Founder Dropouts. A case for Innovation Leadership.

Lets face it many gifted, creative, exceptional people generally have issues with authority.  The act of innovation, generally requires one to take a stance that rejects the way things are, in favor of the way things could be. Do you see this pattern in yourself? Many of our greatest founders are dropouts. In a conversation, I had with Craig Venter the father of the Human Genome Project, he told me he had to quit working for the NIH ,where he was unable to get adequate support for the project to proceed and was forced to become an entrepreneur. I asked him if great change or breakthroughs ever came from within giant organizations, and he said something like “Never, you have to drop out of the mainstream to make anything big happen”. He was of course spectacularly successful and listed on Time magazine’s 2007 and 2008 Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world. In 2010, the British magazine New Statesman listed Craig Venter at 14th in the list of The World’s 50 Most Influential Figures 2010.

We all know stories like this including Apple, Google and FaceBook to name a few of the smaller companies on the planet. Of course there are probably 10,000 failures for each of these successes. Dropping out is certainly no guarantee of getting anywhere and usually does not. But if you have a great idea, perform due diligence to reality test it, use your critical thinking skills and work hard to accumulate enough evidence that you may be right while the rest of the world may be wrong, you eventually have to go for it even in the face of hidden pitfalls.

Here is one of them. Innovation has become a buzzword mantra in spite of most professional business people trying to eliminate risk as they are duty bound to pursue. A logical stance is “well we have to mange these people and this situation”. As the founder chairman of SVII for ten years I have been asked, initially to my amazement, hundreds of times “what is the algorithm for innovation?” Managing innovation is incredibly difficult because managing innovators is pretty much impossible.  In the case of incremental, it can be done but in disruptive innovation where juicy exciting projects live, it is somewhat oxymoronic.

On the other hand, another word for some of us who are regarded as unmanageable, and that word is leader. It may be a mostly impossible dream to manage breakthrough innovation, but at times the person with insight, also has both enough passion and enough discipline to lead it. Lets face it, one person size dreams may work well for some of the creative community, including artists, musicians, writers and coders of computer applications as well. After we hit it out of the park successfully manifesting our one person size dream, our dreams tend to grow larger and soon we realize we need help, a lot of help. Then because we may have had a hard time accepting authority, we may be reluctant to wield it to the dismay of the people who are trying to follow us.

Leadership is a service profession. You have to take care of all of your stakeholders including your followers. The bigger the dream, the more you generally need help. Sorry, you do not have a choice, as soon as you have a terrific insight that is going to require significant help, you are going to have to lead.

Being an innovation leader is extremely rewarding, as well as extremely frustrating, because you know what was said earlier about gifted, creative, exceptional people who generally have issues with authority. However you have a secret weapon, you are them! You know what they need and how they need to be treated. There is no one more qualified to lead innovation, than an innovator. And this is when the dropout becomes a drop-in.

Flipping The Master Slave Relationship

The complex choreography between innovators and technology gives rise to many different types of dances. At times engineers invent what they would like to have, without inquiring into the needs of customers. As the story goes Henry Ford once said said “if I asked them what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse”. Many technology driven enterprises over the years have adopted this stance on the product development dance floor and to great effect, both good and bad.

For example, it is doubtful that Steve Jobs ever asked the world if it wanted a retinal display, an iPhone or much else. On the other hand, Video Cassette Recorders  designers did not realize that almost no one would be willing to program the VCR system clock, which resulted for years, in a usually red flashing 12:00 in hundreds of millions of homes. When engineers design consumer electronics products, it is never the goal to make everyone who uses them feel stupid, yet this does happen too frequently.  The same could also be said for many of our online interactions. We have to gird our loins before beginning some routine tasks that we suspect are going to take an hour instead of a minute.  Some of the time things work really well. This should be the rule not the exception.

For all of us, it feels terrible when machines undermine our self esteem. In recent years we have been told that product development has become market driven. Based on the number of brain dead products we all have to deal with, one might assume there is a very large market for self esteem damaging equipment. As computer processors are now found in everything, from cars to thermostats, humans have learned to adapt to the demands of their gear. This is surprising in that digital systems inherently have a great ability to adapt to our needs. Somehow, it is now the end user doing the adapting to the technology instead of the other way around.

As a technical person myself, I find it crazy that in many situations, people have become slaves and somehow made machines masters. How many people experience incredible frustration when trying to use phones, computers and other consumer electronic devices? The time is overdue, to Flip the Master Slave Relationship between technology and people.

As SVII enters our tenth year of helping Innovation Advocates at all levels, from the largest entities in the world to solo emerging startup entrepreneurs, to “Turn Vision into Value”, it is time to resurface some of the more important themes we have been addressing from the very beginning.

This is a call to all innovators, to try harder to make sure, while we are in the process of inventing tomorrow’s systems, to prevent these products from making customers feel stupid. Yes this takes extra effort to put oneself in the place of others, and some of you may say “this is too hard, too time consuming and too costly” and “our competitors do not care because that is just the way things are”.

Let me present exhibit A for Apple. One of the reasons Apple has become the most valuable company in the world, is Apple and other successful companies try harder to make it much easier to use their products. This philosophical stance is what Apple’s imitators should be copying not only specs and designs.

Delivering this additional value can take longer, but isn’t it silly for us to have to adapt to the devices and systems we are creating?

MAR 5th 2014: How Are Trade Shows Relevant to Innovators?

Are trade shows being overshadowed by the internet? Or do they still hold some value in networking?  Trade shows are important to industries because of the interactions that take place within them, not only connecting people to a product, but to networks as well.

Some industry watchers  and writers have suggested that the trade show is dead. The notable absence of industry titans like Apple, Google, Microsoft and HP at this year’s CES would seem to support this. In a world where the convenience, ease and cost savings of the Internet increasingly dominate purchasing, and even professional associations, of what use are trade shows and industry conventions?

The bottom line is innovators still have to live in reality, in order to activate their insights. Although virtual reality can be exciting, informative and entertaining, it is still a second hand augmented view of business reality. Tradeshows are the ultimate batch processing of reality, where a less varnished view of the truth can be poked at in person and in real time. Reality can be interactively tested using all of your senses.

 Perhaps this is why this year’s CES saw record attendance and volume of exhibit space, and venues like the Moscone Center are booked nearly every week with some industry event. In the case of CES, over 160,000 people committed some portion or all of a week of their time and excess of $1000.00 to explore close to 2 million square feet of exhibition space.

As innovators, you need to understand your product, customers, market, industry, competition, customers, colleagues, collaborators  and the relationships between all of these in addition to your insight or technology. It takes all of your energy and senses to do this accurately and you also need practice transmitting this understanding in-person to be credible. A trade show is a rapid calibration forum where an in-person interactive demo allows you to ask questions, try things out and observe the facial expressions of those around you to use your judgement about what is real, what is almost real and what is just plain false. In addition, it can be very valuable to witness CEOs’ keynotes and presentations.

On Wednesday, March 5th, the SVII Society meeting will explore the significance and future of trade shows and industry conventions as well as how to get the most out of how to attend them if you are an innovator. Plan to join us for an evening of lively, potent dialogue.

This event will take place at 7PM at:

Hangen Szechuan Restaurant (2nd Fl), 134 Castro St, Mountain View, CA 94041

Dinner will be served!

Pre-Registration Tickets ($20)  – On SALE Now!


Janet Rae-Dupree
Science, Technology and Innovation Writer

A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for her part in coverage of the Los Angeles riots, Janet Rae-Dupree has covered innovation, science and emerging technologies since 1993. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including the New York Times, U.S. News & World Report, BusinessWeek, the San Jose Mercury News. Author of “The Anatomy & Physiology Workbook for Dummies,” Rae-Dupree excels at explaining complex subjects to lay audiences.

As a Stanford Knight Fellow in 2006, she studied innovation and how the process of moving a new concept from development into the marketplace alters that innovation’s future roles. That study led to development of a monthly New York Times Sunday Business column, “Unboxed,” addressing innovation and creativity in corporate America. Her columns were frequently among the top-ranked reads on the Times’ site for weeks after initial publication. A passion for all things sci-tech has led to articles about everything from nanotechnology and biotechnology to clean energy and medical devices. Lately she has been focusing on virtual education and how technology is transforming what we can accomplish with our minds and bodies.

Principal, Technolution

Max Sims has had an extensive career in design, business and computer graphics. Originally a car designer at GM and Renault in Europe, he applied his industrial design skills to work on movie special effects for the films Beetlejuice and Masters of the Universe. He began his computer aided industrial design software career at Alias Research, and later became software product manager  at  think3. He has worked as the Director of 3D Production at Max was the lead writer on “Inside Maya 5”, a definitive 900-page book on short filmmaking, while simultaneously designing theNatus Algo 3i. The Natus medical device won industry awards for Medical excellence and branding. Sims has been an executive producer for virtual worlds in Spain, where he was also an Invited Professor at the University of Salamanca. Since earning his MFA in Design at California College of the Arts, he consults in design strategy in the field of electronic automotive user interfaces and branded design fiction experiences.

Robert Sloan
Chief Innovation Officer, Vevity

As a life-long innovator, Robert has served in positions as diverse as chief innovation officer, mobile system architect, innovation architect, digital systems architect, and system designer at flagship companies and startups alike. Companies have included Sun Microsystems, Compression Labs, Phillips, Luma, Scanadu and Vevity, producing products and services ranging from wireless medical devices, mobile medical monitoring and creating illuminating design. His most recent venture, Vevity, is focused on helping people live healthier longer.

He has served as a liaison between Philips Research and Philips Medical, helping launch ideas into market products. As a system architect he has designed and built the audio encoders for DirecTV, designed the audio/telephony subsystem for the SparcStation 1, and defined an audio chip which was built by Crystal Semiconductors and Analog Devices that is used in many multimedia applications.

A pragmatic thinker, Robert has in-depth knowledge of multimedia platforms and industry and maintains hands-on experience with hardware and software.

Consultant, Deloitte Consulting, Positivity Inc.

A born entrepreneur, Cody founded his first company with 7 employees from his parents’ garage at the age of 16. A relentlessly optimistic strategic thinker, he is deeply passionate about helping organizations and individuals discover their unique set of core strengths and learn how to use them. He is relentlessly curious and has a genuine love for exploring the world’s perspectives by getting to know new people. Since obtaining his masters, he has consulted for Deloitte for four years, the first first two years of which were spent traveling around the world helping clients understand better their risk of licensing intellectual property to the global marketplace. He considers this international growth experience to have altered his life in an extremely positive and open-minded way.

He is a believer in the transformative power of actively listening to others, and most recently served on the executive team of startup that orchestrated corporate culture transformations by providing life/relationship coaching to everyone as an employee benefit.

“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

DEC 4th 2013: Innovation Vitality (Do you have the capacity to deliver on critical innovation initiatives?)

What does it take to enact change in a stationary field? Innovation is difficult to enact anywhere, do you have what it takes? This discussion will touch upon what it takes to enact change on a larger scale.

It takes a lot of grit and determination to create and enter a new market, develop and apply a new process,  or do anything that is new and different. There is always resistance to change that needs to be overcome. Most individuals would also like to positively adapt to the situations they find themselves in, and all companies over time find themselves required to adapt to changing circumstances. Some of these circumstances are serious enough to demand a strong innovation response in order to keep the enterprise healthy or in some cases to even survive.

Although we frequently have excellent ideas about what to do in order to improve things,  they can be difficult to execute upon. The continued ability to operationalize insights can be called Innovation Vitality. This vital energy is what champions need to advocate innovation to all stakeholders including team, staff, colleagues, management and customers.

From this perspective, Innovation Vitality can be regarded as a measure of an organization’s capacity to launch and deliver on critical innovation initiatives. While innovation may occasionally occur without it, sustained innovation on the part of an individual, department or enterprise is generally directly proportional to innovation vitality.  As such, innovation vitality is an important, complex and multidimensional capability for any forward thinking entity.

Examples of Situations Requiring Critical Innovation Initiatives:

So how would you and your organization score on innovation vitality?


Pre-Registration Tickets ($20)  – on SALE NOW!


Come find out at the SVII Holiday (Christmas/New Year’s) Party this December 4th!

This will be a practical and interactive experience where we will each have a chance to perform a self-assessment using an Innovation Audit Questionnaire designed by Howard Lieberman, and currently used by organizations and their leaders around the world.

In addition, we will be bringing back some of your favorite panelists and innovators from 2013!  Keep checking back to see the updated roster (and don’t hesitate to send us requests).

This event will take place at 7PM at:

Hangen Szechuan Restaurant (2nd Fl), 134 Castro St, Mountain View, CA 94041

Dinner will be served!

Pre-Registration Tickets ($20)  – on SALE NOW!

(We will reconvene again with the first event of 2014 on Feb 5th)


Chairman, Senior Science and Technology Advisor 
SVII, DARPA, Apple Inc, Bose Corporation
After completing university programs in both Physics and Electrical Engineering, Howard spent fifteen years working for two large technology companies, Bose and Apple where he shipped more than a billion dollars of innovative products while taking Bose from analog to digital and Apple from computers into sound.He then spent a decade as a serial entrepreneur and a college dean and this last decade he has been applying these experiences as an innovator, innovation manager and innovation educator by founding and running the Silicon Valley Innovation Institute where he often finds himself functioning as an innovation articulator. He has also been an advanced technology procurement consultant to the US Air Force and is currently a Senior Science and Technology Advisor to DARPA, He is also active as a composer and performing jazz.
Vice President of Business Development
Double Fine Studios
Justin Bailey spent a dozen years in business development and strategic planning in the entertainment industry. During this career, Bailey has lead M&A initiatives, closed venture deals, setup crowd funding campaigns, and helped publishers make the transition from retail to digital distribution at Accenture, NAMCO BANDAI Games America, Perfect World Entertainment, and Double Fine Studios – where he currently presides over all business operations and is exploring how to effectively leverage crowd funding and crowd sourcing as a repeatable business practice.
Chief Evolution Officer
Birgitte Rasine serves as the Chief Evolution Officer (CEO) of LUCITÀ Inc., a hybrid design and communications firm. In line with her diverse media career that spans film production, journalism, publishing, marketing and technical writing, Birgitte has produced mobile apps and documentary films, written screenplays, funding proposals for NASA, and articles for Business Week, The Hollywood Reporter and Variety, and worked in visual effects, camera and lighting on Hollywood and independent feature films for PDI/Dreamworks, ILM, Universal Studios, HBO, and Disney, whom she credits for giving her time in the trenches.
She is also a literary author, with several books to her name, including the novella “Verse in Arabic,” which was named a Finalist in the 2013 Press 53 Open Awards, Novella Category. She blogs regularly for The Write Practice, a community of over 95,000 monthly readers. Her web site is
Birgitte holds a BA in Film Aesthetics from Stanford University and studied cinematography at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles and international relations at the Instituto Universitario Ortega y Gasset in Madrid, Spain. She is a Founding Circle member of the Association of Women in Water, Energy and the Environment and sits on the board of directors of a non profit organization in New York City dedicated to supporting the leaders of tomorrow.
Director  / Cinematographer
Christos Chrestatos is an experienced filmmaker and director, and founder of Thoughtpusher, a New York City based creative shop specializing in commercials, music videos, fashion films, and “hybrid advertising”.  His work has been featured in the New Museum of Contemporary Art in Manhattan, XLR8R (leading voice in independent electronic music for the US and many top international markets), RES Magazine (bi-monthly publication chronicling the best in cutting edge film, music, art, design and culture), as well as TV channels in countries like Japan, Canada, and Germany.  Christos draws his inspiration from a curiosity towards the human condition, his love for mythology, and an appetite to create meaning;  He believes strongly in the universal language of imagery (and its ability to resonate with individuals), as well as the power of the narrative in bridging the gaps of global culture.

Mechanical Design Engineer, Thermal Systems
Tesla Motors
Bremer is currently working as a Mechanical Design Engineer at Tesla Motors. Curiosity has always driven him. After finishing his undergrad at Western Washington University in plastics and vehicle engineering he quit his job and dedicated himself to the WWU X-Prize Team.  The WWU X Prize team built a carbon fiber, monocoque hybrid super mileage car, from the ground up.  He was personally responsible for in car computer, interior and exterior LED lighting, display system, software integration, and the auto centering windshield wiper. Viking-45(WWU X Prize car) ranked 6th out of 121 competitors achieving an average of 112MPGe. Directly after the X Prize competition he was hired onto the Prototype Vehicle Group at  Tesla Motors. He spent a year developing the Toyota Rav4 EV and Tesla Model S prototypes. As the Model S left the prototype phase Bremer moved to the Vehicle Engineering Thermal Systems Team where he played an active role in the rapidly evolving company supporting manufacturing, quality and service along with his Thermal Team responsibilities.

When the surfing is bad, Bremer spends most of his free time playing with LEDs, flying his drone, and riding around his electric skateboard, if he’s not getting arrested trying to change laws. Battle for the beach, Projects and resume:

Deloitte Consulting, Positivity Inc. 
Cody is a born entrepreneur.  He is deeply passionate about helping organizations find new frontiers in their overall culture,retain top talent and create healthier workplaces.   He is relentlessly curious and has a genuine love for exploring the world’s perspectives by getting to know new people. After obtaining his masters, he began consulting work forDeloitte.  He spent the first two years of his career traveling around the world helping clients understand better their risk of licensing intellectual property to the global marketplace.  He considers this international growth experience to have altered his life in an extremely positive and open-minded way.  He went on to spend 2 years atDeloitte Consulting in their Strategy & Operations practice where he helped executives of a Fortune 50 client spin-offhalf their business.

Cody is also an avid marathon runner and has competed in over 15 races around the world. His passion for running extends past participation as he has founded and organized a road race for charity.
(More Panelists TBA!)

Pre-Registration Tickets ($20)  – on SALE NOW!