Powering Imagination


Eric Bartsch at CCG is working with Powering Imagination as their COO. Powering Imagination was founded by Erik Lindbergh, grandson of aviation pioneers Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, to use advances in aviation to inspire sustainable solutions across the broader fields of Energy and Transportation.

Powering Imagination has a portfolio of programs including: global aviation adventures, regional events & air shows, and media projects to spur innovation in sustainable energy and transportation.



Open Innovation Training – March 12 & 13, 2014


Eric Bartsch at CCG will be teaching another session of Open Innovation training in March 2014 in Chicago, IL. This 2 day course covers strategies and tools for integrating external resources with your internal innovation capabilities, to increase your capability to produce breakthrough new products.

This course is being offered through Marcus Evans professional training. Formal marketing of the course will start in January 2014, and attendees wishing to pre-enroll can contact Eric at CCG directly.

CCG helps create the Electric Aviation industry

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Over the last 6 months, CCG has been working with Yuneec to form GreenWing International (GWI), a company dedicated to bringing Yuneec’s electric aviation projects to market. Acting as a temporary member of the executive team, and serving in roles spanning COO and GM responsibilities, Eric Bartsch of CCG has helped create the new business in this emerging and highly-innovative industry.

The recent AirVenture show provided a platform to announce the formation of the new company and to launch its first product, the single-seat eSpyder, into the market. The customer and media interest in the program has been overwhelming and CCG is excited to have played a role in the formation of the electric aviation industry.

GreenWing website: www.greenwing.aero

AOPA magazine: http://www.aopa.org/News-and-Video/All-News/2013/June/27/electric-aircraft-poised-to-reach-market.aspx

Wired magazine: http://www.wired.com/autopia/2013/08/electric-airplane-for-sale/

GizMag: http://www.gizmag.com/greenwing-espyder/28565/

Meaningful Differentiation – The common goal for both Strategy and Innovation


A good Strategy is critical to creating a successful business. Likewise, Innovation plays a key role in the long term success of most profitable businesses.

However, neither Strategy or Innovation are an end in themselves. Both are methods for achieving something far more important: Meaningful Differentiation.

Meaningful Differentiation occurs when customers see a worthwhile difference between your products/services/brands and those of your competitors. This differentiation can occur through a strategy that creates a new value proposition for your customers. It can also occur  if you create innovative products that deliver more value to your targeted customers than your competitor’s products. Often the best companies use a combination of Strategy and Innovation to Meaningfully Differentiate themselves.

We see many examples where Meaningful Differentiation results in long-term sustainable profitable results. Southwest Airlines is a great example. Southwest follows a different strategy than its competitors by flying one type of plane, avoiding hub and spoke operations, minimizing add-on fees, and focusing on efficiency. They also encourage innovative ideas from their employees to perpetuate their strategic advantages in cost and customer service. The result is an airline that over the long term has been more profitable than all of their US competitors combined. The reason for this outstanding performance is that they have used Strategy and Innovation to achieve Meaningful Differentiation in the eyes of their customers.

Apple is another great example of Meaningful Differentiation. Their strategy of creating a closed system of hardware and software (OS) is different than their competition. Their product innovations with design, new product categories, and more useable user interfaces; have all further differentiated Apple from its competitors. The combined result of their Strategy and Innovation is Meaningful Differentiation, and it has driven outstanding results.

In each of these examples, the past performance of Apple and Southwest are no guarantee that they will continue to be Meaningfully Differentiated in the future. However, clearly both companies have demonstrated the ability to achieve this goal for a sustained period of time, despite being in very competitive markets with numerous commoditized competitors surrounding them.

Often we hear debates on whether a company truly has a good Strategy or whether their products are really Innovative. The real litmus test for both, is whether it can be said that the company has achieved Meaningful Differentiation. If the goal is achieved, then long term profitability will follow. Debating whether their Innovations are “breakthrough enough” or if their strategy has a unique enough value proposition is missing the point. If the end result is a clear Meaningful Differentiation in the eyes of the customer, then the important goal has ben achieved. If on the other hand, the company and its products are commoditized (like the major US airlines or the majority of computer manufacturers) then it is irrelevant how “breakthrough” their Innovations seemed or how unique their Strategy appeared.

Focusing on Strategy and Innovation is important for business leaders. However, we must all remember that neither of these is an end in itself. As we refine strategies and strive for innovative products, we must always measure the results on a scale that ranges from Commoditization up to Meaningful Differentiation. Those who differentiate meaningfully will survive. Those who do not, will find themselves in a dangerous place.

Meaningful Differentiation is the goal. Strategy and Innovation create a path to reach the goal.

Contrary to popular wisdom, bad ideas really do exist in brainstorming, and you definitely want to have them

The mantra that “there is no such thing as a bad idea” can itself be a bad idea if mis-applied. As someone who has had their share of “bad” ideas, I have no doubt that they definitely do exist. How to deal with them in the context of a brainstorming session is a different story.

I have found that with the right group and the right ground rules, it can be very useful to allow criticism of ideas after there has been an open sharing of different concepts. Ideas are cheap and many of them aren’t brilliant in the form in which they are first proposed. Often the true innovation comes from examining what makes a bad idea bad, and then figuring out if there is a way to develop upon it so that it becomes feasible and good. Those are the really valuable ideas.

A couple of people have commented correctly that the facilitator needs to stay away from biasing the results by passing judgment. This is true and it can become dangerous for the facilitator to start steering the discussion. However, I have found that doing an unbiased critique of ALL of the ideas that have been put on the table, can unearth potential fatal flaws. The solutions to these possible fatal flaws are often the actual gems that come out of the brainstorming session, not the ideas as they were first presented.

I prefer to stray away from the mantra that “all ideas are good ideas” because we all know that isn’t really true, and it can sound silly to many of the participants. Instead, it can be more useful to reinforce that even “bad” ideas are welcome and are useful to help us get to a good idea.

It can even be interesting to specifically solicit bad ideas from the group, to see if there are any directions that are thought to be crazy, but might have merit if they can be refined or modified by others in the group. Suspending all judgment can be good for the initial flood of ideas, but a little judgment applied later in the session can do wonders for eliciting some really innovative ideas that make the results of the brainstorming far more actionable and useful.

Eric Bartsch
Chanute Consulting Group

The Only Three Questions That Count – The Wisdom of Ken Fisher Applied to Innovation Strategy

As innovators, we know that it is often productive to look for new connections between previously unrelated industries, technologies, markets, etc…

I was recently re-reading a very good book on investing strategy and it struck me that it contains some very applicable lessons for innovators. The book was Ken Fisher’s “The Only Three Questions That Count – Investing by Knowing What Others Don’t” – 2006


You might be asking: What does investing have to do with innovation? In this case, the answer is: Quite a bit! A major premise in this book is that an investor is never going to beat the market, if they use the information that everyone else is using, in the same way everyone is using it. Also, much of what we think we “know” needs to be questioned to separate the folklore from the facts.

This absolutely applies to innovation. If your company knows the same things as your competitors, and if you are doing things the same way they are, then you are going to struggle to compete. The key is to become aware of this and do something about it.

There are three questions that Ken Fisher poses to investors, and all of these apply to both business strategy and innovation strategy:

1)   What do you believe that is actually false?

2)   What can you fathom that others find unfathomable?

3)   What is your brain doing to blindside you?

These are very good questions for innovation leaders to be asking themselves on a regular basis:

1)   What do you believe that is actually false? – We all fall into this trap of developing internal “tribal knowledge” that is accepted as truth, when in fact it may be false. What does your team “know” to be true that really should be questioned? (some ideas below to get the ball rolling)

  1. Customers really don’t want ________________ (fill in the blank)
  2. Everyone wants ________________ (do they really?)
  3. That startup competitor really won’t amount to anything
  4. Our products are best because _______________
  5. Our competitor’s products are inferior because _______________
  6. Our competitors will never figure out how to _______________
  7. ________________ is impossible

2)   What can you fathom that others find unfathomable? – This is a really important one for an innovative company. You have to learn how to do things that others can’t do. You must learn things about your customers that nobody else sees. You must see relevant connections where others don’t.

  1. What can your team do that nobody else can? How will you leverage this?
  2. What does your team need to learn how to do?
  3. How will you get unique insights about your customers that your competition doesn’t have?
  4. What technologies, manufacturing processes, cost advantages, etc… can you gain access to; that your competition can’t? How can you create more of these unique advantages?

3)   What is your brain doing to blindside you? – How are pride, overconfidence, and confirmation bias; all conspiring to blind your team to important information around them?

  1. We all seek out information that supports our view of the world, and we discount information that doesn’t fit with this viewpoint. How is this “confirmation bias” at work in your organization? What data are you rejecting even though it is right there in front of your face, because it doesn’t fit with what you “know” to be true?
  2. We all have pride in our products, brands, and companies. How is this pride causing you to discount what is happening elsewhere?
  3. All projects have champions who believe their product will be a winner in the market. However, in fact many of these products won’t win. How is this overconfidence impacting what projects are in your portfolio?

Ken Fisher developed this framework with investing in mind, but if you read his book more broadly, you will find it very applicable to innovation strategies as well. If you are involved with innovation and are also interested in investing, then you’ll get twice the bang for the buck out of this book.

Eric Bartsch


With innovation, how much measurement is enough? The Heisenberg uncertainty principle applied to innovation & measurement

A good article was posted on the Board of Innovation forum, titled: “It’s Time to Count”


The article discussed the need for innovators to do a better job of keeping “count” of how they are doing. This is a worthy challenge, but it isn’t without it’s pitfalls. My response is attached below and I encourage you to also read the original article.


Having been in the position of leading innovation and being accountable for overall business results (P&L), the most critical measurements are growth in income and sales driven by your innovation efforts.

There are a lot of other things that can be measured when it comes to innovation, and the measurement of those tends to be most critical when you are trying to effect a change in culture or process in your organization. For example, if your group is too internally focused, then start tracking metrics around driving revenue off of external partnerships (and reward that behavior). If there aren’t enough ideas flowing in, then track the flow of ideas. If there aren’t enough ideas outside your core market, then track new ideas in new market segments, etc…

However it can be dangerous to go down the path of trying to measure everything regarding innovation with the goal of somehow fine tuning and optimizing every aspect. Innovation does not work like Operations where repeatability and efficiency are king. If your desire to measure stifles one great home run idea, then the net result of the measurement efforts is negative.

With Innovation Strategy, you are working to maximize the odds that great ideas form within your company or in its external network, and that they make it to market successfully so you can profit from it. This means channeling the efforts of highly creative people and keeping them very motivated to solve problems that have value to your customers before your competition gets there.

These highly creative people typically aren’t motivated by tracking two dozen metrics on every aspect of their innovation process, but they can definitely be motivated to “win” in the context of your competition and increasing profits/sales/market share. There are people who love tracking lots and lots of metrics, and they are vital to have, but in your operations group (or put some of them off to the side monitoring innovation so that you can monitor trends, but keep them invisible to the actual innovators so they aren’t in the way).

I’ll inappropriately invoke the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle here. In many cases, you can have an outstanding innovation program or you can measure everything about it, but you can’t have both. Measure the things that need changing so you can track your progress. Measure the sales and income you are driving (since that is the only real score that counts). Motivate your people to win and incentivize them to do so. However, measure only what you need to, so that the measurement doesn’t become an end in itself that stifles creativity.

When you are comfortable that you are “counting” what is important, and that the benefits of the “counting” are still larger than the cost of the ideas you have lost because your innovators are spending time on counting, then you have hit the right balance. Having no measurement at all is a bad thing, having an excessive level of measurement in an Innovation culture can also be a bad thing.

Good question to pose to the forum.

Eric Bartsch

How to foster #Innovation in supporting functions – Who is the Customer?

On the Sustainable Innovation Forum, a question was posted regarding innovation in supporting functions that are mostly doing routine or repeatable work. It was questioned whether an innovation culture could (or should) be created in these parts of a company.

The answer is absolutely yes, but with a caveat. The innovation needs to be focused in the right direction or the results will not be good.

There are usually functions within a company that play more of a supporting role vs. other functions that are primary revenue generators and differentiators vs. the external competition. Sometimes this includes HR, Finance, or IT; although there are certainly many businesses where one or more of those functions is a primary revenue generator or external differentiator. The goal of a supporting function is to operate efficiently to support the rest of the business. Innovation is still relevant in these areas, but the energy must be focused on ideas that provide better support to the internal customers.

I’ll use an admittedly rather silly analogy of an on-site company-run employee cafeteria. The cafeteria exists so that employees can eat on-site quickly and cost-effectively. It is a support function and if it can figure out how to be more cost-effective or faster in serving employees, then those are great areas for focusing innovation.

However, if the on-site cafeteria decides that it wants to innovate to boost the cafeteria’s internal revenue metrics by promoting a new schedule that invents new mealtimes and encourages employees to take meal breaks at 10AM, 12PM, and 2PM, that might make the cafeteria’s revenue increase substantially, but it would be detrimental to the productivity of the primary functions that keep the whole business profitable.

An innovative mindset is always a good thing, but it needs to happen in the context of doing things that benefit the customer. The customer for a support function is one or more of the revenue generating functions in a company. The innovation in a support function has to occur in the context of making life easier or more efficient for the primary revenue-generating functions. Alternatively, it can be useful to innovate in reducing the expense structure of a support function, but there is a significant potential pitfall here that I’ll get back to in a moment.

I find that innovation sometimes goes haywire when a support function starts innovating but forgets that their customer is the rest of the company. Then you run the risk of getting lots of cool-sounding, cutting edge ideas that make the local metrics for the support function look really good, but the result for their internal customers is change and turmoil just for the sake of change.

We frequently see support functions implementing new innovative processes that make life easier for the support function, but that transfer work onto the employees in other functions who are supposed to be serving the company’s external customers. This is the pitfall many companies fall into when their support functions innovate on cost effectiveness. There are many ways for a supporting function to come up with innovative ways to reduce their own internal expense metrics, but unfortunately frequently this happens in ways that add hidden costs elsewhere.

If the revenue-generating employees in your business suddenly have to spend half their time doing work that used to be done by a supporting function, the support function may have great results on their internal expense metrics, but the overall corporate results will suffer. Be careful when innovating on cost effectiveness in supporting functions. If all of the costs (direct and hidden) aren’t captured in the analysis, the overall results may be detrimental.

Any function can and should focus on innovation, but it needs to be beneficial to the customer of that function (internal or external) or the effort will be misguided. In the end, innovation in a support function is no different than innovation for a revenue-generating function. You must focus the energies of the innovation on what is meaningful and beneficial to your customer. This means knowing your customer (internal or external) and their needs.


Innovation Metrics – Why they must be customized for each business

On another forum, there was a good discussion about how to best measure innovation. This is a question often asked, and there is not a standard answer that works for all companies, although there are some general guidelines that are relevant most of the time.

What is the best way to measure Innovation?

One of the difficulties in answering the question is that its a bit like asking: What is the best way to measure a car? Horsepower? Mileage? 0-60 time? Number of seats? Length? Number of cupholders? Kilowatts of stereo amplifier power?

In order to measure innovation, it is necessary to use multiple metrics to track different aspects of innovation that are relevant to a specific company. If a company is transforming from being less innovative to more innovative, then there are culture and process metrics that are important to track the changes. If a company is too internally focused and decides it is important to get more external ideas, then there are metrics around that.

In general it is useful to measure things like:

-Portfolio of products (things already on the market) – How many were launched in the last X years/months? How many are significantly differentiated vs. competition (in ways that are customer-relevant)? How long does it take on average for competition to duplicate or nullify what differentiates your products?

-Portfolio of projects (things in your development pipeline) – How many disruptive/breakthrough projects are in your pipeline? How many incremental innovations are in the pipeline? How much general line maintenance are you doing (new colors, sizes, versions)? How much of your effort & budget are you committing to each type of development project?

-Impact of innovation outside new product development – Is your supply chain developing new ways of being more efficient? Are you differentiating your business model vs. competitors? Is your marketing different in ways that make it more effective?

-Financial results – What percent of sales & profits are coming from new products launches within the last X years/months? What are you spending on R&D / Product Development (this can be too high or too low)?

With all of these potential metrics, one difficulty is that the absolute measurement is not very meaningful without knowing the trends and the relative position in an industry. The big insight comes from the direction these metrics are going vs. competition. In some industries it would be phenomenal to have 50% of sales coming from product platforms created in the last 3 years. In others that would be disastrous.

Also, there are a lot of useful metrics that are difficult to reduce down to a numeric value. There may be some things you can monitor effectively with a green/yellow/red rating or a five point scale. Some of the process and culture metrics hit a point of diminishing returns when you try to turn them into a traditional numeric metric.

Determine what role innovation plays in your corporate strategy and what changes you need to achieve in the next year or two. Then figure out a set of metrics that are relevant to measuring your progress in those areas.


CCG Innovation Blog – Top 5 Factors in Creating a Pipeline of #innovation – #CCGInnovationTop5

Differentiating a company’s value proposition from its competition is one of the most strategically important things an executive team can do. Innovation is what leads to differentiation, and as long as there are competitors seeking to add to their value propositions, the need for ongoing innovation never ends. Achieving a sustainable pipeline of innovation requires a company to look at innovation from multiple angles. The following is a list of five different dimensions of innovation within a company, all of which are critical to succeed.

Top 5 Factors in Achieving Innovation:

1) Innovation Strategy – A business must have a clear roadmap for what types of innovation are desired, what resources are available, and what goals are important. (What, How, and Who) The overall Corporate Strategy must explain how the company plans to differentiate itself on an ongoing basis. This clarifies where the innovation must occur. A detailed innovation strategy then gives the organization direction on how to continue to differentiate a company from its competition.

2) Culture – There must be a culture that supports and nurtures innovation. The five attributes in “The Innovator’s DNA” by Dyer, Gregersen, and Christensen must be present. Reward structures must also be put into place to signal to employees the importance of embracing change and looking for new ways to remain competitive.

3) People – The skills that lead to innovation are ones that should be encouraged and nurtured across a large percentage of the population of a company. However, it is also vital to have a handful of highly productive natural innovators on your team. There are many books on innovation which put forward a philosophy that anyone can be taught to innovate. This is absolutely true. Anyone’s innovation skills can be improved, and this is a very worthy goal. However, innovating in business is in some ways analogous to winning in professional sports. Anyone can be coached to play basketball better. However, no matter how hard I try, I’m not going to turn into Michael Jordan, regardless of how skilled my coach is.

There are people who have the capacity to see into the future and innovate in ways that a team of a hundred average people could not achieve. You need at least a few of these people. In innovation, one ‘great’ performance can do more for your company than a hundred ‘good’ ones.

Do ensure that you are fostering innovation skills in all of your employees, but also understand that you can have a good group of employees that are trained to be more innovative, but if your competition steps onto the court with Michael Jordan on their team, it isn’t going to go well for you.

Seek out the star players and create an environment where they can be productive, and at the same time coach the rest of your employees to continue to be more innovative.

4) Structure – Having a core group of innovators is critical, but if they are isolated and are unsupported by the rest of the organization, it will be difficult to benefit from their ideas and get new concepts into the marketplace. There is a great book: ‘The Other Side of Innovation’ – by Govindarajan and Trimble, that covers the concept of the ‘dedicated’ portions of an innovation team, and the ‘shared’ resources that must be linked to the innovation, but that are also occupied with the ongoing business.

5) External Connections – No company can stay at the forefront of its industry by focusing solely on what it can do internally. The need for great connections with the rest of the world is the driver for the long term trend towards Open Innovation. This impacts culture, where networking is required. It impacts structure, where some of your resources may not be employees. It also impacts strategy, where you may choose to depend on outside resources to provide innovative solutions that allow you to continue to differentiate from competitors.