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".

Success in innovation requires more than great ideas, that amazing product, the unique service.  Innovators need support from others to make their innovations a reality. How does the innovation leader persuade and influence others to support his/her innovations?  Executive presence plays a key role. This is Part Two of the two-part series that will help you create a strong executive presence.

The Innovator and Executive Presence

Ideas without execution are a hobby.  Innovators are not in the hobby business.  To execute on those ideas, innovators need funding and support.  People are willing to listen and take a chance on the innovation leader with strong executive presence.  For some, executive presence comes naturally. Others have to work at it. Hence, this two-part series, a first for Killer Innovations.  It’s within everyone’s reach to create a strong executive presence.  Part One covered three traits and their associated skills: maintaining composure, making connections, and charisma.  Let’s explore more traits that convey executive presence.

Trait Four: Confidence

An important aspect of executive presence is confidence.  Confidence isn’t only about what’s said. Non-verbal cues reveal confidence or a lack of it.  Practice body hacks that display confidence.

  • Stand straight, head up, face and eyes forward.
  • Smile.
  • Don’t cross arms.
  • Don’t cross legs.
  • Have a strong, firm handshake.
  • Plant feet a shoulder width apart.  Don’t sway.
  • Make good eye contact.
  • Lower voice pitch.

Nonverbal cues speak volumes about a person.  Interested, engaged, and strong. Or indecisive, weak, and nervous.  Not naturally confident? These hacks will help to exude an aura of confidence and create a strong executive presence.

Trait Five: Credibility

A crucial trait of executive presence is credibility.  Building and maintaining credibility is a multi-faceted effort.  Faking it won’t make it. Sooner or later, people will find out and executive presence dissolves.   Credibility takes a long time and hard work to establish, but it’s easy to lose. Never risk your credibility.  

Steps to building credibility:

  • Establish trust
    • If people trust you, they will do business with you.
  • Exhibit competency
    • Become an expert in your field.
    • If you have the expertise, let others know without bragging.
  • Be consistent
    • Your actions and the messages you send out should align with who you are and what you do.
  • Be authentic
    • Don’t fake it till you make it.
    • Base your business or leadership on a solid foundation.  This will provide lasting stability no matter what changes may be ahead.
  • Exhibit sincerity
    • Don’t say everything you think, but mean everything you say.
    • It takes commitment, dedication, always being straightforward.
  • Respect everyone
    • No matter who or what position they hold, respect people.
    • Respect because everyone deserves it.
  • Be accountable
    • Own up to mistakes and correct them.
  • Be honest

[shareable cite="Phil McKinney"]Your trust account is more important than your bank account.[/shareable]

Trait Six: Clear, Concise Communication

Communication has a huge effect on executive presence.  Yet, it can be one of the biggest downfalls. To create a strong executive presence, you must know how to communicate with senior executives.  When conveying information to senior executives, less is more. The more concise, but clear the communication, the better. Being wordy does not impress.  

Here are some basic tips to communicating to senior executives:

  • Lead with your main point.
    • Get to the main point within the first two sentences.
  • Cut the jargon.
    • Leave jargon and slang out.
    • Use clear, concise language.
  • Use short, direct sentences.
    • Put the subject in the beginning.
  • In speaking, if the sentence has a comma, it’s too long.
    • This is advice from my speech coach in preparing for my TEDxBoulder talk.
  • Be clear with the ask.
    • When presenting to an executive, inform up front whether you have an ask or not.
  • For written communication, read it aloud.
    • If you stumble reading aloud, others will stumble reading it.
    • This helps to simplify and clarify.
  • Communicate emotion in person.
    • Don’t email or text in an emotional state.
    • Type it up, leave the address line blank, then delete it.
    • Maintain composure.

You can build or destroy strong executive presence depending on how and what you say.  Through concise and effective communication, you can persuade others to support what you’re doing.

Executive presence is critical for the innovation leader.  Leading, influencing and persuading people to come onboard with your innovation requires executive presence.  It’s not easy to create a strong executive presence. But, it’s attainable.

I hope I’ve achieved my objective in helping you to create a strong executive presence.  I’d love to get your feedback. Do you know someone who could benefit from knowing how to create a strong executive presence?  Tell them about the show. The show has grown in subscribers since March 2005 by word of mouth. Thank you for telling others.

Continue the conversation with us on this and other topics over at The Innovators Community (  It’s a free online community of innovators, designers, and creative people just like you.

If you join The Innovators Community before the end of the year, you’ll receive 25% off an order at Innovation.Tools, including the Killer Questions Card Deck.

Direct download: How_to_Create_a_Strong_Executive_Presence_Part_Two_S14_Ep42.mp3
Category:Past Shows -- posted at: 12:00am PST

What makes great leaders great?  Those who motivate and inspire others and draw a following embody a strong executive presence.  If you want to lead in innovation, strong executive presence is a must. Although it may seem an elusive quality, it’s not.  Today’s show is one of a two-part series on what defines, exemplifies, and comprises executive presence. With focus and effort, you can create a strong executive presence.

Elements of a Leader

The person with strong executive presence stands out as a leader.  Executive presence is a blend of temperament, competence, and skills that send out the right signals.  It conveys that this person is in charge, confident, and capable of leading others. Leaders with strong executive presence influence others and drive results.  To garner support for their ideas, innovation leaders should harness the elements of executive presence.

Learning through Observing

Many leaders with strong executive presence learned from mentors who modelled this quality.  My mentor, Bob Davis, a leading software executive, recruited me out of college.  I learned by observing. I watched how he conducted himself, his strategies, and his dealings with senior executives.  Bob had a servant-leader focus, an important aspect of executive presence. I benefited from working with Alex Mandl at Teligent.  Alex demonstrated strong executive presence. I observed how he engaged with others and operated. These were two great examples in my life.

Every organization is different.  Be ready to adapt and be flexible.  If you’re starting out in your career, watch senior executives.  See how they operate. This can lay the foundation for your success.

Executive Presence: Traits of Great Leaders

This two-part series is the result of my observation and experience in the innovation arena.  Creating executive presence is possible. By learning, observing and practicing, you can become an innovation leader with strong executive presence.  

The three traits discussed in this show are composure, making connections, and charisma.

Trait One: Composure

Composure is the state of being calm and in control of oneself.  The ability to remain in control and calm under pressure is a key element of executive presence.  Nobody wants to follow someone who cracks under pressure or has a fierce temper. The ability to remain composed will attract positive attention.  Letting negative emotions take over results in regret and solves nothing.

[shareable]Realize that your reputation is disproportionately affected by how you handle yourself under pressure.[/shareable]

Focus to remain in control.  Focus on the underlying issue causing the problem and how to solve it.  You win when you remain calm and focused. Some people might disengage when faced with pressures.  Do not disengage. Leaders don’t give up and retreat.

Maintain perspective to remain calm in crisis.  Reputation is at stake. Regrettable words and actions make things worse.  The effect of remaining calm under pressure can build up one’s reputation. Others will take note.

Prepare for those stressful situations.  Exercise and taking deep breathes helps calm and relax the body and mind.

Trait Two: Making Connections

Building relationships with people is integral to executive presence.  Develop the ability to read and understand people. This involves one on one conversations with people.  Through direct interaction, you can demonstrate you are a person of intelligence and helpfulness.

Here are some tips for building connections with people.

  • Extreme helpfulness
    • Build up IOUs in the bank by helping others where needed.  
    • Keep a positive balance of IOUs.
  • Make people feel special
    • Remember names
    • Be encouraging
    • Give recognition
    • Remember details, e.g. hobbies, interests
    • Keep things positive
    • Be curious about people’s life and interests outside of work
  • Have open body language
    • Show interest and attention, e.g. lean forward at meetings
    • Smile, be jovial, be upbeat
    • Be approachable, don’t fold your arms across your chest
  • Maintain regular, face to face contact with your network of people
    • Have an objective when you meet
    • Give something before asking for anything, e.g. a lead on a potential client

I have a list of 25 people with whom I keep in contact on a regular basis.

Trait Three: Charisma

Charisma is the ability to attract, charm, and influence the people around you.  This trait helps you rouse followers and band people together in pursuit of a goal.  You may think that charisma is an innate trait, you’re either born with it or not. From firsthand experience, I know that’s not true.  When I first met Steve Jobs in the 1980s, he did not have charisma. He acquired it along the way. He went on to lead the Macintosh team that ultimately created the iPhone.  You can develop charisma.

Here are some starter points to building up charisma:

  • Have confidence
    • Do the research and prepare
    • Don’t wait for perfection, take risks
    • Have exuberance – that positive energy that gets others excited
  • Have optimism
    • Be optimistic your team can win
    • Smile, be approachable
  • Develop a voice tone that is friendly and passionate

These are three traits that can help you develop an executive presence.  In Part two, I’ll share more traits of executive presence. To make sure you don't miss it, subscribe to the show on iTunes or wherever you get your podcast.

If you know someone who could benefit from this series, why not tell them about it. Word of mouth is how we've grown our subscribers to the show since March 2005.

To continue our conversation on this and topics related to innovation, creativity, leadership, career, join me in The Innovators Community. Visit  Membership is free.  The community is growing. That's where I hang out every day, answer questions, throw ideas out, contribute to other people's posts. Hop on over to The Innovators Community.

Direct download: How_to_Create_a_Strong_Executive_Presence_S14_Ep41.mp3
Category:Past Shows -- posted at: 7:45am PST

We’ve all heard these larger than life claims made about some innovation.  If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Bogus innovations cause serious damage.  They hurt consumers, employees, investors, and the innovator community as a whole. But how do you know if it’s fake?  There are telltale signs that should cause you to dig deeper. These tells will clue you in to a bogus innovation.  

The 4 Tells of Bogus Innovation

Before you invest in that startup, join that cutting-edge innovation company, buy the latest device, assess.  Check the organization and innovation against these four tells.

  1. Unvalidated claims
  2. Technical oversight
  3. Fact checking
  4. Organizational governance

Don’t take for granted that someone else, perhaps a well-known board member, is standing by it.  Do the due diligence yourself. Be aware and avoid the expense and pain of being fooled by bogus innovations.

Tell Number One

Companies often promote their innovation as the next big thing.  But, claims without validation should be treated with great suspicion.  To a degree, most companies want to protect the secret to their innovation.  But when a company insists on keeping the entire input secret and expects you to trust them, alarm bells should ring.  The company should be able to demonstrate an input and the resulting output to back up their claim.

I am often asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) before I ever lay eyes on an innovation.  I won’t. An NDA binds you even if you uncover some fault with the claims. It requires a level of secrecy and trust before validating the claim.  When a company goes to great lengths to protect their own testing and status of the innovation, beware. Dubious companies may use NDAs, employee agreements, arbitration agreements to create a fear factor.  These could be a firewall for a false narrative.

Theranos, the now defunct medical technology company, made unvalidated claims.  They claimed their blood testing equipment could perform a number of blood tests with a single drop of blood.  Many bought into their claims without validation. The day of truth came and Theranos claims were proven false.  But not without first hurting a number people and creating a lot of damage.

Best practices to validate claims are emerging in the wake of bogus innovation scandals.  

Best practices:

  • Get independent lab results throughout the funding phases.
  • Have senior leaders (CEO, CIO, CTO) attest to the results.

Tell Number Two

A lack of technical oversight should be another red flag.  The lack of industry and technology experts on the boards of companies is shocking.  Many companies stack the board of directors with big names, former CEOs or CFOs with backgrounds in sales or finance.  There’s a dearth of technical expertise. Bernie Madoff bilked millions from investors. No one questioned the lack of technical oversight until it was too late.

I’m a big proponent of diversity, with a particular interest in neurodiversity.  On the board of directors, diversity of expertise is essential.  The board should include an independent, deep technical expert who can push back and challenge where needed.  This expert should not be the inventor or closely linked to the innovation. There’s an alternative to a technical board member.  Set up a Science and Technology Advisory board to investigate and validate claims.

Best Practices:  

  • Include an independent technical expert on board of directors, or
  • Have a Science and Technology board.

Tell Number Three

Simple fact checking could reveal something’s amiss.  Many biomedical innovations have claims of FDA approval.  A quick fact check could reveal if this is true. Companies may make other government endorsement claims.  Theranos made false claims that the Defense Department used their product on the battlefield. This was not the case.    

Hire a fact checker to research every claim a company makes.  Should any claims prove misleading or false, make them public and have them corrected.

Companies should consider supporting an ombudsman type role.  This would be the company’s point of contact for external concerns about false or misleading claims.  An ombudsman investigates claims and reports directly to senior leaders.

Best Practices:

  • Hire a professional fact checker to go through each claim a company makes.
  • Talk to every customer a company claims to have sold to.
  • Make misleading or false claims public and correct them.
  • Companies should appoint an ombudsman to field outside concerns and investigate.

Tell Number Four

Organizational governance is tell number four.  Many companies caught in fraud had stellar innovation leaders on their boards.  The fact is, many board members fail to do the due diligence. They instead do what I call due diligence by proxy.  They assume the other members of the board have done the research. Many people on boards are serving on too many boards.  They are lending their name without making the effort to ensure that what they are backing is real innovation.

Best Practices:

  • Ensure each board member has done his/her own due diligence.
  • Review board participation to see if they are fully behind the company.

Keep the Bogus Innovation at Bay

I’m concerned about the growing list of bogus innovations.  Fake and false claims hurt people – investors, employees, customers.  Keep a lookout for the four tells of a bogus innovation. It’s up to those of us who are passionate about innovation to raise the bar.  Keep lies, fraud, and false claims out of the innovation arena.


If you have an example or comment about this, join me at The Innovators Community (  The Innovators Community is a free community of innovators, designers, creators, and futurists.  I hang out there every day. It’s where we can collectively go deeper on topics like bogus innovation.  Head over there to continue the conversation.

We will be at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas soon.  If you’re going to be at CES, let me know. For details on where we will be located at CES, visit The Innovators Community

Thanks for listening.  If you enjoyed this episode, share it with somebody.

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Direct download: 4_Ways_to_Sniff_Out_a_Bogus_Innovation_S14_Ep40.mp3
Category:Past Shows -- posted at: 7:36am PST

A good number of us harbor a secret fear about our abilities or qualifications.  We’re shadowed by clouds of doubt. Do you feel like a fraud and an impostor when it comes to your career?  You’re not alone. I was an innovator with Impostor Syndrome. In this week’s show, I share my recent TEDxBoulder talk about my experience.  


The Truth About Impostor Syndrome

Impostor syndrome is a real fear founded in unreality.  It’s a fear that you’re not good enough. Maybe it’s a secret you’ve held onto that you feel discredits all you’ve accomplished.  That was the case for me. After a twenty-five year, rather successful, career, my secret came out on the front page of a major newspaper.  I never graduated from college. Once the secret was out, the fears dissolved in the days following. I realized others did not view me as the impostor I felt I was.  All those years, I had held onto the fear and my feelings of not being up to par.  In the end, it didn’t matter to others that I didn’t graduate from college.  I wasn’t an impostor, but I was an innovator with Impostor Syndrome.

Overcome the Fear

Seventy-five percent of adults feel they are a fake, a fraud, not worthy, an impostor when it comes to their career.   Impostor syndrome is universal, transcending titles and backgrounds. It can have crippling effects. For me, with each new success, the fear intensified.  Fear is False Evidence that Appears Real. You need to test the fear.  Is it real?  Or is it false evidence that only appears real?

How do you overcome the Impostor Syndrome?  

Two pieces of advice:

  1. Tell someone about your fears.  
    • Reveal your secret on your terms.  
    • Find a place and person you are comfortable with.
    • Let others know when you are impressed by their skills or abilities.
  2. Be an encourager.

Don’t be an innovator with Impostor Syndrome.  Don’t delay pushing back on Impostor Syndrome. It cost me 25 years of unneeded worry.  


The TEDxBoulder Adventure

When I got the call to do a talk at TEDxBoulder, I was excited about the opportunity.  While I'm a regular attender at TED, I never could have imagined the prep that goes into giving one of these talks.  I had to condense a prior talk on Impostor Syndrome I gave from 45 minutes to nine minutes. I spent more time on this talk than any other talk in my entire career, bar none.  The pressure was intense. What you see of TEDx on YouTube is not what you get live. Speakers may fumble, freeze, forget lines. They can pause and restart their talk if that happens.  Then, it’s polished and edited on the recording for release.


The practice, the memorizing, the coaching was worth the effort.  The subject definitely struck a chord with the audience.  A number of people came up to me afterwards to talk about it and share their struggles with Impostor Syndrome.  It was great to share my personal journey and struggle with Impostor Syndrome. I hope you’ve found it useful.


Are you looking for a place to talk about challenges in the innovation game or with Impostor Syndrome?  Hop over to The Innovators Community (  It’s a free online network of innovators who help each other.  I’m on The Innovators Community every day. Share your innovation struggle, post a question, or send me a private message through The Innovators Community.



Five Minutes to New Ideas

Does your product evoke a strong emotion?  Is there a benefit to being disliked by some?  Could this set your product apart? Five Minutes to New Ideas challenges you to think in unique ways about creating your own community of customers.


Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to listen.  

If you have comments, drop me a line.

I’ve been doing this show since 2005 to pay back my early mentor by paying it forward.  

Would you help me pay it forward?  

  • Share the show with others.
  • Give us a rating wherever you get your podcasts.

This show is produced by The Innovators Network

Direct download: An_Innovator_with_Impostor_Syndrome_S14_Ep39.mp3
Category:Past Shows -- posted at: 7:04am PST