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".

This episode is the last of Killer Innovations as a radio show. Not an easy decision, but as part of our drive for innovation, we believe this is the best decision. We will discuss the show's history, my book and radio show deal, and what Killer Innovations will look like moving forward. 

Making the Switch

Throughout the show, we have talked about how important it is to re-evaluate and try new things. This is a challenge that many organizations come across as they have processes in place that often keep them narrow-minded. Our decision to leave the Biz Talk Radio format will open up opportunities for us to be more flexible, creative, and innovative. With this change coming out, I know the listeners have a ton of questions. To answer some questions, we will still be a weekly show but will be shorter and have no interruptions. We will also be using a podcast-only format.

Killer Innovation's History

Let's jump into the history of the podcast. The podcast was launched in March of 2005, and we are now in season 16. Killer Innovations is the longest continuously produced podcast in history. We were podcasting before iTunes was even a thing. We have averaged around 45-50 episodes per year. The motivation behind the podcast came from a conversation I had with my mentor Bob Davis, who I have mentioned many times in previous shows. In the conversation, I was asking Bob how I could pay him back for all the help he had given me throughout the years. Bob laughed and told me that I couldn't pay him back, rather, I could only pay it forward. At the beginning of the show, podcasting tools and technology were not nonexistent so I had to hand-code for each show. Following the launch of the podcast in 2005, my book deal came about. I was approached by my agent Mark who was from New York. One of Mark's staff was a listener of the podcast and mentioned it to him. I had a meeting with Mark that went well, and he has been my agent ever since. The book proposal was distributed in the fall of 2010 and had about nine interested publishers. I signed a book deal at the end of 2010 and finished writing the book in June of 2011, and the book was released in February of 2012. The content of the book basically came from the podcast. Doing this book deal was anything but easy and required a lot of lift. As far as the radio show goes, I got approached by Biz Talk Radio in 2015 at a tradeshow where I was speaking. They said they liked the podcast and my book, and we ended up launching the show in July of 2016.  

My Book/Radio Show Deal

I want to give you guys insights on how to structure media deals as I have had a very successful nationally syndicated radio show and book deal. Like I said earlier, there were nine publishers interested in the book. After meeting with the publishers, there was an auction to see who the winning publisher would be. Hyperion ended up winning and I committed to doing 75,000 words in eight months, which was a big hurdle. I was lucky to get a big advancement after the book was published in 2011. Publishers get paid back first in book deals, and after you get your advance, the publisher gets all the money until their costs are paid back. After this, the author starts collecting royalties. In my deal, the publisher took control of the audiobook and had a professional voice actor relay it. As far as the radio show goes, Biz Talk radio is a syndicator of the radio, so I had to do everything through them. They distributed the show all across the country as part of their service. As far as constraints, we had to comply with the FCC rules such as political messages, profanity, age appropriateness, etc. We also had to comply with a time constraint slot as there were commercial breaks. This is where the four segments of the show came from. There was a weekly fee we had to pay to the syndicator to distribute the show. As part of the syndication deal, we got several ad spots which we gave away to charity. Zoom funds part of the show production and has done so for six years. This is what allowed us to give away our ad spots to charities.

Lessons Learned

Let me share some lessons I learned in creating my media platform. Firstly, do what you love. I have been doing the podcast for fifteen years, and If I didn't love doing it, we wouldn't have lasted this long. Secondly, don't do it for the numbers. I can't tell you how many times I've been contacted by people who are discouraged about how many listeners they have for their podcasts. If you are being driven by the numbers, you won't stick with it, because the numbers are hard to get. While this show has been around a long time, some people aren't as interested in our content as they are in other people's and that is ok. If you focus on your new subscriber numbers, you will drive yourself crazy. Thirdly, be open to new possibilities and let your followers aid you in finding what works best. Also, you need to know when to walk away from something like we are doing now. 

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

Today’s topic is an extension of a show I did a few weeks ago about my innovation self-confidence. Entrepreneurship is a huge part of innovation at any level. On today’s show, we will discuss entrepreneurship and the learning experiences and steps that made me a successful innovator throughout my career. 


Entrepreneurship consists of having an idea, being assertive, having a strategy, etc. I quickly realized from my Deltek experiences that I was not ready to jump right into entrepreneurship. After working at Deltek, I went to a company called Individual Software where I was hired again by my previous boss from Deltek, Bob Davis. The company was small and had only been around for a few years, and my experiences there taught me how to work inside of a startup. At Individual Software, I worked on designing and building products through coding. At this job, everybody was a salesman, everybody was the shipping department, everyone was customer service, etc. As an entrepreneur, you have to do literally everything, and there is not time to just sit back and work on ideas. Individual Software did a great job of teaching me some basic skills of entrepreneurship and how it really plays out.

Early Lessons Learned

Before getting the first big IPO win that I could build my career off of, I was involved in a ton of startups. I realized early on that I was going to have to go to multiple different jobs to learn different parts of entrepreneurship. At Individual Software, my boss Joel was a former executive at a big company in Silicon Valley. He believed that the training technology around the PC was going to be the next big thing. I went there to be part of a team in a small organization and I realized yet again that you have to do everything as an entrepreneur. The next position I took was with an organization called Corporate Resource Associates. CRA was started by two people I worked with at Deltek, Bob Davis, my mentor, and Roxie Westfall. Here I wasn’t involved in getting the startup running, but I came in once it was initially established. At CRA, I had my first engagement with HP as we were developing RISC (Reduced instruction set computing) processors. This job taught me how to communicate and help people understand complex items as we were training HP and others to use RISC. The most important thing I learned at CRA was assertiveness/standing up for yourself. Here, I was still young and didn’t have any gray hair, so people sometimes thought I didn’t know much. I also learned about strategy, as the business was newly started, and we were trying to grow it and make it functional. 

Entrepreneurship Takeoff

At CRA we worked with HP, Intel, and Apple, as well as other smaller companies. CRA was focused on a combination of training and actual development work. Here, I realized that I was good at taking complex things and making them simple. The software I worked on was all about putting a face onto technology that was uncomfortable to many people at that time. I liked taking concepts and ideas and turning them into commercially successful ideas. This is where my entrepreneurship bug started to take off. After my time at CRA, I went off and started my own company called Millenium RAND (Research and Development), whose mission was to help innovators who had ideas but needed help making them real. This entailed going in with clients who had a raw idea but didn’t have the people, skillsets, and confidence to make something out of it. This is where I started to build my reputation as I did everything from debugging hardware boards, writing embedded apps, writing user interfaces, etc. I had a couple of subcontractors and a couple of employees and ended up creating many products. One product called Thumbscan won the product of the year award at COMDEX. After creating this product, I was hired on by an entity funded by venture capitalists and ended up creating another product of the year award the following year. 


At this point I had been involved in going to a startup, watching a startup get launched, launching my own company, and joining an entity funded by venture capitalists. Eventually, Thumbscan got sold off, and the founders of the product recruited me to work on another idea around supercomputers. This company was called Teraplex, which was a supercomputer company based on a new process called MISC, or minimal instruction set computer. The company was initially funded by the state of Illinois and some angel investors, and I came in as the president of the company. It was here that I first learned how to deal with angel investors and was able to secure additional funding for the company. Teraplex was quite successful and I was also able to secure some technology licensing agreements. Looking back at it all, I found that my skillset was taking an idea and turning it into an innovative product, and that is what I built my career off of.

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

The topic this is week is one that I have touched on over the years in various ways. People reach out to me all the time asking about this.  Coaching, as well as mentoring, often get placed in the same category. In reality, they are different. We will discuss the differences between innovation coaching and mentoring and will run through some application scenarios.

Coaching vs. Mentoring

When it comes to the topic of coaching and mentoring, many people often find themselves confused. They don’t understand that innovation coaching and innovation mentoring are not the same. Coaching is the most common activity when it comes to innovation.

In general, coaching and mentoring are two of the top five most popular jobs out there. Innovation coaching is kind of like a sports coach. In baseball, there is a pitching coach who trains pitchers to improve in their craft. Pitching coaching is just like innovation coaching, as it seeks to help one improve in a specific area based on an assessment. It tends to be limited in duration. Also, it only works best with measurable and tangible improvement opportunities.

A good innovation coach will offer clear direction for improvement based on an assessment of one’s needs. Coaching can be on the individual level, team level, or for an entire organization. An innovation coach should be able to assess and tell you what area you need to improve. They should lay out a plan for improving and being more successful in a specific area. 


Mentoring is a less specific and tangible area that looks at the big picture, such as your career. An innovation mentor is a trusted advisor that crosses personal and professional lines and might be with you for many years. They help craft broader goals along with the skills and experiences to achieve them. When looking for an innovation mentor, choose someone you can learn from. You want one that has achieved innovation success in their career.

Usually focused on the individual, I have done long-term mentoring for innovation teams as well. Mentoring sessions are less formal than coaching sessions and are on an as-needed basis. Fees for mentoring most likely come from the individual. A successful mentoring role should last many years and stay constant no matter if the organization you’re in changes.

There may be no fees required in rare cases if you become close to the mentor. Don’t expect mentoring to be free just because some mentors might typically do it out of the kindness of the heart. Remember, mentoring relationships require time and transparency to be successful. A mentor can’t do their job if you are not honest with them, and vice versa. 

Examples of Differences

One of the best ways to show the differences between an innovation coach or mentor is to run through some scenarios.

First scenario: Your team is struggling to create a pitch for an idea to secure funding from your organization. You need to figure out the best way to structure your pitch to secure the funding. Is innovation coaching or mentoring the best way to aid you in your pursuit?  In this situation, you could hire an innovation coach because it is a specific issue you are trying to resolve. You want to find a coach that has an excellent track record of helping teams craft pitches. Be sure to pay the coach for the work they are doing, rather than saying you’ll pay them upon success.

Second scenario: Your CEO has asked you to develop innovation leaders within your existing staff. Would this be innovation coaching or mentoring? With a longer-term goal that is not tangible, so in this case, it would be innovation mentoring in a team setting.

Third scenario: Your team is running up against internal and external innovation anti-bodies (naysayers), and you need help in crafting a strategy to win the organization’s support. In this situation, you need help with a specific issue within your organization, so this is an innovation coaching opportunity. You need a strategy coach to help deal with the anti-bodies and win your organization’s support.

Fourth scenario: You have decided to improve your innovation abilities and skills to be more successful. This scenario is a textbook case of innovation mentoring. Here you need help in establishing your long-range career to have a successful career in innovation. 


Today, we talked about the differences between innovation coaching and innovation mentoring. As we discussed, there is a difference between coaching and mentoring. Coaching is about solving particular issues such as communication skills, deliverables, executive presence, etc. Mentoring comes with long-term career advice.

My first mentor was my boss at Deltek, Bob Davis. Bob hired me and put me into the first management role of my career. He knew I could be a great software engineer, but as my mentor, he told me I had broader skills than that. I had to put in a lot of extra work to develop myself under Bob’s mentorship. He put me on a career rotation, placing me in finance, marketing, advertising, sales, and IT, which helped me grow. Bob helped me think through my long-term goals and what opportunities I should look out for.

Today, I do innovation coaching and mentoring and have done small companies up to Fortune 10 companies. I’ve coached and mentored CEOs, CTOs, and CIOs, some lasting up to seven years long. 

Check out the Disruptive Ideation Workshop that acts as a long-term investment for you or your team’s success. 


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

People are always asking me how I made it to the point I’m at today in my career. While I can’t cover the full extent of my career, I want to share some valuable learning experiences. On today’s show, we will discuss how I built my innovation self-confidence and what I learned early on in my career that shaped the future of my career. 


Self-Confidence and Soft Skills

Looking back on my career, I realize it is all about building self-confidence. I am very thankful for those early leaders and organizations that invested heavily into me. Despite being sort of a “know-it-all”, they didn’t put me down, but taught me how to be a leader and encouraged me to pursue my passions. Wherever you are in your career, there are elements existing that build up self-confidence. The first area revolves around team spirit and knowing how to build a team. Your self-confidence isn’t about showing people up or being the smartest person in the room. It’s about being a part of a team, knowing how to build a team, and knowing how to lead a team. In the innovation game, there is no such thing as the lone innovator. Early in my career, I fed off  my name being mentioned in the press. As I progressed in my career, I learned just how important the team is over the individual. The second self-confidence building element is based on being confident you can achieve and build things from what you have learned. The third area is confidence in your communication skills and knowing how to communicate effectively. Another key area of self-confidence is being able to empathize with people. The last one is assertiveness, which should be based on standing up for your ideas. 


My Experience at Anchor Industries

Like I said earlier, I want to walk you guys through some of my own experiences. My wife and I met when we were young and got married in our sophomore year of college. The summer after our wedding, my wife helped me get an internship at Anchor Industries, one of the largest producers of canvas products. My wife knew the family that owned the company and had mentioned that I was looking for an internship. My initial job at Anchor was to go through and reverse-engineer the blueprints of their products as they were outdated. I started off doing drafting but also learned how to do time studies. One of the things Anchor built was pool covers. At this point in the 1980s, they would get a blueprint of the pool cover and hand draw the pool on the factory floor. Then they would lay out edges, lay the fabric, stitch or weld it, and add other things to it. This was a slow process and I felt like I could do something better. I went back after my internship and designed an automatic pool cover layout plan for a project class I had at school. This had a huge impact on Anchor's ability to make pool covers and I ended up working for anchor and building out this program for a year. Because of my self-confidence in trying new things, I was able to impact Anchor Industries and build a lasting relationship with the company. To this day, Anchor Industries is still one of the biggest producers of pool covers. 


My Experience with Deltek Microsystems

After working with Anchor Industries, I worked with Deltek Microsystems, a subsidiary of Deltek. The company focused on the early stages of PCs and sought to create training materials for new PC users. I ended up there due to my success at Anchor. At Deltek, I learned a lot about teamwork as it was a new company. I was hired on as a manager of the company and this was my first-time experiencing leadership. Deltek pushed me to give talks and speeches and built my communication skills up. I also experienced failures at Deltek that taught me a lot. I learned assertiveness in this position, as I had to express my opinions and ideas to those around me. This was new to me as it was only my second real job. My boss at Deltek Microsystems, Bob Davis, my first mentor, taught me how to be a manager, to take risks, and get back up after failure. He also taught me to be self-aware and learn my strengths and weaknesses. Bob taught that if I wanted to be a good leader, I had to be experienced in running the business, not just doing the software. I sat in just about every leadership seat at Deltek from Finance and Marketing to IT. 



The building of my innovation self-confidence was based on my early career experiences. Each experience contributed to all the soft skills I needed to become the leader I am today. When looking at team spirit, both Anchor and Deltek had a huge impact on my understanding. It is important to provide feedback to others and contribute your expertise to the team’s ideas. Both companies impacted my self-confidence by giving me the chance to go out and try things. Deltek helped me approve my communication skills in a way that I could adapt my language to my audience. In the case of empathy, I learned to empathize with customers as well as employees. Deltek taught me to be assertive in pushing and selling your ideas. All these soft skills learned at Anchor Industries and Deltek were vital in future success with my innovation self-confidence.

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

This show might come off as controversial to those who are innovation consultants. However, these are my personal views on the subject. Consultants can have a significant effect on an organization for better or worse. We will discuss innovation consultants and why I believe 80% of them are not worth the money. 

Innovation Consultants

A consultant has some expertise and is getting paid for sharing it with a client. I started my career early on doing consulting for a company called CSC. I was working heavily in the wireless and mobile arena. In my case, I had very deep expertise in the mobile space before being a consultant.

Most people hire consultants because they lack expertise in specific areas, and this effort is becoming ever so popular in the innovation space. I get calls all the time from people asking for recommendations on consultants. Based on what I have observed, 80% of innovation consultants are not worth the money. Why am I saying that? You don't become a driving instructor after reading a book on how to drive cars. Instead, you drive the car and then teach others how to do it. There are loads of innovation consultants out there that have never actually done it.

Today, I'm going to share the four questions you should ask innovation consultants before hiring them. Firstly, "is this innovation consultant a proven innovator?" Like innovation, you can't teach people how to drive if you haven't done it before. You need to ask if the consultant has led innovation for organizations known for innovation success. Have they been a CIO, led innovation teams that have delivered, or are they credited for creating successful innovations in the marketplace? Does the industry recognize them for innovation leadership? If they don't check these boxes, they try to teach how to drive without ever doing it themselves. 

Previous Clients

Question number two is, "Who else have they been hired by?" Assuming they have the expertise and have successfully done innovation, you need to look at who has hired them. If they are endorsed by those who are known for their innovation efforts, they will have more credibility. If a company is known for its innovation efforts still felt the need to hire this person, that is a good sign. If they have zero experience working with a company with an innovation reputation, that is not necessarily negative but is something to look at.

Another thing to look at is whether they completed any projects for their clients and have been brought back by their clients multiple times. This precedent shows that the consultant does excellent work and is getting the company success. The last thing to look at is whether you can call up the clients they mentioned in their proposals or pitches. If the consultant hides the company name from you but mentions their work, I count it as a negative mark.

Despite all that I have said, don't hire someone solely because they have done work for a well-known company. Dig deeper and validate whether they did the work and were successful or are lying about it. It amazes me how many organizations fail to do reference checks for employees and consultants. If you choose the wrong innovation consultant, your credibility goes down, and you can turn your organization off to innovation. 

Evaluating a Consultant's Success

The third question to ask is, "What about this innovation consultant attracts their following?" It is essential to evaluate why a successful consultant is successful with its clients. Firstly, look at the number of clients they have worked for/use their process or framework and whether they can prove it. An example of this is the FIRE framework, where about 2,000-2,500 organizations use it. Secondly, evaluate whether or not they are willing to share the details of their approach. I am a big believer in paying it forward and giving it away. With that being said, I don't use this to make a living while most consultants do.

Your organization is unique, and you need to know that a consultant's approach will work for you and your organizational needs. If you bring in a consultant that is not a match, you will run into some big problems. 

Final Question and Wrap Up

Question four is, "Can you adapt and adopt the approach from the innovation consultant?" You would not believe how hard this is to do. When hiring an innovation consultant bringing an approach to the table, it is crucial to know where they stand. Do you get granted the rights to use their method within your organization or offer a training class? Are they willing to adapt it to your organization's culture, approach, and language? An example of this is how Kroger implements the FIRE framework while using their own Kroger language. 

I started today's show off on the premise that 80% of innovation consultants are not worth the money. Let's recap the four questions you should ask an innovation consultant before hiring them: 

  • Is this innovation consultant a proven innovator?
  • Who has hired them?
  • What about their innovation consulting attracts a following?
  • Can I adapt and adopt the innovation consultant's approach to my organization?


If you are looking for an innovation consultant and aren't so sure about it, drop me an email or hop over to The Innovators Community for feedback from other innovators and myself. 

If you are interested in the FIRE framework for your organization, check out our Disruptive Ideation Workshops.

Direct download: Why_80_Percent_of_Innovation_Coaches_are_Not_Worth_The_Money.mp3
Category:Past Shows -- posted at: 12:00am PST