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".

Innovation efforts require a structure to stay organized and for successful execution. Many organizations have weak frameworks, which in turn, weaken their overall effectiveness. This week, we'll look at an innovation framework that I use and have used throughout my career, known as FIRE. We'll also discuss how you can utilize this framework within your organization. 

Framework Versus Process

Think of a framework as the components needed to empower your team to be highly successful within innovation. Innovation frameworks and processes are not the same things. A framework is a construct that all organizations understand they need to have. A process is what is built on top of the framework to do the individual elements. I am not a big fan of processes as they often don't work because they require tailoring to the individual organization.

In the past, organizations have tried to use the process that I used at HP. Kroger used it, and Stanford and Harvard's business schools teach it. If you pick up this process and use it, you are not going to be successful. The process needs specific tailoring to work for you. Each organization requires a unique procedure, as each one has different structures, needs, and resources.


A framework gives your team a mental model for conversations, motivation, and overall understanding. Here are four vital elements needed in every innovation framework:

Focus – Focus defines and researches the opportunity or problem area where you are going to point your team. It would be best if you investigate and determine the focus area. I create a list of 4-6 areas of focus with my team. Next, you need to create a problem statement that drives people to find a solution. Creating a problem statement is not an easy task, but it is vital. With a problem statement, you will increase the quantity and quality of your ideas. 

Ideation – Based on your focus, create a funnel of ideas that address the opportunity or problem. The funnel is where you generate your ideas. Step one is to do both individual and team ideation. I have found that when you combine both individual and team ideation, you increase the quality of your ideas by 30%. Step two is grouping the ideas. You can use Jamboard or post-it notes to bring those ideas together and generate that funnel. You want to capture all those ideas and make sure nothing gets thrown out. 

Ranking – This is the element that most innovation frameworks leave out. The driver for ranking is to use it to identify the best ideas based on specific criteria. The goal is to create criteria to identify a ranked list so that you can take the top two or three ideas. I teach a two-stage ranking process. The first stage is what I call the "wow stage." Everyone is given five dots and walks up to the list of ideas and puts their dots on ideas they think are the best. Next, you have criteria ranking, which varies by organization. It would help if you did the ranking in the same session as the "wow stage." 

Execution – You have to drive execution, which is very specific to an organization. It would be best if you had a test/experimentation on the idea. Next, you have to have an experimentation culture that is continuously experimenting and getting feedback. Lastly, you have to get a minimal viable product into the customer's hands. 


Let's review what we learned about the innovation framework. I refer to this framework as the FIRE (Focus, Ideation, Ranking, and Execution) framework. When you bring these elements together, you have all the components needed to be effective in your innovation efforts. Each of these requires a process that is unique to your organization. If you don't have these four elements, you are fooling yourself. Used by thousands of organizations around the world, this framework is what I personally use and teach. A part of the bigger picture known as box think, the framework shows us to view things through different eyes. 

If you want to check out the diagrams from this show, as well as other materials from previous shows, click the link here.


Direct download: 4_Required_Elements_of_an_Innovation_Framework.mp3
Category:Past Shows -- posted at: 12:00am PDT

Crafting well-written problem statements that focus the idea of creation are critical. Albert Einstein said, "If I only had one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and five minutes finding the solution." This week, we will discuss combining out of the box thinking with inside the box thinking, and how this can be used to create problem statements and solve your problems. 

Problem Statements

Well-defined problem statements are freeing because they allow a team to innovate within certain guardrails. The goal of a problem statement is to solve a problem, remove a barrier, or improve an experience. One key characteristic of a problem statement is that it has to be solvable. It's not just about solving the problem but being able to define it within the confines of your resources. Some problem validation questions need to be applied.

Firstly, do you think it is a problem or is it a problem? If you think it's a problem, chances are it might not be. You are not a proxy for your customers. You have to prove that it is a problem by getting feedback from your customers. Secondly, find out how often this problem occurs and how long it has been occurring. 

The elements of a problem statement focus on three key areas: who the customer is, what the problem is, and why it is important.

  • Who is the customer – Who is the target? Outline the broad or narrow customer segments. You need to define and describe the customer. 
  • What is the problem – Define the problem that is occurring.
  • Why – Find out why it is crucial to solving the problem, and why you are spending time on it.


Let's look at an example of a first draft problem statement. Middletown Hospital's current diagnosis protocol and tools are resulting in low diagnosis effectiveness/efficiency causing up to 40% of its critical care patients painful extended treatments while substantially reducing the hospital's earning potential and resource efficiency.

Let's try to make this statement more concise. Middletown Hospitals' current diagnosis protocol and tools are resulting in low diagnosis effectiveness/efficiency, substantially reducing the hospital's earning potential and resource efficiency. This statement is better as effectiveness and efficiency stand out, but we can do better.

Middletown Hospitals' current diagnosis protocol and tools are resulting in low diagnosis effectiveness and efficiency, causing up to 40% of its critical care patients painful extended treatment periods. I think this one is good because it defines the problem and why it is essential, but we're going to try to make it a little better. Up to 40% of critical care patients are experiencing painful extended treatment periods due to low diagnosis effectiveness and efficiency of current diagnosis protocols and tools.

The one characteristic seen through these four examples is that they are getting shorter and more precise each time. Spending time thinking about the problem statement and making it efficient and crisp is critical. The example was an actual problem statement used to help an organization for ideation sessions they wanted to host. 

Here is a template that I use when crafting my problem statements. The what (describe the problem) effects the who (describe the customer), resulting in (Describe why it's important/what the benefit is). 

Box Think

Box think is doing both inside the box thinking and out of the box thinking. Using this process, an organization can create a complete collection of ideas that lead to better innovations. The first step of box think is to define the problem statement. Secondly, you need to identify your industry/company constraints. What are the operational rules of your company and industry? For inside the box thinking, you want to operate within those constraints. For out of the box, you want to remove those constraints and modify the problem statement accordingly.

Now I am going to walk you through a real example from when I was at HP. Our laptops are highly personal items, therefore, need to be designed and marketed to target demographics to increase sales in next year's peak selling season. The first constraint here was a time constraint. The peak selling season for laptops is the Christmas holiday season. The second constraint was the demographic that was going to be targeted. The product that ended up coming from this problem statement was a digital clutch designed by Vivienne Tam.


It would be best if you took the time to understand the problem before you expect your team to be effective at generating ideas. If you aren't sure what problems to target, you need to ideate on the problems. People tend to seek solutions when they find problems, which can be difficult. You need to ideate problems and then rank them accordingly. Set aside an hour to identify the top one or two problems, which will turn into problem statements. Crank out as many problems that you can find without worrying about solutions. Rank your problems and then allow your team to vote. After you identify your problems, choose the goal and timeline that you will apply to move forward. 

Direct download: Box_Think_-_Crafting_The_Problem_Statement.mp3
Category:Past Shows -- posted at: 12:00am PDT

Box Think is doing both inside the box thinking and out of the box thinking. As we discussed in past shows, out of the box thinking is what most people use when they think of creative thinking. People often overlook what I call inside the box thinking and try to stay away from it.

Out Of The Box Thinking

The term “out of the box thinking” is a metaphor that means to think from a new perspective. It originally came from some management consulting firms that were trying to solve problems in new ways. The term was attached to a concept known as the nine-dot problem.

When challenged to do “out of the box thinking,”, you need to utilize risk-oriented thinking. You need to take all the risk constraints out of the scenario, whether it is financial, technology-based, etc.

Next, you need to rely on shared thinking. Shared thinking can be hard but is necessary to accelerate your ability to “think outside the box.”

Lastly, practice reflective thinking. We all love our ideas, as they are our “babies.” In some cases, we need to take a step back and take our emotions out of it. We need to distance ourselves from our ideas and look at other views as well. Set aside time to practice all of these thinking processes, and you will be able to successfully “think outside the box.”

Inside The Box Thinking

‘Inside the box thinking' means to innovate within the constraints defined by the box. It is more generally described as constraint-based innovation. The idea behind it is understanding your constraints and utilizing those constraints to innovate beyond the box. The box can be an organization, government, or even a team. It defines where you are operating here and now. The box can contain inside constraints that you can change.

Most people tend to think that good ideas only come from out of the box thinking, which is not true. Inside the box thinking is to constrain the problem but not the potential ways of solving it. Inside the box thinking is also to constrain the atmosphere, but not the team. Inside the box thinking is restricting the resources but not the ways to utilize them.

Constraint-based innovation is hugely powerful in limiting resources and can empower a team to create something novel.

Box Think

Box Think is the process of combining BOTH outside the box and inside the box thinking. To ensure you have a complete view of all possibilities for innovation, you need to do both and this is done by crafting problem statements that challenge the teams during ideation/brainstorming to look at the problem in both ways.

For more on Box Think, then download the free resources here.


Direct download: Box_Think__Combining_out_of_the_Box_and_Inside_the_Box_Thinking.mp3
Category:Past Shows -- posted at: 12:00am PDT

This week’s guest has been around in the innovation industry for quite some time. We know a lot of the same people as we were at two companies that worked closely together. Brad Chase is an author and a former Senior VP at Microsoft. We will discuss innovation advantage through strategy and insights from his book, Strategy First: How Businesses Win Big

Brad’s Background

Brad’s stepfather used to go to Heathkit stores to find computer parts and build computers. Through this, Brad saw a lot of future potential in personal computers. He ended up going to business school, and after finishing, he interviewed with companies such as Apple, Microsoft, and HP. He ended up landing a job with Microsoft, where he spent 14 years exploring innovative advantages. While at Microsoft, Brad led the marketing efforts for the Windows 95 launch. It was the first operating system to help PCs go mainstream. Windows 95 ushered personal computers, Microsoft and Bill Gates into the mainstream media and technology world. 


Brad learned a lot about strategy from Bill Gates. At Microsoft, he learned how the company had bet on the PC. They believed there would be a PC in every home on every desk, running Microsoft software. Right away, he learned that making bets is vital to success. If you bet on the wrong thing, you fail, but if you bet on the right thing, you will have a chance at success.


When Brad first started, Microsoft was doing poorly on word processing and spreadsheets and was behind its competitors. Microsoft decided to bet on a GUI (Graphical User Interface) and made a big risky bet on Windows, which turned out to be very successful. They eventually went on to become the leader in applications by using innovative advantages. Microsoft built most of their applications from the ground up.

A significant difference between Microsoft and Apple was that anyone could build a Windows computer as well as applications for it. Apple was a closed ecosystem where the users were not able to do that. 

Strategy First: How Businesses Win Big

When Brad was talking strategy to different businesses and MBA students, people would always ask him if he had a book. He did some research and found out there were no books that talked about strategy in a clear and easily understandable way, and that is how his book was born. The purpose of the book is to show that strategy is the most important thing to the success of a business leader and to give a model and tips about how to build a good strategy.

In many organizations, the strategy can mean a thousand different things. Brad defines strategy as a plan to compete with three key elements: execution, market potential, and customer value. Customer value is the inherent value of a product or service to a customer. The market potential is generally about how much profit you can make.

In some businesses, it might be how many customers you have, such as Twitter. At the Innovation Bootcamp, we don’t look at financials first when evaluating an idea. We say to value the idea first on the standpoint of impact and to achieve the objective. Once you’ve identified those ideas, you build a hypothesis on what the market potential is. Some people lose focus on the idea and don’t add the strategy in, which is a bad idea. 

Advice for the Listeners

Brad gives five key tips for building a new strategy in his book. The first is to seek change. Whenever there is a change in the market, such as COVID-19, there is a strategic opportunity to put innovative advantages into play. The internet, as an example, has made some businesses fail, and others succeed. Secondly, mind the gaps. Minding the gaps is about looking at the key areas of strategy and seeing where people aren’t doing well, then filling those gaps. Lastly, do a strategy off sight. First, assess your current strategy. Then, discuss where you want to take your strategy with your team. Talking things out and being aligned with a strategy is so very important. Leaders not aligned with a strategy will fail. No team sport will succeed unless everybody is on the same page. 

About our Guest: Brad Chase

Brad Chase has advised leaders of businesses of many different sizes, from startups to Fortune 500 firms. Some of the companies he has worked with include GE, Telstra, VMware, Mozy (a subsidiary of EMC), Blucora, Sonos, Vizrea, and Crisply. He has also held leadership positions on the boards of many companies and nonprofit organizations, including Expedia, Ooyala, DreamBox, Brooks, Boys and Girls Clubs of King County, and The Nature Conservancy. As a public speaker, Brad has spoken about his particular theory on business strategy, Strategy First. He has talked to executives at large and small businesses, incubators, at conferences, and to students at top-flight MBA programs. Before consulting, board work, and speaking, Brad spent 14 years at Microsoft finishing his tenure as a Senior Vice President and Executive Officer managing a team of over 4,000.

If you want to keep updated with what Brad is doing, check out his website, and book here. Check out his LinkedIn here.


Direct download: Using_Strategy_to_Create_Innovation_Advantage.mp3
Category:Past Shows -- posted at: 12:00am PDT