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".

Innovations can happen in any industry and a variety of different ways. Today we are going to take a deeper dive into part of the FIRE framework known as ideation. We will focus on combining individual ideation and team ideation. On today’s show, we will discuss Walt Disney’s “Plus it” approach and how it changed the customer entertainment experience.  

“Plus It”

Walt Disney used a concept known as “plus it” to improve his company’s ideation. He would tell his Imagineers (people who design the Disney experience) to “plus it” as a way to motivate them to take their work to another level. He challenged them to see what was possible and then encouraged them to take it a few steps further. “Plus it” is a technique to iterate on ideas without using any harsh criticism. It's about finding what is good about an idea and tweaking it to make it even better. The question is, how do you do it? The first step you need to do is to conduct brainstorming activities and set up a quota of ideas to iterate. You need to come at the problem from different angles. Good ideas will get people excited so keep an eye out for reactions. Remember, evaluation happens after, not during this process. After brainstorming, grab some sticky notes and crank out unique ideas. This is when individual ideation comes in to play. Do this for about twenty minutes and come up with a minimum of twenty ideas. 

Team Ideation

The next step is to post and group ideas. Each person on the team posts and shares their ideas to the rest of the group by posting their sticky note on a board. This is done through a short and quick process. During this time, one idea may trigger another’s idea. If this happens, write down the new idea and post it. If two people have similar ideas, post those ideas next to each other. The next step is to do team ideation or “plus it”. One at a time, everyone chooses somebody else’s idea that they like. Then, they ideate and build upon that idea and have others jump in. Throughout my work, I have found that around 30% more and better ideas come from this combination of team and individual ideation. I’ve also found that there is a collective ownership aspect of this that is elevated. People feel like more of a team and are more passionate and energized through this combination. 



Walt Disney focused on making ideas better for many years and made it fundamental to Disney’s culture. Many other organizations have embraced plussing it and have applied it to their organizations. Walt Disney made breakthroughs using his “plus it” method in many different ways. Walt applied plussing it early on at Disney with the idea of Disneyland. He came up with the idea for a Christmas parade going through the park. The financial people at Disney disagreed with Walt’s idea as people were already going to the park and didn’t expect anything different. Walt wanted to deliver an experience that was never seen before. Despite what the finance people had thought, the idea became a huge success and drew many more people to the park. Another example of plussing the experience was when Disney’s ride Space Mountain was rebuilt for their 50th anniversary. They redid the whole ride and synchronized audio to it which created a completely new experience. The third example of plussing a product was when the Apple iPod and the iPhone came about. Steve Jobs cited the influence of Disney on his work many times. It comes down to the little things that most people don’t notice but make Apple products stand out. Another example is Elon Musk’s company, Tesla. The company has breakthrough features such as the summon feature. This feature allows you to call your car to come to a different spot and pick you up. The company is constantly adding features to their products and are never done improving. Disney is also constantly improving and innovating and will never stop plussing it. The last company we will discuss is Zoom, a sponsor of our show. In the last year, Zoom averaged 300 new features and does so every year. Eric and his team are constantly asking how to make the experience bigger and better. 


Today we discussed Walt Disney’s approach to “plussing it”, which is significantly improving ideas and products by thinking differently and pushing the limits. Walt applied the concept to his early work at Disneyland and his hand can be seen all over the Disney experience to this day. The concept is about using each other’s ideas for inspiration and building upon them without using harmful criticism. Improving someone’s challenge instead of being an innovation antibody is key to plussing it. This all starts with individual ideation and combining it with team ideation to make ideas that stand out and are better.  


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

Throughout the show’s history, we’ve done interviews with medical professionals and those pursuing innovations in the medical field. This week’s guest created a breakthrough product used during this pandemic. Clive Smith, the CEO and founder of Thinklabs joins us on the show. We will discuss a stethoscope innovation and what he’s doing to disrupt the medical field.

Clive’s Background

Clive grew up in South Africa and was greatly influenced by the moon landing as a kid. It showed that technology happens in the United States, and that is where he knew he needed to be. Clive studied for his masters at the California Institute of Technology and focused on analog electronics and signal processing. After finishing school, he worked in the corporate world for a few years but realized that was not what he wanted to do. While he didn’t stay there, he is grateful for what he was able to learn.

After leaving corporate America, Clive started Thinklabs. The context was that it would be an incubator for Clive’s and other people’s ideas. He had a long-term interest in medical devices, and while at his undergrad in South Africa, he developed an electrocardiographic device with a friend. On top of that, many of Clive’s friends from school went on to become doctors. Clive’s brother was also a cardiologist, so being surrounded by the medical professionals boosted Clive’s interest. 

Stethoscope Innovation

Clive stumbled across an article in a cardiology journal about the stethoscope. The journal people measured the acoustics on stethoscopes and studied the original stethoscope made by Rene Laennec. They realized that the acoustics of the original was almost the same as the modern stethoscope. The device hadn’t had a performance improvement for nearly 180 years.

Clive decided that he was going to fix the issue and started prototyping in his garage. He came up with a unique sensor for the stethoscope. After talking with cardiologists and comparing his medical innovations to others, Clive started talking with HP medical. They ended up funding his product, but while they were funding it, another company bought the healthcare division.

Due to Clive’s contract, he could leave and put all the technology out on the market himself. The first version of the stethoscope came to the market in 2003 and manufactured in China. In 2013, the production of the product moved from China to the U.S. 

Manufacturing and Product Use

Clive made himself more vertically integrated when he moved from offshore manufacturing to onshore. He did this because he wanted to be able to innovate quickly. Outside manufacturers like the ones in China want to crank out a product efficiently and keep things moving. It’s not that easy to make changes with all of that. Another part of it was 3D printing. 3D printing offers flexibility because it is mostly software.

Moving onshore wasn’t mainly for the cost nor “for American manufacturing”. Many of the suppliers in the U.S had a hard time making high-quality products that Clive wanted. He ended up with a global supply chain as he does assembly in the U.S but gets some components from Japan, China, etc. 

With regards to Clive’s digital stethoscope, some physicians are particularly interested in listening to sounds. Many people still use conventional stethoscopes, and if they hear something that sounds weird, they pass it on to a specialist. Users of the digital stethoscope use it to get a more thorough read upfront. On top of that, regular stethoscopes are known to carry diseases and pathogens and not useful in infectious situations.

In 2014, Clive and his team were called on to help doctors listen to their patients remotely when they were in isolation during the Ebola outbreak. Fast forward to COVID, and they were able to create a process that uses remote Bluetooth transmitters and headphones to listen to patients in isolation. 



The future is going to include a lot of remote healthcare. It is an incredible enhancement to the quality of life, especially for older people. Clive says the hospital at home is going to continue to grow. The internationalization of healthcare will be a massive change as we advance with borders broke down.

In the past, Mayo Clinic ran into problems as doctors licensed in Minnesota weren’t able to practice healthcare in different states. Due to COVID, many states have gotten rid of that requirement, which will significantly impact healthcare and policymakers. Government rules and regulations need to find ways to keep up with the fast-growing innovations of this day and age. Policy always follows technology. 

If you want to keep up to date with Clive and what he is doing at Thinklabs, check out their website here.

About Our Guest: Clive Smith

Clive Smith founded Thinklabs in 1991, a company developing electronic products and systems. He released the first Thinklabs stethoscope in 2003 and held numerous patents in the stethoscope technology field. He was profiled in the annual 2013 Caltech Alumni ENGenious publication. Raised in Johannesburg, Clive spent his early life in South Africa.

He received a B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering from Wits University, where he first developed his interest in medical electronics. He and classmate David Cohen received the Siemens Prize for Best Thesis for their research on multi-channel electrocardiography. Smith came to the United States for graduate study, receiving an MSEE from the California Institute of Technology, focusing on various electronics design disciplines including analog, integrated circuits, digital signal processing, and power electronics.

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

For the first time, we are recording a show in the mobile studio in Austin, Texas. Once we get past COVID, we plan to travel a lot more and visit different innovators in various areas of the country. This past week, I interviewed three CEOs of billion-dollar companies for a virtual event online. I asked them a set of questions and on today’s show I am going to ask and answer those same questions.

Question One

The questions will get people to think and share things that they usually wouldn’t share. I’m going to run through and randomly pick these questions out of a notebook I have. This notebook contains creative and exciting questions that I have collected over the years.

The first question is: What is the most important invention in the last five years? I think electric car vehicles are fascinating, and I’ve had the benefit of spending some time with Elon Musk. I would call an invention that’s having a massive impact as being something that becomes commercially buyable. I think electronic vehicles fall right into this category. There are also a lot of spinoffs that have come from the development of these vehicles. The spinoffs include “battery technology,” which is very important. With products like electric cars, there will be a push in the battery industry to create more improvements. 

Rethinking Education

The next question is: What is your dangerous idea? The answer to this question pertains to an idea that is disruptive and turns everything on its head. My dangerous idea is to rethink education on a global scale. It’s no longer about memorizing formulas, facts, or figures. It is about teaching future generations how to think, solve, and have a passion for lifelong learning. Whatever skill we’re teaching in the classroom today won’t apply in five or ten years due to the rapid change of technology. There needs to be some rethinking done on traditional education structure to promote teamwork, collaboration, empathy, ideation, experimentation, etc. That’s the work environment students will be entering into when they join the workforce.

Years ago, I did some work with the Singapore government and the state of Ohio building textbooks that included innovation and creativity. Some school districts wanted to treat innovation the same as reading, writing, and arithmetic. We must think of innovation as creative reading and apply it to those topics. Innovation and creativity need to go across all the subject matter.

Step two is to create school environments where there are team projects, creative problem-solving, and experimentation. The key with experimentation is that not all experiments are successful. Whatever the result, you have completed the work and learned in the process. The mindset that you passed or failed needs to be changed. We have to develop ways to experiment and fail while still getting an A in the classroom because you learned from it. 


The third question is: What are you optimistic about? During the time of this recording, there are many uncertainties. Examples of this would be COVID, the election, social unrest, etc. Despite these issues, there is still a lot of optimism. As humans, we can come together and get through these times using our ingenuity. Look back at the time of the polio epidemic. There was a consorted effort on the issue, and scientists came up with a vaccine and tamed the disease. I think the same thing will happen with COVID.

When we are face to face with crushing problems, we will innovate around them. We can solve these problems when we come together and attack them as one. We have done it for thousands of years and will continue to do it. 

Another question I posed is: What have you changed your mind about? There have been many times I changed my ideas, such as when I thought certain technologies were going to be successful, and they weren’t. The most challenging changes are when you have to consider somebody’s perspective on politics, beliefs, sports teams/players, etc. I ask this question because people are often so locked in one idea that they don’t even consider the other options. We all need to change in different areas, no matter what they are.

Wrap-up and Final Question

There is one question that gets an interesting response, no matter who interviews. That question is: What should be the role of government in encouraging innovation? Looking back on my own life, I’ve seen some phenomenal things come about due to government research and development. This includes the space program and Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, which I watched live as a kid. The blood oximeter, which tells how much oxygen is in your blood, is a spinoff of the NASA program.

Another example is the origin of the internet. The internet came from DARPA, which the government designed to use should Russia nuke the U.S. Governments invest in areas that are transformative to their people and their economies, which will improve the lives of the people.

Direct download: 5_Questions_Every_CEO_Should_Answer_About_Innovation.mp3
Category:Past Shows -- posted at: 12:00am PST

This week, we look at an old show that has recently come up. It is a show I did in February of 2012 about innovation metrics. We'll discuss the core set of innovation metrics that every organization should use.

Bad Metrics

Before we get started, I want to address one thing. Bad metrics are very prevalent and extremely popular in areas such as Wall Street and publicly traded companies. These metrics get defined by analysts who have never run any innovation efforts or businesses.

The most popular bad metric that Wall Street has is the percentage of revenue spent on RND. They try to rank organizations based on this metric. I have run tests and trials, collected data from public companies coached and mentored CEOs, and CIOs worldwide from various industries. I am here to tell you that this is a bogus metric that is not predictive of future success. If this metric was true, if I spent 50% of my RND revenue, I should be two times better than somebody who only spends 20% of their RND revenue. False. It varies by industry and company. I spent a lot of time trying to convince the board of directors at HP that this is a bogus metric and not useable.

When it comes to good metrics, I look at it from input, output, outcome, and impact. I spend the most time on input and impact. When it comes to innovation, the impact your innovation is making, and the input you are investing in is key.

Innovation Input Metrics

Let's look at what innovation input metrics you should consider having as part of your success measurement. The first one is the number of new ideas in the funnel. It would help if you kept the funnel full of ideas. This metric is about keeping your organization focused and continuously developing new ideas. At my current organization, we sit down twice a year and look at everything in the funnel. You want to find ideas that are reasonable for your organization.

The next metric is the acceptance/idea kill rate. Acceptance is the number of ideas that make it to the funding phase. You want that acceptance rate to be anywhere from 10-30%. The idea kill rate is when you decide to kill an idea rather than move it forward. At HP, we had a four-phase funnel to managing ideas and turning them into products. At each phase, there was about a 55% kill rate. We would start with ten, go to five, go to two or three, and finish with one. You need to look at your current acceptance and kill rate and set a target, possibly putting it into your Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).

The third metric is a balanced investment. This metric is how you will use your innovation spend to influence your organization. This metric has products and services across the bottom, and vertical is your customers and markets you serve. 70% of the innovation spend should be in the core. The 20% should be in new products to existing customers and existing products to new customers. And lastly, 10% in new customers, new markets, new technologies, etc.

Innovation Impact Metrics

The first one is the 3M metric, which is the percentage of revenue from new products. 3M has an innovation metric they have tracked for decades. The metric is what percentage of their revenue that comes from products produced within the last three years. The revenue percentage forces them to come up with new ideas constantly.

The second metric is the quality of your patents, which differs from the number of patents. When I first went to HP, Carly Fiorina was the CEO. She pushed us hard to ramp up the number of patents. Organizations get ranked based on how many awarded patents. She wanted HP to have as many patents as possible to get on the list. I argued that having a large number of patents does not add to your innovation value.

We eventually shifted the focus at HP to the quality of patents. Measured through the Chi Index, look at all your patents. Then look across your industry at other patents that referenced them. The more times your patent gets referenced, the more value it has.

The third metric is the innovation impact on gross margin. I got HP to replace the RND metric's revenue with this, which is the gross margin impact for every dollar spent on RND. Very important, because if you do good innovation on products, your customers will reward you with a margin premium.


Today we talked about the six-innovation metrics every organization should use. The input metrics are the number of new ideas in the funnel, the acceptance and the kill rate, and balanced innovation investment (70, 20 10). The impact metrics are the percentage of revenue from new products (3M metric), quality of the patents (quality over quantity), and innovation impact on gross margin. Look at these six-innovation metrics and figure out how you can apply them to your organization.

If you want to learn more about metrics and apply them to your organization, check out the Disruptive Ideation Workshops, now done virtually.

Direct download: 6_Innovation_Metrics_KPIs_Every_Organization_Should_Use.mp3
Category:Past Shows -- posted at: 12:00am PST