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Managing the Evolution of Innovation: Mark Karasek: As vice president of engineering for the Chamberlain Group, Mark Karasek has overseen an evolution in the company's innovation approach.

I joined Chamberlain 25 years ago as a senior design engineer. About five years later, I was offered the role of vice president of engineering. The organization has been through a lot of change in those 20 years. My understanding of innovation has evolved significantly over that time period, too.

Early on, we focused a lot of time and energy on product innovation. What feature sets do we add to a garage door opener to make it do more things for the consumer? Once that was working well, we realized we needed to have some resources dedicated to the front end; we needed to look at the art of the possible. When we focused on this, we started coming up with ideas for new platforms and new products that took us out of our core space.

But these offerings were outside our core capabilities. How could we know if they were valuable to customers and would be successful? That led us to design thinking. We started doing ethnographic research on our customers-- how our users got from the home to the garage to the car, and how they got from the car to the garage to the home. Those were the stepping-stones to our work today around connectivity and services: we initiated our Internet of Things efforts to solve identified consumer problems, not to integrate new technology into our products.

One of our new offerings was a connected product with an app. We quickly recognized that the combined package was not only a better product; it was a service. Moving from products to services meant we had to think deeply about business model innovation, which led us to the Lean Startup movement.

Any time you're bringing a new process or toolset into an organization, there's a significant amount of organizational change management. It never goes as fast as you want it to. I've learned over the years that I need to adapt these processes to Chamberlain's culture. For example, when I was first trying to bring Lean Startup into Chamberlain, I talked about it in terms of the need for business model innovation and how Lean Startup techniques could help. There was a lot of resistance--the reaction was, "We're not a startup. That doesn't apply to us." I had to change the language. I went from talking about Lean Startup to talking about getting products into the marketplace sooner, learning from the customers, and seeing if they'll pay us for these products and services. I talked about the need to have a way to deploy rapidly in the marketplace. That they could embrace.

The biggest challenge for me personally was the adoption of design thinking. Hiring my first industrial designer was an eye-opening experience. The designers we brought in taught us to focus on end-user insights, which really changed the way we approached innovation. Prior to that, innovation was the voice of Chamberlain: somebody would have a cool idea, and we'd go build one. Then we'd show it to marketing and see if they could sell it. Now we come at innovation from the other direction. We start with how consumers use our products, how they interact with their environment, and what's changing culturally.

Everybody has a filter or a lens they see the world through. If I'm trying to interact with someone and they are acting in a way that feels irrational to me, it's probably because I don't understand their filter. I have to understand their filter if I'm going to communicate effectively with them.

I try to help the people in my organization to have a little empathy, dig a little deeper, and really try to understand the perspective of their peers and their partners.

DOI: 10.1080/08956308.2019.1541732
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Title Annotation:INNOVATION C-SCAPE
Publication:Research-Technology Management
Article Type:Interview
Date:Jan 1, 2019
Words:624
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