Innovation Carolina 2018: A letter from the President of PDMA Carolina

Bar none, this is my favorite time of year.  Yes, it’s Spring, the onset of green again, the steadying of the warmer temperatures, I get to coach more soccer, it’s the pre-cursor to Summer and the beginning of the winding down of the school year.  But it’s more than just Spring – it’s March Madness.  68 teams battling it out for the big prize in College Basketball.  I’m a basketball fan, sure.  I grew up in Michigan, got my degree from Kentucky and my graduate degree from Missouri.  I’m often accused of being a fair-weather fan, but I respond by saying that I simply have my own athletic conference.  I actually like football more than basketball, yet March Madness, in my and many other’s opinion, is the single greatest sporting event each year.   

It's a mix of teams from the biggest schools –  the Blue Bloods of College Basketball (Kentucky, Duke, UNC, Kansas) – to the tiniest of all teams (if you knew what UMBC stood for before last weekend, you’re in the VAST minority).   The upsets, the blowouts, the nail-biters, the hoarse announcers, all centered around the emotion at the center of collegiate sports.  And yet, there are a lot of parallels to be drawn in business.

Have you noticed there’s a lot of commercials during the game?  The networks need sponsors, and we, here at PDMA Carolinas need them too.  If you were at last year’s conference and saw the quality and depth of both the speakers and the student competition, we’d like to ask you to strongly consider sponsoring the event!  If you raised your hand when I asked the closing group if they’d be willing to help encourage even more student activity, contact us.  Whether it’s to help the next generation of innovators, or to help ensure that we can all continue to build an inspired community of innovators, you’re welcome to contact me or anyone on the board to find out where your contribution can best help!

Next month’s Innovate Carolina conference in Raleigh, NC at the NC Biotech center is titled “Ignite Your Innovation Vision” and is themed around the what Large and Small companies can learn from each other.  Part of the reason I love the emotion of March Madness is because we crave the strong emotions that our brain conjures up for us.  The Foundations of Innovation Series centers around Innovation’s definition of “invention that changes behavior.”  Behavior, as most any psychologist will tell you, is emotionally based.  Whether it causes me to jump out of my seat in excitement when a Freshman from University of Michigan nails a 30-footer at the buzzer (sorry Houston fans) or motivates me to enlist in a service or buy a product because if fulfills a human need that I have, emotion drives behavior. 

Small businesses all over the country can identify with the UMBCs, Buffalos, Loyola Chicagos of the world.  They wish they had the recruiting talent of the big schools, the big budgets and big facilities.  They don’t, so they make do with what they have.  They utilize speed, coordination, depth of relationship, heart and fiery, defiant passion to beat the big guys.  Two days ago, UMBC pulled off the first upset of a #1 seed by a #16 seed in the history of College Basketball.  That’s something.  Some call it the biggest upset in the history of sports, on par with USA Hockey beating the Russian team.  Small businesses can identify.

The big schools play with confidence, swagger, assured that they will win because of their talent, depth, history, storied coaches and experience.  Almost always true, but becoming less so.  We can see that in big businesses as well.   They appreciate the smaller schools for what is sometimes missing in the big schools – real passion, creativity and desperate effort.  Sometimes they defend against the smaller competition, other times they are so complacent and self-assured that they end up shutting their doors and heading home (Toys  R Us, just last weekend).

So, whether you are a big company who wishes you could behave like the smaller company to regain your speed, agility and passion for business, or a small company wishing you had the stability, resources, repeat-ability or depth of the larger companies, Innovate Carolina is for you.  We all want our customers and consumers to have the same passion for us that they do for their favorite team.  Join us on April 13th, to take that first step in your own journey through your competitive bracket and learn from those you either wish you could be again or aspire to become! 

Register now!


Douglas C Powell

President, PDMA Carolina


1 Comment

Accelerating Ideas to Market

Acceleration, the rate of change in speed. Not just speed itself, but speeding up (or, in some cases, down).  The benefits of speed are numerous:

  • Earlier time to market
  • Earlier revenue realization
  • Competitive advantage
  • Market intelligence
  • Etc.

Yet, the risks of going faster are also many:

  • Shortcuts on quality
  • Creating bad products fast 
  • Rework
  • Wasted resources
  • Bad press
  • Recalls
  • Etc.

When I was growing up in the 80s with MTV and “Hair Bands”, Ford Motor Company’s slogan was simple…”Quality is Job One.”  I didn’t think about it then, but I believe it to my core today and think it was one of the best slogans and corporate missions in advertising history.  You can’t sacrifice quality for speed.  Let’s face it, you’d rather have the right pizza 10 minutes late than get the wrong pizza on time. 

How can you improve the speed of your company’s innovation, reduce the risks, and ensure quality isn’t lost in the process?  These are billion dollar questions. 

To make it harder, there are many aspects of the development process you can target for acceleration…front end, back end, IP acquisition, planning and financing to name a few.  All of these options provide both opportunity and risk and each requires a different analysis and approach to speed.  In the end, speed comes more from focused effort (high allocation to the work) than anything else, but simply focusing without a good approach can ensure a lot of wasted energy.  Focused allocation is a tremendous psychological drain, especially in today’s world and brings with it the opportunity cost of other things not being worked.  Can any company afford to focus its best resources for extended periods of time, risk burnout and get nothing special in return?

At this year’s Innovate Carolina conference, we haven’t shied away from any of these questions.  We’ve assembled a cast of speakers who will immerse us in the breadth and depth of these issues.  Andy Cohen (watch him HERE), talks about speed to fresh thinking.  Our friend and board member Ty Hagler, talks about the risk/reward proposition of speeding up the front end, while Justin Nifong talks about IP protection and securing protection more quickly.  We have Enventys, Duke Energy, Eastman Chemical, The Service Design Group, Wells Fargo Sopheon, Gear Stream, Lowes and RTI talking about making good choices quickly, funding, commercialization, open innovation, culture, realization of objectives, speed from thought diversity and almost everything in between. 

The conference will go by fast, but we won’t hurry.  It’ll be focused, insightful, energetic and thought provoking.  These aren’t just great speakers or great companies.  They are, for the most part, people from our own community of innovators, here in the Carolinas.  They work at companies in our region, interact with people every day and strive to ensure that the things we all consume aren’t just cheap or available quickly, but improve our lives as well.  Those in attendance will be friends, colleagues and competitors, but you’re not likely to find anyone who isn’t willing to share, discuss and discover alongside you.  That’s what communities are…dedicated and invested in each other. 

You don’t have to speed to get there, just plan to come.  You don’t have to have “Innovation” in your title to join us.  If you do, we’re confident that your experience will be both personally enriching and professionally engaging.  We hope you’ll continue to be a part of PDMA Carolinas throughout the year.  If you haven’t already, Register HERE.  We look forward to hosting you this Friday!

1 Comment


Reflections on Foundations II - by chapter president Doug Powell

On behalf of Innovate Carolina, Eric Gorman from Faster Glass Consulting, and myself, I’d like to thank you for attending our Foundations II session on Consumer Insights.  As a facilitator, you never seem to get through everything you’d like to and, just like ethnography, you can’t always predict where the class will take you, regardless of the PowerPoint slides.  I’d especially like to thank you for the many questions asked during the session.  In particular, as we were discussing the progression of an Ethnographic Interview, the question of (paraphrase) “during the aspiration part of the discussion are we trying to just get them to open up or learn about particular insights?”  While I know that’s not the exact question, it was a great one – and not one I’d ever been asked.  Eric astutely answered, and I completely agree, that it’s both.  One (opening up) begets the other (learning about particular insights).

Yet, on my way home, I wished that I had added a third and, I think, even more important purpose…it’s to open up you, the interviewer, as well – to change your perspective, focus you in on the person to whom you are speaking and break down your own frame…to put you in their context and remove you from your own.  In one of my favorite movies, Déjà Vu, with Denzel Washington, a father who had lost his daughter provides Washington, the investigator, a picture of his daughter and says simply, “Because I need you to care about her.”  In the end, this is the genuine focus of Ethnography and, hopefully, of the organization that seeks to carry it out.  The more emotionally open you are, the more valuable the conversation will be.  In other words, we want you to care about them.  It’s a sure path to empathy and allows for deeper reflection on ways that you and your company can move towards authentic value in your products and services. 

In some ways, the ethnographer takes some of the same risks he/she is asking the interviewee to take.  To be genuine, to be an emotional outlet, to look people in the eye, ask questions and listen actively isn’t always easy…yet, I can say that it is always valuable.  It’s an honor to be trusted and it’s often humbling to be a part of someone’s emotional journey.  In the coming days, I would encourage you to take anywhere from 10-30 minutes and practice it.  Tell someone that might know to some degree that you’re practicing and would they mind helping you out.  We’d love to hear how it goes and if there’s anything you find that was surprising and/or impactful.  In the meantime, we genuinely hope you will look to incorporate some level of an integrated quantitative and qualitative approach to your next development project. 

Per several requests after the session, I’ve linked sharing folder HERE with references and slides from the class.  It contains:

  • Slides & Workbook from the class
    • Choose a problem
    • Profile Extreme Users
    • Design/Execute Quantitative Survey to ID Extreme Users
    • Design Ethnographic Interview Rubric
    • Execute!
  • The Power of Small Wins by Theresa Amabile – Sample in journaling qualitative study
  • The Wilcox Feeling Wheel – referenced in class as the Alcoholics Anonymous Emotion Wheel
  • Sample Ethnographic guide

Hopefully this helps to illustrate the different focuses and how they can flow together.  Feel free to use it when you practice or model it in your next project!  If you have any questions at all, feel free to reach out to either of us at or  We’d be happy to provide additional context or detail to the session.  Thanks again to Eric for adding his perspective and rich experience to the class and to Cheryl Jacobs from Wells Fargo for securing the space and setting up a great buffet!

We look forward to seeing you, and hopefully a few of your friends, at:

  • Networking at Birdsong Brewery in March
  • Innovate Carolina 2017 in RTP on April 21st
  • Foundations III in May as we focus on Idea and Portfolio Management. 

Thanks again for your participation in our community and have the rest of a great week!


Doug Powell

President, Innovate Carolina




A Community of Innovators…

As we begin the next iteration of Innovate Carolina, I want to communicate just a few things to our broader group regarding who we are, our purpose for being here and our plan forward.  On the heels of our very successful Innovate Carolina Conference, I’m honored to assume the role of President knowing that I get to continue to work with our board and engage with our members.  I’ve been in Charlotte for 13 years, with my wife and three children, working in product development, innovation, process, coaching and now consulting and entrepreneurship.  I’m honored to be able to work with our community to give, learn and share.


We Need Your Feedback!


We Need Your Feedback!

The Carolinas Chapter of PDMA is always looking for new ideas for our evening programs that offer new ways of thinking about innovation and new product development. Do you have topics or subjects you would like to learn more about? Do you have a topic you would like to speak about yourself? Some programs we are considering include:

Innovation at Novozymes (Raleigh area)-Learn how this company provides bioinnovation in enzyme and microbial technologies that can replace chemical ingredients and processes, save energy and water and enhance the businesses of their customers. 

Industrial Design Workshop-Learn the important elements of the upfront work necessary for successful industrial design efforts in this hands-on workshop.

Ideation Workshop-Creativity and the generation of quality ideas for new products and services is important for innovation success. Attend this hands-on workshop and learn some valuable tools. 

Innovation Management Process (Raleigh area)-How can companies institutionalize an innovation process and how can that help them compete in the global market? Learn how the NC State Industrial Extension Service approaches this challenge for companies of all sizes. 

Have other ideas? Email Jeff Groh at






A few takeaways from Innovate Carolina

We learned a lot last Friday about uncovering customer needs.  For some of us, it was a helpful reminder of who we are designing our products for.  For others, it was exposure to new tools and techniques for getting to the hearts and minds of a consumer.  For everyone, it was a chance to engage in conversations with like-minded innovators.  For those who joined us, please reach out to the folks you met and see how they're doing on their own journeys of customer-driven solutions.

A very small sample of what we heard:

  1. Middle Class prosperity is an illusion:  The middle class is struggling (stagnant wages; employment uncertainty; household debt; foreclosures and bankruptcies; rising cost of childcare, healthcare and education.)  Other contributing factors – Technological change, Globalization & Competition, Workplace Changes, and Weak Unions.
  2. "Nothing important happens in the office."  The answers to most business questions are "not in the the building." 
  3. Challenge the data:  Blindly trusting the data we receive causes rework, change controls, lack of cohesion
  4. Understand where your product fits into the context of use.
    • Today’s current consumers multitask constantly, switching modes as they complete their tasks, or “jobs.” Each of the jobs they undertake has to some degree a functional, emotional, social, and aspirational component. 
    • Thanks to smart phones, customers can now show you a product as they experience it, over time
  5. Innovation = Meaningfully Unique.  If you’re not meaningfully unique, you better be cheap.



In Search of Insight..and Needs

As we quickly approach the advent of Innovate Carolina 2015, it’s time to start thinking about consumer insights! But insight into what? At one end of insights are consumer behavior data, trends based on demographics, purchasing habits, etc.. Everyone has access to data, it’s easily purchased along with trending reports and analysis – which might explain why we get such great prices on all the commodity products produced by companies deriving the same insights from the same sources.

You might think I’m downplaying the value of consumer insights data. I’m not. I’m a big believer in data. But I’m also a believer in the whole picture, combining the data insights with insights into the human behind the data – their real situation, personality and passions. Deep personal insight is hard to get. You have to interview people. It takes time, effort, scheduling, deep thought, preparation and personal travel. You have to sit across from someone and look them in the eyes, listen, empathize and, yes, care about what they say, even if it’s not something you want to hear. Perhaps this is why so few companies really take it on.

They used to. Craftsman came to your home or you went to their shop…they were a part of your community. You met them and they met you. They looked you in the eye, promised the result of their craft, shook your hand and served your needs. They showed the result of their work and cared for your attitude. Few craftsmen ever uttered the phrase “I’m sorry for any inconvenience you may have experienced.”

Demographics/consumer data can tell you my age, ethnicity, income range, home size, purchasing patterns and even if I’m pregnant..err, well, you know what I mean. What it can’t tell you are the dreams I have for my kids, the frustrations and barriers that sit between me and my personal goals, what I still strive to accomplish and the passions that drive many of the things that I do. It cannot explain emotion, persistence, despair, joy or fear. Those come from asking and listening, ferreting out the past and plowing through the automaton state in which so many exist today. You have to take them back to when they were fired up, passionate and driven to accomplish – understand their road, how it changed and how much they have left in the tank.

That’s why I’m excited for you to attend Innovate Carolina 2015. After the keynote and the resulting sessions, you’ll have a narrative and glimpse into the lives of the consumers to whom you are trying to sell. You’ll understand a piece of their path. You’ll feel the state they’re in as they get in their car after another long day of work, deliver their children to different daily activities, fix dinner, put the kids down and head to the store in search of something that will truly improve their quality of life. Will they find it? Or will their purchase result in another call to a nameless customer service department only to hear “I’m sorry for your inconvenience…”

Use the data available to you, but don’t forget to search for the human side of those you attempt to serve as well.

Innovate Carolina 2015 is Friday, April 24th!  I would encourage you to listen deeply, be introspective and honest with yourself. Be challenged. Be provoked. But most of all, I hope you’ll be present. What happens on the 25th will be up to you…



Who will you meet at Innovate Carolina 2015?

This is just a sample of roles of attendees from previous Innovate Carolina conferences.  Lots of different professionals from a variety of industries attend our event, and many come back because they want to pick up the latest tools on innovation.

If your job involves recognizing customer demand, designing and developing new products or services, marketing products or services, validating market sizing and opportunity, basically any role in the “front end” that describes what the execution engine should create, this conference is for you.

Here's what last year's attendees had to say:

  • Great speakers for a small conference

  • Valuable for contacts, networking

  • Incredible value based on speakers (and quality participants).

  • Inspiration, ideas, people I met, awareness of sponsors

  • Overall great topics. Excellent organization. Enjoyable.

  • Provided great tools

  • Created new ways to engage clients

  • Made me evaluate company direction

  • Best conference I have been to a long time

We're all getting together on April 24 in Charlotte.  Join us!


Check out this year's agenda.





Don't become the next Ford Edsel!

There are a few famous instances of unsuccessful product launches, often by large, established companies.  Sometimes these failures were products too early for their time or doomed by misguided marketing.  Many times, they’re caused by a poor understanding of the customer's need, despite heavy investments in market research, as was the case with Ford's Edsel. 

More recently, companies are looking to design thinking and are able to transform customer insight into successful innovations.

Here’s a list memorable stories of when companies “built it,” and no one ever came!  Remember Crystal Pepsi?

At Innovate Carolina on April 24, we’ll teach you a few tools to help you avoid the same mistakes and make it easier to identify the next big product or service opportunity.  



Why should you come to Innovate Carolina this year?

Content:  The content is top-notch, consistently favorably compared to national innovation and product development conferences.

Networking:  The attendees, presenters and organizers are all local, based in the Carolinas.  The networking opportunities are too good to miss.

Convenience:  Did we mention local?  You can receive a full day of top flight content with little or no travel.

Value:  Finally, value for your money.  Because PDMA is a volunteer organization, we can provide all of this expertise and content to you at an exceptionally low cost.  The value for your registration fee is off the charts.

Register today before our March 15 Early bird deadline!