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Notes from Innovation Policyworks


For twenty-five years, I've thought about innovative states. For the past five years, I've also thought about innovative companies through the Innovation Engineering discipline. Recently, I've started to think about innovative communities, and what would that look like.


It takes more than nice facades and brick sidewalks to make a vibrant community. Among other things, it takes thriving local businesses. And, what makes a business thrive more than innovation? After all, if a local business is meaningfully unique, people will drive from far away to shop there. If a local business is meaningfully unique, it's likely to have higher revenues and profits, and more likely to stay in business.


The opportunity we have is to teach a system for innovation to Main Street businesses, so that they can stay ahead of the competition, and contribute to the vibrancy of their communities. Read MORE 



Gigabit Broadband Coming Soon 


What do Rockport and South Portland, ME have in common with Chattanooga, TN, Lafayette, LA and Bristol, VA? They are all installing gigabit broadband systems, sponsored or funded at least in part by their municipal government. In the absence of investment by mainstream cable and phone companies in their broadband capacity, cities and towns, large and small, are taking the initiative to make a difference.


Why does this matter? Because our brief history with telecommunications and broadband tells us that increases in speed bring new applications. My brother has been in the South Pacific for over a year, and recently came home. We were talking about how it was partially enabled because we could stay in touch using Skype. Even ten years ago, it would have been unthinkable for such technologies to be deployed in Maine and on tiny islands in the South Pacific.


An article by the Pew Research Center delves into possible future killer apps enabled by gigabit connectivity. They cited the opportunity for even more vivid telepresence, enabling less travel and more "face-to-face" interactions virtually. Another opportunity is virtual reality, in gaming at first, but perhaps with training or even therapeutic potential. Many polled by Pew talked about the acceleration of the "always on" phenomenon. To read more of the predictions HERE.

Innovation in Wyoming State Government


When you think of organizations that are innovative, do state departments of workforce and labor come to mind? Probably not. Yet the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services Unemployment Insurance (UI) Division is undoubtedly innovative.


Working with Innovation Engineering Black Belt Rick Rothwell, Wyoming UI is tackling really difficult problems. Here's what UI Administrator Tobi Cates had to say:


 "Over a year ago, I wrote a goal on my office whiteboard: Get UI claimants back to work within 10 weeks or less. I knew there had to be a way to accomplish my goal, but I just didn't have the knowhow until I was introduced to Innovation Engineering. I started with a Blue Card that helped me to define and clearly articulate what I wanted to accomplish, and also gave me a way to funnel my passion in a way, for the first time, I was able to express in writing to my staff why this was so important. After two create sessions and roughly 160 ideas, 7 of those initial ideas are through or in the discovery stage. We have accomplished more in the last 6 months that we have in the last 2 years, with the help of IE principles. This stuff really works." 


Her full blog is HERE

H-1B Visas and Workforce Trends


Workforce diversity is highly correlated with increased innovation. Yet the H-1B visa program that allows companies to hire highly skilled workers from outside the country remains very controversial. A new study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston reveals details about how the visa program is used in New England, and suggests that the issue is probably more nuanced than previously thought. 


The report found that while New England has some of the highest concentrations of employment in STEM occupations, it also has a high level of demand for H-1B workers relative to employment. Computer occupations account for the majority of NE requests for these visas. However, many of the visa applications come from outsourcing firms that do not have a base of employment in NE. For instance, in three Maine markets, Bangor, Lewiston-Auburn and Portland, virtually all the H-1B requests come from outsourcing firms that have no local employment. Read the report HERE. 

Terrible Naming Mistakes


I can remember stressing over my company name four years ago when I decided to go out on my own. Here's a blog about the 7 worst mistakes you can make, by Alexandra Watkins,  - Chief Innovation Officer of Eat My Words (love this name).

  1. You believe your domain name has to be your business name.
  2. You spell your name "creatively."
  3. You use an obscure domain extension to your name.
  4. Your business name is too niche.
  5. Your name pronunciation is not gd.
  6. You invent a clunky coined name.
  7. You try to be mysterious.

Brunswick Named Google 2014 eCity


Google's eCity Awards recognize the strongest online business community in each state. These cities' businesses are using the web to find new customers, connect with existing customers and fuel their local economies. Google said, "'Town and Gown' Brunswick is home to Bowdoin University (sic). Brunswick residents are also keen on tech: town meetings are live streamed, and the Brunswick Online Yard Sale connects 3,000+ buyers and sellers on social media." 

Is Consensus Necessary for Innovation? Probably Not.


Max Wessel writes in the Harvard Business Review blog, "The problem with consensus is that it's expensive. And while it's worth the cost of consensus in the pursuit of big, bold moves, it's often crushing to small, experimental ones." 


This is because it's essential to constantly test new ideas - whether it's Innovation Engineering's Fail Fast Fail Cheap or Steve Blank on systematic experimentation. So, if you require consensus on these tests, you will crush the innovation right out of your organization. Nimbleness and flexibility means pushing the authority to make these experiments down as low as possible in your organization. You can maintain control if you have clearly articulated the overall goals and opportunities that you want to pursue. Read more HERE.  

In This Issue - October 2014
Gigabit Broadband Coming
Innovation in State Govt
H-1B Visas
Terrible Naming Mistakes
Brunswick an eCity
Consensus and Innovation
Aimee's Corner
Maine Angels
Upcoming Learning Opportunities

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Aimee's Corner


Diversity and Innovation


This week I was reminded of diversity's value to innovation. As innovation engineering pioneers, we are taught that meaningfully unique ideas are a function of the amount and diversity of stimulus explored. Typically, we are considering diversity of thought - adding many new ideas to our innovation pipeline at the beginning to increase our chances of having a few really company changing projects move forward. We achieve this by opening our minds to lots of new thoughts. We start by looking at the world around us, considering what others are doing, mining for insights and technology, and imagining a new future. MORE 

Maine Angels in Top 8 Groups in the Country


Maine Angels, a private group of high-net-worth individuals who invest in seed and early-stage companies, made 14 investments totaling $1.3 million in 2Q14, according to the Angel Resource Institute/Silicon Valley Bank Halo Report. This made Maine Angels one of the eight most active angel investment groups in the country! Other active regions were Seattle, WA, Austin, TX and Boston, MA. Three of the investments went to Maine startups: Pika Energy, Abogen and Academic Merit.  

Quote of the Month 


"An idea that is not dangerous is not worthy of being called an idea at all."

Oscar Wilde
 Upcoming Learning 



November 15: Juice Conference 4.0, Rockland

Aimee and Cathy will be leading a 3-hour workshop on Using Innovation Engineering to Think About Sustainability. Learn more HERE.


November 21: ACE Roundtable, Falmouth

Cathy will be leading a 45-minute session on Tips for Stimulating Your Creativity. Register HERE.

December 16: Innovation Engineering Workshop, Portland

Cathy will lead a full day workshop teaching the basics of Innovation Engineering. Underwritten by MTI and E2Tech, this is open to the public for a cost of $99. Register HERE.


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135 Maine Street, Suite A-183 Brunswick, ME 04011 207.522.9028

Innovation Policyworks, LLC, is an innovation strategy firm focused on innovation policy and practice. 
Dr. Catherine S. Renault has been delivering innovation-based economic development results in rural states for over 22 years, most recently as science advisor and Director of the Office of Innovation for the State of Maine.  She is a Certified Innovation Engineering Black Belt.

Aimee Dobrzeniecki works with clients in Washington DC and across the country sharing her 20 years of government policy, economic development, and technology transition experience. 

She is also  Certified Black Belt in Innovation Engineering, and is following her passion by helping organizations that have a positive outlook on the future. Through her individual coaching skills, she is ready to roll up her sleeves and provide an ally to businesses seeking to enter new markets, create new products, or test new business models. Aimee not only explains why it is the time to innovate; she demonstrates the steps to innovate faster than your competition.


For a list of selected projects, see www.innovationpolicyworks.com/projects.