2007/07/16

Innovation Workshop Group

An email was sent to me today with the suggestion that the Fox Cities (Appleton, Wisconsin and its nearby neighbors) would benefit from a "technical development group" and possibly a "technical office suite."

These two concepts make a lot of sense, and I'm absolutely interested in working on the technical development group.

A little more thought and information would be needed before starting to work on the technical office suite. It would be a fantastic opportunity for innovation, networking and collaboration related to technology in the New North. I'm sure there are at least twenty or thirty engineers and scientists in the Fox Cities (possibly hundreds of them...) who would thrive in the proposed technical office suite. However, the value proposition of the technical office suite needs significant further work. To put it another way, there is a question in my mind whether the suite would be sustainable -- a financially viable project for the long term. I don't know if there are technical office suites (as proposed in the email) in other cities or regions. If we want to move ahead with this concept, comprehensive market research would be critical. The two first steps in this research would be to establish the demand for a technical office suite in the Fox Cities and to research similar models that have been started or been successful in other areas.

The scenario which seems most likely to succeed in launching a Fox Cities technical office suite is a collaboration between interested large corporations in the region, a few small or medium companies that strongly support the concept and want to participate in ongoing seminars and workshops held at the suite, and individual tech entrepreneurs in the region, possibly with one or two VCs or angel investors participating. It would be a worthwhile experiment for such a coalition to develop and fund a two year project like this. If some or all of the coalition members found significant benefit from the technical office suite during the first two years, continued support of the suite would bring innovation to the region in a new way. It could even establish a new model for organizations like the Kauffman Foundation to take to other regions.

The focus of the Fox Cities technical development group, because of the entrepreneurs in this area with a science, engineering or general technology background, would be practical, short term innovations which would reach the market quickly, as opposed to long term, blue sky research. This is a result of the lack of a research university in the region or large corporations, laboratories or government organizations focused heavily on research.

As a result of receiving the email suggesting these technology initiatives, I sent out an email of my own asking a few people if they have an interest in pursuing the technical development group concept. If informal discussions on the topic confirm there are enough people to form a core team to work on a technical development group, I'll have a great time putting some energy into that project.

Mulling over the suggestions in the email reinforced my desire to help bring a new innovation group to life in the New North, beginning with the Fox Cities. For the purposes of today's blog post, let's call this new group the Innovation Workshop Group.

The Innovation Workshop Group (IWG) should have the following objective:

Bring people passionate about innovation together in a workshop setting to learn about an innovation tool or approach, practice that tool or approach in a small group setting, then discuss the tool or approach after practicing it.

To accomplish the above goal, it seems the following meeting format would be effective in introducing innovation tools, techniques, tips and resources to the group, giving the participants an opportunity to apply what they've been introduced to, and discussing or evaluating what they learned or used.

  1. Meet once per month
  2. Have 15 to 100 participants at each meeting (remote participation is possible, but remote participants should gather in groups of four to six so they can have face-to-face small groups)
  3. Focus on realistic innovation scenarios or exercises, preferably real life examples brought by participants
  4. Meetings are informal, but structured enough that meeting topics are planned at least three months in advance, meeting topic and small group exercise information is emailed to participants prior to each meeting and participation in small groups is tracked to ensure everyone meets new people
  5. 75% of the meetings are 2 ½ hr meetings
    1. 10 minutes of announcements and introduction of session leader (leader from within IWG)
    2. 30 minutes of explaining the tool, technique, tips or resource to the whole group
    3. 60 minutes of working on a relevant real-life innovation opportunity using the tool, technique, tip or resource in small groups of four to six people
    4. 50 minutes of the whole group discussing and evaluating the small group exercise
  6. 25% of the meetings are 4 hr meetings (once per quarter)
    1. 10 minutes of announcements and introduction of session leader (leader from outside IWG)
    2. 45 minutes of explaining the tool, technique, tips or resource to the whole group
    3. 90 minutes of working on a relevant real-life innovation opportunity using the tool, technique, tip or resource in small groups of four to six people
    4. 90 minutes of the whole group discussing and evaluating the small group exercise
The whole point of the IWG is to work on an actual innovation challenge or opportunity in small groups. IWG participants will learn different concepts of what innovation is and how it is implemented by using what they're introduced to, then discussing what they and the other participants learned from the implementation.

At the same time, by working on innovation in small groups, the participants will be getting to know the other people in their small group. IWG protocol would be to work no more than two meetings in a row with the same people. Networking between the participants will occur naturally during the small group sessions, and when there is a good interest and personality fit between participants, groups of two, three or more will end up arranging their own informal gatherings outside of the IWG meetings.

Collaboration between small group members is essential for each member to get the maximum benefit from the small group exercise. No one person should dominate the discussion, and no one should be allowed to say little or nothing during the small group exercise.

Innovation, networking and collaboration. The New North can use more of all three. IWG is one possibility for fostering and growing all three. If you know of other groups or events in the New North or elsewhere that already work on these three concepts, please drop me a note (bwaldron att gmail {dott} com). If you're interested in discussing these concepts or working on them with me, likewise send me an email or call (see the website www.goodprocess.com for more info and a phone number).

*****

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