Enough Innovation, Go Evolve

[This piece was co-written with an esteemed colleague and verifiable thought leader Jose Corella@josecorella. Frankly, he wrote all of it. I just talked a lot and made some edits.]

Picture waves, currents, and boats.  Some waves/currents are big and some boats are big; commensurately, some waves/currents are small and some boats are also small.  The big boats navigate the small waves & minor currents relatively easy – and stay the course – while the smaller boats may feel the water as choppy and are forced to make changes in direction more often.  When the water isn’t too choppy, and the undercurrents are minimal or known, the larger boats can usually get from Point A to Point B more efficiently, while the smaller boats may have to expend more energy as they travel with the changing currents.

Conversely, as major undercurrents begin to change the larger boats have a more difficult time tracking those changes until those changes are physically impacting their ability to sail smoothly; whereas the smaller boats, which by design are closer to the undercurrents, can feel or “sense” the major changes in direction sooner and can make adjustments sooner.  Therefore, travel from Point A to Point B in the most efficient manner is highly dependent on the size of the vessel and the environment in which it operates.

Now the big question: Is the big ship considered innovative when it starts to use a new tool that allows it to track the changes in the undercurrents sooner?  Consider this before answering:

  • The water in which the large ship sails didn’t change, it is still water.

  • The ship itself didn’t physically change; it is simply using a different, perhaps new, tool.

The not-too-subtle reframing of the question then becomes: Did the ship truly innovate with the use of the new tool or simply adjust/evolve to the macro-change in the currents?  Industry says, more often than not, the metaphorical ship (corporation) innovated.  Our argument is that companies – big and small – spend an enormous of energy, capital, and training on innovation when in fact they should be shifting their thinking and resources to evolution. Why evolution?

  1. More achievable. Dreams / big ideas without action are simply that, dreams.

  2. More efficient. Executed ideas build onto themselves and generate more ideas.

Innovation thought leaders frequently counter with arguments proposing that evolutionary ideas may prohibit truly breakthrough or “innovative” ideas. However, we postulate that steady, incremental, iterative ideation yields far more results – and enables additional “innovation” – at a far greater rate than the proverbial home run.  James Dyson famously made 5,127 prototypes1 before arriving at the final design of the world-renowned bagless vacuum cleaner.  Mark Zuckerberg, arguably, evolved from CourseMatch to Facemash to Facebook 1, learning something from each successive evolution.  Dyson and Zuckerberg each captured the critical insight first (crappy bagged vacuums suck, or don’t, and desire for social connectedness, respectively) and then worked the evolutions…hard.

The bottom line is that we feel that the term innovation is being overused; whether it is during strategy sessions or within goal documents, the fact is that innovation, real innovation is very, very hard.  Organizations should instead be shifting the thinking away from lofty innovation goals and spend more energy toward delivering incremental, achievable – a.k.a. evolutionary – changes in their business models.  To be clear we’re not advocating that organizations should stop pursuing BHAGs; we’re saying that huge, game-changing ideas should be pursued but not at the expense of quickly adopting market-driven evolutions.

While our proposal may seem like semantics – given that sometimes the “best” innovation is often described in terms of being linear and iterative – changing the dialogue from “go innovate” to “go evolve”, while subtle, can represent a very powerful mindshift.

1. “Think like Zuck” by E.Walter

Other thought nuggets:

  • By the time the Titanic realized what was going on, it was too late.

  • Would the tools that small boat fisherman were using for eons helped the Titanic?

  • Was the Titanic doomed from the outset due to size and “not invented here” hubris? What could the leadership have done differently? Besides listen more.

  • Large companies typically resort to spending more money (on the engine) to break through the turbulence; is that a good strategy?  What is?

  • Can you credit an org/brand with innovation if they eliminate or reduce unnecessary clutter? Or that just simplification?





Running in the rain

Running in the rain brings a new perspective. picture from http://www.misszoot.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/rain.png

Running in the rain brings a new perspective.
picture from http://www.misszoot.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/rain.png

You don’t often plan to get caught in the rain, but when you do… a thunderstorm is the best way to go. This morning I had a beautiful, calm start to my run, but about 1.5 miles in I saw the first flash of lightning and then the rain started. It was easy at first, but then it started pouring. By mile 2.5 it was a full on storm. It was awesome. I would have likely not gone out this morning if it had been raining like that at the start, but I’m glad I got caught out in it. It’s good to get that perspective every once in a while. What’s the last unexpected change to your perspective that you experienced?

A reflection and pep talk to myself

We need to be more entrepreneurial. We can’t think broadly and creatively without being able to interact with the abstract. Sadly, we all say too quickly, “Business doesn’t stop,” and go about making sure typical processes are followed. We never take the time to think about ways to connect A to  because we are so caught up in making sure we connect A to B and B to C.

We are far to focused on iprogrammatic delivery to be able to creatively dream about a better world that we may some day create. Structurally, we’re actively squelching the dreamer mentality because of immediate needs meant to “evolve” business instead of rewarding aspirational thinking meant to innovate.

Also, are we truly changing our thinking or are we being forced into a tepid compliance? Two accounts? Split personality? Authenticity? Genuine? Real? Who are we?

Northern Kentucky University Amidst Presidential Change

Former NKU President James Votruba and President Geoffrey Mearns leave the field after Votruba threw and Mearns caught the first pitch during NKU Night at Great American Ball Park. – (Timothy D. Sofranko)

Note: Northern Kentucky University (NKU) has recently been through a transition of monumental importance. Long time innovator and dreamer, former President James Votruba, retired as the university’s president. Current President Geoffrey Mearns has joined an incredible faculty and staff at my Alma Mater and sent a note asking recipients to answer the 5 questions below. As an advocate for the university, it’s alumni, and the community which it serves I felt compelled to answer the questions to the best of my ability, but I also felt compelled to share my answers with those who may feel compelled to read. Below is my full response to his note.

President Mearns,

Thank you for the opportunity to share my input! While we’ve yet to meet personally I do look forward to the time when we’ll be able to connect. As an undergraduate and graduate degree holder from NKU, former student-athlete, SAAC representative, and Future Leadership Internship Program participant, and more I have a deep admiration for the university and all that it offers to students and this community. While I’d love to have the chance to sit down and talk a bit about my background and where my passions are rooted, I’ll start by answering the questions you’ve posed:

1. What are the distinctive attributes of NKU?

I believe there are three specific attributes of NKU that set it apart from the other universities in this region:
A) We are young! We are still developing our own sense of self and have the opportunity to create a community that is distinctive. Be brave and bold about charting a course that is different from that of other large universities in this region. B) We have incredible access to a top tier business community in the Greater Cincinnati region which harbors several Fortune 500 Companies, several top ranked start-up incubators and start-up/business investment firms. C) Geography! We are ~5 miles from the river and three historic communities in Covington, Newport and Cincinnati. We are within a 10 minute drive to horse farms and wineries AND metropolitan niceties. We are just a stones throw from one of the most important Interstate systems in the country. We are part of the Golden Triangle in our own State and part of an incredibly powerful local, state and federal lobbying hub. We are only miles from what used to be a world class airport. We are surrounded by governmental, academic, and business powerhouses that drive local, state, national and global economic progress. PARTNER!
2. What do you value or respect about our university?

We have traditionally kept a promise to offer a unique experience to a swath of the populace that values community, engagement, and connectedness. Remember that your constituency includes more than students, faculty and staff. NKU is a member of a very vibrant community that is both much smaller and much larger than you could fathom all at the same time.

3. What are the most important issues that our university must address?

A) College is growing more expensive than many perceive it to be worth and the trend is not slowing. This local community is very responsive to elasticity in the market and you’ll fall short of your need to engage local students and constituents if you do not make the right strategic decisions about tuition. B) In a global economy, we need to consider strategic partnerships that help us contribute to more than our own state’s economic growth. Specifically, we NEED to recognize that we have a seat at the table when it comes to Greater Cincinnati. We have more of an impact on that region than we give ourselves credit for and the regions’ success impacts us more than we’ve traditionally been willing to admit.

4. How would you characterize the university’s relationship with the external community?

We NEED the community and the community NEEDS us. I’ve talked a lot about community in the above posts, so I’ll leave it to this. We need to get laser focus on delivering an experience each and every day that encourages people who have been touched by those experiences to share a positive story with those they touch. I’ve recently been through some training where the Disney Institute came to talk about their commitment to service and I believe there is a lot that the family at NKU could learn from them.

5. What advice do you have for me as the new president of NKU?

Be real, transparent and authentic, be reachable, be socially aware, be connected and be joyful. If you can do all of those things you will change the way people think about this university. One very important steps that I think you could take is to be active on Social Media. Note I’ve recently sent a bit of encouragement through #Twitter to the @NKUDevelopment team. I highlighted the steps that the University of Cincinnati’s Interim President Santa J. Ono (@PrezOno) has taken, recently. This should serve as inspiration!

I am very excited about the opportunity you have to shape the future for Northern Kentucky University.

Best of luck!

Hyper Island Reflection

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the last two days of an intensive three day “master class” from Hyper Island. I won’t belabor you with details of the class or how it works, but I do think one of the featured attendees on the website says it very well. The world of digital at a pleasant 10,000mph. With great biscuits.— Sarah Jenkins, Managing Partner, GREY.  Also, here is a video (a bit too long) about another experience there – Hyper Island Master Class

Here is what I was thinking at the beginning of day two:

I’m having a hard time understanding what kinds of campaigns we should be running, socially, based on what we want our outcomes to be. We had a brainstorm yesterday about Digital and Social Engagement as it should work in the future and the group I was in kept talking about apps, both Facebook and Mobile. While I believe there may be some opportunity in this area once [certain technologies are available], I’m not convinced that we should be focusing on programs or campaigns at all.

Instead, I’d prefer to focus on developing bite sized content that drives light level interaction among our consumers (the people we want to buy our stuff). For me it means I should start to focus on conversations even more. Recognizing that there are more than words and copy that make up this tidbits. We have to think about these social platforms as BRANDING PLATFORMS not just communications platforms. Our whole process for developing ideas has to change. We have to have does (account teams) and thinkers (strategists) in the same room far more often or we’ll keep getting served program level campaign ideas meant to meat short term goals and objectives that are often in discord with higher level strategies.

A year with and without

One year ago my best friend and mentor, coach and confidant, leader and educator, pastor and life coach passed away. Also know as Oscar Smith to some, and Papa to many, his absence has been hard to accept at some times. At others,  I feel like his enduring spirit and incredible skill for sharing his love with others was never lost. The knowledge that he isn’t physically here to laugh and cry with is accompanied by a gnawing sorrow, but through the faith that he shared, it is comforting to know that at any time, his spirit is available for a heart to heart.

This past year has been one full of incredible changes for my family.  Papa’s passing was a big change, but it was because of his example that the others were made possible.  On September 6th I joined forces with some of the globe’s finest Brand Builders at Procter & Gamble. Had it not been for the example that Papa had set for me throughout my life, I am sure that I would not be fortunate enough to be doing the things I’m doing.  On December 17th I graduated from Northern Kentucky University with a Master’s Degree in Business Administration. Papa was a vivacious supporter of education, and without his contribution to the clamoring that came from my support corner I doubt I would have ever made the decision to attempt graduate school, let alone actually graduate.

Most importantly to me, and especially in context to the lessons Papa taught, Noelle Christine Knapp, our daughter, was born on December 4th. Papa was an incredible father and grandfather and it was in part because of his example, that I have always wanted to become a father and eventually and grandfather, myself. I have always loved kids and had always dreamt of the moment when I could call one my own. Julianne and I have been enormously blessed with Noelle in that she has an incredible spirit and personality that I know includes the even temperament and spectacular will that Papa would have adored. I am often very saddened by the fact that Noelle never got to personally meet Papa, but she will know Papa. The impact that he has left on those who did get to meet him always seems to bleed into the interactions that those people have with Noelle. The radiant smile that my mom, known to Noelle as Nana, shares when we ask if she wants to hold Noelle is so full of the love that Papa shared so willingly. The goofy faces that my dad, known to Noelle as Papa Knapp, makes to conjure a smile in Noelle is full of the joy that Papa wished for every moment. The laughter and lightheartedness that Daniel, Katie and Abby (Uncle and Aunts to Noelle) bring to every occasion are indicative of the caring that Papa provided to all.

I still vividly recall the first imagined thought of Papa that I had when I heard of his passing. It’s one I often recollect when I sit down to dinner or reach for jacket or sweater:

Papa walks through the pearly gates, which happen to look a lot like the back door of the little home that is now[was until recently] occupied by Daniel, Katie, Abby and friends, wipes off his hands after a hard day’s work, eats a wonderful meal with Nana and all of the friends they’ve shared, reaches into the cookie jar for one of Nana’s chocolate chip cookies (which now taste even better than he remembered), sit’s back in his chair with a toothpick, puts on a flannel shirt and demands that someone turn up the heat because, “It’s freezing in here.”

There have been other times that I’ve had vivid and palpable conversations with Papa. One such occasion was a trip I made to “The Creek” or cabin as many know it. I was left with a free afternoon and not much work needing to be done so I took a quick trip down pulled the canoe onto the creek and paddled for a couple of hours in a warm afternoon sun in early June. It was just the kind of day that we would have spent at the creek as kids.

Before I got into the canoe I walked around the cabin a bit,  picked up some sticks from the yard and asked Papa if he wanted to come for a ride. When I did make it onto the water I carried on as if Papa had actually joined me. We chatted about life, about work (as this was often his favorite subject), and about fatherhood among other things. He didn’t have to physically be in the boat with me to offer his advice.  Anyone who knew Papa well could have a very similar conversation and know exactly what Papa would say when asked any number of questions. We’d also be able to tell you what questions Papa would ask.

“How’re things,” he’d say. “You gettin’ along alright?”

After your response and follow-up question of the same to him he’d almost breathe his answer of  “Oh, I’m fine. Just fine.”

Then he’d ask you how work was, and he’d casually add (at X company, right?) to make sure he was still fully aware of what you were doing. He’d maybe let out a quiet whistle upon hearing a story or give you his always relevant advice that “it’s all about who you know.” He’d also be very likely to tell his infamous story to highlight the importance of treating everyone with respect and keeping your temper to yourself.

Our particular conversation went much like this until we got to “The Ripples.” The ripples (pictured below) was where Papa would always take us to swim after a hard day’s work. It was then that we got to talk about something that we’d not talked much about before: Fatherhood. This conversation was new, less about memory and more about being able to actually listen to Papa. It was such an amazing conversation where he offered incredible advice about the importance of discipline, the need to encourage hard-work and the value of rewards for disciplined hard work. More importantly, however, was the need to show and tell your love through your teaching and through your own disciplined hard work.

stopping at the ripples to skip some rocks during my conversation with Papa.

Papa was and still is a great teacher.

I love you Papa, and I look forward to our next conversation.

Point Made-hotdogs in pizza are “brilliant”

I have to point out that as I clicked on a Tide comment in my Facebook timeline during a “debate” about whether the recently created Hot Dog Stuffed Crust Pizza from Pizza Hut, where I’m voicing an adamant opinion that this creation is amazing and should be brought to America immediately (currently available only in the U.K.,) that the most recent comment to a post inquiring “What do the Red, White and Blue mean to you” is “hotdogs.”

My final analysis of Venturepax

What features would you change/add/delete in this tool?

I believe that the main struggle for Venturepax will be to clearly define the action steps for a new visitor and returning visitor to the site. Social Networks, which Venturepax is one, must be so ubiquitous that questions about how and why to use the network must not even be in the head of users. Users should immediately know what they are supposed to do when they show up on the site. For Venturepax, this struggle is based around the fact that users first experience the outdoors and are then asked to report about it or “punch in” at a later time. While a mobile application is in development that will address this disconnect, it is hard for users to understand the idea of “punching in” when they are not, in fact, at the location when the “punch in.”

Also, I envision a more standardized database of locations. For example, the difference between a “Destination” and a “Venture” is relatively straightforward once it is explained, but to expect a user to identify that a Destination is Hub, but a Venture is an actual activity, may be stepping a bit ahead. For example, the “Ohio River” can act as a “Destination”, but “Split Rock Climbing” in Petersburg, Kentucky is a “Venture.” Interestingly enough, Split Rock could also be considered a “Destination.”

Will you persist in using this tool after this project is completed?

Less than a week into this course I signed a contract to work as an outside consultant for Venturepax as a Community Manager. After having developed a very close relationship with the Founder and CEO I began closely analyzing the site and offered regular feedback about how to engage the users of Venturepax to create a stronger community and build brand equity. As a result I was offered an opportunity to play a strategic role in building Venturepax through a round of seed funding. Therefore, I will be a  very active user of Venturepax moving forward. Additionally, I can’t think of an organization with a better social mission than Venturepax. Inspiring people to get outside and share their experiences is at the heart of what I love, so I am excited about the future for this burgeoning brand.

How have your perceptions about the tool remained the same or changed since you first adopted this tool?

As I’ve worked within Venturepax, I’ve come to recognize many confusing problems, Most importantly, is that many users believe Venturepax can only be used as a mobile application where they check in based on their GPS coordinates. Despite the fact that a Mobile Application is in development poised for release in mid-summer, Venturepax lets users check-in on the website. Communicating this is very difficult as Venturepax’s target users are already accustomed to “checking-in” on foursquare, facebook, yelp, and others.
How would you describe/introduce the tool to a colleague in your given discipline?

As I’ve been actively engaging the users of Venturepax via Facebook and E-mail newsletters, my pitch for Venturepax has been narrowed greatly from what it was when I first started using Venturepax almost 7 months ago. Originally, I had explained Venturepax as a social network that allowed users to create a profile, create Destinations and Ventures (explaining the difference between each) and share stories, tips and warnings about those Destinations and Ventures. I would then explain that users could earn points and rewards for posting pictures and videos and stories and punching in, etc. Now, I simply state that Venturepax is an online community that lets people who are active in the outdoors share information with folks who may be looking for things to do outside in their physical communities. The hope is that people will understand the vision for Venturepax and be able to understand the details once they visit the site.

Where does this tool fit in your study of social informatics?

Venturepax is an online community that enables the sharing of information, and creates a specific call to action for visitors to the site. In alignment with many social movements today, Venturepax encourages people to get outside, engage in activity, and generate interest by sharing their experiences with others who are part of the community. In effect it beings people together in a common bond, uniting them in support of a social movement. Like an effective grassroots political campaign, Venturepax will enlist an army of passionate followers who will speak publicly, whether FtF or online, of the values it supports!

Venturepax proves that virtual communities can be created  and proves that these online communities can effect social change and align with a specific message.

Venturepax Review

In brilliant eloquence, Nick Bilton, in I live in the Future and This is how it Works, references the power of communities to “go way beyond geography.” A person’s own understanding of who they are can represent different and imagined communities. For example, a single person can consider themselves part of a nation, a state, a city, a neighborhood, team and more. Some of these “are connected and overlap, but most don’t, and they are all dynamic, subject to influence by other communities…”

Venturepax.com, a burgeoning social network founded in Cincinnati, OH seeks to create a community of users who are interested in one thing: getting outside. While there are many sub categories of users who will be encouraged and enticed to join Venturepax, such as rock climbers, runner, kayakers, mountain bikers and snowboarders, the community is based around the central love of being outside. Recent developments in technology have made the creation of communities like Venturepax, possible. Despite not being able to know or communicate with every other member of the Venturepax community, members can feel connected and bound to each other through their imagined community which Bilton describes in his book.

Aside from providing an imagined community, where members share information about outdoor activities in their specific geographical communities in an on-line way, Venturepax serves as a platform for initiating a social change. For many being an outdoor enthusiast means having easy access world class outdoor venues such as the Arizona’s Grand Canyon or The North Face in California. Venturepax aims to raise awareness among geographical communities about the many outdoor activities that are available to people all over the country. For example, not many know that Cincinnati is home the largest municipal park in the country, Mt. Airy Forest. Mt. Airy Forest, with more than 1,461 acres and more than 15 miles of trails is nearly three times as large as the second largest municipal park in the nation, New York’s Central park. There is a lot of exploring to be done and Venturepax provides a way for people to find out what they can do in their own cities.

Finally, Venturepax acts as a filter for information. Venturepax essentially provides the community verified information about excellent venues for outdoor exploration. By utilizing a “find and share” concept to add new content to the database of Destinations and Ventures, Venturepax always has the inside scoop about the nest places to engage in exciting outdoor activities. It is very easy for a new user or experienced member to click “Find Activity” to locate the nearest place to go on an afternoon canoe trip.

Considering all of these benefits of Venturepax, it is evident that the network can be very valuable. The major factor in whether Venturepax can survive in the fast-paced user driven start-up world is usability. If User have a positive experience on the site and the mission can be effectively communicated, Venturepax will undoubtedly achieve their mission of helping people find and share information about ways to experience the great outdoors.


Q: What is the tool?

A: Venturepax.com is a very new Social Network that was founded in Cincinnati, OH which aims to provide an valuable resource for two audiences. Outdoor Actives (folks who regularly spend time in the outdoors), and Outdoors Experiencers (those who might otherwise be referred to as “Weekend Warriors”).

Q: What is its function?

A: By creating a network of people in a locality that enjoy the outdoors, Venturepax has been able to create an exceptional “map” of things to do outside. Outdoor Actives were already participating in activities outside and thus had knowledge to share. Venturepax has enabled them to share this knowledge. Outdoor Experiencers were always looking for things to do and now they have an exceptional resource upon which to rely.

Q: Does this tool require membership?

A: You can currently consume the information on the site and within the database without being a member, but in order to share information, you must sign-up.

Q: What is the cost for the tool?

A: Being a member of Venturepax is free!

Q: What are the features of this tool? (If too numerous, mention key features)

A: Venturepax includes a very wide array of tools, but the purpose of the site is to enable people to easily find and share information about outdoor locations (Destinations) and things to do at those locations (Ventures) and earn points for participation. That being said, there are search features, map features, photography sharing elements, videosharing elements and comment sections to include stories, warnings or tips.

Q: How does one use this tool?

A: In order to fully utilize the tools mentioned above, you have to sign-up at Venturepax.com. The User experience is pretty intuitive so the learning process is fairly easy. For a bit more detail about how to get started you can visit http://venturepax.com/blog/starting-with-venturepax/

Q: How does one optimize use of this tool?

A: Getting performance out of this tool can mean different things for different users. For me, adding photos, videos and pointers that help people access the fun activities in which I regularly participate outdoors, thus earning points, is optimizing. For consumers, being able to log-on and find a great place to walk the dog on a beautiful afternoon would be plenty.

Q:What are the benefits (pros) and drawbacks (cons) of this tool?

A: Being so new, Venturepax has yet to establish a large user base and the content on the site has been added by a small but faithful group of outdoor enthusiasts. Therefore, the content on the site is currently very centrally located around the areas in which this regular group actively engages in outdoor activities. Additionally, the comments may come across as a bit biased in favor of the “awesomeness” of the destinations and ventures. On the positive side, Venturepax was founded at a time when governments across the country are cutting parks and recreation budgets and Venturepax has stepped in to relieve the tourism boards for counties across the region to provide marketing material and promotion for these destinations, for FREE. Also, the obesity epidemic, fueled by rampant inactivity has generated quite the buzz, and Venturepax helps people get outside and enjoy exercise. Playing, whether you realize it, is the best exercise there is!

Q: Is it easy to use?

A: Many improvement have been made to enhance the user experience, but the development of the site is in no way finalized. The leadership team is in the process of determining what content is necessary for both user groups, Actives and Experiencers, to get what they want from the tool.

Q: What is your initial impression?

A: As a very active outdoor enthusiast with a broad interest in running, trail running, kayaking, backpacking, rock climbing and more, Venturepax has provided an excellent outlet for the many photos and videos I have of outdoor activities and provides a way for me to share, with a targeted audience, my passion for the outdoors. The first time I stumbled across Venturepax I was hooked.

Q: What is your impression after using the tool over a few days?

A: Despite having used the tool for a while I vividly remember my initial frustration with the site. However, many development updates have been made and the current user-interface is much cleaner and intuitive. Per a recent conversation with the Founder and CEO of Venturepax, Danny Stull, I know that some VERY COOL changes are on the way!

Don’t take my opinion of Venturepax for granted, though, check them out!