Jeffrey Babin, a consultant who helps companies innovate, has noticed that when inventiveness dies at a company, it isn’t usually due to a lack of good ideas.
Once Babin led a workshop for a large health insurance provider. The company did a wonderful job engaging its employees and coming up with amazing ideas. They went through a long program, talking about business development and business planning. Employees came up with many great ideas for the future of the company. By the end of the workshop, the room was full of tremendous creative energy. Then the company declared one employee “the winner.” After that the ideas went nowhere.
“The real success is if those ideas are not just part of a competition, but are truly developed and have resources committed to them because they truly deserve it,” Babin says. “Innovation and ideation exercises are great, but that’s just the starting point of innovation.”
Babin will speak at the New Jersey Technology Council Leadership Summit on Thursday, October 31, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the NJHA Conference Center at 760 Alexander Road. www.njtc.org. E-mail Jpraiss@njtc.org. Babin will also lead an innovation workshop for the attendees. The summit will feature the NJTC’s CEO of the Year awards, honoring Adnane Charchour of Scivantage, Nariman Farvardin of the Stevens Institute of Technology, Ali Houshmand, of Rowan University, Ashraf Lofti, of Altera Corporation, Stuart W. Peltz of PTC Therapeutics, and Marianna Rabinovitch of ECI Technology.
At the summit, Babin will work with leaders to help them make their own companies more innovative. That’s generally what he does for a living at his consulting company, Antiphony Partners, which he runs with his wife and another partner.
Babin grew up in New York, and later moved to Massachusetts, where his mother is a musician and his father is an orthopedic surgeon. Babin studied anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and earned an MBA at Wharton. He has stayed in the Philadelphia area ever since, and now lives in Wallingford, PA, with his wife and his teenage son and daughter.
After college, Babin made a brief foray into the music industry before turning his attention to business, co-founding a software company called CTV, which he ran until 2001. He considers the common thread throughout his career to be innovation. “I’ve been teaching and consulting in innovation and working across many different industries,” he says.
“Innovation” is a broad category. It’s not just about research and development. Babin believes innovation should be at the heart of every company that wants to be competitive.
“One of the issues we have to face is that often companies look at innovation not as the core of their business. They look at it as something they may or may not undertake at certain times in their cycles. But those companies that win are those that integrate innovation as the core of their business and their business processes. Innovation is not just about new products and services. We see innovation as products and new services, but also new market segments, and innovation in operational efficiency and cost reduction.”
The most important form of innovation is bigger than that, though.
“Innovations in terms of business models are about fundamentally changing what your product and service is and what you’re offering to the customer,” Babin says. “If you look at some of the most significant industry changes, the companies that seem to come out on top are the ones that are usually innovating at a business model level. We would like people to embrace innovation as part of what they do on a daily basis and part of what their employees should be responsible for.”
So how can a company do this? It’s all about being like a lean startup firm, and listening to the customers, Babin says. “The key is understanding how to improve the market fit,” he says. “Are you focused on bringing a product to market that brings value to customers? That’s certainly applicable to a company of any size.”
Specifically, Babin thinks big companies could work better by emulating what small startup companies do out of necessity, which is to move faster, with well-defined tests, when trying out new ideas. The traditional approach of spending more money and time on projects, hoping they will succeed but not really knowing if they will or not. “Small companies can’t afford to lock themselves in a room for six months or a year and bring innovation to market and hope it will succeed,” he says. They have to make small incremental changes and test if it’s going to bring value to the customer, based on the customer’s perception.”
One way to do that is to make customers, suppliers, and members of the supply and distribution chains partners in the development process. “Those people really need to understand how your product will actually deliver value,” he says.
One example of this approach is Dropbox, the online file storage website. Babin says Dropbox spent a long time refining its business model and figuring out who its customers would be and what they needed from their product. When launch came, Dropbox was unsurprised to find that users liked it, since they had spent so much effort testing it with customers beforehand.
At the seminar, Babin will refer to examples, but plans to work with specific companies and help them figure out their own innovation strategies.
“The real benefit isn’t hearing me talk, but sharing ideas of innovation with others.”