Nilofer Merchant: 30 Percent Weird is a Good Target

We sat down with the author and former Apple exec Nilofer Merchant to talk about why corporate cultures can be so hostile to ideas that are a bit off-kilter — or come from people who don’t act like or look like authoritative experts in their field. The conversation began by talking about how large companies can be nimble and open to employee ideas if everyone is told they have to fit in and act like everyone else. Highlights of our interview inside, plus video…

How ESPN is using data to call the plays

George Leimer, VP of Fantasy Sports and Premium Products at ESPN, discusses how the sports network is working to build a data and metrics-oriented culture, enabling analysis to replace hunches when it comes to developing and refining new products and services.

Role reversal: MIT professor Eric von Hippel looks at the rise of consumers as innovators

Eric von Hippel, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an economist who has studied open innovation since the 1980s, explores the phenomenon of consumers as innovators in his new book, “Free Innovation.” In a recent conversation in his office overlooking the Charles River in Cambridge, von Hippel pointed out that there are far more consumers innovating today than there are R&D engineers working for companies.

Audio: Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak on whether innovators need to ignore the rules

Posting some audio recorded recently at the Innovation by Design Summit in St. Louis. Innovation Leader editor Scott Kirsner sat down for a wide-ranging on-stage interview with Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple and a Silicon Valley legend.

At Honda’s Silicon Valley Lab, riding shotgun with Google, Apple, Visa, and others

While it began life as an R&D outpost in 2000, and later added a venture capital team, Honda’s Silicon Valley site is now a full-fledged innovation hub for the company, overseeing a range of important partnerships and startup interactions. Nick Sugimoto explains how it’s set up.

Retail innovator Ron Johnson on the Apple Store, SoulCycle, and his new approach to digital commerce

Johnson talks about companies blending digital convenience with an engaging offline experience — including the SoulCycle chain, Airbnb, and his startup, Enjoy. Johnson also shares some insights about launching the Apple Store concept while working for Steve Jobs, and how he may have tried to change things too abruptly as CEO of JC Penney.

What no one says about politics and culture — and how they impact innovation

“I’ve learned that culture and politics both will have big impacts on the course your innovation program follows. But most people don’t talk about them,” writes Sreten Gajic, a former new ventures executive at Assurant and Coca-Cola. Here’s his advice on how you can build structures that can get innovation to happen in any company.

Failure shouldn’t come as a surprise

The odds are, with every project that pushes the limits of what your company has done before, or the boundaries of what is possible, you will encounter failure. The best organizations in the world expect it. They have a culture that tolerates it. And they are ready to learn from it and adapt. Here’s Julia Austin’s advice on how you do that…

Corporate innovation needs a simpler approach

Mark Nitkey has been an executive at companies like Apple, Gap Inc., Victoria’s Secret, and Ahold, the Dutch grocer. He writes, “Complexity is Public Enemy #1 when it comes to innovation. You may have the budget. You may have the CEO’s explicit support. But when things are too complex, innovation initiatives die.” Here’s his advice on a simpler approach…

Steve Blank: Are you having impact, or performing ‘innovation theater’?

Our conversation with “lean startup” proponent Steve Blank focused on several things necessary to take pilot experiments and turn them into significant new products — including supportive management teams, proper metrics, and sufficient funding. Without those, Blank says, many innovation teams will simply be performing “innovation theater.” Includes audio and slides…

3 big company lessons from smartwatch startup Pebble

Pebble took 275,000 pre-orders for its first product, a $150 smartwatch, and also landed it on the shelves of Best Buy. Here’s what you should know about the Silicon Valley startup that is suddenly on the radar of much bigger players like Apple and Samsung. Includes a video interview with founder Eric Migicovsky.