Lessons Learned from Innovation Circles

Innovation Circles may bring more than education to organizations

Circles Brainstorming Meeting

Circles Brainstorming Meeting

HOLLYWOOD, CA (goshrobin) 2022/8/3 – It is good to support Innovation Circles. These are corporate groups organized on Teams (or Slack, Discord…) to increase innovation through networking employees and invited guests. Thinkers share their knowledge. Newcomers are enlightened. However, such education gets expensive when we total the time cost of the participants. We need to ensure that our results match the cost. That unlike one large systems integrator I worked with, we get tangible results from our Circles.

At a large systems integrator, I was a member of an organizing committee and belonged to their Metaverse and Quantum groups on Teams. We held weekly video meetings. Really smart people. Fun to talk with. We accomplished no results.

Earlier this morning, I watched a Circle meeting video produced by a different systems integrator, about metaverse ideas, posted internally on Teams. As a director of metaverse engineering, I am naturally interested in the topic. While I’m grateful to have had that video shared with me, I didn’t finish watching because it seemed so random. I would rather see good ideas distilled and posted to a blog, like I do with goshrobin.com, to be on point and with useful links.

For more effective Circles, I have a few suggestions an organization may try…

Have a Circles Agenda

Decide what our meeting purpose is that goes beyond education. What is our Circle’s value really? Are we seeking to close new deals, prospect new clients, improve product quality, DEI, marketing, recruiting, build open source apps to benefit society… How do we measure our success? Metrics?

Open Source for Agile Learning

To better architect a stealth project, I’m currently researching desktop screen manipulation. GlasLens is an assistive technology for the vision impaired, an open source app produced as a side effect of my internal learning. The purpose of my unannounced commercial application in development is unrelated, but building an open source app that calls the same APIs increased my relevant skills.

In Agile programming, we are encouraged to build one to throw away, to create a Version 0.1 first. Open source is a way to get a second life out of our effort, as an app useful to society that will live forever instead of being our forgotten throw-away code.

Open Compelling Speakers

At many organizations the Circles are closed. Being limited to internal employees only, a groupthink emerges that diverges from reality. Groupthink coerces following the dogma of how things have always been done, rather than brainstorming how to pivot under constantly changing business conditions to meet fresh opportunities.

One way to generate fresh air is by bringing in outside speakers.

For example, as a volunteer team leader for the Motion Picture Academy Diversity & Inclusion Summer Learning Program, I recently hosted a speaker series mentoring my group of university students seeking to join Hollywood as 3D artists or visual effects programmers. The speakers I brought in included VIPs like the CTO of Disney and the DreamWorks Animation producer of How to Train Your Dragon, and behind-the-scenes players who nobody had heard of before, but who do compelling work.

The speakers enjoyed interacting with young people new to the industry. I kept the meetings small, a very personal experience with less than 10 people in half-hour Zoom meetings I recorded. I’m editing the video in Avid to make a free DL course on Udemy called, Become a Hollywood 3D Artist or VFX Programmer.

Go Public, Get Wide

In an overabundance of caution, some managers will keep things more secret than is prudent.

I was a DARPA Principal Investigator (project manager and research scientist). DARPA and NASA exist because the Soviet Union beat the USA in getting into space with Sputnik. Eisenhower, the president who as a general had won WW2, concluded that we got beat from being too cautious and secretive, that multiple U.S. space programs competed rather than collaborated. The president created DARPA as the open research arm of the DoD. DARPA has produced breakthrough results, including the Internet, stealth aircraft and autonomous vehicles.

As a DARPA PI, I had a Top Secret clearance. For field tests I could go into restricted spaces, such as the Command Information Center (CIC) on the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln. However, everything I produced at DARPA was developed in a non-secret lab open to visitors. I didn’t need to worry about clearance to bring a Microsoft exec, or anyone, into my AI lab for a demo. It is after breakthrough success, that is when projects may vanish from DARPA and become national secrets.

For increasing innovation velocity and stronger marketing, we may learn from DARPA how to run secret yet open projects at high tempo.

About Robin Rowe

Robin Rowe

I’m Robin Rowe. People call me Robin or Rob, sometimes professor. I work in advanced product design and innovation management.

As UN WHO Augmented Reality Group Manager and XR Games Producer, I developed a medical metaverse, an AR/VR hospital simulation to train doctors worldwide to save lives.

As chief technologist at multi-billion dollar systems integrator SAIC, I was the founding director of their AI research lab and an enterprise manager with P&L responsibility for commercial and defense divisions. I constructed the Chicago NBC-TV studios, advanced national critical infrastructure by adding Smart Cities capability to the U.S. traffic control system, created real-time AI for DoD national defense crisis management, and developed the real-time motion-capture animation system used to create digital stunt doubles in superhero films such as Disney Marvel Spider-Man.

I led the team that won the Novartis Biome innovation prize in 2019, using AI computer vision to analyze skin disease. I’ve taught C++ as a Computer Science professor at the Naval Postgraduate School and the University of Washington. Former DARPA PI for AI and digital video. Former navy research scientist for VR war gaming and vision research. I’ve chaired innovation committees at ANSI/ISO and The CFO Alliance. I’ve developed financial software for Fortune 500 companies and large NGOs. I’m a thesis advisor to graduate and doctoral students in metaverse R&D.

I founded my first start-up, a car company, when I was 16. My family is in real estate and agriculture, owns the largest organic farm in Illinois. Not wishing to run the family business, I went another way. I have 30 years experience in product design and financial systems. And, with trading stocks and now crypto on my own account, I’ve made high ROI year over year.