Robert S. Becker PhD founded Becker Multimedia, simulations and serious games — to enhance job competencies and performance. He advises clients on learning strategy, leads the implementation of instructional technology and produces engaging interactive multimedia content. He also helps propagate organizational mission and vision by applying his expertise in employer branding, customer experience management and internal marketing communications. With regard to involvement with professional associations, he is Education Chair for the Chicago Great Lakes Chapter of the Explorers Club. Also, he holds board positions with Chicago chapters of ASTD and ISPI. He also leads the Serious Games SIGs for IGDA and GDDA.
In another area of professional involvement, Bob is now at work on an online curriculum of continuing medical education (CME) accredited by a prominent school of medicine in Massachusetts, designing blended learning for a logistics company serving the railroad and trucking industries, designing web-based interactive marketing for a German manufacturer, and designing inaugural mobile learning for a widely dispersed retail company. Past engagements have spanned diverse industries from utilities to banking. He earned his BA and MA at New York University and his PhD from the University of Reading in England. Before founding his company, he was a professor of English and funded research scholar. He lives and works in Oak Park, Illinois.
Here is an excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Which person has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? Please explain.
Becker: The Child is father of the Man. My children have had the greatest influence on my personal growth. After my years of questing they helped me realize that I am not the most interesting per- son on the planet. They changed my dream world into a life of devotion.
Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development?
Becker: If professional development evokes gifts in addition to competencies, stature in addition to rank, wisdom and goodness in addition to power, then Sir Rupert Hart-Davis has had the greatest impact on my professional development. He was my friend and mentor.
Morris: Was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course that you continue to follow?
Becker: That would be my denial of academic tenure. It coincided the inception of instructional technology, self-paced training, personal computing and online information. I was already fascinated with instructional systems design, so I jumped through this shiny new looking glass.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education proven invaluable to what you have accomplished thus far in the business world?
Becker: My formal education is both a handicap and a blessing. A handicap because the study of literature and history looks back, whereas business relentlessly scans the horizon. A blessing because my scholarship provided core discipline and resilience, which are much needed in business.
Morris: What do you now know about the business world that you wish you knew when you first went to work full-time?
Becker: I admire the intellect and skills of business people. However their ethics can be patchy. I try to treat myself, my colleagues and clients as professionals, but many business people are unprofessional by choice as well as training. I’m frequently reminded.
Morris: Of all the changes that have occurred in the business world since then, what do you consider to be most significant? Why?
Becker: Digitization of content. It vastly increases the speed and quality of work and enables even ordinary people to achieve a measure of greatness. Digitization unleashes a lot of stupidity too, but a rising tide lifts all boats so we must be patient.
Morris: You and your associates at Becker Multimedia have devised one of the most interesting websites I have yet encountered and I am also very impressed by the blog at which a wealth and diversity of superior content is provided. Please explain the process by which (a) the website was designed and then launched, (b) the specific objectives were set for the blog originally, and (c) the extent to which subsequent modifications have been made.
Becker: Beckermultimedia.com rose from the critical feedback of gifted colleagues in an AIGA Mastermind Group. They looked at my previous website and hated it. So I started over, writing and designing everything myself but with the goal of pleasing tough critics. It worked out pretty well. They gave me a passing grade.
The purpose of the Blended Learner blog has always been the same: to decode my professional attitudes and values. These both inspire and limit my work, often without me realizing it. I try to blog what I believe so that I can understand my work better.
Morris: What are the defining characteristics of a “blended learner”?
Becker: The Blended Learner blog is a kind of oracle. I write the way a Delphic priest would moan or rant in another era: focusing on what I know and believe, being brief, varied and spontaneous, trying to produce truthful insights. The thoughts I bring to the Blended Learner are quickly formed, but they take longer to write because I sweat the expression. Prime examples of Blended Learner style is my five recent posts, Zen and the Art of E-Learning Design followed by the Four Qualities of E-Learning (quality in the sense that Robert Pirsig uses the word). These essays surprised me as I wrote them and that may mean they are good.
Morris: You and I hold in high regard recently published books on business design, notably Roger Martin’s The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage, Tim Brown’s Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation, Tom Lockwood’s Design Thinking: Integrating Innovation, Customer Experience, and Brand Value, and Roberto Verganti’s Design Driven Innovation: Changing the Rules of Competition by Radically Innovating What Things Mean.
Here’s my question: How do you explain the recent and increasingly substantial interest in such books and what they discuss?
Becker: Two words: Steve Jobs. Well, let me rephrase that. The design genius of Steve Jobs that is channeled by Apple. For 30 years Steve brought the ineluctable force of design to industry and commerce, and with great success. It’s rare and people want more of that.
Morris: Now I wish to ask several questions that follow no discernible order, I realize, but offer you an opportunity to tee off on some issues worthy of discussion. First, which 2-3 films do you think most effectively dramatize important business lessons?
Becker: Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room has important lessons for our time, though we cannot seem to learn them. It shows how talent can be twisted and soiled as it becomes both less vigilant and more compliant and servile.
Morris: Of all the literary works (i.e. epic poems, plays, and novels) that you have read over the years, which 2-3 offer the most valuable insights concerning important business subjects, such as leadership?
Becker: George Moore’s novel The Brook Kerith is an imaginative biography of Jesus Christ. In documenting events up to the failed crucifixion and Christ’s “real life” afterward, Moore traced the phases of modern leadership development in rational, secular and humanist terms.
Morris: The business narrative has become very popular, especially since Spencer Johnson misplaced his cheese. In your opinion, why do so many authors such as Eliyahu Goldratt and Patrick Lencioni rely on storytelling basics (setting, characters, conflict, tension, plot developments, etc.) to share their insights about the business world?
Becker: Myth and metaphor have unrivaled powers to inform and influence people. Joseph Campbell, Mark Johnson and George Lakoff explain how they work. Great stories are carriers of myth and metaphor. We think we are reading for what or how, but we learn from why.
Morris: Of all the great leaders throughout history, which do you consider to be the most effective [begin italics] communicator [end italics]? Please explain your selection.
Becker: As a leader of empire, an inspiring orator and master of prose narrative, Winston Churchill may be the more effective communicator of all great leaders. I’m a little reluctant to name him because his colonial values are obnoxious, but that doesn’t enter into this question.
Morris: Given the proliferation of social networks, electronic devices, and other multimedia resources, do you think people are communicating more effectively, less effectively, or about the same today than or as they did (let’s say) 7-10 years ago? Please explain.
Becker: Younger people are communicating far more effectively than anybody did a decade ago. At its best their content is richer, more immediate, meaningful and active. Of course there’s a lot of noise or drivel in the ether, but that’s fairly easy to ignore.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Bob cordially invites you to check out the resources at this website:
Does design drive innovation or does innovation drive design. The answer is “Yes.” The success of each approach depends almost entirely on what Roberto Verganti characterizes as “radical research” and those who either conduct it or support those who do. In his introductory Letter to the Reader, Verganti explains that this is a book on management. More specifically, “it’s about how to manage innovation that customers do not expect but eventually love. It shows how executives can realize an innovation strategy that leads to products and services that have a radical new meaning: those that convey a completely new reason for customers to buy them. Their meanings are so distinct from those that dominate the market that they might take people by surprise, but they are so inevitable that they convert people and make them passionate.” Or what Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba describe as “customer evangelists.”
Verganti calls this strategy “design-driven innovation” because design, in its etymological sense, means “making sense of things.” Therefore, think of design-driven innovation as the R&D process for meanings. This book shows “how companies can manage this process to radically overturn dominant meanings in an industry before their competitors so and therefore rule the competitors.” Throughout his lively narrative, Verganti responds to questions such as these:
1. How to innovate by making sense of things?
2. How to integrate design-driven innovation with an organization’s strategy?
3. How to initiative and then sustain productive interplay between “technology-push” and design-driven innovation?
4. Why do some companies invest in design-driven innovation and others don’t?
Note: Verganti’s comments in response to this question will be of great value to readers now determining whether or not design-driven innovation is appropriate to their organization’s needs, objectives, and resources.
5. What are “interpreters” and what is their role in the design-driven innovation process?
6. How to locate and then attract key interpreters?
7. How can an organization develop its own vision?
8. How to leverage the “seductive power” of the interpreters?
9. When establishing what Verganti calls the “Design-Driven Lab,” where to begin?
10. What is the “key role” of an organization’s senior managers and their influence on the organization’s culture?
However those involved are identified (e.g. “interpreters”) and their functions are defined, whatever a given organization’s goals and resources may be, questions such as these suggest critically important issues that must be addressed by its business leaders. If I understand Verganti’s core thesis, it is that the process by which to do that must itself be design-driven. That is to say, a competitive advantage can be achieved and then sustained only by innovative thinking about innovation. Only then can those who are involved “make sense” of what to do and how to do it for their customers.
The Breakthrough Imperative: How the Best Managers Get Outstanding Results
Mark Gottfredson and Herman Saenz
Transforming Performance Measurement: Rethinking the Way We Measure and Drive Organizational Success
Dean R. Spitzer
Enterprise Architecture as Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution
Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson
HR Transformation: Building Human Resources From the Outside
Dave Ulrich, Justin Allen, Wayne Brockbank, Jon Younger, and Mark Nym
Here is an excerpt from article written by Roberto Verganti for the Harvard Business blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Daily Alerts, please visit firstname.lastname@example.org.
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One Size Does Not Fit All in Innovation (and Never Will)
I’m worried that the discussion about innovation is losing its vitality and that a handful of beliefs are becoming dangerous dogmas. Two that worry me the most are:
Innovation and design should be user-centered — i.e., users are the first and foremost source of insights. Innovation processes should, therefore, start from observation of mainstream or extreme users.
The crowd outperforms the elite — i.e., thanks to the web, firms may now leverage the power of communities of scientists, creatives, and users to develop innovations. Many ideas from large communities are better than a good idea from an outstanding innovation team.
In a recent blog, I questioned the universal effectiveness of user-centered processes. My point was that user-centered innovation is ineffective to deal with environmental sustainability. I was surprised to notice that instead of focusing on the specific subject at hand (sustainability), many of the people who participated in the discussion defended user-centricity as an incontrovertible principle.
I fear the same narrow-mindedness is dominating the debate about the value of crowdsourcing vs. elite thinkers. If you try to argue that in some situations an elite thinker is better than the crowd, you’ll be quickly derided.
Is the discussion and the practice of innovation at risk of becoming static and mono-tone? Is the community in search of a Holy Grail of innovation — i.e., the one perfect model that works in any situation and forever? Given that innovation is about differentiation and evolution, this would be dangerous for corporations.
The reality is:
One size does not fit all in innovation. Different innovation problems require different approaches. There is no method that is always good. In a 2008 article in the Harvard Business Review, Gary Pisano and I demonstrated that crowdsourcing is not always the best approach to collaboration. What is the best approach depends on several factors, including the distribution of talent among scientists and the cost of testing a proposed solution.
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To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Daily Alerts, please visit email@example.com.
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Roberto Verganti is the author of Design-Driven Innovation: Changing the Rules of Competition by Radically Innovating What Things Mean and has pioneered research on the intersection of strategy, design and technology management. A professor of the management of innovation at Politecnico di Milano, Verganti also is a member of the board of the European Institute for Advanced Studies in Management. He has served as an executive advisor, coach, and educator at a variety of firms, including Ferrari, Ducati, Whirlpool, Xerox, Samsung, Hewlett-Packard, Barilla, Nestlè, STMicroelectronics, and Intuit.
Here is an article written by Roberto Verganti for the Harvard Business blog. (It looks much longer than it reads. Also, frankly, I did not know what to delete.) To check out other articles and resources and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Daily Alerts, please visit firstname.lastname@example.org.
Having Ideas Versus Having a Vision
In the past decade, firms have been praised for ideas. Experts have celebrated the power of brainstorming and idea-generation techniques. Eureka light bulbs have populated the covers of many books. Businessmen have been asked to improve their creative attitudes. And 2009 was named the “Year of Creativity and Innovation” by the European Union.
One consequence of a decade focused on idea generation is ideas are now more easily accessible, which has also made idea generation less of a differentiator in competition than it has traditionally been. When more than 30% of the population belongs to the creative class, as Richard Florida suggested in his 2003 book The Rise of the Creative Class, ideas are not in short supply. And with the diffusion of open innovation processes, ideas competitions, and the like, executives are increasingly exposed to a wealth of ideas.
What is in short supply, I’m afraid, are visionary thinkers who will be capable of making sense of this abundance of stimuli — visionaries who will build the arenas to unleash the power of ideas and transform them into actions.
Could the next decade be the decade of vision building? If so, we will witness a significant shift in the way we think about innovation, creativity, and leadership. Popular studies of creativity have suggested that the fast generation of numerous ideas (the more, the better); in contrast, visionary leadership requires a relentless exploration of one direction (the deeper and more robust, the better). Idea generation values a neophyte perspective; vision building is based on research and deep understanding. To generate fresh ideas we have been told to think outside of the box and then jump back in; vision building destroys the box and builds a new one. It does not play with the existing paradigms; it changes them. Studies of idea generation have lingered on variety and divergence, but vision building is based on convergence, on bringing others onboard. Ideas are culturally neutral as long as they help solve problems; visions are intrinsically ideological and biased towards a clear aspiration of how the world should be: They strongly reflect the personal culture of the thinker.
I’m certainly not questioning the essential value of ideas. They will still ignite the innovation process. Tossing around a large number of ideas will still be important, especially for incremental improvements. It is not one or the other. It is a shift in the most rare and precious asset that will drive competitive advantage: visions. It’s time for thought leaders to move beyond post-its and embrace a more advanced form of creativity. A radical form of think-action that somewhat resembles that of researchers and entrepreneurs fighting to implement their vision.
What do you think? Is it time to call for a new form of creativity? If last decade was the decade of idea generation, will the new one be the decade of vision building?
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To check out other articles and resources and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Daily Alerts, please visit email@example.com.
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Roberto Verganti is the author of Design-Driven Innovation: Changing the Rules of Competition by Radically Innovating what Things Mean and has pioneered research on the intersection of strategy, design and technology management. A professor of the management of innovation at Politecnico di Milano, Verganti also is a member of the board of the European Institute for Advanced Studies in Management. He has served as an executive advisor, coach, and educator at a variety of firms, including Ferrari, Ducati, Whirlpool, Xerox, Samsung, Hewlett-Packard, Barilla, Nestlè, STMicroelectronics, and Intuit.
“In my experience, true success comes for the designer and the business executive when the two can bridge the artificial lines that have too often separated their worlds. This book also talks about building that bridge – about how creative minds and business minds collaborate, and how both sides of the business-design partnership can prosper within that process. I won’t say that this collaboration is a silver bullet for every problem facing a company, but I do believe it is the best way to develop a better business today and to build a sustainable future for that business.”
How do the designer and the business executive collaborate on helping their company to become an “engine of innovation”? Esslinger suggests a three-step process:
Step 1 — Groundwork: Preparation and research requires both competence and selectivity (e.g. choosing the right goals, teams, partners, clients, projects, metrics).
Step 2 – Creative Collaboration: Successful results-driven teamwork involves rituals (e.g. brainstorming), projection (i.e. shared vision of change to be achieved), and management (e.g. consensus-building, support planning, “shepherding” innovation to implementation).
Step 3 – Marketing: Introducing a product (both internally and externally) while refining and proving its benefits, optimizing the innovation’s role in the business model, and providing the leadership tools necessary to take the innovation to market).
Other sources to consider:
The Design of Business
Five Minds for the Future
Change by Design
Design Driven Innovation
Thomas Kelley with Jonathan Littman.
The Art of Innovation
The Ten Faces of Innovation
Esslinger is the founder of frog design, inc., a global innovation firm, and one of the most respected designers and business consultants in the world. His designs are in the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum in NYC.