Our Latest Thinking

by The Garage Group
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The auto industry experienced substantial growth in the early 20th century when Henry Ford found a way to make the mass production of automobiles more agile and efficient. Innovation happens when consumer needs are married with possibilities, and Ford’s innovative solution was successful because he understood the root of the problem (the current solution wasn’t fast enough) and married it with the possibilities of solving the problem (technological advancements).  

From the 1920s to the 1960s, engines grew and cars got faster, louder and more beautiful. Presently defunct brands like Plymouth, Pontiac, AMC, and Willy’s all flourished, meeting consumers’ needs for utility, cost efficiency and luxury. Inventions like the headlight, the turn signal and the windshield wiper entered the scene quickly as autos became a large part of daily life.

This icon of American culture hit its first roadblock in the 1970s. The Oil Embargo of 1973 resulted in a massive shortage of oil in America and forced the industry to change its thinking. The shortage was an awakening for policymakers, and it charted the course of auto innovation toward environmental protection and fuel economy. The 70s gave rise to emission standards, fuel economy standards and effectively killed American “muscle” with the regulation of the carburetor in 1973. The trend from the 70s until the late 2000s seemed to be something along the lines of “working to get more efficient.” Sure, there were new inventions, but nothing radically changed.

For the most part, the last 45+ years of the American auto industry has been constrained by rising fuel costs and consumer demand for fuel-efficient vehicles. Foreign cars got smaller and lighter, and people more readily purchased efficient cars manufactured overseas. The exception was everyone’s favorite giant, The Hummer, which would become a caricature for the events and mismanagement leading to the collapse of the industry and eventual bailout in 2008. The collapse, in short, was caused by corporate inability to change quickly and truly match consumer need for fuel efficiency.

Since then, corporations have caught on for the most part and have been working to up those MPGs. But auto industry innovation is starting to rapidly reach beyond fuel economy. Although the need for fuel efficiency still exists, companies are finding ways to marry that specific consumer need with new possibilities, just as Henry Ford did in the beginning. In the past few years, three substantial innovations have started to change the pace of change in the industry and promise a far greater vision for innovation than the lackluster attempt at advanced fuel economy we’ve seen over the past 45+ years:

  • Ride Hailing (Lyft, Uber) You can share a vehicle with a driver and/or another rider with a few taps of your phone screen. This collaborative economy has essentially made car ownership optional.
  • Autonomous Vehicles (Google, Apple, Tesla, Uber) Getting from A to B will soon be as simple as hopping in a driverless vehicle and telling it where to take you. Not to mention the innovations that are sure to arise when drivers no longer have to be distracted by things like… driving.
  • Electric Vehicles (Tesla, Coda, Think) Zero emissions and a sub-3 second 0 to 60. Goodbye American muscle, hello American wattage.

In 2008, when the auto industry was in shambles, it was not easy to imagine hailing an autonomous electric vehicle from your phone, having it pick you up, and take you anywhere you needed. That future case is not that hard to imagine, thanks to the startups that were able to look at an industry and decide to innovate outside the traditional efficiency trend.

These next few decades in the auto industry will be shaped by advancements in mobile technology, machine learning, AI and 3D printing. All of these technological advancements will impact tangential industries as well, perhaps in ways even more exciting than the auto industry. The auto industry is no longer limited to the confines of building a more efficient combustion engine.

Are you thinking about future tech and how it can/will impact your industry? One lesson we can learn from the auto industry is that when significant change occurs, it is hard for the traditional players to catch up without drastically changing the way they think. Henry Ford once famously said, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” How can you merge current consumer needs with possibilities in the way that Ford did so many years ago? Start by asking yourself these three questions:

  • What is the need that you’re truly solving for?
  • What are all of the possibilities?
  • What possibilities marry the best with your need?

Ready for breakthrough strategy and ideas that deliver infinite miles per gallon? Learn more about The Garage Group’s work.

Photo credit: Unsplash user Benjamin Child

by The Garage Group
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We know that shifting from knowing to learning drives us to create the right solutions, faster and with greater confidence. How does that shift happen? Iteration–and a lot of it.

Several years ago, a young girl ran her bank account dry to purchase an expensive Marchesa dress to wear to a wedding, even though she had dozens of other dresses in her closet. That girl happened to be the sister of Jennifer Hyman, a Harvard Business School student. When Jennifer asked her sister why she would buy such an expensive dress when she already had other options, her sister told her that she had already been photographed in all of her other dresses and that this new one made her feel beautiful. Jennifer knew there was a business idea in there somewhere. Using the insight provided by her sister, Hyman and her friend, Jennifer Fleiss, tapped into the booming “sharing economy” trend (e.g. watching Netflix instead of buying DVDs; listening to streaming music instead of purchasing a physical copy) and merged it with the ever-increasing consumer desire for personal brand creation via social media. These two trends inspired the women to create the breakthrough online dress-rental service, Rent the Runway.

The concept seemed like a no-brainer. But before Rent the Runway first set up shop, it had a lot of questions that it needed to answer. Rather than spending months or even years gathering customer data, the two women treated their college campus as a testing ground, using small build-test-learn iteration loops based on fundamental questions that needed to be answered.

The first and most critical question was: Would women be willing to rent designer dresses at 1/10th of the price?
Build: Hyman and Fleiss rented a room on Harvard’s campus, obtained donated designer dresses and invited women to the room to try on the dresses.
Test: They measured the number of women who would be willing to rent a designer dress and found that 35% of the women surveyed would do so.

Once the women answered that they would rent a designer dress, the next most critical question was: Would women be willing to rent designer dresses that they can’t try on?
Build: Again, Hyman and Fleiss rented out a room (this time on Yale’s campus) for women to look at designer dresses for rent. But this time, they couldn’t try them on. However, Hyman and Fleiss added in more dress options to look at, since they got feedback from the first trial that some women would have rented a dress had there been more options available that they liked better.
Test: Hyman and Fleiss measured the number of women who would be willing to rent a designer dress without trying it on. The percentage of women willing to rent a dress went up from 35% to 55% since there were more options available; they didn’t seem to mind that they couldn’t physically try on the dress.

Once the majority of women answered that they would still rent a designer dress even though they couldn’t try it on, the next most critical question was: Would women be willing to rent designer dresses they couldn’t see in person?
Build: Hyman and Fleiss went to New York to survey 1,000 people in their target audience about whether or not they would rent a designer dress just from looking at a PDF photo.
Test: About 5% of the audience surveyed said that they would rent a dress from the photo, which demonstrated market viability for the concept.

Throughout these tests, Hyman and Fleiss not only learned that their idea was viable, but they also realized the importance of having women in the community upload and share images of themselves wearing the dress in order to portray a realistic image of how it would fit.

A less entrepreneurial team most likely would have rested on its own assumptions and spent a lot of time and energy on pricing strategies, inventory studies or UX design, taking much longer to come out with a solid product. Instead, Hyman and Fleiss reached a minimum viable product by running tests in small spurts to get to answers faster. Had they sat on the idea, it might not have become the game-changing platform it is today. Rent the Runway isn’t the only company that’s taken this philosophy to heart; even larger companies like Netflix are embracing fast failure and iteration (Netflix churns out a new, slightly tweaked version of its website every two weeks). How can your company use this mindset to get to stay relevant?

Want to learn more about approaches to innovating and growing like a startup? For the second year in a row, The Garage Group will be giving a talk at NewCo Cincinnati 2016: “5 Truths and Hacks for Bringing Startup Thinking to Bigcos.” Don’t miss the talk on Thursday, July 21st at 1:15 in our Longworth Hall office!

Photo credit: Unsplash user Hannah Morgan

by The Garage Group
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Startup companies have flooded the market with work processes that happen faster, better utilize technology and place ideas in consumers’ hands more frequently during the innovation cycle. The line between corporates and startup is starting to blend as corporations desire to be more agile and transparent like their entrepreneurial counterparts.

Corporations have employed a multitude of tactics to get closer to the startup community, including partnering with startups or taking part in initial rounds of investment. But some companies have gone even further beyond the learning phase and have put their knowledge into action, employing groundbreaking innovation at the corporate level.

Below is a list of corporations that have truly embraced risk-taking, thinking differently and learning from failure in an attempt to work more like their startup counterparts:

1.Chick-fil-a has created Hatch, a 80,000-square-foot facility devoted to innovation. It includes a mock kitchen, a collaboration area, devoted learning spaces and even a virtual simulator–a great way to prototype new technologies and even restaurant spaces without too much financial risk.

Chick-Fil-A’s step into innovation stresses the importance of place. If there is a dedicated place for innovation work to take place, the work is more likely to happen.

2. Sony hopes to borrow a page out of the playbook from some of the successful companies that got their start on Kickstarter. Sony has launched First Flight, an internal crowdfunding platform that enables consumers to back concepts of niche products before they are available in the market.

First Flight gives Sony a platform for risk-taking without investing in the production of a product that might flop. The platform is currently only available in Japan, but should eventually be available in the USA.

3. IBM has developed iFundIT, an internal crowdfunding platform that goes a step beyond Sony’s First Flight. IBM gives employees $2,000 of actual company money to invest in one of the ideas on the platform. A total of 1,000 employees in 30 countries have participated in two rounds of IBM crowdfunding, and the program has received about $300,000 in seed money from the company. Most of what has been developed have been small internal apps to increase efficiency, but some of these apps may have applications outside the office.

IBM was one of the first companies to build on the classic suggestion box. John Rooney, IBM’s Manager of IT Strategy says, “Typically in corporate IT, we’re working top-down. This is trying to take that and turn it around and work from the ground up.”

4. GE has partnered with a venture capital firm called Frost Data Capital to launch 30 internal startups that serve the shared needs of GE and Frost Data. Given funding and access to a wealth of engineers, systems and software developers, the two companies hope this new initiative can solve a number of their shared operational inefficiencies.

This project is unique in that GE is starting companies to solve its own problems. Once the idea is formed and the company is backed with funding, a CEO is hired on to implement the idea and scale it internally, and eventually externally, to other companies. As the industry becomes more technical and diverse, large companies might find this tactic to be most beneficial when solving critical problems.

5. Hershey was the first corporation to sign on to a Philly incubator whose mission is to connect researchers with industry professionals around ideas. This incubator is the brainchild of the University of Pennsylvania. The 58,000-square-foot building is designed to feature labs, private offices and a co-working space for up to 200 members.The center will hold Hershey’s Advanced Technology & Foresight Lab, which is focused on solving for what’s next in packaging, production and consumer science.

Hershey is taking a gamble by working alongside researchers and employees from other corporations, but risk for the sake of learning is what entrepreneurship is all about.

Interested in learning how The Garage Group has enabled corporates to innovate more like startups? Click here to view a case story, or reach out to jason@thegaragegroup.com.

Photo credit: Unsplash user Samuel Zeller

by The Garage Group
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Our team had a blast at The Front End of Innovation Conference last week! Ann Thompson led an insightful panel discussion on how bigcos can keep the pace and creativity of startups. Five amazing leaders from The Garage Group (Ann Thompson), Nike (Dave Cobban), Liberty Mutual (Vera Murton), Wayfair (Nancy Go) and KnowledgeHound (Kristi Zuhlke) came together to talk about how they’re enabling startup-driven innovation in their organizations. We captured the entire discussion and are excited to share the top insights with you. Great perspective on:

  • Thinking smaller and faster
  • Reframing leadership’s role & expectations
  • Approaching problems like a startup
  • Organically building startups
  • Sourcing top entrepreneurial talent

Which lessons can you apply to your own business challenges?

The Garage Group helps corporates innovate and grow like startups.

by The Garage Group
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We are excited to welcome Amber Hallmann to The Garage Group team for the summer! Amber comes to us from Miami University and is an aspiring young professional with experience in consulting, entrepreneurship and communications. Glad to have you on the team, Amber!

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am a “jump in” kind of person. I enjoy a challenge and learning through as many experiences as I can. As a student at Miami University, I have organized and participated in Startup Weekend, am the President of Igoodea Creatives (Creative Entrepreneurship) and have done creative consulting for E.W. Scripps in San Francisco, among many other entrepreneurial experiences. I am a dog-lover, coffee enthusiast, and avid viewer of the TV show Friends. Learning is my passion, entrepreneurship is my mindset and “jump in” is how I will accomplish it.

Something interesting people might not know about you?
I have a creative mindset but also a creative eye. I love to paint, draw, scrapbook and craft. To complement the digital age of design, I have recently dipped my toes into Photoshop, Illustrator and coding.

So, you jumped into The Garage Group. What made you decide to join us?
I love the startup world, but I am also fascinated by corporate companies, and The Garage Group can allow me to learn more about both. The Garage Group gives me the opportunity to remain passionate about learning and also aligns with the values of my personal philosophy of jumping in. The team is passionate and the culture is perfect for me to expand my knowledge in the space.

What does an “entrepreneurial approach to research and innovation” mean to you?
To me, it’s a cycle of clarifying and failing fast. Through my experience with Scripps, I found that it is important to continue clarifying throughout the process, ideate often, test, allow ideas to fail and then elaborate.

What trends do you see in marketing, branding, or innovation at large companies that lend well to a more entrepreneurial approach?
I have been seeing a lot of large companies innovating new ways to connect to the younger generations in the digital world. This is not only on social media, but also through other ad platforms. Bigcos are taking more risks, learning from their failures and developing better ways to connect to the markets; they are starting to take a more entrepreneurial approach.

What’s inspiring you right now?
Cincinnati. Moving to a brand new city for the summer is an adventure, to say the least. New city, new people and a new way of living. I am inspired to be more curious but also to relax, by reading, painting and doing yoga again.

What is something you believe that almost nobody agrees with you on?
It is hard to choose something specific, but the root to which people disagree with me on a particular idea is when they don’t see potential and I do. I am not someone who gives up too easily, and therefore the quote “You will never know until you really try” hangs on my wall. I don’t care how impossible something seems; I refuse to give up, and instead strive to create something better. This drive to make it happen is something that many of my peers disagree with. There is always another way; it may be harder, but it’s there.

Tell me two truths and a lie about yourself.
I have been swimming with dolphins before. I founded and played on a water polo team. I have never been out of the country.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in school so far?
To surround yourself with people who push you to be better and to “jump in.” I have found that the truly impactful lessons have not been in a classroom, but in the environment that I place myself in. In the past year, I have learned who I am as a team member, as a creative and as a friend. I would not have learned these very important lessons without jumping into the ambiguity and surrounding myself with people I care about and who care about me.

What’s your goal for after graduation?
My goal after graduation is to be hired by a company with many opportunities for growth and learning. More important than the work, I want to ensure I am a part of a great culture and team. I believe that if you have a great team, you can do any type of project and still be successful. My goal is not to have a job, but to build a lifestyle around something I am passionate about.

by The Garage Group
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Please join us in welcoming Bobby Moran to The Garage Group! Bobby brings a unique background in innovation research, consulting and improv comedy. We’re excited to add him to our rapidly-growing team!

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I enjoy thinking differently and creatively. Mediterranean food is choice.  I try to have a positive impact on the world by recycling and reusing. I believe in the power of a smile. I have a large family that means the world to me.

Something interesting people might not know about you?
I paint portraits of people and keep a sketchbook full of doodles with me at all times. I also have double-jointed thumbs.

So, you jumped into The Garage Group. What made you decide to join us?
During my short time on contract with The Garage Group, I could tell that this is a group of people excited by learning new things and delivering them into their work quickly. I have always been a quick learner and a culture that asks people to reapply new learning quickly felt important for continued growth.

What does an “entrepreneurial approach to research and innovation” mean to you?
To me this is simple: Try more. Too often, the research and innovation groups in companies get caught up in trying to nail down the perfect story or chart the perfect strategy. Trying more gives one more opportunities to fail and thus more opportunities to learn.

What trends do you see in marketing, branding, or innovation at large companies that lend well to a more entrepreneurial approach?
Companies like GE and Samsung are utilizing concepts similar to Kickstarter to generate interest and start the crowdfunding of projects.  They complete work on the product when there is sufficient interest and funding. Testing ideas quickly and trying often are essential to an entrepreneurial approach.

What’s inspiring you right now?
Mindfulness; in a world full of so much external stimulation, it is important to cultivate what is truly important for you.

What is your spirit animal?
A dragonfly.

What is something you believe that almost nobody agrees with you on?
This is a hard one… I had to go back to a college theoretical physics class and a discussion that I raised at the end of class: Basically, I was the only one who believed you would not have to turn a plane around that was being flown through a theoretical tunnel dug through the Earth’s axis. Everyone else said you would have to make adjustments or that you would wreck when the gravitational pulls reversed near the center of the Earth. I still believe the plane would fly straight through.

Tell me two truths and a lie about yourself.
I once lived outside and did not shower for 16 days. I have completed a triathlon. I have been to 49 of the 50 states.

So, you do improv comedy. What are some lessons from improv that translate to innovation/our work?
I am hot off the presses of Annoyance Theater and Second City in Chicago. Improv is at its best when there is no judgement. I believe improv games and practice drills can be integral to guiding someone into the desired mental space for innovation, thinking big and responding even quicker. In ideation sessions, there can be a lull when the group is asked to confront and ideate against the problem. I believe improv is crucial to energizing groups around a problem to work collaboratively. Improv drills facilitate finding a place of energy where one is trusting quick responses without judging thoughts. And it is downright fun.

What’s one thing you’ve learned from working at The Garage Group so far?
Groups work most efficiently when they are built on a culture of iterations and feedback… and foosball shots are best hit at an angle.