Innovation's top banana isn't monkeying around
July 24, 2006
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
Tom Kuczmarski is Chicago's
top banana when it comes to innovation. In fact, Kuczmarski is
bananas about Chicago and our potential to be a global capital
founder of innovation consultancy Kuczmarski & Associates
uses the yellow fruit to make his point that innovation is about
thinking differently about common problems. At a recent seminar,
Kuczmarski plunged into the audience and held three bananas aloft
asking "Who's willing to peal a banana?"
Kuczmarski urged the
audience to take a risk. Three brave volunteers pealed the bananas
from the stem down. Then came the learning point about innovation.
"If you go to
the zoo, the chimpanzees peal a banana from what we would say
is the bottom," says Kuczmarski. Kuczmarski's not sure why.
He thinks it's because bananas are easier to hold that way, and
the top comes out clean. Try it. The chimps are right.
He hasn't asked the
chimps, but his point is clear: "If you've pealed a banana
one way your whole life, it's time to change your perspective,
and start to do things differently," Kuczmarski says.
He isn't simply talking
about bananas. He's talking about how Chicago thinks, and he wants
to change it. Kuczmarski wants the city of Big Shoulders to be
a showplace of innovation. Along with the Sun-Times, he co-founded
the Chicago Innovation Awards four years ago to put a spotlight
on Chicago's innovation leaders and to help spur Chicago ahead
of traditional innovation mecca's like Silicon Valley.
The Chicago Innovation
Awards annually recognize 10 local companies or organizations
that have produced market-changing innovations. Past winners include
Motorola's RAZR and Luminar Technologies' TurboTap, an engineering
marvel that fills beer glasses in record time.
forms for the fifth annual judging can be found at www.chicagoinnovationawards.com.
The nominations deadline is July 31.
Kuczmarski says innovation
pays dividends. If you invested in a mutual fund of the publicly
held Chicago Innovation Award winners, you would have reaped a
return of nearly 60 percent, well above the 19 percent return
for the Dow Jones industrial average during the same period.
innovation requires risk-taking. It's about leadership, and a
willingness to fail. It's about listening to customers and identifying
their needs. He says companies must establish a process making
innovation orderly while keeping thinking unconstrained.
Kuczmarski says it
all when he peals a banana. Innovation is about thinking differently.
Try pealing that banana upside down. We need more of that in Chicago.
I'm glad the innovation top banana is on duty in the Windy City.
DeVry Inc. CEO Daniel
Hamburger is continuing his pilot Advantage Academy program offering
Chicago public high school students the chance to graduate with
both a high school diploma and a college associate degree at no
cost to the student.
Says Hamburger, "We're
working to expand the model Chicago program into other markets."
Washington High grad
Isaac Tostado, 18, is one reason Hamburger's pleased.
"I've always been
fascinated by computers," says Tostado, who received an associate's
degree from DeVry while earning his high school diploma by attending
school year-round. Tostado was motivated. "I knew tech jobs
were going to pay well," he says.
The program isn't easy,
and not everyone finished. Last autumn, 116 students enrolled
in the Advantage Academy, but only 94 earned both a high school
diploma and an associate's degree in network administration.
But 88 of those 94
are now planning to enter college in the fall to earn their bachelor's
Ad:tech, the tech marketing
trade show, returns to Chicago today and tomorrow at the Sheraton
Chicago Hotel and Towers.
Fay Ferguson, CEO of
Chicago's Burrell Communications, opens the show focusing on multicultural
online marketing. Also on tap today, AvenueA/Razorfish central
region president David Friedman hosts a panel on how blogs and
digital video recorders disrupt the relationship between companies
and their customers. More than 3,000 tech marketers are expected
at the conference.
Krauss is a Chicago area tech writer and consultant.