Applying Visual Frameworks to Optimize Innovation Strategy


GSTF Journal of Business Review, Volume 2, No. 2; ISSN: 2010-4804; E-periodical: 2251-2888

Author: David Ross

Abstract— All companies have goals or targets as well as projections for various metrics. External and internal environmental factors, more often than not, push a company off course. This tendency, when a company strays from the optimal projected path, is called the Path/Goal problem. In the course of this paper, a framework will be constructed for managers to visualize their current position and path, with regard to their goals, competitors and environment. The framework will also provide insight for making decisions and crafting strategy. Furthermore, this paper will discuss and quantify when a course change (pivot) should be considered by evaluating the nature of the distribution of possible outcomes at any given point in time. The framework will then be used to contrast incumbent firms versus new entrants to a market as well as continuous versus discontinuous technological innovation strategies. More importantly, the framework will demonstrate how these situations relate to a company’s path toward their end goal. The final discussion will focus on strategies as well as their implications and risks with the goal of helping managers not only understand their situational environment, but also the implications of their decisions.

The Path/Goal Problem – A visual framework

The Proceedings of the 2nd Annual Innovation & Entrepreneurship Summit 2012

July 23, 2012

Author: David Ross

David’s paper, Path/Goal Problem: A Framework for Visualizing Innovation, was presented in Singapore at the 2nd Annual International Conference of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and published in the conferences proceedings (ISSN: 2251:2039).

Continuously Compensating Bicycle Suspension System

United States Patent 5,921,572

Issued July 13, 1999

Inventors: David Ross

Abstract: An electronically controlled suspension apparatus is provided for manipulating the spring constant of a bicycle rear wheel suspension system. The suspension apparatus includes a gas shock absorber connected to an external fluid chamber via a discharge loop and a return loop. The two loops control the volume of gas in communication between the shock absorber and the fluid chamber. The discharge loop includes a fluid control valve and a flow rate control valve. The return loop includes an one-way check valve and a flow rate control valve. The present invention also includes a sensor for measuring terrain induced accelerations of the rear wheel and an electronic circuit for operating the fluid control valve.

How Sponsors Evaluate Opportunities

Date: 7/13/09

Today, more than ever, sponsors of sporting events face a barrage of “suitors” clamoring for their sponsorship dollars. To be the lucky one who wins the “date,” you must not only stand out in this crowded field, but prove to the sponsor that the event you’re organizing is the best solution to meet his or her needs and objectives. To do this, it is crucial that you understand the criteria by which your proposal will be judged. What is your sponsor looking for in a sporting event?

Learn these six Critical Criteria inside out and backwards and you will turbo-charge your chances of winning an enthusiastic “Yes! When can we sign?”

Communications Objectives are usually a prime motivation for sponsors. Businesses are almost always trying to say something to an audience through their sponsorship. This can be as simple as getting their name and image out into the community or something as complex as trying to change public perception (e.g., a beer company sponsoring a fitness event). Whatever their general business desire may be, there is usually a specific message your event can communicate. Your job is to tease it out. What do they want to say and how will your event help them say it? Answer those questions and you are well on your way to a positive response.

The next consideration is the Target Market the sponsor is trying to reach. How does its desired customer base match your audience? Face it, the AARP is not likely to sponsor a snowboarding event! So know your demographics. Ask yourself: Why does Rolex sponsor yacht races? Why does Mercedes Benz sponsor golf tournaments? Why does Red Bull sponsor extreme sports? And why does Nike sponsor everything? All of these companies want access to the demographics that attend and compete in specific events. Find out what audience your sponsor is trying to reach and then demonstrate how your event will attract that very same demographic.

Risk to the sponsor is a third criterion and one that too few event organizers consider. Think about it. There can be a great deal of risk for sophisticated sponsors who associate themselves with the wrong event or with an event in which many unknowns are in play. What if a contestant or spectator were badly injured? How would the bad publicity affect their organization? What if the event competitors or hosts were to speak or behave in a way that opposed their brand values? How happy, for instance, do you suppose Michael Phelps’ sponsors were when that photo of him on the business end of a pot pipe hit the papers? Letting sponsors know that you have thought about the risks and have safeguards in place to minimize them can go a long way to putting a sponsor at ease and making your proposal jump out of the pile.

Sometimes a sponsor will sign for your event purely for the Promotional Opportunities it offers. The sponsor wants to promote its products or services directly. Does your event offer ample opportunities for this? Think creatively about ways to sell directly to your audience. This might be as simple as setting up at table at registration or providing a vendor area at the venue. Or it might be more imaginative - letting sponsors host a happy hour or a kids’ event where they can show off their products. Think outside the proverbial box. Are there places at your venue to hang signs and banners? Sponsors often count the number of times their logo appears in print and television. What can you do to increase this count? Where will the cameras and your audience’s eyes be focused most of the time? Some creative thinking in this area will elevate your proposal high above the competition’s.

Past Record, of course, is another way that a potential sponsor will evaluate your offering. You’ve probably heard those commercials where the stockbroker says, “Past performance does not guarantee future results.” Well, that may be true in stocks, but it’s not the way sponsors think. Put yourself in their place. You are asking them to provide you with something of tangible value. In exchange, you are telling them to trust that you will provide the results you promised. Your reputation and past record are all they have to go on. Your past record is critically important. You must leverage it wisely. Statements such as, “95% of our sponsors are returning next season,” can be very powerful. Provided they’re true. Also, remember that fulfilling your promises and keeping existing sponsors happy is much easer than generating new ones. The most important past record is the past record you have with this particular sponsor.

Finally, at some point in the decision process, all potential sponsors are going to evaluate theCost vs. Return for your event. This can occur in the form of a formal Return On Investment (ROI) calculation or an informal gut feeling. In either case, you need to be crystal clear on how you provide value and benefits. You need to know your market and event. And you need to offer concrete data to back up your claims. You also need to create sponsorship packages that are financially appropriate. Don’t ask for a $20,000 title sponsorship for a horseshoe-throwing contest behind Al’s Hardware Store.

Your job, when you’re pitching sponsors, is to know what is important to each sponsor and then adapt your offerings to their needs. This need not be complicated. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking. You just meet with the prospect and ask her, “What are your objectives?” She will usually be happy to tell you. But if, for any reason, you can’t get the answer directly, do a little research, turn over a few rocks.

If you can satisfy these six Critical Criteria, you will be head and shoulders above all the other “suitors” who are eager to walk down the aisle with this sponsor.

The Sponsorship Process: a Life Circle

Date: 6/7/09

As a producer of sporting events, dealing with sponsors is a crucial aspect of your professional life. If you want to win at the game of accumulating great sponsors – and who doesn’t – it helps to understand the process. Landing and working with a sponsor for your event is a process that goes through several stages, much like life. That is, it starts at the beginning, matures and grows, and then ends.

If you do your job right, you’ll create - to be Disney-esque about it - a veritable circle of life. Renewing itself over and over again, well into the future.

It all begins by understanding the steps. The process of sponsorship entails several “life stages”: Identify; Recruit; Evaluate; and Fulfill. Each phase is quite distinct in what it demands of you.

The first step is Identify. You can think of this as the infancy of the process. Everything is fresh and new. This is the stage in which you look at your options and identify potential sponsors. In this step you decide not only whom you are going to approach but what value you bring to them. How does your event advance their particular message or mission? How does it reinforce their image or brand? What angles for marketing can you offer them? Are you really a good match for each other? Do your ideals, styles and demographics mesh?

You also need to Identify your own needs during this phase. Your time is valuable. You can’t afford to waste it. You must choose sponsors that offer you clear value and with whom you can “close the deal.” Those are the ones for whom your “product” meets their needs and offers a benefit worth the cost.

The next step is Recruit. This is the “growing up” phase of the life cycle – your seeds of an idea now grow from a vague impulse into a full-fledged proposal. You’ve chosen the sponsor you want to approach; now you must focus on pitching and selling them. Actually, the word recruit is preferable to “sell” or “pitch,” because it emphasizes the two-way nature of the relationship. Again, you want to pursue sponsors for whom the arrangement will be mutually beneficial.

Toward that end, you need to understand your candidate’s mindset, needs, values, brand and decision-making process. A few simple pointers will go a long way to ensuring a successful recruitment phase.

• Under-promise and over-deliver. No one will ever fault you for giving more value than you promised, but the opposite is certainly not true.
• Know what is important to your sponsor. Signing a prospect that is not a good fit with you is a bad deal for everyone.
• Be honest. Don’t “play” your prospect. If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t make something up. Tell them you will find out the answer and get back to them.
• Be professional. Return phone calls and emails promptly. Keep and send out meeting notes. Make sure your printed material is polished and professional. Check in regularly with the sponsor and make sure you are meeting their needs.
• Follow through. If you say you are going to do something, then, as Nike would say, “just do it.” Remember, you are only as good as the last promise you kept.

The third stage of the life cycle, Evaluate, may be the hardest step. This stage is rather like watching your adolescent leave home. The “child” takes on a life of its own. The proposal – and the control - moves out of your hands. Your prospective sponsors will be doing the evaluating, not you. They will be weighing your proposal on its merits. You have to let go, sit back and see how they react.

One way to help ease the anxiety is to actually provide the decision criteria they can use in evaluating your proposal. Most of the decision-makers may not be used to weighing proposals, so offer them an evaluation framework for judging yours. It’s sort of like setting the rules to favor the home team.

Before letting your proposal “leave home,” ask yourself a few questions. Have you considered the dynamics of the decision makers? Have you addressed everyone involved in the decision process? Did you provide all the information requested? Double-check and make sure you have followed through on all your commitments.

Finally comes the “senior” phase of the life cycle. Your proposal has matured into a real business deal. Fulfillment is the most important step in the process and the key to your future success. This is the stage where you actually organize and produce the event. This is where, like a grownup, you deliver what you promised. Here are a few guidelines for a successful fulfillment stage:

Keep your promises and follow through. If something is not going as you hoped, talk to the sponsor. Be open. Solicit their input and make them part of the solution.

Keep in contact with the sponsor throughout the event cycle: planning, promoting, registration, event day and post-event. Simple relationship management will go a long way toward ensuring a positive result.

After the event, have a post mortem with the sponsor. Discuss the results and ask for feedback. What could have been done better? Where did we drop the ball? What aspects did you like best? How can we improve the process next time around?

Assuming you and your sponsor have agreed on some measures of success, discuss how the event measured up. Did the event participants offer any feedback? Did they purchase additional products and services, if such were offered? Did they sign up for future events?

The key to success is to understand the life cycle from start to finish. Each stage is different, but they’re all focused on the same goal: signing and re-signing great sponsors for your event. As Stephen Covey says in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “Begin with the end in mind.” If you implement this process skillfully it will create an ever-renewing “circle of life” from event to event and sponsors will be approaching you.

Creating a Social Media Strategy

Date: 5/30/09

Social media are a vital resource for promoting your events in the 21st Century. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Wikipedia provide endless opportunities to connect, one-to-one, with thousands - even millions - of raving fans of your sport. As you think about how to leverage this mind-boggling new resource, though, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. So when you’re creating your social media strategy, follow a simple step-by-step plan.

Step 1: Set your goals. 
Clearly state your goals and constantly check them against your marketing intentions and your concrete results. Write goals down and be specific. Don’t have too many goals but focus on what is important and keep an eye toward diversity. It is always better to have a few goals and meet them than to go after pie in the sky. Your goals might include, for example, reconnecting with a certain percentage of your previous event competitors, increasing your network size and generating a certain amount of new content every day/week/month. Whatever your specific goals, remember that your plan is going to take time and don’t have unrealistic expectations. Rome wasn’t built in a blah, blah...

Step 2: Know your market. 
Try to understand the online habits and preferences of your event competitors, spectators and sponsors. Get to know their “social technographic profiles.” Do the research. Talk to people, surf the net. A Social Technographic Profile worksheet will be available in a follow-up post. Identify the demographics of your target group(s) and then identify the social media they’re most likely using and how they’re using them. 

Step 3: Pick your weapons. 
Choose the online tools that best match your goals and targets. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket but, rather, have a mix of technologies and sites. The idea is to diversify, not duplicate. You’ll probably want to use a strategic mix of Social Network Sites (SNS), Forums and Blogs. Pick a general SNS like Facebook and then a couple of sport-/event-specific forums and blogs. This strategy gives you a mix of coverage to optimize results. 

When using the SNS, accept invitations and build up your friends lists. Use the Status Updates to your full advantage. Post often, but not to the point of annoyance. Create fan pages. Join Groups and contribute to discussions, but also start your own Groups. 

On the forums, become active. Post often and, more importantly, supply answers and insightful comments. Keep these insights positive and helpful, not negative or self-serving. Consider making a donation to the site (usually less than $50). This shows your support of the community and instantly raises your standing. Lastly, consider advertising on the site. This can be a very cost-effective platform.

As for blogs, know that starting your own blog is a major commitment and growth can be slow. In most cases you are better off finding blogs that your target audience is already following and see if you can get involved. Consider contacting the blogger. Most bloggers are always looking for content and ideas, so help them out. Give them exclusives. Let them know what you are doing that is unique. Feed them press releases, news items. Make them feel special.

Step 4: Build or borrow? 
After working the first three steps, you’ll come to a point where you really need to decide whether you want to build your own (forum, SNS, blog…) or leverage an existing site. In most cases it will be more efficient to find a blog, SNS or forum that already covers your target audience and use it to meet your goals. If there’s really nothing out there for you, or if you see a great opportunity to be a pioneer, then you might want to build your own. But remember, growth can be a slow process.

Step 5: Think long-term. 
As with any marketing or branding effort, this is a long-term strategy. Give it time to develop. Social media is like a bank in which you make deposits one penny at a time. So to buy that shiny new bicycle (or other reward) you’ll have to stick with your strategy over the long haul. The good news is that as your “principal” grows, it generates interest, increasing the total value over time.
Step 6: Look for ways to leverage technology. 
Because you want to cover several different social media, look for tools that will help you reduce your effort. Work smarter, not harder. There are innumerable tools and solutions available to help you streamline your workload. For example, allows you to simultaneously post to Facebook,PlaxoTwitter and other accounts. Tweetlater allows you to queue up “tweets” (Twitter posts) and automatically post them on a staggered schedule. Those are just a couple of examples. Remember, too, that you don’t have to create all of your content. You can “borrow” content from other sites, as long as you give them credit and post links to the source. And finally:

Step 7: Remember the 4 Cs. 
Whatever web tools you choose, create your posts, uploads and site improvements with the following criteria in mind:
1.Content – Does this post (content, upload, feature, etc.) add value to the target community?
2.Context – How does this post relate to the “world” of the target community?
3.Connection – How does this post build connections between you and the target community?
4.Community – How does this post help to build a sense of connection among members of the target community?

A seven-step plan and worksheet to help you navigate the vast, but rewarding ocean of social media will be available as a follow-up post. 


Continuously Compensating Bicycle Suspension System: US Patent

United States Patent: 5,921,572

Continuously Compensating Bicycle Suspension System


An electronically controlled suspension apparatus is provided for manipulating the spring constant of a bicycle rear wheel suspension system. The suspension apparatus includes a gas shock absorber connected to an external fluid chamber via a discharge loop and a return loop. The two loops control the volume of gas in communication between the shock absorber and the fluid chamber. The discharge loop includes a fluid control valve and a flow rate control valve. The return loop includes an one-way check valve and a flow rate control valve. The present invention also includes a sensor for measuring terrain induced accelerations of the rear wheel and an electronic circuit for operating the fluid control valve.