learning the discipline of [marketing your] innovation

August 30th, 2008 by kc

As part of our DHS-funded cybersecurity project on Internet topology mapping with CAIDA’s new Archipelago measurement infrastructure, DHS program manager Doug Maughan required a representative of each R&D project to attend a marketing workshop at SRI for some intense training on how to communicate the value of our specific projects to potential customers or sponsors. It was a 2-day format condensed from a typically week-long workshop based on (president of SRI) Curtis Carlson’s book on the discipline of innovation. I went in to the workshop somewhat skeptical it would be useful. However, I recognize I have weak marketing skills since the scientist in me always wants to point out the dozen caveats of anything I’m presenting before I focus on the contributions. So I acknowledged I was an ideal candidate for the workshop.

The workshop was much better than I expected, mainly because the leaders, Laszlo Gyorffy and Gary Bridges, were outstanding at their jobs. (Doug apparently warned them I was going to be the person in the workshop most difficult to impress — which I admit is probably true.) The goal of the workshop was to teach us the “NABC” approach to presenting our work — the process of effectively communicating the need our project is addressing, the approach our project takes, the benefits our results offer, and the competing alternatives. Over the course of the two days, each of the ten attendees had to give a one-minute elevator pitch, a three-minute value proposition, and a five-minute business plan (day 2), punctuated by thoughtful structured feedback from the other nine attendees, the organizers, and Doug. We learned just as much about how to give useful feedback to others as we did about how to integrate feedback from others into our next revision.

I wholeheartedly agree with co-attendee Dale Peterson’s assessment: It’s hard to do the workshop justice. The pace was definitely agile — a friend commented, “They’re giving you two hours to write a business plan? That’s insane, a business plan takes at least 2 full days to write.” to which Gary responded, “Look, we just want to get you out of here pointing east. We don’t care how far you get.”

And easterly pointing we left, having visibly improved our presentations over the course of the two days, learned how to give more useful feedback to colleagues, and had a great time doing so. Even more benefit goes to taxpayers, who are more likely to see return on DHS technology investments if the funded investigators are comfortable explaining the value of their work to non-technologists. I wish I had gotten this training 20 years ago, in grad school, but better late than never. Kudos to Doug Maughan and DHS’s Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate for their vision and execution.

[f.d.: S&T helps fund caida projects to (1) improve topology measurements and (2) increase data sharing, this year. -k.]

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