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Kenya Water Sector Innovator Leads the Way with Commercial Financing

22 April 2014 10:34 (America/New_York)

Kenya Water Sector Innovator Leads the Way with Commercial Financing | Source: USAID SUWASA, Apr 2014.

Excerpt:  This post describes an innovative financing deal, facilitated by USAID’s Sustainable Water and Sanitation in Africa (SUWASA), which is enabling a local water utility to access finance to install 23 kilometers of pipeline and provide water to more than 75,000 low-income residents in Embu, Kenya.Embu Water and Sanitation Company (EWASCO), under the leadership of its Managing Director Harim Karugendo, secured US$945,000 in commercial financing from Housing Finance for the work. 

The bank is backed by a guarantee from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Development Credit Authority, and the project is supported by an Aid on Delivery grant from the Kenyan Water Services Trust Fund (WSTF), funded by the German development bank KfW.

  • Read the complete article here.

WASHplus Weekly: Focus on Design Thinking

7 February 2014 11:10 (America/New_York)

Issue 133 February 7, 2014 | Focus on WASH and Design Thinking

Design thinking is an interesting approach to problem solving. Clark Kellogg,from the University of California, Berkeley and Collective Invention, states “Unlike most previous problem solving approaches, it is human-centric, collaborative, and driven by experimentation.” One important principle of design thinking is to get feedback from real users as soon as possible in the form of prototypes. While early prototypes often fail, design thinking enables designers to quickly refine ideas based upon feedback from real users. One of the benefits of design thinking is to mitigate risk by testing early and failing fast.


David Kelley of IDEO Talks “Design Thinking” on 60 MinutesCBS 60 Minutes, Jan 2013. (Link)
What makes a great designer? According to IDEO founder David Kelley, being an incredible designer isn’t necessarily about having a great aesthetic sensibility or coming up with out-of-the-box ideas. No, Kelley says that the key characteristic is empathy. Kelley has been on teams that created many game-changing products, from the first Apple computer mouse to the stand-up toothpaste tube to the “lavatory occupied” sign on airplanes. And on 60 Minutes, Kelley gives a tour of IDEO and shares his unique approach to what he calls “design thinking.”

Collective Action Toolkit, 2013. Frog Design. (Link)
Is it possible to inspire design thinking outside of the design world? The practice has helped countless organizations innovate new products and services but has infrequently been made available to a broad audience. Frog set out to prove the practice is universal by creating the Collective Action Toolkit, a set of resources and activities to help people accomplish tangible outcomes through a set of guided, nonlinear collaboration activities.

Design Thinking Demystified: An Interview with Clark Kellogg, 2013. N Mahajan.(Link)
Design thinking derives its basic principles from the discipline of design. As Clark Kellogg, partner at Collective Invention and lecturer at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and College of Environmental Design, explains, unlike most previous problem solving approaches, it is human-centric, collaborative, and driven by experimentation. Many companies, such as consumer products giant Procter & Gamble, GE Healthcare, and Philips Lighting have adopted design thinking processes.

Design Thinking: Training Yourself to Be More Creative, 2013. (Video)
In this webinar Professor Bill Burnett summarizes the Innovation Masters Series course in 2013 at Stanford University.

From Design to Design Thinking, 2013. (Video)
Tim Brown, president and CEO of IDEO, explains how to go from design to design thinking and how it applies to health care in this Transform 2009 symposium sponsored by the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation.

Solving Problems with Design Thinking, 2013. (Video)
Most managers lack a sense of how to use design thinking for issues other than product development and sales growth. Solving Problems with Design Thinking details 10 real-world examples of managers who successfully applied design methods at 3M, Toyota, IBM, Intuit, and SAP; entrepreneurial start-ups such as MeYou Health; and government and social sector organizations.


Bringing Design Thinking to Social Problems, 2013. W Pastroek. (Link)
The nonprofit takes on issues like sanitation and clean cookstoves from the unique perspective of the design world.  Jocelyn Wyatt and Patrice Martin are the co-leads and executive directors of, the unique nonprofit wing of innovative design firm IDEO. Their mission: apply human-centered design to poverty-related challenges … and in the process, change the way that a for-profit business can use its resources to create social good.

Building Human-Centered Design into ICT4D Projects: An Interview with Danny Alexander and Sean HewensBest Practice in ICT4D, July 2013. (Link)
In general the development community is very risk averse. If things go badly, you’re not talking about losing quarterly profits but losing lives.

Cooks + Cookstoves: Daily Life in Tanzania, n.d. S Boutilier. (Video) used a human-centered design (HCD) approach to examine the habits, motivations, and aspirations of cookstove users in Tanzania. This movie provides a glimpse into the lives of some of the cookstove users that the team met while conducting HCD research in Tanzania.

Design for Those Who Need it Most: Lessons from the Nepal Sanitation Studio, 2014. Nepal Sanitation Studio. (Link)
The Village Sanitation Program in Nepal has been designed to improve health, and that means all the parts that make the program work—the buildings, all that lies beneath the ground, the people, and the ongoing maintenance—have to function. This requires the very best design, construction, and ongoing, locally organized maintenance.

Design Thinking for Water Challenged Rural Communities. iHub Research, May 2013. M Kamau. (Link)
iHub Research conducted a comprehensive research project among the rural population of Kenya that looked at water-related challenges the communities face. During a design thinking workshop, stakeholders gathered to discuss ways for rural citizens to access water information.

An Inside Look at a New Documentary on Extremely Affordable Design, 2013. R Goodier, Engineering for Change. (Link)
The documentary features students in a Stanford University course, Design for Extreme Affordability. During the course, the students design, build, and finally field test their inventions in the communities that could use them. The student inventors apply the principles of design thinking, the evolution of a product that starts with recognizing a problem and ends with testing a prototype that could solve it. The devices include a container for safely storing drinking water in an Indonesian community, an IV infusion pump, and a breathing apparatus to treat babies with pneumonia in Bangladesh.


  • BoP Designer Daily (e-newsletter) - (Link)
  • CoDesign from Fast Company - (Link)
  • MIT’s D-Lab - (Link)
  • Stanford’s D-School - (Link)
  • Virtual Crash Course on Design Thinking, Stanford D.School - (Link)

WASHplus Weeklies will highlight topics such as Urban WASH, Indoor Air Pollution, Innovation, Household Water Treatment and Storage, Hand Washing, Integration, and more. If you would like to feature your organization’s materials in upcoming issues, please send them to Dan Campbell, WASHplus Knowledge Resources Specialist, at

Trendy vs. mundane, imagination vs. impact: the innovation dilemma

4 February 2014 14:53 (America/New_York)

Trendy vs. mundane, imagination vs. impact: the innovation dilemma | Source: Paul Stephens, Devex, 12 December 2013

Would improving diesel technology have a more immediate environmental impact than trying to introduce solar energy for “smart irrigation”?

The question was raised at a high-level panel discussion on Wednesday, and came across as a bit of a reality check for attendees during a daylong event to announce the winners of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s ”Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development,” which was full of idealistic talk about technologies that could change the world by providing clean energy to poor farmers.

A water sprinkler provides irrigation for food crops during dry season in drought-affected Nicaragua. The U.S. Agency for International Development's “Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development,” awarded social entrepreneurs and innovators that came up with clean energy solutions to poor farmers. Photo by: Neil Palmer / CIAT / CC BY-SA

The question pointed at a fascinating debate that’s captured the imagination of social entrepreneurs and innovators for a while: Should funding go toward innovations that are trendy and likely to capture the imagination of the public, or more mundane solutions that nevertheless promise to have a huge impact relatively quickly?

Bob Nanes, vice president of technology for iDE, an organization that works with thousands to improve irrigation systems — including diesel pumps — for small-holder farms in developing countries, brought up the issue after iDE received USAID funding for its innovative solar pump.

“I’ve heard that in India, if you just matched the pump properly to the engine that’s running it, you could probably save one-third of the fuel — which is probably going to do more in the next five or 10 years than us trying to introduce solar,” Nanes said.

He continued: “But we’ve had trouble selling that idea because everybody wants [solar] … It’s easier for me to get a grant for solar than to say I want a diesel pump to work more efficiently.”

Nanes added that both avenues should be pursued, and that technologies shouldn’t be divided into good or bad.

The 12 winning organizations highlighted on Wednesday were awarded collectively $13 million in seed money to test their innovations in the field and bring them to scale. The contest aims to promote innovative ideas that otherwise may not reach their potential. Several awardees said the funding would be critical to testing their innovations.

The presentation of awards — from smart grids in Haiti to solar-powered refrigeration for farmers in Mozambique — was impressive, but these entrepreneurs will now face strict field testing.

Meanwhile, fixing and upgrading those diesel pumps in India might be a good idea.

Generating Buzz: BioLite’s Co-Founder on Building a Company Around Parallel Innovation

28 January 2014 15:38 (America/New_York)

Carola Beeney   

A woman cooks on a BioLite HomeStove during a pilot program in Ghana | Image credit: BioLite

BioLite is one of Brooklyn’s most innovative startups with far-reaching impact. Selling energy products such as the CampStove for camping and outdoor adventure, the company uses revenues to incubate products for emerging markets, most prominently the HomeStove. BioLite’s technology is a market-based approach to poverty, one that generates self-sustaining energy access as well as health- and time-saving benefits. We spoke with co-founder Jonathan Cedar to learn about the company’s pilot programs in Uganda, Ghana and India and the impacts HomeStove is having in those markets. How did the idea for BioLite come about?

Originally [co-founder] Alec [Drummond] and I started thinking about the idea when we were both working at Smart Design. From 2006 until 2009, though, it was a weekend project. It grew organically from a technical concept to something we realized had application for recreational uses and — in thinking about the fact that you could use wood instead of gas for camping — we stumbled into a huge gap in the market for clean combustion appliances in developing countries. Half the planet still cooks on open fires, the smoke from which kills four million people every year. It’s like smoking a few packs of cigarettes a day. So the combination of the near-term financially viable market with the long-term impact opportunity was really compelling for us. When we saw those two things could work nicely together, I quit my job and went out to write the business model in more detail and raise capital.

How does having one product for two markets impact the company’s technology development?

BioLite as a company is framed around delivering energy to end users, so not industrial- or utility-scale energy but personal energy. We want to do that for off-grid or grid-limited communities around the world. But we don’t really distinguish between something that we’re developing — at a technology level — for a recreation market and the emerging markets, even though it’s the CampStove that’s targeted at the recreation market and the HomeStove in emerging markets.

We follow a parallel innovation model where we take a core technology and we commercialize it in the near term in a market that provides revenue. Then in the long-term, we re-invest that revenue to achieve the one-time market establishment costs in emerging market regions. We feel like we really understand the needs of the CampStove customer — they’re able to pay full margins, the distribution channels already exist — so we can predict how quickly revenue will come in. In emerging markets, however, there are costs embedded in developing, testing, prototyping and marketing the HomeStove, so the recreation markets are what give us the capital to incubate the longer-term opportunity.

Tell us about your pilot programs.

Right now we have pilots in India, Uganda and Ghana. We’re expecting to sell about 10,000 stoves over the coming year in these three markets. Now, we’re about three months into the pilot programs, which are aimed at helping us understand how should we price the product: What is the value to the end user? What is the ratio of value between the cooking benefits and the electricity access benefits? Do we market this as a cell-phone charger that cooks your dinner, or is it a stove that happens to also charge your cell phone, or a light?

Hopefully, we’ll gain insight into the consumer financial model, how we can serve most effectively the needs of our distribution partners and finally how we can provide technical support for products in the field. What that all adds up to is a scalable roadmap for bringing stoves to hundreds of thousands of users in the following year.

What is your distribution model in emerging markets?

In India and Uganda, we use Avon-like models where a village-level representative does demonstrations and sells the product. Then there’s a logistics back-end agent that supports those village-level agents.

In Ghana, we’re working on a randomized, controlled health trial funded by the National Institute of Health and administered by Columbia University. It’s operated on the ground by the Ghanaian government’s public health services. We’re very excited about this program because we’re trying to show that the stoves are able to reduce emissions exposures, resulting in measurable health benefits.

We’re doing this program for two reasons: One, that’s why we’re in this business. Two, it is the kind of evidence we need to convince the World Health Organization, the Gates Foundation and others that this is where they should be investing their public health dollars. Until we have the kind of evidence that the public health community is used to seeing, we’re not going to see the large-scale incubation that we’ve seen for malaria nets or antiretrovirals or for all these other huge problems that need a ton of incubation to get the solutions off the ground. And I picked those two examples because indoor cooking kills more people than HIV and malaria combined.

What’s the most gratifying feedback that you have received?

We think that one of the barriers to adoption for stoves is that women receive the benefits of the product. They can spend less time collecting fuel, smoke from cooking is nonexistent and they’re able to spend less time cooking the family’s food. However, the men control finances. If you look at some photos from our demonstrations, there are a lot of men present. It’s an important but subtle form of feedback for us because you’ve got a paradox where these cooking fires are predominantly affecting women and children, but men control household purchases. Because the HomeStove generates electricity, we’ve managed to attract male heads of households who are interested in the feature benefits of the product. When we see in our demos that there’s a mix of male and female community members, interested and engaged, that’s positive feedback for us.

We’re finding the electricity that the stoves generate to charge phones or run lights really engages men in a way that previous attempts at cook stoves haven’t. This is parallel with the fact that rates of cell phone ownership outpace rates of electrification, so you have this gap between people who own phones but don’t have ways to charge them. This brings the solution into your own home.

What can we expect from BioLite in the next year or so?

Pilot programs are being rolled out and will be completed by the middle of 2014, which is going to show us what we need to scale. Meanwhile, we’re working on higher-volume designs for the product that can be more inexpensively manufactured in the millions of units. We’re also launching three more core-technology products in our recreation markets.

In December, the Dumbo [neighborhood in Brooklyn] community was buzzing about the Pearl Street Triangle’s Christmas Tree. What was BioLite’s role in that?

We had a stove in the Triangle generating a kilowatt of electricity to light up the Christmas Tree! It was a fun opportunity to gather and talk about the need for clean combustion in developing countries, but it was also a technical demonstration of the idea that there’s so much more energy available than we typically recognize. Our company’s tagline is “Energy everywhere.” In one way, that’s about bringing energy everywhere, but in another way it’s about looking for energy sources that exist all around us but that we don’t recognize.

Source: This blog post first appeared on Brand Innovation, the Bridge to Better Brands.

Cook Stove Design Competition Yields Innovative Designs for a Cleaner World

23 January 2014 13:06 (America/New_York)

Johnson’s Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise and Toyotomi asked designers from across the globe to create stoves to benefit households in developing countries

January 16, 2014

The Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management’s Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise at Cornell University announced the winners of its Cook Stove Design Competition, sponsored by Japanese kerosene stove manufacturer, Toyotomi. Designers, engineers, and innovators from around the world were challenged to envision fresh, creative designs that could benefit low-income households in developing countries, leading to entries from 13 countries in Africa, Europe, and Southeast Asia. First prize was awarded to U.S. designer Ryan Bookhamer; second prize went to Japanese freelance designer Taro Nagano; and third prize was awarded to Indian freelance designer, Uday Kiran.

“Environmental and social needs can be addressed through innovation and entrepreneurial solutions,” said Mark Milstein, clinical professor of management and director of the center. “The winners’ designs illustrate how design can significantly impact lives in creative ways.”

According to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, more than three billion people still burn biomass fuels, such as wood and dung, inside their homes. This results in poor indoor air quality, which is responsible for more than 1.5 million deaths a year, affecting mostly women and children. In addition to health issues, burning biomass fuels leads to a variety of environmental issues, such as the depletion of forests and the production of greenhouse gases.

In an effort to advance progress in cook stoves, leading Japanese kerosene-stove manufacturer Toyotomi partnered with the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise to promote innovation in cleaner, more reliable, and affordable cook stoves that could be used by low-income households in developing countries.

“This competition was inspiring for the Toyotomi design team,” said Mr. Yukihiro Oguchi, executive director of R&D, Toyotomi. “As we consider entering new markets, the competition was extremely useful in helping us think more broadly about the concepts and functions of cook stoves that may be valuable in emerging markets.”

Bookhamer’s design, LO, a sleek, bright green unit, was noted for being durable, lightweight, and efficient for its compact size. The LO unit holds a single kerosene tank for ease of transport and cleaning. The judges were impressed with its simple design, which requires few parts making it easy to manufacture and affordable.

According to the judges, Nagano’s Stick Stove design was inspiring and challenged notions of cook stoves. This stove focuses on the function of the burner and therefore has no grill for pots or kettles. It allows users to continue using traditional stoves that burn biomass by simply replacing the biomass with this innovative clean kerosene burner shaped like a stick.

Stoves are typically designed around the use of one particular fuel, but third place winner, Kiran, took a different approach. His Kayla Stove design was unique for allowing the use of various fuels, enabling the stove to be adaptable to most locations.  In addition, it provides the user the ability to choose the fuel that is most readily available and affordable on any given day. “The idea of using one platform with different fuel modules provides the greatest ability to appeal to diverse consumers in different markets,” said one judge.


About The Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise
Johnson’s Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise produces and disseminates relevant knowledge for managers seeking innovative, profitable business opportunities that address global sustainability challenges. The Center works with firms to specify innovative, entrepreneurial, and new business alternatives that can be implemented in the marketplace. Programs include those focused on market and enterprise creation, clean technology commercialization and innovation, and finance + sustainability.

Source: This post first appeared on Cornell University’s Enterprise Online.

Humanitarian Innovation Fund Seeks WASH Solutions

16 January 2014 13:33 (America/New_York)

The Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF) Water, Sanitation and Hygiene-promotion (WASH) pavilion gives solvers the opportunity to develop innovative WASH solutions to help save lives and reduce suffering during disasters and humanitarian crises.

The HIF hopes to capture peoples’ imaginations through these challenges, so that when natural disasters or conflicts strike around the world, innovative technologies can help aid workers to extend lifesaving assistance to the most vulnerable people.

The winning idea will be given an award of up to $20,000.

Please visit the HIF’s online pavilion here for more information, where the first challenge will be live and open to applicants from 15 January 2014.

For further general information about the WASH initiative, please go to

Don’t Abandon Innovation — Simplify It

13 January 2014 16:27 (America/New_York)

This blog post first appeared on in the Harvard Business Review Blog here:

by Ron Ashkenas  |   8:00 AM January 6, 2014

My fellow HBR blogger Bill Taylor recently made a pitch for all of us to stop using the word “innovation” in 2014.  Despite his plea, I suspect this word isn’t going anywhere.  It’s too important as a driver of growth and renewal. What can be done, in the spirit of Bill’s admonishment, is to stop getting tangled up in all of the variations, nuances, tools, techniques, models, frameworks, and paradigms of innovation.  Somehow we’ve taken a simple concept — the idea of systematically finding, encouraging, and implementing new ideas for growth — and we’ve made it horribly complex.  And of course, by complexifying innovation, we’ve probably started to kill it.

To reverse this trend, we need to simplify the ways we approach innovation in 2014 – by better defining what it is (and isn’t), what it takes to carry it out, and what is needed to enable truly new thinking to thrive.   Here are some thoughts about how:

First, avoid innovation creep. The starting point for simplifying innovation is to refocus on its most basic dictionary definition: “the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods.” One of the ways that we’ve bollixed up innovation is by letting almost any kind of change fall under the innovation umbrella, whether it is a new wrinkle in packaging, a small process improvement, or an add-on service.  These are all good things, but they should be part of the normal course of business and the drive for continuous improvement.  Innovation on the other hand, needs to be truly new, discontinuous, disruptive, and value creating.  So let’s stop putting “operational,” “incremental,” and “adjacent” improvements under the innovation umbrella.

Second, demystify the process. Having a clear path to new ideas is what helps make innovation work.  Companies that are good at innovation — such as Intuit, 3M, and Google — tend to do the same few things:

  • They continuously generate a lot of ideas based on input from internal and external sources (ideation).
  • They develop the few ideas that have the potential to solve problems for customers and be commercially viable (selection and design).
  • They quickly develop prototypes and models that can be tested both in the laboratories and with customers (rapid experimentation).
  • They iteratively refine the innovations, and make decisions about whether to fail or scale, based on pilots and additional tests (incubation).

There are variations on these activities, and lots of specific tools that can be utilized, but the basic steps are pretty similar.  In fact, if you look at the hundreds of start-up courses that have sprouted at business schools, innovation centers, and research labs, they all have the same basic flow.  Unfortunately, in the rush to capitalize on the current interest in innovation, consultants and academics have created all sorts of esoteric language and secret hand signals that make the process more complicated than it needs to be.  That doesn’t mean that innovation is easy — just that it doesn’t have to be a black box that can only be unlocked by a wizard or guru.

Third, be clear about how managers can best enable innovative thinking.  Again, the key ingredients are straightforward:  Robust and regular interaction between people from different areas (e.g. marketing and engineering); support and encouragement for internal entrepreneurs (including giving them some amounts of time and freedom); recognition and rewards both for people who succeed at innovation and those who fail smart; and targeted investments for projects that warrant further exploration.  These aren’t necessarily easy steps, and may be foreign to many companies, but they also don’t require a wholesale revamping of the corporate culture, a mythical CEO, or relocation to Silicon Valley.

Since the financial crisis of 2008, most established firms have reduced costs, focused their resources, and become more lean and efficient.  Now, however, they face the challenge of how to grow — which will require the development and implementation of truly innovative products, services, and business models. Making that happen might be hard work, but that doesn’t mean innovation has to become a dirty word.

Stop Me Before I “Innovate” Again!

13 January 2014 16:22 (America/New_York)

This post first appeared in the Harvard Business Review here:

by Bill Taylor  |  December 6, 2013


The Wall Street Journal is out with a funny (and brutally honest) takedown of a word that has achieved almost-mythical status among business thinkers like me. That word is innovation, and it’s quickly losing whatever meaning it once had.

Journal writer Dennis Berman begins by citing Kellogg CEO John Bryant, the respected head of a well-run company, who was describing one of its “innovations” for 2013. What was the game-changing, head-spinning new offering that Kellogg unveiled? The Gone Nutty! Peanut-butter Pop-Tart. That’s right, a world that has had to survive for decades with Pop-Tart flavors such as strawberry, raspberry, and cinnamon, can now revel in the spirit of innovation that delivered a Pop-Tart with peanut butter.

Somewhere, Henry Ford and Steve Jobs are taking notes.

Now I would never dismiss the virtues of sugary breakfast foods, and it’s hard to argue with the business performance of Kellogg over the last ten years. But if the CEO of a major company can call Gone Nutty! an innovation, then what isn’t an innovation? What does the word even mean anymore? As Berman aptly puts it, “Next time your boss starts droning on about innovation, it might be helpful to stop and analyze: Is she talking about building the next iPod or the next Pop-Tart?”

Words matter — in business and in life. I’ve always found that companies that aspire to do extraordinary things, leaders who aim to challenge the limits of what’s possible in their fields, develop a “vocabulary of competition” that captures the impact they’re trying to have, the difference they’re trying to make, the future they’re hoping to create. Almost none of these companies and leaders use the word “innovation” to describe their strategy — implicitly or explicitly, they understand that it has been sapped of all substance. Instead, they offer rich and vivid descriptions of what they hope to do, where they hope to get, and why it matters.

Robert MacDonald, the most creative and opinionated insurance-industry executives I’ve ever met (yes, I know, he doesn’t have tons of competition), likes to say that the art of doing something new is a matter of “reminiscing about the future.” That is, conjuring up a set of ideas and practices that are so original that established companies can’t begin to make sense of them, let alone respond to them — and painting a vivid picture of what your organization can become if it delivers on its change-the-game agenda. That was the spirit behind LifeUSA, MacDonald’s memorable contribution to an industry whose record of innovation is pretty forgettable, and it’s a spirit shared by most of the genuine innovators from whom I’ve learned.

It’s also a spirit, oddly enough, best captured in a famous tribute to the Grateful Dead rock band. The Dead hold an iconic spot in the history of popular music by virtue of their unique sound, devoted fan base, and ahead-of-its time business model that generated almost all of its revenue from live performances rather than studio records—a model that bands, executives, and academics still learn from today. (One business-school professor actually wrote a book called, Everything I Know about Business I Learned from the Grateful Dead.)

Back when the band was at the height of its powers, Bill Graham, the legendary rock promoter, was asked why the Grateful Dead were so successful. “They’re not just the best at what they do,” he replied matter-of-factly. “They’re the only ones who do what they do.”

I can’t think of a better way to describe the mindset required to do something genuinely creative in business, whether it’s starting a cutting-edge insurance company or developing a truly new-and-better breakfast food, than Bill Graham’s insight about the Grateful Dead. Creativity guru Saul Kaplan, founder of the Business Innovation Factory, warns that too many competitors in too many fields are content with being “share takers”—tweaking at the margins to win a little more business. (That, to me, is what Gone Nutty! Pop-Tarts are all about.) Organizations that do something genuinely creative, he says, are “market makers”—they create a one-of-a-kind presence, a unique offering, unlike what anyone else can do.

That, to me, is what “innovation” is all about, and why the use of the word in everyday business life feels so empty. According to the Journal, Boston Consulting Group polled 1,500 executives about how innovative their companies were, and asked them to rank their organizations on a scale of 1 to 10. More than two-thirds of respondents gave themselves a 7 or higher. Seriously? I guess Ivy League schools are not the only organizations that engage in rampant grade inflation.

Meanwhile, the article continued, in a recent conference call with shareholders, Hewlett-Packard executives described the troubled company’s plans to cut costs, streamline the organization, and rejigger the product portfolio. During the course of the call, they used the word “innovation” 70 times! If there were a Lifetime Achievement Award for Buzzword Bingo, HP would have retired the cup.

So here’s my challenge as we approach the New Year: Why don’t we ban the word “innovation” from the business lexicon for 2014? Let’s force ourselves to be more authentic, more rigorous, more persuasive, as we describe new products, new business models, new solutions to old problems. Now that would be an innovation!



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