Tangible Innovation-UC Berkeley Style!


I’m just back from San Francisco all a buzz! What a wonderful place with entrepreneurship in the air. My interest in Innovation was sparked by Professor Peter Wilton from UC Berkeley when he visited the Melbourne Business School SEMBA Programme in June just gone. Strategic Innovation has always been an area of interest of mine be it applicable socially, economically or politically.

To get prepared we had some pre-assignments to do which challenged me to define which elements of what I’m doing are sustaining or reframing in the context of innovation. In layman’s terms are we just keeping the show on the road or are we changing the stage on which we’re performing?

I found the pre-assignment very challenging to complete as I have never subjected my business endeavours to such scrutiny before. That said, having landed back in Dublin I am now re-reading it with a greater understanding and deeper insight than before and I’m finding it very useful. The whole week I spent at UC Berkeley was very well structured and we systematically addressed each element of the Innovation process and how they interrelate. We were provided with multiple templates and frameworks to assist in our innovation thinking.The magic of this experience was the calibre of the faculty, their knowledge, experience and their ‘swagger’. They had not only talked the talk but had walked the walk and thus were very incisive in their comments when challenged by participants. Opinions expressed by participants were rebuffed with such intensity, the Berkeley Faculty certainly ‘took no prisoners’.

Having struggled myself to see where exactly what I’ve been doing fits into the business activity spectrum I was delighted to realise that I’m a member of a recognised species and am not illegitimate. I felt gratified when I learned that there are two evolutionary phases beyond service delivery: staging experiences and guiding transformation both of which we have been seeking to do at Tangible for years.

I now know that since 2009 I have through Tangible Ireland been systematically building a ‘Global Network of Clusters of Innovation focused on social and economic development in communities with a strong affinity to the island of Ireland’. Intuitively I understood the value of the different levels of connection be they weak ties, durable bonds or covalent bonds. Having now recognised this framework I  now hope to better develop and more importantly better describe and define my work in terms that relate better to international norms and not suffer through misunderstanding. The ongoing annoyance of my life’s passion being dismissed as a fringe activity will hopefully ease as I articulate my vision with a newly found vocabulary.

The various site visits were very impactful and inspiring. The openness and attitude of everyone we met was a joy as they willingly shared their time and knowledge with us. The key idea I took from the site visits was the 10X Principle expressed at Google and this resonated with Peter Wilton’s ‘Stretch Goal’ approach. What if we considered a process or project 10 times bigger, would that make a difference? Would people take us more seriously? Would we be able to raise capital? Since returning home, only 2 days ago I already have embarked on a number of discussions on the premise of what if?

The excitement for me during the week was ongoing  provision of a complete set of tools to deliver Innovation and a certainty that they were the right tools. The success in Silicon Valley and the success of Berkeley graduates cannot be disputed thus I feel very empowered after my experience. The hardest part of the process was self reflection on where I fit in the innovation spectrum. Am I a Reactor, a Holder or a Shaper in terms of my activities? These are three distinct groups who play in the innovation game,Shapers who aspire to shape the market through leadership, Holders who just hang in there and defend what they have and Reactors who wait to see what others are doing. I definitely was a Shaper back in 2008 when the Global Financial Crisis hit but progressively have slipped into becoming a Holder. I came to this conclusion when Peter Wilton outlined the attributes of each category. I felt disappointed in myself as I always sought to be innovative and really want to be seen as a Shaper. Then the killer blow landed with the phrase ‘Are you playing to play, or playing to win?’ I had to accept that I have been playing to play for the last number of years and this really hurt me.

Do you know where you sit in terms of Innovation?

In a few weeks we head for Kilmallock for our Ambassador Summer School and I look forward to sharing some more Innovation insights gleaned from my time in UC Berkeley just down the road from Silicon Valley! Why not join us for a day or more and share in our ongoing quest for an Excellent Ireland?

We’ll be talking! Beimid ag caint!

Leadership Excellence Inspiration……..maybe even a little about Innovation!

Raymond Sexton

Tangible Ireland