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".

[shareable cite="Antoine de Saint Exupéry"]The time for action is now. It’s never too late to do something.[/shareable]

When the enemy is in close pursuit, there’s not a lot of time to decide what’s next.  Fighter pilots are trained to make decisions fast. It’s a decision that could mean life or death.  And fast is not enough. Fighter pilots must make fast and accurate decisions.  Decision-making is critical in innovation too.  Freezing, making the wrong move, or having a slow process for decision-making can mean endgame.  A competitor will swoop in and take over, leaving you in the dust.  What works for fighter pilots may work for you. It’s called the OODA Loop.

Speed up the Pace

Continuing the series on innovation leadership skill sets, this show addresses a question from a number of listeners.  The question centers on decision-making. You’ve been trying to stand up an innovation effort in your organization.  But, the decision process through the organization is slow.  How can you speed up decision-making?

What has worked for me over the years is the OODA Loop.  It’s a military framework for decision-making.  A military leader developed the OODA Loop to train pilots to make swift, critical decisions.  The OODA Loop helps pilots in crisis situations. It trains them to avoid rote thinking and solve immediate problems creatively.  This decision-making framework translates well beyond the military.  It has had wide use across business, industry, and organizations.

What it Means

OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.  These are the steps to take to making fast and accurate decisions.  The Loop is the repeat of the steps until you arrive at the solution.    The OODA loop guides you to look and evaluate a variety of things, test them, and act on them.  Based on the result, you go back through the OODA loop again until you can get to a solution. Each time you go through the loop, you add what you learned from the last loop.  If your first run through the OODA Loop doesn’t resolve the issue, on the next Loop, you know what to change.

The Steps


  • Collect data – this could be hard data, customer surveys and feedback, sales numbers, competitor’s sales info
  • Gather information from observing – customers, competitors
  • Rapidly gather as much information as possible accurately.
  • This will never be complete, but don’t let that delay you.


  • Identify the barriers to decision-making
  • Recognize biases – “we’ve always done it this way”
  • Traditions -- competitors will predict your move based on them
  • Beware of confirmation bias – leaning on what’s worked in the past
  • Sift through the overflow of information to pull out essential elements
  • Synthesize information gathered in unique and different ways


  • Use the information observed and orientated to make informed decision
  • Choose the most relevant option
  • Avoid first conclusion bias – don’t make the same decision over and over again if the outcome was negative


  • Act quickly on the rational decision
  • Test it, experiment
  • If it doesn’t work, go back through the OODA Loop
  • Use the results to feed into the OODA Loop

Keep in mind that you need to cycle through the OODA Loop very fast.  Don’t stay in any one step of the Loop for any length of time. The quick- paced, continuous loop improves decision-making.  With each cycle, it’s a feedback mechanism.

OODA Loop Advantages

I’ve used the OODA Loop with many teams and projects.  For a number of reasons, I like using the OODA Loop.

  1. It unfreezes teams
    • In nearly every innovation project, there’s a point where things freeze.  
    • The OODA Loop helps teams break free of that state.  
    • It forces teams to do something continuously.  
  2. Speed
    • It is a fast and accurate way to decision-making.
    • Good teams will cycle through the OODA Loop to action in minutes.
  3. Gets teams comfortable with uncertainty
    • You will never have perfect data.
    • Teams learn to accept that and move on with the data at hand.
  4. Helps teams to create the unpredictable
    • The fast pace and unique synthesis of data creates an unpredictable output.
    • This will baffle the competition.
  5. Based on testing
    • As you cycle through the OODA Loop, you can test the action
    • The testing result can be fed back into the Loop

Using a framework such as the OODA Loop, you can reach fast and accurate decisions.  What’s worked for fighter pilots in intense dogfights can help you to keep ahead of your competitors and win in the innovation game.

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Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to listen to the show.  If you have any questions or comments, drop me a note.

If you’ve enjoyed the show, would you do me a favor?   Rate the show wherever you get your podcast.

This show is produced by The Innovators Network.
Direct download: Decision-making_OODA_Loop_for_Fast_and_Accurate_Decisions_S14_Ep33.mp3
Category:Past Shows -- posted at: 4:14am PST

Every year Chicago highlights the art of invention and innovation.  I’m honored to welcome back Tom Kuczmarski to the show.  Tom talks about exciting things going on in the realm of Chicago innovation and student invention.  If you’ve had trouble buttering your toast, today’s show might have the solution. At the Chicago Student Invention Convention, one student invention solves a simple breakfast hassle.  Great and small, Chicago innovation is making a difference and Tom is helping to lead it.

Chicago’s Invention and Innovation Evangelist

Tom’s enthusiasm for innovation is catching.  His career is multifaceted. Senior Lecturer at Northwestern University, author, and President of Kuczmarski Innovation. Tom is dedicated to bringing the art of invention and innovation to life in greater Chicago.  Co-founder of the Chicago Innovation Awards, he has cheered on Chicago innovation for seventeen years. Recently, offshoots of the Chicago Innovation Awards have emerged. The Chicago Student Invention Convention and the Woman’s Mentoring Co-Op have been huge successes.  

Inspiring Young Minds through Student Invention

The Student Invention Convention challenges young students in the greater Chicago area to invent.  Students work with teachers in a ten-week program to create inventions that solve a range of problems.  It thrills Tom to see these kids engaged in the art of invention and innovation.  The exposure to invention and innovation at an early age unlocks their future potential.  

Fostering Woman Entrepreneurship and Innovation

The Woman’s Mentoring Co-Op has nearly doubled every year since its inception.  This program involves successful women mentoring women innovators who want to grow their business.  It’s a way for women to help each other with the unique challenges for women in business and innovation.  Tom’s proud of the strength and power created by this new community of Chicago innovation.

Unlikely Partners

Tom recalls a conversation several years ago with the CEO of a major hotel chain.  Tom broached the topic of Airbnb as a potential competitor. The CEO dismissed his concern. In the last five years, Tom’s seen a major shift in the thinking of major corporations.  Rather than keeping innovation in-house, corporations are opening up.  Major corporations are seeing the need and benefit of partnering with startups.  That’s where the Chicago Corporate Start-Up Matchmaking program comes into play. It’s similar to the CableLabs Fiterator program, but on a broader spectrum.  The Matchmaking program connects corporations with start-ups whose Chicago innovation can bring value.

What Recognizing Others Reaps

Tom likes to recognize others in their innovation and invention.  There is power in creating an environment that values people at all levels.  His latest book is co-authored with Susan Smith Kuczmarski.  Lifting People Up: The Power of Recognition focuses on encouraging people.  He sees this as pivotal for leadership now and the future.  In fact, he feels peopleship should replace leadership. Leaders should motivate and value the people within the organization.  This is especially critical in innovation, which is a team effort.

[shareable cite="Tom Kuczmarski, Co-author Lifting People Up: The Power of Recognition"]Peopleship needs to be the word now that captures what leadership is all about because our focus has to be on the people within an organization.[/shareable]

Just as Tom likes to award and recognize others, the same returns to him.  Tom and Susan have already garnered awards since their book’s May release. They received both the Living Now Awards Silver medal and the Carl Sandburg Award.  

Innovation Practices with Big Impact

As innovation consultant, Tom highlights two best practices.  

  1. Understand and address consumer pain points.
    • When a company solves a consumer pain point, it is on the right track.
    • Example: Abbott’s innovations to manage diabetes.
  2. Have a cross functional team.
    • The more diverse the better with different perspectives and experience.

Tom has done so much for promoting and encouraging Chicago innovation.  The Chicago Innovation Awards recognize top innovators. He is opening up new worlds for students introducing them to the art of invention and innovation.  Through his efforts and others, Chicago’s women innovators are building a strong community for success.

Interested in tracking what Tom is doing?  Visit Kuczmarski Innovation.

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Direct download: The_Art_of_Invention_and_Innovation_in_Chicago_S14_Ep32.mp3
Category:Past Shows -- posted at: 6:08am PST

Anyone who wants to be highly creative, be an innovator, and generate killer ideas needs above all else one thing.  You need your brain. That’s why it’s of primary importance that you take care of your brain health. Your brain, like any muscle can be exercised and strengthened.  In today’s show, we talk about how you can optimize your brain health for innovation and creativity.  

Good News for Your Brain

Reading the Chicago Tribune, I came across an interesting article by Leslie Barker.  The article reveals research findings from the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas.  At the forefront of the research is Sandra Bond Chapman, founder of the Center for Brain Health.  The research indicates that we can strengthen our brain and improve our brain health.  If you’re thinking Sudoku, think again. And while I do practice some of these tips for brain health, there is room for improvement. Since I plan to be in the innovation game for life, brain health is essential.  So, I’ll be working on these. I hope you’ll join me.

Steps to Brain Health

What’s good for your body is also good for your brain.  Want to increase your brain bandwidth to maximize your innovation and creativity output?  Do you fear the potential diseases of Dementia and Alzheimer’s? Maybe someone in your family has gone through one of these cognitive diseases.  Don’t sit back and give up because the disease is in the genes. There’s hope to increase your brain’s potential and minimize decline.

Physical Exercise

First, getting physical exercise increases your brain health.  The higher your fitness level, the better your brain wiring. Exercise can increase the number of pathways through your brain and widen pathways.  This can only increase your ability for innovation and creativity. Physical fitness may also slow cognitive decline. Conversely, if you let your body get out of shape, your brain will follow.  To slow or prevent the development of Dementia or Alzheimer’s, stay active. The study recommends 30 minutes most days. I’ll admit, this doesn’t come easy for me. While my wife is great at keeping an exercise regimen, this is something I have to get better at.  Set the goal and make exercise a habit for your brain health.  

Five by Five

The second step for brain health is to take five -minute breaks five times a day.  It’s what we call five by five. Breaks can mean getting up from your desk and taking a walk outside or even staying at your desk, but unplugging from work.  In the office, I sometimes sit back in my chair at my cubicle, close my eyes, and take a short break. As CEO, I do this in full view of my team as we are all in cubicles.  In this way, I let them know it’s ok to take a brain break. If you’re a leader, I encourage you to model this with your team. Those of us in the innovation game put our brain under a lot of pressure and stress.  By doing five by five brain breaks, the benefits are all around.  Brain health improves innovation and creativity.  Remember five by five.

Quit Multitasking: Focus

The third step to brain health is to stop multitasking.  This one goes hand in hand with the “F” in the innovation framework FIRE.  That is focus. If you are doing multiple tasks at once, the quality of your work declines and the potential for mistakes increases.  The time it takes to do these tasks increases. By focusing on a single task, your ideas will have greater depth and quality. Even better, you are exercising your brain when you focus on one thing at a time.  In the office, when I need deep focus, I put my earbuds in and listen to instrumental music. No lyrics and low volume. This helps to minimize the background office noise and keep me focused on the one task at hand.

Eat More Fruits and Veggies

For brain health, increase your intake of fruits and vegetables.  If my wife were listening to this podcast, she would quote this back to me.  Your brain needs healthy eating. Eat whole berries, fresh vegetables like green leafy vegetables, healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, and fish.  I’m getting better at this. Eating more fish. Snacking on trail mix. Trying to eliminate the sugary drinks. As I was preparing for my TedX Boulder talk, I noticed I needed more fuel.  I’ve put more effort into this talk than any talk I’ve ever done in my whole career.  The mental energy has made me consume more. But I didn’t crave the sugary stuff. I craved real fuel, healthy food.  Feed your brain the good stuff.

Practice Innovative Thinking

Innovative thinking actually improves your brain health.  Thinking about things differently and in new ways increases the brain’s strength.  This helps you to maintain mental independence as you age.  It’s also what we do in the innovation game.  Innovation and creativity are good for brain health.  Just in the day to day, some ways to practice innovative thinking are coming up with new words to thank someone.  Or use a different structure for your emails. Change it up. Find creative ways to practice innovative thinking daily.

Put the Tech to Rest

As laughable as it may seem coming from me, put the tech away to give your brain a rest.  While technology may stimulate the brain, it may not always do so in a beneficial way. So, give your brain a respite.  In my own experience, I don’t seem to retain as much information reading from a screen versus paper copy. Research shows that reading things digitally, the brain tends to click into skimming mode.  For depth, retention, and the thinking process, shut off the technology. If there’s a topic or book I want to think deeply on, I’ll buy the book. Even consider removing technology from meetings. It may result in shorter more productive meetings.  Give your brain a break from the digital.

Don’t Doubt Your Brain

If relatives have suffered from Alzheimer’s or Dementia, don’t give in to fears that it’s on the horizon for you.  Believe that your brain will be strong and that you can strengthen it. Through exercise and eating well, exercising your creative muscle and keeping your brain sharp, you can push back symptoms.  

If you’re in the innovation and creativity game, you are doing amazing things.  What’s helping you to do those amazing things is your brain. It’s your most valuable asset.  So, I hope these tips will help you to protect, maintain, and improve your most valuable asset, your brain.

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Thank you for listening to the show.  Killer Innovations exists to pay back my early mentor, Bob Davis, by paying it forward.  If you like the show, please do me a favor and pay it forward. Give us a rating wherever you get your podcast and tell others about the show.

This episode of Killer Innovations is produced by The Innovators Network.
Direct download: Brain_Health_for_Innovation_and_Creativity_S14_Ep31.mp3
Category:Past Shows -- posted at: 6:15am PST

Growing up with an inventor dad, Jarl Jensen knew innovation and ideas were in his future.  As a kid, his dad would play the “Invention Game” with him.  His dad would present an object and together they would come up with different ideas for its use.  In his teens, Jarl was already on the road to success writing a medical patent. Now Jarl has several patents in medical innovations.  He was also front and center in Euro-Med, Inc., a company launched in 1991 and recently selling at a record high multiple.  But Jarl sees the economy as an area void of innovation. It is a passionate concern of his.  He shares his unique perspective on innovating the economy.

Contracting Economy

Currently, Jarl is working on further patents in advanced burn care as well as two startups.  But his thoughts linger on the economy. He is the author of Optimizing America.  It’s a parable of sorts which explores what could be if economic change took place.  What is Jarl concerned about? Over the last 100 years the economy has operated in much the same way.  In the beginning, opportunities for economic expansion were wide open. But over the years, what defines the economy has narrowed.  In Jarl’s view, the economy is on a path to contraction rather than expansion. It’s an economy based on debt with banks holding the controls.  The catch to innovating the economy is that the shareholders in this case are the banks. And what is in the best interest of the banks may not be in the best interest of people.

[shareable cite="Jarl Jensen, author, Optimizing America"]…if you took a bunch of innovators from any other industry and put them in charge of currency and our money, very quickly you come up with some very different ideas of how to run the economy and how to use the money for the benefit of everyone…[/shareable]

Innovation Antibodies and the Economy

In Jarl’s view, who are the innovation antibodies?  Commercial banks hinder innovation of the economy.  He fears the day is coming when more jobs will go away than will be created.  Like the proverbial frog in boiling water, the economy has evolved and we are so used to it, we don’t recognize the problem.  Are there changes, small or large, that could achieve a more balanced, less debt-ridden economy? Is there a broader purpose to serve?  Are there better ways to grow the economy than means that hinge on loans and debt? Do banks have too much control over technology and innovation because they control the outflow of money to support innovation?  These are thoughts for innovators and leaders to contemplate.

If you’d like to track what Jarl Jensen is doing, visit his blog Optimizing America.  You may also find Jarl’s books at Amazon.

We are getting ready for CES 2019.  If you’ll be in Las Vegas for CES, stop by the Mobile Studio for a tour.  If you know someone who will be at CES and would be a great guest for the show, contact me.

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Direct download: Innovating_the_Economy_S14_Ep30.mp3
Category:Past Shows -- posted at: 5:03am PST