Jim Barrood, executive director of the Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurial Studies at Fairleigh-Dickinson University, has heard many definitions of innovation. The one he likes best is “useful inventions.”

“This brings it down to something everyone can understand,” he says. “It has to be an invention that adds economic or social value in the end. To invent for invention’s sake doesn’t do anyone much good.” Barrood also likes this definition because useful inventions can happen in small or large businesses as well as in nonprofits. “It doesn’t just happen in big companies like Apple,” he says.

FDU’s 2009 Innovation Summit on innovation and collaboration begins Tuesday, April 28, at 7 a.m. at Fairleigh-Dickinson University’s Florham campus. Cost: $145. Speakers include Deborah Wince-Smith, president of the Council on Competitiveness; Carlos Dominguez, senior vice president of Cisco; Andrew Bushell, executive director of the cardiovascular and metabolism franchise at Novartis Pharmaceuticals; and Jason Fried, cofounder and president of 37signals.

The event is a collaboration between the Rothman Institute and the New Jersey Technology Council. To register visit www.njtc.org.

The force behind innovation is successful collaboration, which can be a particular challenge for top-down companies with sites and customers throughout the world. But as businesses are trying to deliver products that more closely match their customers’ needs and create those products more quickly, they realize that they need to actively facilitate conversations and collaboration at all levels.

“More and more people are understanding that diverse groups need to work together to produce the best innovation,” says Barrood. He is bringing together leaders who understand how to promote collaboration both internally and externally to suggest ways other companies can follow suit.

A different kind of company meeting. At Cisco company meetings used to mean that thousands would show up at a big conference center. Those who made it to the meeting would feel bunched together, and those who didn’t would be left out.

Then Cisco developed TelePresence, an easy-to-use video conferencing system that uses the Internet and can bring together people who appear lifelike and life-size from up to 48 locations. For Cisco, this means sites as far away as India and Russia. Before, if any change was being made, it could take days to filter to far-reaching company sites, but because of TelePresence and the web, communication is instantaneous.

In the past all meetings were on the telephone or in person. With TelePresence, Cisco people can meet with customers or partners wherever they are. They can also easily bring in subject experts to provide expertise on any problems the business is facing.

Real-time desktop sharing with phone conferencing WebEx, a product that Cisco has owned for two years, allows for sophisticated desktop sharing combined with phone conferencing. Without the complications of E-mail and uploading and downloading files, people can share information with their colleagues by letting other participants view their desktops.

Drawing in ideas through competitions. Collaboration can mean bringing in creative ideas from outside a business or organization. Cisco’s IPrize allows people inside and outside the company to submit ideas about what the next Cisco product should be. Instead of relying only on its own engineers, Cisco solicits ideas from people around the world. An executive team then decides on the winning ideas, which Cisco funds.

Sharing ideas through internal social networking. By encouraging people to blog, post videos, and share ideas on company sites of social networks, companies like Cisco are providing regular opportunities to share perspectives and expertise among people who don’t work together on a regular basis. They may be in different groups at the same site or separated by oceans — it doesn’t matter.

Providing financial incentives for collaboration. At Cisco, executives are compensated based on how well the collective of businesses performs, not their own individual product units, and this encourages people to reach out.

Barrood earned a bachelor’s in economics from Rutgers and an MBA from Texas A & M. His experience runs the gamut — he started out in the family real estate business, then spent some time in the automobile industry. At the Rothman Institute, where he has been for 12 years, Barrood produces summits, conferences, lectures, and roundtables — bringing top speakers from different industries to learn about their best practices. He also does outreach to businesses and the nonprofit community to help them be successful and productive. “To be more innovative and bring new ideas to reality is an important part of company success,” he says.

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