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Live from FEI 2013: Babak Forutanpour on Building an Innovation Club at Qualcomm

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After a certain point, better technology doesn't matter.  Companies need to find ways to meet customers' needs, both today's and tomorrow's.  To facilitate innovation, Babak Forutanpour started a lunch meeting called Flux Sessions to come up with new innovative ideas.  Here's how to get a flux session going:

Building on research by Dyer and Christensen, look for people who:
-Like to experiment
-Are great observers (and looking for ways to make things better)
-Ask good questions
-Are good networkers

Also, the group needs to have some outside perspectives that can typical ideas.

Running the Flux Session
Lock 8 people of different backgrounds in a room for 90 minutes every two weeks for six sessions to see if together you can stump a Google search and see if you can find something novel and useful.  Start with a question: "How can you improve_____?"  Babak and his team found that these attempts at stumping Google became almost a sport, and the whole thing went viral throughout the company.

Since launching in 2009, they had:

  • -Thousands of Questionstorming people-hours
  • -Hundreds of "Aha Moments!"
  • -50 patents pending

Not bad for just getting people together for lunch!


  • -Associate flux with quality ideas -- Make sure that whatever comes out of the group is the good stuff.  That builds the brand and attracts the star players
  • -Get support from the C-suite
  • -Keep people networking:
    • -For example, share trip reports when you go to a conference -- let people network around the person's experience (e.g., if someone went to a UX conference, let everyone who's interested in UX come down, have lunch, and network)
  • -Keep it grassroots with a free, organic structure

Follow the 12 S's

1) Sell not -- It takes one person to say 'no' and put a kabosh on the whole thing, so don't ask for permission, don't ask for money, and don't incentivize
2) Synergy -- Get different people from different backgrounds together
3) Small Steps -- Start small, and learn as you go
4) Strive -- Set a goal
5) Speed -- Things change rapidly, so meet often
6) Sustainable -- Don't burn out volunteers, so keep is simple
7) Seamless -- Make the meetings during lunch so that it doesn't impact deliverables
8) Scalable -- Make the Flux group something that can be replicated elsewhere for growth
9) Seeds -- Start with observations, questions, pain-points
10) Structure -- Keep it small, fun, and meaningful
11) "Surveyable" -- Make sure the program has measurable results
12) Sharing -- Help the ideas find good homes

The Flux Session has a lot of potential to bring great innovations -- see where your company can take it!

Orin C. Davis is a positive psychology researcher and organizational consultant who focuses on enabling people to do and be their best.  His consulting work focuses on maximizing human capital and making workplaces great places to work, and his research focuses on self-actualization, flow, creativity, hypnosis, and mentoring. Dr. Davis is the principal investigator of the Quality of Life Laboratory and the Chief Science Officer of Self Spark. (@DrOrinDavis)

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FEI USA: Front End of Innovation

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FEI Presents: Leading Innovation in a Digital World
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