The MIT/Stanford Venture Lab (VLAB) is a "non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the growth and success of high-tech entrepreneurial ventures by connecting ideas, technology and people."
Recently, the organization held a discussion forum focusing on consumer product innovation.
Martin Eberhard, CEO and Co-Founder of Tesla Motors presented the Tesla concept for a high performance, high efficiency, environmental-friendly vehicle. Eberhard gave mouth watering details of the Tesla Roadster (0-60 mph in <4 seconds, security features carried over from Lotus, carbon fiber body) as well as talked about the upcoming Tesla White-star--a sports sedan which will sell for about $50K and produce 110mpg and a 0-60 mph in under 5.8 seconds.
Following the presentation, Ebrehard joined a panel of experts including Robert Acker, SVP of Marketing at Dash Navigation, Dave Blakely, Director of Technology Strategy at IDEO, and Dave Mathews, Director of Product Innovation at Sling Media. The discussion was moderated by Robert Scoble, a notable blogger with a predilection for story telling at transition points.
While the event was titled Product Innovation 2007, the discussion clearly centered around past innovations: The Tesla Roadster is already available for consumers in the US, and its up and coming WhiteStar sedan is already in production. IDEO's Blakely provided examples of their innovation discovery process and implementation, and both Sling Media and Dash Navigation seem to have a clear product road map going forward. Mathews, in a humor-infused directness, made it clear that with cameras going off, real-time blogging, and other widespread knowledge-sharing practices, any information about new innovation needed to be tightly guarded.
Even with such high caliber experts seated at the table, it seems that product generation still comes out of primarily non-innovative processes. Despite all the advancements in customer-centric product generation, there still seems to be a widespread practice of separation between engineers, designers, and customer-experience roles on development teams. Even IDEO, a leader in innovative design, still seems to considers the engineer as a primary owner in product development. And a male engineer at that.
With great minds coming out of MIT, Stanford, and having the Silicon Valley as a backdrop, I would like to see VLAB challenging its guest speakers to provide a deeper view into how they think about, and carry out, innovation. What are the challenges they face in today's world? Without getting into confidential information, what are some frameworks or principles they apply to ensure they're successful? What are some questions that keep them awake at night? How do they respond in their innovation process to current and upcoming trends such as social networking and single products with multiple functions? Those are some questions I'd like to hear answered. We may all be surprised by the new ideas that come out of a real discussion about innovation.