About This Case


31 May 2010, 11:59PM PT


13 May 2010, 3:00PM PT


  • Advertising / Marketing / Sales
  • Consumer Services / Retail Industry
  • Enterprise Software & Services
  • Government / Politics / Global Issues
  • Hardware
  • Healthcare / Biotech
  • Hospitality / Leisure / Hotel
  • Human Resources
  • Internet / Online Services / Consumer Software
  • Media / Entertainment
  • Real Estate
  • Start-Ups / Small Businesses / Franchises
  • Transportation / Travel

Tracking Down Organizations That Are Encouraging Innovation


Closed: 31 May 2010, 11:59PM PT

We're on the hunt for organizations (companies, non-profits, schools, etc) that encourage innovation in a unique or interesting way.  Sure, every company claims to foster innovation, but few truly do.  So we're looking for those rare gems.  Nominate your favorite examples, and tell us why you think your nominee deserves to get some recognition. 

Obviously, innovation itself is a complex concept that isn't easily quantified.  But as we build up a list of examples, we may find common themes and quantifiable criteria that will help to define measures of innovative efforts.  With your help, we may be able to identify the best methodologies for generating innovative ideas.

8 Insights



From the "about" page:

Welcome to Geniocity.com, your doorway to the frontiers of creativity and innovation.
We beleve that creativity is the key to the future - that a better, more enjoyable life for everyone will come from people who have the power to shape our thoughts and endeavors with new ideas, discoveries, inventions and art.

. . . 

Because you think, you want to know what's going on at the cutting edges of science and technology, culture and art, business and government, law and social policy, education and philosophy. You need the latest news and opinion on fresh creative developments. And you don't just want to read about others' brainstorms - you want to offer your own once in a while, too.

You'll find what you're looking for here, starting with our daily blogs about entrepreneurship and soon including original, interactive news stories on innovations around the world as the Geniocity Webzine grows.

I practiced as a commercial litigator in NYC for 12 years and have been a law professor for 13.

I would like to nominate my employer, the Gates Foundation.

The Gates Foundation's mission is to bring the methods and intellectual rigor of the technology industry to the non-profit sector. Since it's inception it has focused on evidence over emotional appeals: what methods of disease eradication can be proven to save the most lives at the most effective cost? What methods of agricultural development not only put food on the table today but also build the potential for sustainable development tomorrow? The process of innovation -- launch, test, refine, re-launch -- have always guided the foundation's activities.

My favorite example, though, is the Grand Challenges Explorations program. This program allows anyone to submit a two-page application describing a method of addressing some problem in global health, from malaria to male contraception. You don't need to be head of a laboratory to receive funding, you don't need the backing of the academic elite, you just need to have an idea powerful enough to get the attention of the reviewers. Every round 3,000-some applications are received, and ultimately 60-80 applicants are chosen to receive $100,000 in seed funding to implement and further refine their ideas. The best-performing ideas are then eligible for further funding.

This program is controversial. Every time new grants are announced, stories appear mocking and criticizing the work. How can the foundation throw millions of dollars at far-fetched ideas like blocking mosquitos with an invisible wall of light when people are dying for lack of food, clean water, and medical supplies? The history of health aid, though, shows that money can be spent year after year, decade after decade, in the very best faith on problems that never seem to go away. The Grand Challenges Explorations program is founded on the faith that a powerful idea might solve a problem, not just today, but forever, and that this idea might come from anyone: a professor, a grad student, or some guy you've never heard of who has an insight that you've never imagined. To me, that is innovation at its best.

Joseph Hunkins
Sat Jul 24 9:38am
Great post. The Gates Foundation has done amazing work and continues to inspire (and more importantly, adequately FUND) innovative approaches to development around the world. It pains me to listen to naive critics complain about the positive way that business sensibilities are beginning to drive development efforts, leading to greatly improved returns on both money and time investment, which in the case of development means more lives saved, less poverty, higher standards of living, and lower population pressures (because contrary to another naive criticism of helping the poor, higher standards almost always bring lower birth rates).

Companies looking for innovation should think of innovative ideas as if they are exotic flowers.  Under the right conditions, innovation thrives, but in anything but the ideal environment, innovation may never get off the ground. 

One way to "generate" innovative ideas is to hire true innovators and allow them to innovate; get the best, most creative people and set them free on sinecures, allowing them to do what they do best without fear of income loss from taking risks on new ideas.  This is a really expensive risk, but the payoff can be enormous.  Just ask the old blue-sky research firms that now own vast swaths of the IP we rely on every day how much money you can make with this strategy.  They laugh all the way to the bank every time a new licensee signs on.

Another way to "generate" innovative ideas is to offer rewards for incremental innovation to your employee base at large.  Some employees may have good ideas, but they may have no incentive to advance those ideas into products or services. 

Ultimately, I assert that idea utilization is equally important to idea generation.  I recommend always attempting to be fully aware of the innovations you've generated once you have them. 

If Xerox PARC had licensed its GUI to Apple and Microsoft instead of giving it away, they would have been richer than both those companies combined by now.  I believe many organizations have truly breakthrough opportunities at their fingertips and yet for some reason they are not acting on these time-sensitive cash cows.   Don't fall into that trap, take the chance and cash in!

I am a lead systems consultant for a major telecommunications company. I have a long family history in the Computer Science field.

We don't see a lot of examples where ideation is baked into organizational structure. What we need are 'Chief Idea Officers' --yes, CIOs -- whose responsibility is to spot, nurture and develop ideas using collaboration tools across the enterprise.

Here is how I see this happening:

Every organization needs to start thinking of brainstorming as not something it does when confronted with a problem of opportunity, but something that happens in a structured environment. The 'CIO' would be the person who is part of and yet separate from the traditional marketing/advertising/PR group. The problem is that there are some groups who have usurped idea generation as their rsponsibility, discouraging others from raising their hand. There are many collaboration and interactive tools today that can be easily used to strength then case for initiating and evaluating ideas. Creating a position within the enterprise for taking charge of it would let those proverbial thousand flowers bloom.

We don't see a lot of examples where ideation is baked into organizational structure. What we need are 'Chief Idea Officers' --yes, CIOs -- whose responsibility is to spot, nurture and develop ideas using collaboration tools across the enterprise.

Institutions can be used or abused. The present IP system is heavily abused. However, that does not "prove" it is inherently bad, any more than Hitler's Brown Shirts "prove" all police forces are bad. At one time, I had an invention that was badly needed, and I wanted to capitalize on it. I began making and selling product, with a small, but growing business. "Someone else" had the same idea (much later). Was it independent? Was it a rip-off? Don't know, but with more money and more "connections" they put me out of business.

I became an IP attorney (aka "patent" attorney; law school, the whole bit) partly due to that experience. I will never again enter an innovative business without IP protection, but I will NEVER abuse the system.

So, I spend at least as much time evangelizing IP the way the founding fathers intended (and evangelizing against the ugly IP system we have developed) as I do in practicing IP law (and doing my best to apply what is good in IP to my work)! I am sure there are others who feel the same - I haven't met them yet, but I have faith.


Gene Cavanaugh (Marion Eugene Cavanaugh on the USPTO web site) specializes in small entity patenting (what the founding fathers intended in the US Constitution).

Stu Whisson CEO of start-up Digmusik, has created a business model that takes into accout and solves manyof the problems presenting the music industry. The new company is ' in process'. Phase 1 is complete ( the formulating the economic model ) with phase 2 under way. The latter involves putting the machinery in place i.e. structuring the legal and business terms. As a matter of course intellectual copywrite law will be under scrutiny. I write motivated by benign self interest as I shall be joining Stu shortly on the board at digmusik.com, as will a number of enlightened industry insiders. Clearly the music industry must draft in economists and thinkers of the highest calibre in a bid to retain a stake in, or indeed survive the collapse that is running exponentially toward the abyss. This is a time of huge opportunies for anyone willing to let go of the old music business ways. Stu is proving to be one of those and with his track record in e-commerce couple to personal integrity he is one to watch.

Peter de Havilland, LRAM MA ( Oxon ), is a veteran record producer / musician and commentator, writing for The Mail and Music Week. He is currently mixing an album and looking to connect with innovators in a bid to frame a new music business model


Ideas are are like channels on Radio/TV. They are on air 24/7. All you need is the sensitivity to tune in to them. Once in tune encourage the torch bearers. Walk with them for couple of rounds of execution.


This is a story of innovation that impact the bottom of the pyramid. Our team is proud to be part of simple yet critical innovation that continues to improve healthcare for millions of below poverty line patients.

We had opportunity to work with a organization called aarogysri (www. aarogyasri.org). We had won a contract to provide a email platform for this initiative.

Providing a email platform was nothing more than a product sale, however we started engaging with different stake holders and over casual conversations.

We understood the Business Model where Aaroagyasri trust(funded by government) pays a contracted amount to third party insurance company on behalf of below poverty line family, each hospital provides services to patients with the Aarogyssri card, aarogyasri provides pre-auth, procedure is done and hospital gets paid by insurance company.

The Chief of Aarogaysri expressed the inordinate delays and lack of control on quality of care provided by the hospitals. He had already established a track record of being IT savvy by introducing manned kiosks in each of the hospitals and sophisticated application to automate various steps of pre-auth, treatment and payment procedures.

The current mode of communicating with the hospitals was to send paper circular, memo or notification and wait for the hospital to respond with in statutory amount of time and then act on the corrective or punitive measures. This mean that if there was a erring hospital there was no way to stop them continuing the errors in a reasonable timeframe.

We tuned into the chief’s idea and customized the Web front-end of the email system to incorporate the circular, memo or notification functionality with mail system itself.

We had created:

1.     Single-Sign-on(SAML based) with the current aarogysri portal

2.     Created ReST based Web Services for Enabling and Disabling specific functions such as pre-auth based on responses to memo and notification.

3.     Incorporated neccecary changes to the web front-end to  execute the workflow with proper time-stamps and auditable history.

With the introduction of the new system, the erring hospitals were bound respond to the email based memo’s arrogyasri immediately otherwise the workflow would disable them from admitting new patients.

In the end this resulted closed loop communication the health care providers and aarogyasri resulting in better faster processes.

To email system aarogyasri expanded from few officers (200) to entire eco-system healthcare providers, supporting insurance providers and all employees of aarogyssri (5000+ in total).

We are proud to be apart Aarogyasri’s innovation story…


Innovation happens when people find value in invention. This means that companies who innovate are companies where value is continuosly added. And while we can measure invention (as patents, as new products released), innovation - since it is a value-adding process - must be measured through economic means. In other words, how much money the company is making on the bottom line.

Having a lot of patents does not help - the patent troll business model was invented almost 150 years ago. What matters with innovation is to make use of them, and other resources, to create something valuable. That means working together with others, who can see the value, whether you call them customers, or partners, or just other parts of the ecosystem.

But even though that helps, it is not enough. A company can make a lot of money as a follower - you do not even have to be fast. But if that is a pattern which continues over time, then you know they are on to something. If a company is a long time survivor and consistently profitable, chances are it is innovative.

There are a few companies who do this consistently. Often cited examples are IBM and DuPont. But it costs while you readjust to the innovative way of working. So in the current economic crisis, companies have pulled back on new things. Making money is more important than investing in new ways of working. New companies - and organizations - have no such constraints. This is why there were so many new innovative organizations in the last American election, and so many new innovative companies in Silicon Valley.

For organizations which do not have equally clear and consistent goals as companies - and customers who pay for them to generate profit which can be measured - the innovations are less clear. What consitutes innovation for an attorney, or for a mayors office? It is harder if you have regulations which force you to behave in certain ways - that stifles innovation. The more flexible you can be, the more adaptive you can be as well, and this means generate more innovations.

Which is why we are seeing more innovation happening now. The current technology means you can innovate with much more ease than before. In particular, you can experiment and adapt the result of the experiment, tweak it and try again, much easier than before. In particular when you communicate with customers or other stakeholders. That means organizations which have been the most innovative in the past do not necessarily have to be the most innovative now. Even if it most likely means that they continue to do so, since they have both the organization and the experience. But for anyone where there is a need that can be solved by communicating, there is a lot that has become possible which was not a few years ago.

But just because you can become more innovative does not mean you have to be. Just because you can solve peoples problems you do not have to do so, if it means business as usual. Innovation takes will to realize values from the people in the organization, and a readiness in the organization to accept it. It is very hard for an outsider to know if this is happening, since outsiders normally do not have access to the internals of the company. And it is hard to know if someone walks the walk, or just talks about it, while internal power structures stop them from actually doing it.

The only way to be sure is if you can measure something which shows innovation - like profit from sales of products that customers actually value, rather than trading options, for instance. If you can not measure the value, you do not know innovation is happening. Profit is one way of exposing value, but there are others. One is to get customers, or clients, or citizens, to say that the organization is doing something innovative. That has also become possible recently, thanks to the Internet. So it highlighting  the value that is create by inventions has become possible as well. Which means innovation suddenly becomes visible.

This means that identifying innovative organizations can be done by the profit they generate; but idenitfying organizations which are innovative without generating a profit is hard. Giving good examples is difficult, but if you can measure the value created, you can measure the innovation. The "intellectual capital" of Leif Edvinsson might have been helpful, if it had not been so hard to measure.

To find the innovative organizations, in other words, first find ways to measure innovation, and people who do it - implicitly or explicitly. Then it becomes easily visible.

Mark Ament
Sat Jul 24 8:34am
Innovation is not restricted to the private sector. If nurtured properly the research capabilities of universities can and do generate myriads of ideas that will create not just new businesses but entirely new industries and ways of looking at the world. The key however is the manner in which the technology generate in university research labs and offices is harnessed. Unless the university administrators are committed to harnessing the research for the benefit of both the researcher and the university in an entrepreneurial fashion, the research will often just languish in a paper written for an obscure journal residing on a shelf in other researcher’s labs.

The old models of licensing technology to large companies and then watching those companies develop the technology for the marketplace, and hopefully collecting a bit of money along the way simply won’t work anymore. Today, it is necessary to take a more active role in the initial phases of commercialization, often by creating an entity in which the university is an active participant, in order to provide the seed money necessary to prove the idea is commercially feasible. Then it can be brought to the marketplace for licensing to the highest bidder.

This model gives the researcher and university more control over the process and, hopefully, a higher return on their investment of time and money. The advantage to this model is that it incentivizes the faculty to continue to research innovative and often ground-breaking ideas for the market, as there is an assurance of a greater financial return if the product is commercially successful. With the additional incentive, the researcher may direct the work towards a more commercially innovative product than would otherwise be the case.