Thinking Inside the Box: How Organizational Innovation Really Works

  1. A Message from the President: Thinking Inside the Box: How Organizational Innovation Really Works
  2. Network News and Events
    • Lean Six Sigma Forum (Shakopee) 7/31
    • The 55 minute solution to your business problem (Minneapolis) 8/1
    • Beyond Baldrige: Managing Quality and the Client Experience at IBM Rochester 8/13

    • Leading with Courage and Candor (St. Paul) 8/14

    • Minnesota Innovation Spark (Minneapolis) 8/19
    • Creating a Great Customer-Inspired Experience (Minneapolis) 09/10

    • No Twin Ports PEN in July and August

  3. Partner Events and News
    • Seeing Red Cars, Creating a Positive Future — PMI (Plymouth) 8/13
    • Proactive Marketing Roundtable — Enterprise Minnesota (Richfield) 08/14

    • Inquiry and the Fundamentals of Facilitation —MN Facilitators Network (Minneapolis) 8/15
    • Powerful Customer-Supplier Seminars Coming in September (Bloomington) 9/9-9/11
    • Advanced Strategic Improvement Practices Conference (Excelsior) 9/17
    • Attend the 2013 Baldrige Regional Conferences — (Chicago (9/12), Dallas (9/25))

A Message from the President: Thinking Inside the Box: How Organizational Innovation Really Works

A recent Wall Street Journal article captured the challenges most organizations face in trying to be innovative.  Authors Drew Boyd (a former J&J executive and current professor at University of Cincinnati) and Jacob Goldenberg (a professor at Hebrew University) reveal a startling statistic.  They have asked executives around the world over the last decade two fundamental questions: “on a scale of 1-10, how important is innovation to the success of your firm?” and “on a scale of 1-10, how satisfied are you with the level of innovation in your firm?”

On the first question, senior leaders rate innovation very high – usually a nine or 10.  It is a key driver of growth, a necessary factor to stay competitive, and a way for organizations to create and sustain value for their customers, owners, and other stakeholders.  However, most senior leaders give a much lower rating – usually below five – regarding their satisfaction with innovation.  The reason?  They contend (and I believe they’re absolutely correct) that innovation is difficult – that organizations find it challenging to successfully and consistently innovate, simply because they don’t know how to…

“Innovation” is a tough concept to define.  The dictionary says it’s creating “something new or different.”  Wikipedia (I know…consider the source) says it’s “the application of new solutions that meet new requirements, inarticulate needs, or existing market needs.”  The Baldrige Criteria define innovation as “making meaningful change to improve products, processes, or organizational effectiveness and create new value for stakeholders…[it] involves adopting an idea, process, technology, product, or business model that is either new or new to its proposed application.”

With those working definitions, some of you might have an image of highly-talented, highly-educated engineers experimenting to find the next hot product or solution; others of you may envision employee suggestion programs used to uncover hundreds, if not thousands, of small improvement ideas; still others have an image of marketing professionals locked in a room with whiteboards and flip charts, “brainstorming” the next big solution for their customers.  I guess all of those images are somewhat correct, and all of them are somewhat incorrect.

True innovation rarely comes from – as what Boyd and Goldenberg describe – “employees wasting hours, even days, sitting in beanbag chairs, tossing Frisbees and regurgitating ideas they had already considered.”  In fact, Boyd and Goldenberg assert that true innovation rarely comes from brainstorming at all.  The problem, they say, is that the traditional view of innovation – of having an unstructured approach to brainstorming solutions to various problems – does little to actually find relevant solutions for your products or services.  So “thinking outside the box” really can waste time and resources simply because it generates ideas that oftentimes have very little to do with the problem you’re trying to solve.

By contrast, thinking “inside the box” requires employees to consider solutions when they constrain their options rather than broadening them.  Boyd and Goldenberg state: “By defining and then closing the boundaries of a particular creative challenge, most of us can be more consistently creative—and certainly more productive than we are when playing word-association games in front of flip charts or talking about grand abstractions at a company retreat.”

Their method works by taking a product, concept, situation, service, or process and breaking it into components or attributes, and then using one of five techniques to manipulate the components to develop new-to-the-world ideas that create value.

This approach, by the way, is very consistent with Systematic Inventive Thinking’s (SIT), a partner of the Performance Excellence Network and host of a workshop August 19-20 in the Twin Cities on innovation.  Read more on the workshop below or on our website.

Method 1: Subtraction – Remove seemingly essential elements.  Boyd and Goldenberg claim that many products – many solutions – are created by simplifying existing products.  For example, if you subtract the frame of glasses, you get the contact lens.  Subtract water from soup (or lemonade, or hot chocolate) and you have powdered soup.  Subtract a teller from a bank and you have an ATM.  Sometimes innovation is the result of addition by subtraction.

Method 2: Task Unification – Bring together unrelated tasks or functions.  This is the synthesis of two or more existing things to create a new thing.  So, bring together a pull cart and a suitcase and you have the roller bag.  Bring together the iPod, a cellphone, and several other smart devices (remember Palm Pilot for your calendar?) and you have the iPhone. Integrating multiple products or services that have value usually creates a new product or service with even more value.

Method 3: Multiplication – Copy a component and then alter it.  This involves taking a product, service, or component and adjusting it to create something completely new.  For example, consider the razor, which for hundreds of years was a single blade until Gillette introduced a two-blade shaving system (which revolutionized the shaving market: the first blade lifts the hair up, and the second cuts it deeper than before).  Other examples of multiplication include bifocal glasses, double-sided tape, three-way lightbulbs, or for an example of multiplication in a service business, home equity loans.

Method 4: Division – Separate the components of a product or service and rearrange them.  Really, this is about sub-dividing a product or service (or process) into its various parts so that when they are reconfigured, they add new value.  Examples include central air conditioning (where the motor, fan, and hardware were separated from the original window-unit box in which they used to be housed), or airline check-in where you can now do so at home and print your boarding pass (or on-the-go with your cell phone and even avoid printing anything), or fast-food drive thru windows that now separate payment from collecting your food to increase the speed of the process.

Method 5: Attribute Dependency – Make the attributes of a product change in response to changes in another attribute or in the surrounding environment.  Basically, this type of innovation is making one product/service variable dependent on another – a cause-and-effect relationship.  Examples include transition lenses (where they change from light to dark as the level of sunlight changes), car headlights (that come on automatically when it gets dark), baby diapers that change colors when they are wet, or any number of services (cable or satellite TV, restaurants or resorts, banking and insurance) that offer discounts or perks for referring friends.  Sometimes different variables apply to different products: take for example, iced coffee – which is a fairly new product that encourages coffee consumption in the hot summer months, a time where coffee consumption usually goes down due to a variable (the weather).

All five of these methods consider the constraints and reality of a situation to find new applications for existing products, services, processes, or business models.  In many ways, it’s the opposite approach of what has become the traditional model of innovation: instead of starting with a problem and trying to find solutions, you start with a solution(s) and work to find problems that it can solve.

Boyd and Goldenberg claim that “the key to being consistently innovative is to create a new form for something familiar and then to find a function it can perform.”  Which is why, they contend, that most new product ideas are met with a response like “Gee, why didn’t I think of that?”  Indeed, the most innovative ideas usually are right under our noses, connected in some way to our current reality, our current view of the world, and/or our current constraints.

The implications of this for organizations are significant.  It’s true that organizations should create an environment that supports innovation, giving their employees the time and space to “tinker,” to solve problems and identify improvement opportunities, and to consider solutions that add value for the company and its customers.  But it’s not simply more brainstorming sessions.  Rather, it’s about creating a process that systematically understands the current situation – the constraints (time, money, capabilities, capacity) and attributes that already exist today – and applies that knowledge in new ways to create new solutions.  Really, it’s about thinking inside that proverbial box.

To learn more about innovation – about how to systematically create meaningful change to improve products, processes, or organizational effectiveness that creates new value for stakeholders – consider attending our day-and-a-half workshop August 19-20 in Minneapolis.  Facilitated by SIT, this workshop will demonstrate how thinking inside the box has creatively solved problems for the City of Minneapolis, General Mills, Andersen Windows, Ford, Johnson & Johnson, and other highly innovative organizations.  Details are on our website.

Want to participate in a discussion on this topic??  Visit our LinkedIn group and/or our blog our to post a comment!

Yours in Performance Excellence,
Brian S. Lassiter
President, Performance Excellence Network (formerly Minnesota Council for Quality)

Lean Six Sigma Forum (Shakopee) 7/31

The Performance Excellence Network is pleased to announce the next Lean Six Sigma Forum on Wednesday, July 31 from 8AM to 12PM, hosted by Seagate in Shakopee.

The Forum will focus on Seagate’s deployment of Business Excellence (DMAIC, DFSS and Lean Six Sigma), showing how Seagate has integrated the tools with other improvement frameworks like ISO and, more recently, its pursuit of performance excellence using Baldrige.  Seagate will share the lessons it has learned, the results it has achieved, and some actual tools it has developed in its deployment efforts.  After a Q&A discussion, participants will then share in small groups their best practices (Lean, Six Sigma, and other improvement tools), their lessons learned, and seek any guidance and ideas from other organizations using similar tools.

Offered in partnership with the Joseph M. Juran Quality Leadership Center at the Carlson School of Management, the Lean Six Sigma Forum provides a means for leaders and practitioners from organizations using Lean, Six Sigma, and/or other techniques to share knowledge and best practices on successfully using process improvement methods. The Forum is open to the public, but there is a capacity constraint at our host facility.

We look forward to seeing you then!

Cost is $150 for members of PEN ($300 for non-members). To register, email

The 55 Minute Solution to Your Business Problem (Minneapolis) 8/1

Bring your business card for a combination of speed networking and business problem solutions.

The Performance Excellence Network (formerly the Minnesota Council for Quality) is pleased to welcome Sharon Boerbon Hanson, Associate Executive Director with Advance IT Minnesota, Metropolitan State University, to our August 1 PEN: “The 55 Minute Solution to Your Business Problem.

If you’ve never participated in a speed networking event, come and join other members of the Network  to meet other leaders and professionals, share stories and best practices, and possibly find solutions to some of your most persistent business problems!  Come with at least 25 business cards and be prepared to have fun through relaxed, facilitated dialogue. At the end of the session, participate in an electronic voting system to help PEN identify how best to meet your needs in addressing those problems!

The discussion is from 8:00-9:00 a.m. on Aug 1 (networking and continental breakfast begin at 7:30 a.m.) at MCTC, 1501 Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis (near the Basilica).  Admission to PEN is FREE for Network members; $15 for partner organizations; $30 for the public.  Space is limited so register today by emailing

Beyond Baldrige: Managing Quality and the Client Experience at IBM Rochester 8/13

IBM Rochester won the Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award 23 years ago this fall. A lot has changed at IBM both in Rochester and beyond, but two things have remained the same: IBM’s focus on the customer and focus on quality.

The Performance Excellence Network (formerly the Minnesota Council for Quality) is pleased to welcome David Peter, Client Care Operations Manager, and Diane Mitchell, WW STG Quality Management System Team Lead, both of IBM-Rochester, to our Aug 13 PEN: “ Beyond Baldrige: One Team’s View of Managing Quality and the Client Experience at IBM Rochester.”

David and Diane will share how changes at IBM have affected quality management at Rochester and the larger IBM team.  They will also discuss what the new corporate emphasis on managing the Client Experience means for the teams in Rochester and IBM in general.  David and Diane will share how IBM Rochester has evolved since 1990, how IBM reacted to the challenge of creating a global quality management system, and how IBM measures and manages client complaints and client satisfaction.

The session is Aug 13 from 7:30-9:00 AM RCTC.  No cost for members; $30 for non-members.

Space is limited. Please register by contacting (or 507-213-8132).

Leading with Courage and Candor (St. Paul) 8/14

Candor?  In the workplace?  Does it even belong?  Every organization and community is shaped by its culture.  Cultures are overlapping circles of relationships, and relationships are based on effective communication.  But when communication gets difficult, openness and honesty frequently get shelved.

The Performance Excellence Network (formerly the Minnesota Council for Quality) is pleased to welcome Carolien Moors, owner with HardTalk Biz Coaching, to our August 14 PEN: “Leading with Courage and Candor.”  Carolien has 23  years of international experience in leadership, team and employee development, about the value of candor in leading. 

Carolien will challenge the assumptions that tensions and negative feelings should be avoided in conversations, that showing respect is synonymous with withholding what might be painful for someone, and that YOUR need to be liked and accepted justifies indirectness and half-truths.  Carolien will explore the value of candor in leading, and she might even talk about what it means to be “Minnesota Nice!”  Carolien’s interactive session will show you how to sustain frank, open discussions even during difficult conversations.

The discussion is from 8:00-9:00 a.m. on Aug 14 (networking and continental breakfast begin at 7:30 a.m.) at Metropolitan State University, 700 E 7th St  St Paul, MN 55106 (just east of downtown St. Paul, off of Mounds Blvd and 7th St).  Admission to PEN is FREE for Network members; $15 for partner organizations; $30 for the public.  Space is limited so register today by emailing

Minnesota Innovation Spark (Minneapolis) 8/19

The “Minnesota Innovation Spark” in the Twin Cities will bring together a group of organizations ready to innovate in the region. The event is a joint venture managed by the Performance Excellence Network and Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT for short, an Israeli-based consulting firm). SIT is unique in its ability to help companies invent inside the box, using only their existing resources. Because SIT is systematic, you will gain the ability to “Innovate on-Demand” using a proven, structured methodology to guide both idea-generation and implementation. To participate in this very unique collaborative, key people from your company will begin by participating in a 1 1/2 day event and will then be invited to our quarterly “innovation days,” which provide a protected space for continuing to innovate on issues critical to your organization while continually refreshing and expanding your innovation skills.

Who is Spark for?

SIT is especially relevant to managers in the fields of Marketing, Product Development, Strategy and Human Resources, or anyone who considers that the capability to deliver ongoing continuous rapid innovation is critical to company survival and continued success in today’s market. It is valuable for anyone who strives to enhance their own or their employees’ inventive abilities.

The first 1 1/2-day event is scheduled to take place August 19th and 20th  in Minneapolis. The price structure is as follows (per person):

Attendees (from same organization)

Member Rate

Non-Member Public Rate










The per person price includes breakfasts, lunches, and all relevant SIT materials. Organizations are encouraged to send at least three attendees, which will facilitate problem solving and implementation of innovative ideas. The days are structured from 8:00 to 4:30AM on Monday and 8:00 to 2:30 on Tuesday.  The event will be held at the Minneapolis Public Library, RKMC room.

What you will gain from this first event:

  • Learn some SIT tools and other elements from SIT’s Innovation Framework.
  • Be able to identify when “standard paradigms” end and innovative thinking should take over
  • Practice applying the tools:

oIndividually – on your daily tasks

oIn a team (of your fellow participants) – become an innovation accelerator for your organization

oTogether with another person (who is not familiar with SIT) – become an innovation resource for your peers, allowing them to use the SIT method through and with you.

  • Develop innovation-supporting processes that will allow you to enhance the success chances of “innovative outcomes”
  • Improve collaborative work processes by formalizing a common language for communicating and clear “handshake” procedures between different functions in your organization This one and a half day event is most effective when your company sends multiple participants from different functional departments. These people will thereby be the carriers of systematic innovation back into your organization and will have a leg up on assimilating the skills since they have already collaborated together during the one and a half day to jump-start innovative thinking around a specific organizational challenge or opportunity.

This 1 1/2 day event is most effective when your organization sends multiple participants from different functional departments. These people will thereby be the carriers of systematic innovation back into your organization, and will have a leg up on assimilating the skills, since they have already collaborated together during the one and half days to jump-start innovative thinking around a specific organizational challenge or opportunity.

Space is limited so register today by emailing

Creating a Great Customer-Inspired Experience (Minneapolis) 09/10

A great customer experience begins with a solid understanding of your customers.  But it also requires that your employees use those insights to build programs that your competitors cannot duplicate.

The Performance Excellence Network (formerly the Minnesota Council for Quality) is pleased to welcome Jim Tincher, Senior Business Advisor with Satisfaction Management Systems, to a special full-day workshop September 10: “Creating a Great Customer-Inspired Experience.”

Jim will build off of the PEN breakfast earlier this summer, sharing the three keys to build a great customer-inspired experience for your business, and you will pick up actionable steps you can implement literally tomorrow!

Learning objectives for the workshop include:

  • Understanding best practices to monitor your existing experience, including relationship and transactional measurements
  • Determining top priorities for action
  • Developing a customer experience business case for change
  • Leveraging front-line employees to build out your improved customer experience
  • Building customer experience change in your organization
  • Developing and tell stories to drive your change

A great customer experience leads to enhanced loyalty and significantly higher financial returns.  Join this discussion to learn more!

The discussion is from 8:30-4:30 on September 10 at the Art Institute of Minneapolis, downtown.  Cost is $250/person for groups of two or more members (or $300 for single members, $600 for single non-members).

Space is limited so register today by emailing

Seeing Red Cars, Creating a Positive Future — PMI (Plymouth) 8/13

The Minnesota Chapter of Project Management Institute (PMI), an alliance partner of the Performance Excellence Network, is pleased to announce its next breakfast session: “Seeing Red Cars, Creating a Positive Future.”  The session will be held Aug 13, and will be facilitated by Laura Goodrich, a workforce innovator, author, speaker, and internationally recognized thought leader on change and the future of work (and this is an encore presentation of a PEN discussion about two years ago, in case you missed it!).


Based on Laura Goodrich’s video and book, she shows how an intentional focus on what you want rather than on what you are trying to avoid turns insight into actions and actions into breakthrough results. Here’s the metaphor: You buy a new car and it happens to be red. Suddenly, you see red cars everywhere you look. Why? Because you’re focusing on red cars. She explains how this focus can benefit you, why we unconsciously focus on negative thoughts and how we can rewire our brains to focus on positive outcomes. Laura describes how to pinpoint your greatest strengths and values and align them with the right organizational vision. She captures attention with stories that create a new way of thinking and incorporates theatrical elements to truly interact with you.


This is not another positive “attitude” program, it is a program that delves into our natural instincts to focus on what we fear and are trying to avoid. Once we understand this concept, our awareness of intentional focus on what we do want becomes very powerful. Laura will demonstrate simple tools to help turn an organization’s focus around and provide stories of how organizations have implemented this successful mindset. You will walk away with a clear method of how to create a positive future for your organization.


The session is Aug 13 from 7:00-8:50 AM at Crowne Plaza West: 3131 Campus Drive, Plymouth 55441.  Cost is $34 ($32.30 for Network members) before July 30 (PEN members should contact for discount code).  For more information, visit

Proactive Marketing Roundtable — Enterprise Minnesota (Richfield) 08/14

Enterprise Minnesota, a partner of the Performance Excellence Network, is pleased to announce their next upcoming event: “Proactive Marketing Roundtableon Aug 14 (then Sept 11, Oct 9, Nov 13) in Alexandria.

Experience a powerful and integrated approach to marketing, benefit from the ideas and insights of the group, and develop reusable know-how as you apply what you’ve learned in your company. Join a group of up to six manufacturing companies with non-competitive businesses. Four half-day, interactive workshops alternate with individual work sessions for your company. Send up to 4 people, typically including the president and top marketing/sales person.

For more information on this and other programs, click here:

Inquiry and the Fundamentals of Facilitation —MN Facilitators Network (Minneapolis) 8/15

Please join the MN Facilitators Network, an alliance partner of the Network, for their next meeting Aug 15: “Inquiry and the Fundamentals of Facilitation.” The session will also outline topics for 2014. 

The session will be from 5:30-8:30 PM at Bethany Lutheran Church in South Minneapolis.  Session is free (suggested donation $5).  Everyone interested in MFN and facilitation is welcome.  For more information, visit

Powerful Customer-Supplier Seminars Coming in September (Bloomington) 9/9-9/11

The ASQ Customer-Supplier Division announces their 2013 one-day seminars in Minnesota during the week of September 9-11, 2013. The Introduction to Supplier Management and Handling Supplier Nonconformances courses will be offered in Bloomington and Winona, MN and in Madison and Milwaukee, WI.  Also, Supply Chain Business Continuity will be offered in Bloomington MN and Milwaukee, WI.

For detailed information, including registration fees and site locations, please visit the Customer-Supplier Division’s web site at Classes are limited to 30 participants and pre-registration is required. 

Advanced Strategic Improvement Practices Conference (Excelsior) 9/17

PEN is happy to announce a special one day Advanced Strategic Improvement Practices (ASIP) conference, sponsored by a PEN member, Strategic Improvement Systems, on September 17.

The purpose of the conference is to assemble experts from various types of organizations in a beautiful setting to learn with each other how to improve organizations from a strategic perspective. The conference will be held at the BayView Event Center which overlooks picturesque Lake Minnetonka in Excelsior, Minnesota.  This is the fifth year of the conference and it has been a great success. You will have the opportunity to learn with many exceptional individuals in a relaxed atmosphere by attending the conference.  There will be outstanding presenters from manufacturing, service, healthcare, and state government organizations as well as academia.  Please pass this invitation along to your colleagues, and register early to assure yourself a seat.

The registration fee of $325 per person includes:

  • The opportunity to hear numerous presentations and learn with other participants
  • A continental breakfast buffet, plated lunch, and break refreshments
  • Beverages during the networking session immediately following the conference


For more information or to register, contact Charles A. Liedtke at

Attend the 2013 Baldrige Regional Conferences — (Chicago (9/12), Dallas (9/25))

Attend the 2013 Baldrige Regional Conferences in Chicago and Dallas for a one-day showcase of Baldrige best practices!

The conferences will be held:

September 12
Chicago, IL
Wyndham Lisle-Chicago Hotel & Executive Meeting Center

September 25
Dallas, TX
Crowne Plaza Dallas Galleria-Addison

Come, learn, network, and engage in a day dedicated to improving your organization’s performance. The exciting conference programs include in-depth plenary session featuring senior executives from the 2012 Baldrige Award recipients, 15 interactive management sessions to choose from, and closing session featuring the leader of a Baldrige Award recipient.

Learn how these role-model organizations achieve high performance and outstanding results in areas such as leadership, strategic planning, customer and workforce focus, operations, innovation, and much more!

An optional Pre-Conference Workshop for Baldrige beginners facilitated by a Baldrige recipient is available the day before each conference.

Sponsorship opportunities are available!

Register now! To learn more, visit the Regional Conferences Webpages.

The conferences are co-sponsored by Illinois Performance Excellence, the Quality Texas Foundation, and the Alliance for Performance Excellence, in which Minnesota’s Performance Excellence Network participates.

For questions about the conferences, contact the Baldrige Program at 301-975-2036 or