Killer Innovations
The award winning Killer Innovations™ Podcast and nationally syndicated talk radio show (on +30 radio stations) is hosted by Phil McKinney, an award winning innovator of technologies and products used by hundreds of millions of consumers and businesses worldwide. The podcast is Phil's way to "pay-it-forward" by sharing his experience and expertise in innovation so that individuals and organizations can achieve success in the innovation/creative economy. About the Host: Phil retired as the CTO at Hewlett-Packard where he led the product/R&D for the $40B PC, Mobile, Display/TV and Workstation business. He is currently the President and CEO for CableLabs, the non-profit R&D and innovation lab for the global cable industry. Phil shares his rule-breaking approach to innovation and creativity in his book "Beyond The Obvious" and via the podcast. He has been credited with forming and leading multiple teams that FastCompany and BusinessWeek list as one of the “50 Most Innovative”. His recognition includes Vanity Fair naming him the “The Innovation Guru”, MSNBC and Fox Business calling him "The Gadget Guy" and the San Jose Mercury News dubbing him the "chief seer". For more information on Phil visit his blog at philmckinney.com.

If we were to trace the roots of what we do online, what would we assume about the creation of the online community?  Whether it’s taking college courses or Facebooking, when did it start. The 1990s with the internet. Was that the start of online video games, chat rooms, blogging, online courses? Most of us know the foundation of the internet – the ARPANET.   With ARPANET, the first successful network computer message was sent in 1969.  Less known is the internet forerunner, the PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations) system.  The creation of the online community truly began with PLATO.

Before PC there was PLATO

Plato said, “You know that the beginning is the most important part of any work.”

Before the ARPANET, an interpersonal computer revolution kindled.  A group at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign created the PLATO system.  It was 1960 and thousands of miles from Silicon Valley. The intent for PLATO was a computerized learning system.   Ambitious and wild as it may have seemed, by the mid-1960s, the University offered college credit for courses taken through PLATO.  Here was the beginning of computer-based training.

Beyond Computer Based Training

Through the 60s and 70s PLATO bloomed into an orange glow of computing innovation.  Expanding the purpose for the PLATO System, students, professors, hackers and hobbyists joined the fun.  Innovative and sometimes eccentric, this motley group continued adding functions and apps to PLATO.  Through the orange glow of plasma screens, a vibrant and varied community ideated, created, and chatted.  The creation of the online community emerged.

History in the Making

You might wonder why hasn’t everybody heard about PLATO?  You’re in good company.  Enter Brian Dear. Brian has collected data on PLATO for over thirty years.  His early career working on PLATO sparked his fascination with its capacity. By the 70s, the PLATO system already had touch screen and plasma displays among its features.

PLATO had fundamental influence on the technologies that we have in our pocket and on our desks.  Yet, this amazing system seemed unrecognized, uncredited, unnoticed. By creating PLATO, brilliant minds had invented the future.  Now PLATO was slipping into the shadows.

[shareable cite="Brian Dear , Author The Friendly Orange Glow"]I knew even in the 80s that it was something really phenomenal….This was historic, what was going on.[/shareable]

Brian waited for someone to write the book.  He could not even find PLATO referenced in computer history books.  He feared this important piece of computer history would disappear. Finally, he set out to do the work himself.  The result is The Friendly Orange Glow: The Untold Story of the PLATO System and the Dawn of Cyberculture.  The book captures the history of PLATO and the creation of the online community around the orange glow.

Want to know the story behind the term “orange glow”?  Listen to the story on the podcast.

Find out more about Brian Dear and his book at http://friendlyorangeglow.com/


For large companies, does innovation happen tucked away in a lab?  How does a professional services company innovate?  I delve into these questions with Michael Whitaker (“Whit”) of ICF.  He dispels misguided concepts about service innovation. The unique challenges of this industry demand a unique process.  Whit shares his process for innovation at ICF.

A global company, ICF delivers strategic consulting services.  ICF employs experts in a range of fields. It may seem an unlikely place to innovate.  But it’s a non-traditional industry creating non-obvious solutions.  

Whit joined ICF after ICF acquired his startup, Symbiotic Engineering.  He went from a small, nine-person company to a large, global one. Innovation at Symbiotic Engineering may have been tenable.  It is a bigger challenge at ICF. He watched efforts to instill an innovation culture. But it didn’t take off. ICF lacked a clear pathway to innovation.  With advancing technology, ICF recognized the need to keep apace.  It was time to get serious about innovation.  ICF established Whit’s position as President of Emerging Solutions.  

The Challenges

Whit employs a “pragmatic agitation approach”.  The ICF performance engine is delivery of expert services.  To provide clients with the cutting-edge, ICF must keep ahead of technology.  It’s a delicate balancing act.

In the services business…

  • profit margins are narrow
  • clients are risk averse
  • there is no R&D budget
  • innovation is not the main focus

You have to weave innovation into the company’s daily workings. Service innovation must happen while keeping the performance engine on track.

[shareable cite="Michael Whitaker, ICF"]The vast majority of employees throughout their entire careers have been incentivized and trained for execution, not for innovation.[/shareable]

This industry conditions most employees to execute not innovate.  Execution and innovation are different skill sets and mind sets. How do you get the domain expert to think about innovation?  

The Process

Whit considers his role as supportive and integrative.  He works to lay out clear and believable pathways to innovation.

The book Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change has been a good resource.  He highly recommends this book to those pursuing service innovation.

Steps to building service innovation include:

  • Choose an area to incubate.
  • Conduct surveys to assess your organization’s culture of innovation.
  • Establish a common language of innovation.
  • Make innovation management a core project delivery discipline.
  • Build training programs to grow innovation skill sets.
    • Teach the language of innovation
    • Encourage employees to share peer stories of innovation
    • Encourage innovation discussions with the team and client
    • Train a subset of employees on spark sessions
    • Coach emerging innovation managers/leaders

To learn more about ICF, visit their website: https://www.icf.com/

You can follow Whit on Twitter at Papa_Whit

On Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michaelwhitakericf

Would you like to continue the discussion with Whit?  Join him at The Innovator’s Community on the Slack channel.

If you know someone who would be a great guest for the show, drop me a note.

Direct download: Emerging_Solutions_Service_Innovation_S14_Ep2.mp3
Category:Past Shows -- posted at: 4:18am PST

I’m searching for real innovation in Artificial Intelligence (AI).  A surfeit of AI products leaves me skeptical. Not to rain on anybody’s parade, but the term appears on countless products.  Even so, some companies do the work of real innovation in AI.

Charting AI Territory

DeviceBits is one such company.  This start-up charts a unique path.  Their AI customer support suite is distinctly real innovation.  AI customer support is new ground and makes a widespread impact.  It brings value to people’s everyday lives.

The Rankled Customer

Who hasn’t reached peak frustration with some new tech product that won’t function?  You seek answers on the internet and through product instructions. Finally, you call customer service.  This heightens the tension. Maybe the customer service agent can’t resolve the issue. Or the agent doesn’t answer the phone quick enough.  At this point, you may do one of the following. 1) vow never to buy that company’s products again. 2) return the faulty item to the store. 3) shelf it until something better arrives on the market.  From the company’s perspective, they lost a customer.

The Catalyst for Real Innovation

This frustration was the catalyst for JC Ramey, DeviceBits CEO.  His previous start-up focused on mobile application development. This was early in the mobile applications market.  The business grew from a basic text messaging app to millions of apps. In a short time, the growth of technology was exponential.

During this tech spurt, JC observed customers - including himself, friends, and family.  People struggled to understand, use and fix these products.  This highlighted an area for improvement: customer support. JC had career experience in tech and telecom.  He’s also a self-described “ultimate consumer.” This gave JC insight from both sides. 

AI Innovation Gets Real

DeviceBits’ customer support solutions integrate AI.  Customer service agents access AI generated knowledge portals.  The portals enable quick response and resolution. Another option is AI assisted self-service.  Customers can resolve issues on their own using this interactive support. These products exemplify real innovation.  They reach beyond incremental improvements.  DeviceBits transforms a critical aspect of business.

The Takeaway

Key lessons JC shares from his experience (big telecom to start-up):

1. Put yourself in the place where things happen.  

  • For JC, this was Silicon Valley.  The move set things in motion for him.

2. Your team is critical.

  • Temperaments and skill sets should complement and sometimes even conflict.
  • To garner respect and bring value, team members should know their swim lane.

[shareable cite="JC Ramey, DeviceBits CEO"]Know your swim lane really, really well. And no matter how brash you may appear, everybody respects the knowledge that you have and what you bring to the organization.[/shareable]

Track DeviceBits at https://www.devicebits.com/

Today’s Killer Innovations podcast begins Season 14.  It’s hard to believe the show has run for thirteen years.  I’m thrilled to propagate the best of the innovation world.  Killer Innovations exists to foster creativity and innovation. This past year welcomed two new resources to stoke the innovation fires. The Killer Innovations mobile studio and The Innovator’s Community. I'm excited about the new season and hope you are too.

Direct download: Real_Innovation_in_Artificial_Intelligence_S14_Ep1.mp3
Category:Past Shows -- posted at: 5:57am PST

Are VR/AR (Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality) glasses the future?  It might bring to mind an awkward image. People lumbering with bulky headgear.  Besides intense gaming, what are the practical uses for VR/AR technology? By refocusing the innovation and having the courage to pivot, GridRaster Inc. reveals that VR/AR technology is not reserved for gaming enthusiasts.  This innovative start-up is creating the foundation for a new world.

Seeing Beyond the Bulky Glasses

Rishi Ranjan, CEO and Founder of GridRaster Inc., joins me in the mobile studio to share his insights on this burgeoning technology.  VR/AR tech has amazing, unexpected uses. But it’s hard work on the road ahead. It’s a road with some twists and turns, such as when the GridRaster team made the decision to pivot.  

Rishi highlights the complexities of developing infrastructure to sustain VR/AR for the future.  Speaking of future, Rishi believes VR/AR glasses will be the next ubiquitous device.

“We strongly believe by 2025, everyone will be walking around with these glasses.  But, we have to start building the infrastructure today.”

Mobile phone shelved, we will all don a pair of streamlined VR/AR glasses to interact with the world.  Think sunglasses with superpowers.

Consumer or Industry: Refocus

Things weren’t so clear for Rishi in the beginning.  When GridRaster Inc. started in 2015, the focus was on VR/AR for the general public – the consumer.  They centered the technology around the mobile device platform. Gaming was the assumed end use.

GridRaster soon realized  refocusing the innovation was essential.  Their focus shifted from consumer to industrial and retail businesses.  Industries can afford to invest in this technology and see a return on investment.  

Time to Pivot

Business partner ODG helped GridRaster pivot.  They homed in on three use cases - industrial maintenance work, industrial training, and retail business.

Rishi states, “This will be the beachhead - they can build the network based on these use cases.” GridRaster continues to develop and refine their technology.  As they establish infrastructure, the game's afoot.  By refocusing the innovation now, their future customers will have a product that is usable and affordable for gaming and beyond.

[shareable cite="Rishi Ranjan, GridRaster, Inc."]It’s hard to change the passion, but you can’t afford to lose time in a start-up.[/shareable]

Balance and Adapt

Rishi has two lessons to share:

1. Keep your family onboard with the start-up process.

  • Don’t lose sight of what’s most important – your loved ones.
  • Apprise family members of what’s going on
  • Have balance – don’t let your start-up consume your life

2. Be ready and willing to adapt, refocusing the innovation if needed.

  • Weigh input from partners, mentors, customers.
  • Same input from multiple sources? Might be time to pivot.

Check out GridRaster’s innovative VR/AR technology at https://gridraster.com/.

Follow us on the road at The Innovators Studio on Facebook to check out where the mobile studio is headed next.

If you are looking for advice and coaching around your innovation efforts, then reach to The Innovators Network or look into joining the community of innovators that are hanging out at The Innovators Community.

Direct download: Refocusing_the_Innovation_for_the_Future_S13_Ep53.mp3
Category:Past Shows -- posted at: 5:03am PST