloggers provide a wealth of information based on their personal experiences. Visit RIC Centre for more information on how RIC can accelerate your ideas to market.

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By Robert F. Brands

South Pole Innovation

One hundred years ago, two men set out on a Race to the South Pole.

Both Englishman Robert Falcon Scott and Norwegian Roald Amundsen were experienced explorers. They knew the polar conditions of Antarctica. They knew with reward came inherent risk.

Their shared tale is one about best practices versus innovation. One relied on mere innovation to master a frozen continent. The other innovated best practices he’d learned through years of intensive research.

One traveled to the South Pole, planted his nation’s flag as the first, and returned safely. The other reached the pole, saw he’d been beaten, and paid the ultimate price for his poorly planned expedition.

Amundsen blended modern innovation with time-tested best practices common among people who lived in extremes. Scott relied mostly on what he thought was innovation, but in fact was a poor reinvention of the wheel. This is an important lesson for any business, venture, man or mission.

Amundsen meticulously researched Antarctica. He spent a year living with Eskimos. He knew Arctic conditions, and modeled his outerwear selection on the furs common among the people. He knew that dogs and sleds were the best means of travel atop deep snow and ice. But Amundsen improved upon modern sleds by making them longer and narrower so as to spread their weight across a greater length. To pull them, he brought 53 dogs.

Scott rushed his Terra Nova expedition’s planning. He thought 19 ponies, 33 dogs ( as back up) and three motor sledges would suffice. He and his crew of 24 dressed in woolen clothing. His was a rushed expedition.

Amundsen also knew the region. From prior exploration, he knew that the Bay of Wales, or Ross Ice Shelf, hadn’t moved in 80 years. It would provide the best protection for his ship and base camp from unrelenting winds. He built and provisioned three larger base camps – so as not to have to carry food with them the entire journey and markers with food at every degree South.

There Amundsen’s camps and ample provisions kept his team and remaining dogs alive, Scott endured a different fate. His wools absorbed perspiration, which froze in the sub-zero temperatures. His horses’ hooves broke through snow and thin ice; the animals didn’t have the stamina for such conditions. Weak and starving, they were shot en route.

In the end, Amundsen made it to the South Pole and returned to his base camp. In January, 1912, Scott’s team arrived at the South Pole – one month after Amundsen. (See “Race for the South Pole by Roland Huntford for a side by side unedited Journal  entries)

Having planned for horses to make the return trip in short order, Scott and his men were insufficiently provisioned to make the return trek by foot. Ultimately, they perished in the white-out of a driving blizzard within miles from the final base camp.

What Amundsen knew – and Scott paid the ultimate price for not realizing – is that following well-modeled best practices are an imperative of smart innovation. Once best practices are learned, you then can innovate atop that. In any venture – whether a new business or exploration of seemingly uncharted terrain – innovation is key. Innovation drives growth and becomes the foundation for success. But it’s vital that innovation is laid atop best practices.

In the end, Roald Amundsen’s name is planted – along with Norway’s flag – as the innovating pioneer who first reached the South Pole. Robert Scott’s name, sadly, stands as an abject lesson in how haste and poor planning can prove fatal to man and mission alike.

Robert is the founder of InnovationCoach.com, and the author of “Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival, with Martin Kleinman published by Wiley. Helping to Evaluate, Improve and Deliver Innovation through 10 Imperatives that Create and Sustain “New” in Business or Organization.

The RIC blog is designed as a showcase for entrepreneurs and innovation. Our guest bloggers provide a wealth of information based on their personal experiences. Visit RIC Centre for more information on how RIC can accelerate your ideas to market.

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By Andrew Maxwell

In a recent interview with Rick Drennan, the editor of the Mississauga Business Times, I was asked to explain the relevance of innovation to businesses operating in Mississauga. I made the comment that if you are not innovating your business, then someone else is. I suggested that more innovative companies created better solutions, better services, and ultimately better performance.

However, as innovation involves risk and the possibility of failure, Rick asked about attitudes to risk. I suggested that the risk of innovating, should be compared against the risk of not innovating, and that the risk of not innovating could lead your business, however successful, to long-term failure (or acquisition by more innovative companies).

Rick decided to lead the front-page story with the headline “Innovate or Die?” which at first surprised me. However, upon reflection, I began to see parallels with “Eat or Be Eaten” (Phil Porter, 2000), and reflected that in my experience more innovative companies are the usually the acquirer, rather than the acquiree.

The problem is, that while many companies espouse the need for innovation, they struggle to implement innovation, either because they are risk averse, or have processes and systems designed to protect their existing businesses, rather than to innovate their future.

In reality, organizations are designed to achieve a certain level of innovation, and changing this to increase innovation rates can require fundamental changes in the business that can damage the existing business. As a result, I suggest that companies recognize their own limitations and constraints to decide if they simply cannot innovate, are willing to change their internal processes, or can collaborate with third parties who can innovate on their behalf.

We have introduced a new certification course at the University of Toronto, School of Continuing Studies, “The Foundations of Innovation Management” to help companies identify the innovation challenges facing their businesses, and develop appropriate innovation processes to help implement innovation processes.

We launched an introduction to the course at a half-day conference in Toronto last month (www.innovationcentre.ca) and discussed both the innovation imperative, and the importance of seeing innovation as a process.  The course is designed to change the mindset around innovation from product innovation in a small part of the company, to business innovation throughout the organization. The development of an innovation process helps both capture ideas inside the company and implement them, and as a result impact the bottom line. Importantly we focus not only on product innovation, but also process, service and business model innovation, all of which can increase company revenues and profitability.

One of my colleagues in the design of Foundations program highlighted an insightful example from their period as a senior executive involved in innovation and productivity improvement at Royal Plastics. He used the example that Royal Plastics adopted innovative production processes that allowed them to produce molded plastic components at lower cost than their major competitors. This competitive advantage built economies of scale for the company, which both improved cost (and hence financial) performance and encouraged the company to increase innovation levels. They created a virtuous cycle of innovation and productivity improvement that led to cost reductions that allowed them to become a dominant player in the industry, and acquire both market share and competitors. In other words, they put themselves in the position of eating rather than being eaten.

The Foundations of Innovation Management course (http://learn.utoronto.ca/bps/imc.htm) is designed to help people in small, medium, and large companies increase the rate of innovation in their businesses. First, it challenges assumptions about innovation that have inhibited companies from being more innovative. The most important observation, from examining innovation rates in companies, is that once the imperative of increasing innovation rates is established, the most important issue is that of introducing a more formal innovation process which can gather innovative ideas, select those worthy of consideration and implement those most likely to improve the bottom line, or enhance company value.

The creation of a more innovative company requires not only the creation of an environment and culture that successfully stimulates new ideas, but where those ideas are assessed through an open communication process, and the more promising ones implemented (at least in a pilot). In addition, the company must constantly review the process to identify opportunities for process improvement, and specifically to learn from failure.

Finally, outcomes from innovation initiatives must be visible, and used as a catalyst to stimulate further rounds of innovation. In my next blog, I will talk about some of the challenges of increasing innovation rates in companies, if you would like to find out more about the course, please check the link. http://learn.utoronto.ca/bps/imc.htm

Andy is currently working at the Canadian Innovation Centre and pursuing a Ph.D. in the area of new venture creation at the University of Waterloo. In his spare time, he enjoys teaching technology entrepreneurship at UTM and the University of Waterloo.


The RIC blog is designed as a showcase for entrepreneurs and innovation. Our guest bloggers provide a wealth of information based on their personal experiences. Visit RIC Centre for more information on how RIC can accelerate your ideas to market.

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By Glenn Laba

Has Lean Manufacturing run its course? Innovation is the natural stepping stone to growth.

The patient has been stabilized, but where’s the rehab? According to Industry Canada’s November Ontario Economic Review, the manufacturing sector is losing some of its momentum for a recovery from the recent recession, because of a modest 1.7% increase in GDP in Q2 2010 compared to a gain of 5.0% in Q1.

The health of Ontario’s manufacturing sector is still fragile. It might be out of intensive care, but it still needs help to leave the hospital. The important question remains: what prescription is best for the health of Ontario’s manufacturers?

Lean manufacturing has become the mantra of many Ontario companies, enabling them to reduce costs and maintain profit margins. In doing so, their health has become stabilized.

The first question I pose is: how much more will lean techniques help manufacturers recover? Pareto’s Law holds that eighty percent of all problems are the result of twenty percent of the major causes. So once Lean techniques have overcome those major causes to manufacturers’ problems, there will be diminishing returns to their Lean efforts to remain competitive.

The second question I pose is: do “Lean”  techniques help manufacturers increase sales? Generally speaking, the answer is no. Lean helps maintain stability, but it does not stimulate growth. From his study of fifty plants in six industries, Wickam Skinner pointed out “there are many ways to compete than producing at low costs”.

Manufacturers that have achieved “Lean” manufacturing ideals must now come up with new and better ways to design and manufacture products. They have to innovate. Manufacturers must now try to balance their diet between Lean and Innovation. Because innovation requires resources be freed from other tasks, early adopters of Lean principles have moved on to adopt new technology, create new products, develop new ways of marketing and build global relationships. Only in doing so, can Ontario manufacturers leave the hospital with renewed strength to compete globally.

Glen Laba is the newest member of the RIC Centre Team. In his role as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence, his aim is to provide personalized support to SMEs in the manufacturing sector to help them innovate and grow their business.

The RIC blog is designed as a showcase for entrepreneurs and innovation. Our guest bloggers pro vide a wealth of information based on their personal experiences. Visit RIC Centre for more information on how RIC can accelerate your ideas to market.

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Ready to Take RIC to the Next Level of Innovation

By Mary Dytyniak

The RIC Centre recently named John Switzer as the new Chair of the Advisory Board. Stepping down from the position is Bill Matthews.

Matthews was a key contributor in establishing and setting in motion the development of the RIC Centre as the fourth largest innovation and commercialization centre in Ontario. Matthews found it both rewarding and enlightening to work with Pam Banks, the Commercialization Director at RIC, the board and especially John Switzer.

“I have great confidence in John. I was delighted when he was selected to be the next chairman,” Matthews said.

Partnering with the city of Mississauga, Brampton, the Town of Caledon and Peel Region, as well as educational institutions such as the University of Toronto Mississauga and Sheridan College has helped bolster RIC’s clientele through support and funding.

During his term Switzer hopes to take the RIC Centre to the next level of advancement, supported by a renewed 3-year funding commitment approved by the Ministry of Research and Innovation.

“Our performance will be measured by the number of firms that take those ideas to fully funded, commercially viable enterprises in Peel Region, creating jobs in the process. Our job is about economic development,” Switzer said.

The RIC centre is one of 12 regional innovation centres in the ONE Network of Excellence, a network of organizations across Ontario designed to help entrepreneurs, researchers and business professionals commercialize their ideas.

Although the RIC Centre has been in operation since 2002, as the Western GTA Convergence Centre, it wasn’t until Pam Banks came onboard as the Commercialization Director and funding was granted by the Ontario government that RIC established itself as a non-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting and growing innovation in Peel Region. Switzer plans to work with the RIC board and its partners to push the innovation agenda further over the next three years.

“We have to raise our level of visibility by getting out and making calls to partners and to prospective enterprise partners, who can assist us by working with all our entrepreneurial clients. We need to actively promote and speak to  the innovation agenda within Peel Region, so that people will see RIC Center as the place to go for support in advancing innovation in the region,” Switzer said.

2011 looks to be a promising year for the RIC Centre, with the launch of a number of new programs such as the Peer-to-Peer network that will facilitate knowledge sharing among clients and entrepreneurs at monthly meetings.

The RIC Centre is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to supporting and guiding small to medium-sized enterprises through the process of bringing innovative ideas to market in the fields of aerospace, advanced manufacturing, life sciences and emerging technologies.

Mary Dytyniak will be graduating from the University of Toronto with an Honours Bachelor of Arts this June 2011. She is currently finishing her major in Professional Writing and a double minor in Classics and History. Mary has published works in the fields of non-fiction, creative, journalistic, research and corporate writing. She is currently pursuing a career in the magazine and publishing sector.

The RIC blog is designed as a showcase for entrepreneurs and innovation. Our guest bloggers provide a wealth of information based on their personal experiences. Visit RIC Centre for more information on how RIC can accelerate your ideas to market.

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By Etienne Bruchet

Anyone looking to innovate within their organization or industry might be forgiven if he or she got a headache trying to follow the so-called ‘rules of innovation’. This is mostly because these very rules have a tendency to contradict one another.

Want a good idea? Have a lot of ideas! Don’t waste time on a couple of ideas and end up out of the loop! On the other hand, too many ideas can spread resources too thin. Allowing a thousand small initiatives to pop up, as the Economist notes, can leave managers constantly “sorting through the chaff to find a few grains of wheat.”

Innovation is change; it’s radical and random by definition. It necessitates risk-taking. And yet, the most successful innovators are the ones who do not go headfirst against the mould. The firms with disruptive ideas are often the ones headed to bankruptcy (like the early dotcom firms). As Richard Watson notes in his piece on the ‘Rules of Innovation’, the most profitable innovations are inherently conservative, and it’s often “the companies that avoid radical innovation that win in the longer term.”

As both Mr Watson and the Economist note, larger companies are more likely to be successful innovators. This is largely due to their vast resources, which gives them the power to invest to pursue ideas. It is also due to their focus on efficiency and incremental progress, which allows them to innovate slowly without getting too far ahead of the curve and scaring off the “fundamentally change averse” market.

But, at the same time, innovation can just as much be beginner’s luck, according to Business Week. A larger company tends to attract the risk-averse rather than rule-breakers, and this tends to mean it will hire experts within its own industry to find ways to innovate its operations or systems, or solve its problems. It would seem illogical and risky to hire someone who is markedly inexperienced in your field to be in charge of moving it forward. And yet, there exist dozens of examples of innovation originating from people who had little to no previous experience in the industry (eBay, Netflix, etc.). This does help to support the notion that innovation is random.

Nevertheless, at the end of the day, there are still tips (if not rules) that companies can follow to help boost their chances at successfully innovating. Collaborating with other firms and bringing in people from various fields brings new perspectives and greater overall knowledge capital to the firm or project. The myopia of experts (“…can’t read the label if you’re sitting in the jar”) within the field limits their chances at substantial or revolutionary innovation by restricting an outside perspective.

By using experts from outside your industry, the paradigms of your industry are challenged and you likely get more unique solutions from your problems.

You may well be injecting some beginner’s luck into your own company.

Etienne Bruchet is a University of Toronto student in the Communications, Culture and Information Technology program. He is currently completing his Specialist major in Digital Enterprise Management. He works as a Webmaster and Marketing & Communications intern at the RIC Centre.

LINKS:

Why Innovation is Beginner’s Luck

The Innovation Machine

Rules of Innovation

The RIC blog is designed as a showcase for entrepreneurs and innovation. Our guest bloggers provide a wealth of information based on their personal experiences. Visit RIC Centre for more information on how RIC can accelerate your ideas to market.

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