Killer Innovations with Phil McKinney
An award-winning podcast that looks at the innovations that are changing our lives and how their innovators used creativity and design to take their raw idea and create game-changing products or services. Phil McKinney, retired CTO of HP and the creator, and host of Killer Innovations has been credited with forming and leading multiple teams that FastCompany and BusinessWeek list as one of the “50 Most Innovative”. His recognition includes Vanity Fair naming him the “The Innovation Guru”, MSNBC and Fox Business calling him "The Gadget Guy" and the San Jose Mercury News dubbing him the "chief seer".

A common question I get from listeners is how to fight against the roadblocks and barriers to innovation.  In this week’s show, I address five of the biggest barriers to innovation. The list is based on the 2018 Innovation Leader study done in partnership with KPMG.  The study surveyed Chief Innovation Officers in organizations ranging from small to large.  As many of you have let me know, these barriers resonate with you. As we walk through the list, I will share my thoughts on each of these barriers to innovation.

The Roadblocks and Speed Bumps

First, here’s the list of barriers to innovation and how they rank among Chief Innovation Officers surveyed.

  1. Politics, turf wars, no alignment.   55% of innovation leaders say this is the #1 issue.
  2. Cultural issues.  45% claim this as the #2 barrier to innovation.
  3. Inability to act on signals.  41% placed this at #3.
  4. Lack of budget. 40% of innovation leaders found this to be the #4 obstacle.
  5. Lack of strategy, lack of vision.  35% put this at #5.

Let’s take a closer look at these and what I would do to get around these barriers to innovation.

Number One: Politics, Turf Wars, No Alignment

There are many manifestations of politics be it people vying for credit or the corporate antibody.  Politics can be a big challenge especially in large organizations.  The higher people rise within an organization, the more risk averse and defensive they tend to become.

Turf wars can erupt when “innovation” is used in a team name or a position title.  The innovation team creates an innovation for a product group. The product group team gives it an icy reception.  It’s an invasion of their turf.

No alignment occurs when people within the organization are going in different directions.  Leaders announce the need for innovation fast, but give no guidance. There’s no alignment of the activities or the overall organizational vision.  This is a lack of leadership.

Here are ways to bring down these barriers:


  • Don’t worry about getting credit.  It’s about the impact to the organization.  Good leadership will recognize where the credit is due.
  • Don’t use the word “innovation” in a team name or job title.  Innovation is not the realm of a single team. It should permeate the organization.  

Turf Wars

  • Don’t innovate in isolation.  Open up opportunities for innovation across the organization.  Think ecosystem.

No alignment

  • Have focus up front and communicate that focus to your organization.  When you define the where and what, you get maximum leverage. Quantity and quality of ideas will increase.

Number Two: Culture

Some of the underlying issues I’ve seen with culture are fear of failure and unwillingness to experiment.  If these are concerns, a work around is to go stealth with your innovation.  

But, if you really want to fix the problem…

  • Identify core values that encourage innovation.  
  • Include the core values in employees’ performance reviews.  

Number Three: Inability to Act on Signals

The inability to act on signals signifies inflexibility within the organization.  Maybe you see a new opportunity or risk on the horizon but all resources are committed until the next budget cycle.  Or maybe you do not have a mechanism in place to identify weak signals.

The key to breaking this barrier to innovation:

  • Identify weak signals.
  • Be willing to change.
  • Have the flexibility to change.

Number Four: Lack of Budget

Budget is a challenge for innovation because budget cycles tend to be annual, but innovation does not follow an annual cycle.  Budget does not support or align with innovation. It creates a start-stop interference to innovation programs. I’ve been experimenting with trended spending in my organization.  It gives innovation teams flexibility to adjust funding and confidence funds will be there when needed.

The Rule of 18 also comes into play as a barrier.   It is the length of time senior leaders are willing to commit to a project before they expect to see some form of impact.  If the innovation project does not show impact within 18 months, it’s likely to be axed.

My advice for budget related barriers to innovation:

  • Chunk down your projects to show impact and deliverables on an 18-month cycle.
  • CEOs and Chief Innovation Officers: make a multi-year commitment and stick with it.
  • Don’t underspend.  Budget is not the metric in innovation.

Number Five: Lack of Vision, Lack of Strategy

If an organization’s overall vision does not include the innovation vision and strategy, it’s unlikely innovations will succeed.  

My advice:

  • Define an innovation vision and innovation strategy.
  • Need help with this?  There’s a lot of good material available.  Drop me an email and I will point you to some sources.

If you’ve got a specific example or you’re struggling with an innovation issue, drop me an email.

Better yet, join us at The Innovators Community, a private slack community of leading innovators from around the world.  Post your questions or direct message for advice and feedback.


Five Minutes to New Ideas is now available as a standalone show.  It’s designed for the creative mind looking for that next great idea.  Listen on Apple iTunes, Spotify or at
Direct download: Five_Barriers_to_Innovation_S14_Ep25.mp3
Category:Past Shows -- posted at: 4:33am PST

Success in the innovation game requires strong innovation leadership.   But there is confusion about what defines leadership. To understand leadership, we need to boil it down to the essence – what it is and what it isn’t.  We need to identify a key leadership skill and determine how this skill can elicit success. There are leaders who stand out in my mind. They have had an effect on me through my career and life.  They have one common leadership skill: influence.

What It’s Not

I’ve had the title of Chief Technology Officer at HP.  Now I have the title of CEO leading 200 bright and motivated people.  But a title does not make a leader. Some may think leadership is directing people in what to do.  It’s assigning tasks, then watching from on high while others do the work.  That is not leadership. There are those who confuse leadership with micromanagement.  They expect their managers to clear every decision with them before they make it. That is not leadership.  How do you distinguish true leaders from managers, supervisors or those who just have control?

Essence of Leadership

Leadership is about inspiring others.  It’s about motivating others to achieve success beyond what they could’ve ever imagined.  One leader who’s inspired me is Bob Davis.  He hired me in my first real job and became my mentor.  He modeled leadership and I was drawn to the projects and teams he led.  When I considered what made Bob different from others in management, it came down to leadership skills.  His skills in leadership led to success. What made him stand out was his ability to influence.

Innovation Leadership

Leadership isn’t just for managers.   It’s essential to any team. You need leadership skills when you are a team contributor, self-leading, and when there is no clear person in charge.  That is why leadership is crucial in innovation.  Innovation leadership drives innovation from ideas on a whiteboard or in a notebook to something mind-blowing.  How do you hone the skills of innovation leadership? Let’s examine one key skill.

The Key

Influence is the key skill in innovation leadership.  

Two definitions of influence are

  1. The power to cause change without forcing the change to happen.  
    • Not making the change happen.
    • Not doing the task.
    • Not giving the answer.
  2. A person who affects someone in an important way.
    • Someone you admire who has inspired you.
    • Someone whose behavior you want to model.
    • Could be your spouse, an old boss, a teacher, a professor, a friend.  

Attributes of Influence

There are three attributes of influence that leaders have.

  1. Knowledge
    • Experience – successful work in the past that is the same or similar to the work at hand.
    • Expertise – relevant training (such as college) or working for an expert in the field.
  2. Credibility
    • Past actions – how the leader achieved success and handled failure.
    • Thinking beyond self – working for the larger, mutually beneficial goal.
    • Follow through – leaders do what they say they’re going to do
  3. Integrity
    • The core set of values that guide what one does.
    • Projected through actions.
    • Core values include
      • Honesty and truthfulness
      • Win-win always
      • Transparency
      • Team first

How to Influence for Success

Influence is core to innovation leadership.  Those who have the ability to elicit positive change have mastered the skill of influence.  How can you influence others? It’s a non-obvious answer. The most powerful influence you can have is often not trying to influence.  

How to exert influence without authority?

Step One:   Understand those you want to influence.

  • Learn their motivations, objectives, dreams, fears and desires.
  • Craft a win-win.  Achieve what you want to achieve while supporting and enabling those you want to influence to reach their objectives.

Step Two:  Active listening.

  • Shut up and listen.
  • Let others feel they are part of the conversation, that they’re contributing.

Step Three:  Ask questions.

  • Well thought out questions that do not convey an agenda or define a target
  • Questions that prompt conversation and allow others to share their opinions, thoughts, experience and expertise.

Innovation needs innovation leadership and influence is the key to success.

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Five Minutes to New Ideas is now available as a standalone show.  It’s designed for the creative mind looking for that next great idea.  Listen on Apple iTunes, Spotify or at
Direct download: Innovation_Leadership_Using_Influence_for_Success_S14_Ep24.mp3
Category:Past Shows -- posted at: 6:46am PST


Today’s show is unique.  I recorded it as I drove back to Denver from an annual event in Keystone, Colorado.  The event centers around what’s coming in the next three to eight years in technology and innovation.  So, sit back and enjoy the ride as I share my thoughts on innovation and the near future.


Pondering AI and Ethics

I delivered two keynotes at the event.  During one, I got a question about Artificial Intelligence.  To be specific, did I agree or disagree with what other tech leaders were saying about AI.  This prompted a lively talk during the keynote and afterwards. The discourse kept me mulling over thoughts on innovation, AI and the future.


We’ve featured some shows this year that touch on the use of AI.  Recently, the Box Chief Product Officer shared how Box is using AI for content management.  Earlier in the year, Microsoft’s Corporate VP for AI, Steve Guggenheimer, gave insight into applying AI for innovative solutions.  


Yet, some have negative views on AI and where it could lead.  They preach a doomsday message - job losses, robots taking over.   Where am I in this spectrum? In my response to the question, one of my points was to consider ethical innovation.  The innovation doesn’t matter. People can innovate for good or evil. What we need to think about is how we define ethical innovation.  Are there innovations that should not be made for ethical reasons?  And we must consider the unintended consequences of innovations.  

I don’t have all the answers.  But the conversation should continue.  Innovators must ponder, discuss, and debate the ethics.  I’m interested in your thoughts on ethical innovation. Hop on over to Killer Innovations, look at the show notes, and post your comments.  Let’s raise the visibility. If we in the innovation game don’t address this now, there could be greater issues and dire effects in the future.


Keeping up with the Pace of Innovation

Continuing my thoughts on innovation is another topic.  The pace of innovation and absorption. As the pace of innovation increases, it impacts industries.  It especially affects those dependent on ecosystems. The window to develop innovation, bring it to market and get a return on investment is short.  As the cycle concludes, the next round of innovation pushes forward. Customers can’t always keep up with the pace. Absorption becomes an issue.


How do you synchronize it?  How do you mesh the creation of innovation with the customers’ ability to implement?  And is it worth it to the customer to keep up with the constant influx of innovations?


The Near Future

One of the highlights of the event is the premiere of the latest in the vision video series The Near Future.  We’ve been doing this since 2016 at CableLabs.  I’ve worked on vision videos most of my career. During my tenure at HP, I made a series of six vision videos.  One influential video was Roku Reward – The Future of AR Gaming produced in 2006.  It became a popular pitch lead in for entrepreneurs.  The video predates iTunes, connectivity, and mobile apps.  It’s a precursor to the now popular Pokémon Go. At the time Roku Reward was made, we were anticipating this technology would arrive within eight years.  It actually took ten, but the vision was there.


The intent of The Near Future series is to create a visual on innovations in everyday life three to eight years out.  The 2016 film, called The Near Future: Bring It On, opens up a window into what the future looks like in a home with ultra-high-speed bandwidth.  In 2017, the video The Near Future: A Better Place, featured Rance Howard, actor and father of director Ron Howard.  This video gives a glimpse of the future for older adults. It shows how innovation can enable independent living, mobility and immediate access to healthcare.


Last week we premiered The Near Future: Ready for Anything.  It takes a look at education of the future.  From a virtual chemistry lab to connecting students globally, see how the next generation will learn in the near future.

Vision videos are a great way to tell your product’s story.  If you’d like to do a vision video, reach out.  I could give advice, guidance, and make introductions to help bring your story to life.


Thanks for joining me as I share my thoughts on innovation.  I would love to get your comments on any of the topics mentioned and start the dialogue.  Leave your comments after the show notes at Killer Innovations.


Want to discuss these and other innovation issues with your fellow innovators?  Join The Innovators Community.


Five Minutes to New Ideas

Price is king.  Build ‘em cheap stack ‘em high.  It’s practically the motto for most segments of the tech industry.  It’s a core assumption about what the majority of customers want. But that assumption is not always true.  Take the sales of the HP DreamScreen in India, for example. Value sometimes outweighs price in a customer’s decision.  If the value the product brings to lives justifies the cost, they will go to the ends of the earth to find a way to make that purchase.  Price and value are not the same thing. Listen to Five Minutes to New Ideas for more on customer perceptions and innovative ways to bring value at the right price.



Direct download: On_the_Road_Thoughts_on_Innovation_S14_Ep23.mp3
Category:Past Shows -- posted at: 6:08am PST


Often when we think about innovation, it’s high tech or a game changing breakthrough.  Today, we look at innovation through a different set of glasses. Rather than innovating a product or service, “costovation” innovates on the business model.  Stephen Wunker talks about innovating behind the scenes, creating customer value through cost innovation.

New Markets Advisors founder and managing director, Stephen has had a successful and varied career.  From innovation consultant to leading innovator developing the first smartphone, he’s come full circle.  Back in consulting, he’s worked with Harvard professor and innovation great Clayton Christensen for many years.  (If you’ve never read Clayton’s books, they’re a must.)  Stephen has co-authored Costovation: Innovation that Gives Your Customers Exactly What They Want—and Nothing More.  His book opens up a new way of thinking about innovation.

What is Costovation?

If you’re like me, the initial thought on cost innovation may be that it’s just cutting costs and going down market.  But Stephen demonstrates that it’s much more and the result is not a cheap offering. It’s not about delivering an inexpensive product or service that is less than adequate.  Costovation is finding the “opportunity in the guts of the business”. Then, delivering customer value while minimizing costs.   

Cost innovation on the overall business model can create immediate profits or make products more affordable.  

The Importance of Costovation

While the U.S. economy has experienced a long recession-free streak, it would be foolhardy not to plan for a downturn.  Furthermore, median incomes are flat and many people are not growing with the economy. There is a market for people who deserve value.  They can’t afford the top of the line and don’t need all the bells and whistles.  The focus in costovation is to delight the customer with what they need at a price point they can afford.

Costovation Success Stories

Costovation is stocked with success stories.  Stephen’s book gives many examples from a spectrum of industries.  BMW’s re-release of the Mini Cooper is one example. BMW turned around the generally low profit market of small cars.  The Mini is low-cost to produce. Yet, BMW found a way to a market premium. They offer post production detail options to customize the Mini.  Their cost innovations have succeeded in creating customer value. The Mini is well built and a market success.

Another example is the electric toothbrush company quip.  By selling customer direct and using their own brand name, quip offers an electric toothbrush at much lower cost.

How to Costovate

The three common steps to cost innovation are

  1. Get a breakthrough perspective.
  • Step back from industry
  • Critically look at long held industry assumptions
  • Take a fresh look
  1. Have a relentless focus
  2. Blur the boundaries

Through cost innovation, you can unlock new markets and deliver customer value for less.

For more on costovation, read Costovation: Innovation that Gives Your Customers Exactly What They Want—and Nothing More.  You can also read Stephen’s articles in Harvard Business Review and other publications.

To keep up with what Stephen’s working on, visit the New Markets Advisors blog, join him on Twitter @costovation, or visit the New Markets Advisors website.


Five Minutes to New Ideas

It’s not enough to know what your customer needs and wants.  Dig deeper. You need to understand the internal philosophy of what the customer’s doing and why.  If you don’t, your product may miss the mark.

This week’s Five Minutes to New Ideas challenges you to ask the questions that will reveal a deeper understanding of your customer.


If you know someone that you think would be a great guest on the show, drop me a note.  I would love to give people the spotlight who are doing interesting things, thinking about things in a different way and transforming their business, their community, their lives through innovation and creativity.  

Check out The Innovators Network, the producer of this show and others.  Kym McNicholas’s show, “Kym on Innovation”, is over there.  Kym has been on my show many times. She’s an Emmy Award winning Forbes reporter living in Silicon Valley.  

Direct download: Creating_Customer_Value_through_Cost_Innovation_S14_Ep22.mp3
Category:Past Shows -- posted at: 6:54am PST