Thursday, October 25

Brains on the Block

The world is transformed by sweat and ideas. It might be as grand as Isaac Newton’s vision of gravity, which sent him sweating through the invention of differential calculus. Or it might be the original piece of software tucked away in your brain that would enhance the lives of thousands, but which keeps you up nights laboring toward a simple prototype. Such intellectual properties, are society’s greatest assets, and are worthy of protection.

But guarding something as unsubstantial as an original idea is daunting. Even after it is made tangible as brand name, trademark, or computer program, the process remains convoluted at best. To take new innovators through this maze the New Jersey Technology Council presents “Managing IP” on Thursday, October 26, at 4 p.m. at the law offices of Lowenstein Sandler in Roseland. Cost: $50. www.njtc.org. Mary Hildebrand, an intellectual property (IP) specialist with Lowenstein Sandler, is the main presenter.

From the outset Hildebrand has focused her practice on strategic planning in the IP arena. As a partner in the law firm of Goodwin Proctor, she chaired the firm’s New York/New Jersey offices’ intellectual property department. For Lowenstein Sandler, she continues this concentration with particular attention to web-based ventures.

Most inventors unfortunately view patent registration as some sort of white knight, protecting their intellectual property from all attacks. “Registration is only a tool,” says Hildebrand, “one tool among many other considerations.”

Over there. You may be planning to market to a small domestic market, but competition is always global. Hildebrand suggests looking ahead not only to future launches in other markets. In the United States an inventor is given one year’s grace period to file after divulging his original product. In the European Union, however, no such grace period exists. So a new American product, if not registered in Europe, can be picked up, copied, and sold back in the States — all legally, with no recourse for the inventor.

Splitting hairs. Ideas and inventions are seldom pristine. In today’s expanding entrepreneurial world, the possibility is ever greater that only part of a new idea is actually original. Johnson & Johnson patent attorney Martha Michaels, who represented that company in registering various absorbent fibers, recalls that determination of legal originality often came down to one molecule in a chain.

This minuscule difference may apply to cyberspace innovations where often one command in a protocol may mark the only noticeable separation between one product and another. Such cases invariably are fodder for infringement claims. Rather than squaring off in the legal arena, most attorneys agree that mediation is the most rewarding option.

If the technical points are narrow, odds are that the involved community is small and that attorneys for each company can strike an informal agreement. If more formal mediation is required, the Association for Conflict Resolution (www.arcnet.org) can assist.

Foiling piracy. Once infringement is suspected, Hildebrand suggests that one remain calm and do the research. Visit the United States Patent and Trademark Office site, www.USPTO.gov, and search for similar or overlapping claims. This may have been done at the time of first trademark launch, but update the research.

Only after iron clad proof of claim is established should an IP owner send a cease and desist letter. The attorney will ensure that claim boundaries are appropriate and no implied threats make his client liable.

Finally, remember that ideas and intellectual property are not made original by the amount of labor invested. In this enormous, highly technical global economy there is an excellent change that someone else has some concept similar to yours. The call in such cases is for partnering, or becoming an IP outsourcer.

Using two heads can profit both parties. After all, it was Newton himself who claimed that “If I have seen further than others, it is only because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” — Bart Jackson

Customer Service Goes A Long Way

Diane Bach had a great role model for learning about customer service. In Chalfont, Pennsylvania, where she grew up, her dad was a manufacturer of lighting who ended up as the owner of a retail lighting store. “Working for him growing up was my first taste of retail customer service,” she says. “At times I would watch him and think, ‘You’re really bending over backwards for the customers.’” And it worked. His customers came back, and they referred their friends.

When people think about customers, they think first about visitors to retail stores. But Bach, who has been a training consultant for 15 years, has a broader understanding. “Mostly people think of customers as external customers,” she says. “But today, in matrix and team-based environments, we are trying to get people to think about a broader base, one that views peers and team members as internal customers.” Whereas serving external clients will procure more business, satisfying internal customers improves productivity.

Bach gives a day-long workshop on “Customer Service Skills” on Thursday, October 26, at 9 a.m. at the Learning Key in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania. For more information, call 215-493-9641.

The majority of people who are dissatisfied with a store or a company will just take their business elsewhere. They may tell one or two other people, says Bach, but they’re unlikely to come and give you the whys and wherefores of their disappointment. Bach has several suggestions about how to understand and solve the problems of both your internal and external customers before they up and leave:

Understand your clients’ expectations. “Dissatisfaction,” says Bach, “is usually the result of differences in the expectations.” Take the issue of expected response time. Both internal and external people have expectations about when they will receive answers to E-mails and responses to information requests and product or service complaints. People who are on the computer all day, for example, may expect an immediate response to an E-mail. People who are out and about, on the other hand, may only check E-mail at the end of the day.

To avoid any problems, Bach suggests asking an open-ended question: “We will be working on a team together. What is the best way to communicate with you — phone? E-mail?” After getting the communication medium synched, let everyone know when they can expect responses from you. If you set aside Friday mornings for responding to vendors’ pitches, for example, let all of your vendors know this so that they will not waste time calling or E-mailing repeatedly during the middle of the week — and then stewing because you have not responded.

When trying to determine the expectations of retail customers, Bach suggests thinking about what would be the most demanding customers’ expectation in terms of response time.

Ask the right types of questions to uncover what the customer really wants. “We like to tell customers what we are going to do for them, rather than really listen,” says Bach. She relates a recent experience of her own. She was shopping for financial services and told the person helping her that she was interested in online banking, but the person kept talking about how she should consider a particular service because of the face-to-face interaction it offered. “I had to stop him, and tell him that I preferred services online, because I can do them 24-7,” she says.

Respond to complaints with empathy. When someone complains, says Bach, “a person’s gut reaction is to be defensive.” The immediate response is to think, “I have the greatest product in the world. I can’t imagine how that could happen.” If the complaint is emotionally charged, the likely response is similarly instinctive, “Calm down, let’s talk rationally.” But this is something that angry customers tend not to want to hear.

“What we recommend,” says Bach, “is the model where you let the client talk and vent.” Listen to their words and try to intuit any other issues that are behind the words. After listening carefully, “indicate that you’ve heard them with empathy.” You might say, “I can see that would have caused a problem,” or “that must have been frustrating.” Then ask the person, “What should we do? How would you like us to handle it?”

“Get them talking about what the resolution of the problem will be,” says Bach.

Match your communication style to that of your customer. “Take a look at your own style of communication,” says Bach. “We all have a preferred style, and the challenge lies in the fact that the people we’re communicating with may not respond to the style we practice all the time.” Suppose a very detail-oriented person is trying to help a customer who is more of big-picture thinker, focused on outcomes and how to move forward or solve a problem. The customer will simply close down if the rep gives too much supporting detail.

People in customer service need to develop facility with a range of communication styles. Then they can tune in on a customer’s style and adjust their own. Say, for example, that you are extroverted and like to talk a lot, but are dealing with someone more reserved. After you have detailed what choices you can offer, the customer may need to take time to digest what you have laid out, so it would make sense to ask if you could call back in a day or two.

Resolve differences by understanding underlying motivations. Sometimes customer service is a negotiating process of trying to build consensus or develop satisfactory compromises. When the customer has developed a rigid negotiating position, the best approach is to avoid a head-on confrontation and instead to ask questions that will elicit the “real” reasons for the customer’s rigidly drawn “line in the sand.”

“Rather than negotiating around a hard-line position,” suggests Bach, “talk about the underlying reasons for the position.”

Bach found her way to customer service through science. After graduating with a B.S. in chemistry from Muhlenberg College in 1981, she took a job in customer technical services with a J.T. Baker Chemical. Then she moved on to sales and marketing, where she says her favorite task was training customers and sales reps. After working for EM Science, she moved into training full time, working with scientists and technical professionals to help them develop business and communication skills. She joined the Learning Key three years ago after reading an article about its president, Elizabeth Treher, and being surprised to hear that another chemist had started a training company.

Everyday life yields example after example of poor customer service. There’s the principal who won’t respond to a parent’s E-mail, the department store employees who manage to be invisible to customers, and the infinite phone labyrinths that masquerade as customer service for a health insurance company.

Things are so bad that any step in the right direction earns great kudos. “The ironic thing,” says Bach, “is that because we have a culture of bad customer service and no manners, just a little attention to those customer service details goes a long way.”

— Michele Alperin

From Gang Member To Mentor

Gangs inspire fear, and rightly so, but Charles Atkins, chaplain at the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility, sees a scared kid behind every gang member. Atkins, a Haverford graduate, belonged to a gang when he was in grammar school in Camden, and that despite the fact that he was from a stable middle-class home. Gangs are seductive, he says, and start recruiting new members before the youngsters are even old enough to attend second grade.

Atkins speaks on “Empowering Communities Against Gang Violence” on Thursday, October 26, at 9 a.m. at the Princeton Theological Seminary. Other panelists include Karen Hernandez-Grazen, pastor of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Trenton, and Andrew Zuckerman, principal of the Lawrenceville Middle School. Cost: $50. Call 609-921-8300 for more information.

“Gangs are an escalating problem,” says Atkins. “It has escalated because many towns didn’t think it was a problem.” There have been incidents of gang violence throughout Middlesex and Mercer counties, in towns at every socio-economic level.

Kids join gangs, says Atkins, because “they are seeking love and security.” Children in poor foster care situations and children who have a parent in prison are prime candidates for gang membership, but so are children from what Atkins calls “good houses, not good homes, but good houses.” There may be a roof, and even a media room and a gourmet kitchen, but if the parents are abusive or neglectful, the child can be at risk.

Gangs provide safety and emotional security. They are groups where a child can feel loved and accepted.

Atkins says that parents need to know enough about gangs so that they can warn their children that they “are not hobbies. They are life and death situations.” Gangs have been glamorized in popular culture, including on some music videos. They have their own languages, clothes, and signs. Suburban children may experiment with flashing gang signs or wearing gang colors. This can bring them trouble two ways. They may be mistaken for members of a gang by a rival gang and attacked, or they may be recruited for a gang.

“Once you’re in a gang, it’s very difficult to get out,” says Atkins. “There are loyalty oaths.” Gang members who break the oaths are often killed. It is possible to become an inactive gang member, but it isn’t easy.

Atkins always felt safe in his home with his father, a clerk for the Camden County Board of Social Services, and his mother, a nurse and teacher, who worked in the Camden County School District, and his little brother. But he felt anything but safe on the streets. “I could get jumped just walking to the school bus stop,” he says. He never told his parents of the dangers he faced when he went outside. He thinks that most children live in a different world from their parents, at least mentally, and are often reluctant to report what goes on outside. Also, he says, his parents were busy establishing their careers when he was young, and perhaps were not paying as much attention as they did when they became more established.

He joined a gang for protection, and remained in the gang until he went to high school. He went to a different high school than the one most of his former gang-mates attended, and was able to drift away from the gang’s influence. Also, his mother worked at his high school, and “was in the guidance office every other day trying to get me into more activities,” he says.

Positive activities are a big key to keeping youngsters out of gangs, he says. Encourage children to join the soccer team or the glee club, and that group can become his “gang.” In high school Atkins was kept busy with sports, the speech club, and the church choir. He also began to talk more with his parents.

He went on from Camden High School to Haverford College (Class of 1990), where he studied sociology, statistics, and French. After college he went to France to become a hip hop artist. He recorded in French and in English for Black Sound Productions under the name Charles Manchild.

“I helped start the hip hop movement in France,” he says. “It’s now the second largest market, right after the United States.”

And how did his parents feel about their son’s career choice. “They were shocked,” he says. “They thought I was going somewhere else with my degree.”

After a few years, he did change career directions — at least to some degree. He returned to the United States and enrolled in the Princeton Theological Seminary, from which he graduated in 2000 with a master’s degree in divinity and a master’s degree in religious education. A career in ministry was not too much of a stretch for him. His grandfather had been a bishop and his greatgrandfather had been a minister. Taken to church by his family since he was a small boy, he had given his first speech in a church at age six.

In addition to his work at the correctional institution, he is also an associate minister at Shiloh Baptist Church in Trenton.

“I’ve been approached about the whole political thing,” he says, “but artists inspire us longer than politicians.” He incorporates music into his ministry — in church and in prison. He uses rap and also spoken word messages, and finds that “kids are amazingly receptive.” His message is that everyone is put on earth for a reason, that everyone has a purpose. He says that many of the young people in gangs and in prison have no idea of what their mission is, or even that they have a mission, or a goal.

There is no easy solution to the problem of violent youth gangs, but Atkins says that there are steps that will help:

Watch TV with the kids. Parents need to take the time to sit with their children and watch music videos. If they raise questions about gangs and gang culture while watching, they give their children a chance to talk about gangs, and also teach them valuable skills in analytical thinking.

Support alternative activities. Atkins says that Boys and Girls Clubs, after-school programs, clubs, and sports are only effective in engaging children if they are promoted by adults — parents, an aunt, a school counselor, or a minister.

Be a mentor. Adulthood is all about taking responsibility, says Atkins. Adults need to be responsible for the well-being of children, even children who are not their own. He thinks that one of the best ways to keep kids out of gangs is to mentor them.

According to Atkins, there are a number of mentoring programs in New Jersey, including Mercer County Coalition for Restorative Justice, the Chaplaincy Network Program of the New Jersey Department of Corrections, and the Capital Corridor Commercial Development Organization.

Atkins is a Trenton resident. He married Margaret Atkins, who holds master’s degrees in criminal justice and theology, in September. The two met when he was on his first assignment as an interim pastor in Camden and she was working in the city as a community organizer.

He has been working with the youngsters at the Garden State Correctional Facility for two years. Some acquaintances have suggested that he took the job just to get a position with the state — with all of the vacation time and benefits that come with it. He bristles at this suggestion, saying “I speak three languages, I could have found something else to do.” But he is committed to the young people, many of whom have landed in jail because of drug dealing and violent gang activities.

“The prison population is up 60 percent since the 1980s,” he says. “That is where talented people should be.” Trying to teach youngsters a different way of operating in the world, he has racked up successes. He talks about one young man who was released from prison, has had success working at a city job, and spends his spare time speaking at schools and rehabilitation facilities, urging others to avoid a gang and drug lifestyle.

“Seeing his success touches me,” says Atkins. “There are others like him, but you don’t hear about them. They’re underground.” No longer sporting their gang colors, they are making the difficult journey toward responsible adulthood.

— Kathleen McGinn Spring

Thursday, November 2

Plan to Innovate

Just as science combines creativity and structure, bringing new approaches to problems within an organized experimental context, innovation within business is most successful when it is approached in a structured way, according to Daniela Puzzovia, managing partner of IAK USA, a consulting company specializing in creativity and innovation.

Puzzovio started off as a scientist, a medical student for three years who ended up instead with a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Munich. But pretty quickly she found that her own path to creativity lay more within the business realm than in scientific research.

After four years in research and development with the healthcare company Boehringer Mannheim, where she facilitated a clinical study of a diagnostic test, she was ready to move in a different direction. “I realized I liked working with people, supporting them, and learning something new,” she says, “So I transitioned to a marketing position with Bayer Diagnostics in Germany.” Seven years later she was asked to move to international marketing at Bayer Healthcare in the United States.

At Bayer she worked in marketing introduction, including training sales people and facilitating events. In that role, she worked with IAK, which trains and coaches individuals and teams on creativity and innovation, leadership, and cooperation, which includes team building, communication, management tools, and cross-cultural competence. In 1999, after seven years with Bayer Healthcare, she joined IAK to run its operations in the United States.

Puzzovia will be giving IAK’s “Michelangelo Goes Business” innovation workshop on Thursday and Friday, November 2 and 3, at 9 a.m. each day at the Rothman Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Cost: $1,200 per person. Register at www.iak/de/usa.com or call 917-403-9670 for more information.

According to Puzzovia, the creativity necessary in problem solving and innovation is not just a right-brain phenomenon limited to that talented subset of human beings we dub “creative.” Rather it requires many talents and happens best with a structured approach. That’s why the workshop is named for Michelangelo. “He was a great artist, architect, and sculptor,” she says, “but he had a plan for all his projects.”

Puzzovia breaks creativity into four distinct segments, each of which requires different talents. During the analysis phase, researchers and analysts try to narrow down the nature of the question, problem, or challenge the business is facing. Say a yogurt company wants to bring a new product to market. The company must determine whether the product will be an extension of an existing line or a new product, whether it will have the same target market as another product or will be for a new consumer group.

During the next phase, when the creative ideas are being developed, artistic talents are critical. The brainstorming that characterizes this phase should last no longer than a half hour, although more than one session may be necessary for more complex situations. Puzzovio offers businesses a variety of methods to get their creative sides cooking and structure the creative process:

Hatstand. With this approach people are asked to take the tired questions that get asked again and again in a business environment, turn them around, and ask not the question itself, but its reciprocal. For example, take the question that team leaders, if they’re good, ask themselves practically on a daily basis: “What can I do to motivate my team members.” Puzzovio suggests asking instead, “What can I do to de-motivate my team?”

In the positive formulation, leaders end up getting the same answers they always do. But if a leader asks the inverse, then people start smiling and come up with all the mean things they might do to de-motivate a team — long hours, criticism, setting impossible goals.

Analogy. This method requires reaching out into nature or different areas of technology to find a related or unrelated system, brainstorming about that system, and then finding ways to translate the things you have brainstormed back to the original problem.

Recently Puzzovio was working with teams from different divisions of a company to improve communication and cooperation. She asked the team members to select a picture from a magazine that was “interesting in a positive way.” They were asked to describe everything in the picture, to put themselves in the picture, and talk about what emotions they were feeling, to imagine the world of the picture, and think about what happened before and what might happen next.

That day the picture they chose included a food bowl and children’s hands trying to reach the bowl. As they sought to apply what they had learned from the picture to their own situation, they created ideas of bringing together the people from the different divisions, all of whom were working toward the same goal. They decided to try to get away from the meeting room atmosphere and go out together for lunch or dinner and focus on their common goal.

Morphological box. This approach works well with more complex problems or questions, for example, creating new packaging. Issues that come up include the colors and shape of the wrapper and packaging, the box the chocolate is in, and even the shape of the chocolate. After defining and listing the parameters, participants brainstorm separately about each one.

“This gives you a structure,” says Puzzovio. “You can then combine possibilities and create hundreds of potential combinations.”

Brainstorming with music. Sometimes she brings in a drummer to loosen people up a bit. The background music, she says, “triggers the other side of the brain, the creative, artistic side, and this helps create better or different ideas.”

Writing it all down. At the end of a brainstorming session, the groups will have written down 100 or 200 different ideas on cards. The ideas must be assessed and priorities established, a task best done by structured, organized people who can make judgments and choose among different options. The first step in assessment is to cluster similar ideas together and then use structured approaches to rank the different ideas.

Making everyone an oracle. One such approach is the Delphi method, where everyone is an expert and makes judgments about the ideas, say by putting dots on the ones they think are good. “On the one hand, this makes sense,” says Puzzovio, “but it also has the danger that you may pick ideas you feel could work in terms of the processes and restrictions you have within the company. So it may restrict you from going in new ways.”

Scoring ideas. To try to circumvent the problem of sticking with what you already know will work, Puzzovio suggests a second round, using a special dot to mark only those “ideas that are really new and innovative, even if you think the company won’t support them.” Then you count the dots and see which ideas scored the highest.

Another approach is to go through the ideas that have no dots and find potential combinations of ideas that might work.

Factoring in economics. Assessors can also judge the brainstormed ideas by two or more parameters, for example, time to market and cost for new products and services, and then assess the different mixes. The parameters may also be ranked by importance. A third approach is to create a point system for judging the ideas.

Fighting for innovation. The last step in the process is developing an action plan, which requires a special attitude and a special type of person.

“You need the warrior, the person who has to fight for the idea to make it happen,” she says. “So many good ideas are kept in drawers because people don’t dare to get up and say, ‘This is a good idea, I want to do it, I want to fight for it — even if the boss doesn’t think it’s a good idea.’”

— Michele Alperin

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