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Inspirations for This Book

“Creative destruction”1 is a concept of new and better replacing old and tired. The long-term benefits to this birth-and-death entrepreneurial process are substantial. But it is not a linear positive trend, and the pace of change appears to be causing heightened tumult. New behaviors clash with societal norms or political constructs. Economic cycles, notably the 2008 recession and the years of continued economic malaise that followed, punctuate the high-risk environment that might be the new normal. Therefore, we believe innovation becomes a required core competency for survival, let alone gain! Teams provide the breadth of perspectives, knowledge, and skills that is virtually impossible for the individual to achieve. Most important, the process of incremental improvement that historically builds economic success for individuals, organizations, and economies before “the new norm” won’t win in today’s environment. That process occurs too slowly. We believe that pacing imposes a requirement for wholly new solutions. Let me state simply that you know you are being innovative when your solutions outperform the normative techniques as measured by the stakeholders. When your solutions change ways of behavior for entire cultures, you are leading a revolution.

Let’s look at the evolution of the “phone” as an example of the pace of change, as shown in Figure 1.1.

Figure 1.1

Figure 1.1 The evolution of “call me.”

The evolution of human communication has been a shift from primarily face-to-face to a broad and deep array of intermediaries. The telephone remained basically the same for generations of users. Incremental advances like answering machines and call waiting made an impact for a few decades. Digital, mobile, and visual interfaces change communications every few years. All require more human time and technology investment and increasing costs. As our human involvement (we are our own tech support), cultural expectation (available 24/7), and technology complexity increase, so does our service provider engagement. Where we once had one phone in the home, and one phone company, we now have multiple devices, multiple accounts, and multiple cost layers. The blur among service provider, product, and technology requires a multidiscipline perspective.

This transformation blends and bends human interactions in terms of what’s expected of us for engagement, value expectations as we expand our cost of living from a single phone line for connection to a mobile phone, ubiquitous Internet access for videoconferencing, technological self-reliance as we become our own technology support, and cultural expectations as we are available 24/7, as depicted in Figure 1.2.

Figure 1.2

Figure 1.2 Conflation of human, technology, value, and culture.

This is where design thinking helps us understand a phenomenon like human communications and presents stepwise (versus incremental) changes. Design thinking is inherently multidisciplinary because it does not adhere to strict theoretical constraints typical of many disciplines. Design thinking asks “what if” questions across disciplinary boundaries and therefore often plays best at the nexus of those boundaries. That is why design thinking is the underpinning of the learning nexus of design, engineering, and commerce. We are fond of asking, “Is your solution desirable, feasible, and valuable?”

A powerful consequence of design thinking and a rapidly changing environment is that the customer becomes an intimate partner in the creation of the solution. For many consumer product experts this has been the Holy Grail for a very long time. Today, with the breakneck pace of change and the ability to share information among large groups and diverse domains, the customer literally becomes the co-innovator.

As we expand the players in the process of innovation, we also increase the magnitude of the problems we can solve. I can’t stress enough that design thinking as a strategy spends as much time in the problem-finding domain as in the solutions domain. This time is spent iteratively, not sequentially: problem, solution, problem, solution. Stanford Associate Professor Pamela Hicks calls this “learn, return, and refine.” This makes the team expert in the dynamic environment they are working. The classic version 2.0 is a natural phenomenon instead of a tedious incremental next edition that tries to get the first one right.2

Design thinking as a sophisticated opportunity recognition process is a game changer.

We conceived this book with the simple proposition that humanity seeks improvement as a natural phenomenon. Education can and should support those instincts. Indeed, the world is filled with imperfections that demand action. Ask a random group of people whether the world is perfect and we predict 100% agreement that it is not.

Therefore, we believe that a basic objective of education is to stimulate the individual to solve problems. The “average” person is reasonably equipped to deal with problems when presented. However, education seldom prepares people to critically assess the current condition and add value.

The value-creating possibilities of a better process, one that innovates as core competency, will result in an improvement in the successful launch and growth of businesses and a sustainable improvement in the human condition.

The authors assembled for this book are inspired believers in the capacity of collaborators to find problems and map solutions when they are prepared with pathways and insights. Because I have spent my entire professional life in entrepreneurship—as an entrepreneur, teaching entrepreneurship and advising start-up companies, and as an entrepreneurial (I hope) university president—my thinking always starts with the question “Is there an opportunity?” Critically, I’ve always worried that the conception of opportunity was too often random. I cannot count the number of times someone has said to me, “I have a good idea,” and how infrequently it really was!

The book is organized into five sections and 16 chapters that begin with crafting the vision and strategic framing and move through to assessing your innovation capabilities and teaming issues to tools for innovation discovery and into shaping opportunity. The final section is a series of stories from the field that illustrate key aspects of disruptive innovation best told through example. Each section begins with an interview with one or more experts from the field that offer salient insights that frame the section’s chapters. In this chapter I will share my experiences that led to the reorganization of Philadelphia University and walk you through how this book can help guide your organization for better opportunity recognition and disruptive innovation through teamwork.

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