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How Do Innovators Think? A look into Dell’s Boston Think Tank for Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses - contenttriggers blog

How Do Innovators Think? (A look into Dell’s Boston Think Tank for Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses)



How do business innovators think?

Like Thomas Edison with his life-changing ideas, including the “The Invention Factory” bringing innovations into reality. There’s Jeff Bezos at, Niklas Zennström at Skype and Michael Dell at Dell, to name a few. What makes business innovators different from other leaders?

First of all, they’re known as disruptive innovators. They’re creators of big ideas that spawn unique products, services, processes or business models that have replaced or outsold existing ones.  

To dive deeper into the thought process of disruptive innovators in business, pick up a copy of “The Innovators DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators,” by authors Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton M. Christensen.

The Innovators DNA is the prodigy of an eight year study of over 500 innovators and 5000 executives in more than 75 countries. The findings reveal how disruptive innovative entrepreneurs and executives think as they discover unique ideas that outperform the norm.

The authors uncovered five similar behaviors that guide these innovators to think differently than anyone else and produce powerful competitive advantages and wealth. They are:

  1. Associating
  2. Questioning
  3. Observing
  4. Networking
  5. Experimenting

What makes this even more interesting is the way these innovators uniquely combine each of these skills to make up their own innovator’s DNA.

For instance, they discovered through one of their studies that Dell is more likely to innovate using the skills of networking and experimenting at higher levels than the other three.

But there’s more. These innovative leaders build teams. They surround themselves with innovative people with a variety of strengths. Then they build processes to mirror their DNA, or behaviors, and engage their people to use them to spark their own creative muscle.

Last a philosophy is developed that sets the tone and beliefs of the company, and the culture, to stand tall and think in new ways.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway is you don’t have to be Jeff Bezos, Niklas Zennström or Michael Dell to innovate and create new ways of doing things better. You just have to understand and use their behaviors and discovery skills to become better at it. Learn from them and take bold action.

Last month I had the opportunity to experience these innovative behaviors and skills at the Cambridge Innovation Center in Boston. I attended Dell’s Boston Think Tank for Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses as part of their innovation process.

The Mission Behind the Think Tank

Before I share some key takeaways from the Think Tank, I’d like to give you a brief background on the mission at Dell.

The leadership at Dell believes in something bigger than technology. They believe that entrepreneurs and small business owners will lead the way to shifting the global economy back on track. To move this vision forward, they recently created a Center for Entrepreneurs.

Ingrid Vanderveldt is the Entrepreneur in Residence with Dell.  She explained in a recent interview with Laura McCabe, co-founder at SMB Group, that The Center is a one-stop-shop for entrepreneurs and small businesses at all stages. They want to provide an experience that engages individuals to remove roadblocks, make connections, learn what they need to, and simply be successful. Click here for the entire interview.

The Boston Think Tank

Boston Dells Think Tank for entrepreneurs and small businesses.The Think Tank is one process Dell has created to make connections between their teams, entrepreneurs, founders, small business owners, startups and local leaders. It’s a way for them to build relationships, gather the insights they need and enable networking.  Boston was just one in nine cities included in the tour.

As the Boston Think Tank session began, a number of representatives from Dell were present, from product strategy to technology, absorbing the information as they interacted with all of us.

To start the event, Dell’s Entrepreneur in Residence, Ingrid Vanderveldt shared results from a survey released by Dell and Intel. It was focused on the local outlook for Boston startups and small businesses in three areas, access to capital, access to technology, and access to networks, talent and expertise. The outlook in Boston was optimistic, but the national and global economies were still a significant concern.

In the background, Kelvy Bird, co-founder of, created a visualization of these 3 key areas and strategies discussed. See the graphic. (Nice way to engage with the audience and repackage all the valuable nuggets at a glance.)


Next was Whitney Johnson, author of “Dare, Dream, Do,” speaker and co-founder of Rose Park Advisors and event moderator. She discussed disruptive innovation as a new technology, product or method that disrupts an existing market leader, like Netflix did, with a positive outcome. She explained that being disruptive improves the odds of business success. Disruptors are the most flexible as they let their strategies emerge.

Then she introduced four different themes for the day presented by local, small business leaders. They were:

  • Creating a Social Strategy: Chris Brogan
  • Access to Capital: Amy Millman
  • Access to Networks, Talent and Expertise: Abbie Lundberg
  • Access to Technology: Sharon Kan

There was an amazing amount of information to be shared, but I’m just going to touch on three of the sessions.

The first session, as Whitney described, was presented by the the disruptive innovator, Chris Brogan.

Creating a Social Strategy

Insights from Dell's Boston Think Tank on small business and entrepreneurs.
Chris Brogan is the New York Times Bestselling author of the “Impact Equation,” “Trust Agents” and “Google Plus for Business.”

The question of the day was “How Can You Be Human at a Distance and Build Trust that Keeps People Coming Back?

You can be human at a distance by creating content that your ideal buyers find useful and valuable.

Here are three key points he shared.

Start off with 3 channels and a purpose for each one.

1. Have a home base, or hub, for your content to lead people to, like your website or blog. A place that you own. You don’t own your content on social media sites. It’s borrowed space. Your account could be shut down in a snap. What content and followers you’ve built up could be gone just like that!

The purpose of your hub is conversion. Pick one action you want your audience to take. For instance, receive a free eBook and get free weekly updates. Or register for a free audio training and receive monthly tips in our eNewsletter. The goal is to collect their email address to have permission to keep in touch.

Your hub is also the place they go to get valuable content and keep coming back for more.

2. Pick one of the social media sites to start. Decide which platform is a good fit for your business and will get your message out. But be sure your target audience is there too. Focus on just one and do it well. Then move onto another.

The purpose of social is to consistently communicate with and listen to your audience while your message brings people back to your hub. In the process you build trust and become more human at a distance.

3. Email platform. Your email list means everything. Chris explains, “The most intimate way of communicating is your inbox.”

The purpose is to keep in touch with valuable information first.  Having a list gives you permission to nurture your audience, earn their trust and in time their business.

Through all three channels track your metrics for leads and sales.

Next we have…

Access to Capital

Amy Millman Dells Boston Think Tank explains what investors are looking for in a start-upOver a dozen of us gathered together in a roundtable session with Amy Millman, President of Springboad Enterprises which has funded start-ups like Constant Contact and Zipcar. She explained just what investors are looking for in a start-up and strongly advised to learn their language.

Amy then went around the table, one by one, and repeatedly asked two questions:

1.  “What makes your product or service unique?”
2.  “Why you?”

In other words, it’s all about how you position yourself—your strengths, your confidence, and your expertise. You develop a method. Then you create a fresh idea, product or service using that method. Last you put your name on it and package it effectively.

It’s something that no one can copy.

Just like Sam Horn did, Author of “POP! Stand Out In Any Crowd.”  The goal may not be new and others may be doing it. But the process on how to get there is unique.

Her Pop! Process takes your message and your Why and makes it Purposeful, Original, and Pithy. Not only is it a fun process, but it draws instant attention. Some of her techniques are The Eureka Moment, Muse It or Lose It and Half-and-Half. They’re original, intriguing and no one can copy them.

The third takeaway is from the session…

Access to Technology

Is Technology a Blessing or a Curse?

The technology session was lead by Sharon Kan, Entrepreneur in Residence at Babson College and leader in developing innovative customer-centric products with four successful startup exits.

So what does her day look like … with 3 offices, 4 email addresses … technology enables her to run her businesses with “a phone and a lap top.”

However, by ‘always being on’ with texting, mobile and tablets, she’s concerned that technology, on the other hand, takes over our lives.

Technology Dells Boston Think Tank access to technology.

In addition to that, business owners are bombarded with new technologies to sort through and a plethora of information to absorb. It’s difficult to choose which ones will work and figure out how to implement them.

According to Dell’s survey:

  • 65% consider access to effective technology solutions key to growing successfully.
  • 41% say their technology needs are becoming more complex making it tougher to choose the best solutions and implement them.
  • Only one in ten have a dedicated IT staff.
  • 55% do it themselves.
  • 33% seek freelance technology help.
  • 12% rely on outside technology companies like Del, HP, or IBM.

Technology should not be a disabler, but an enabler. It should move businesses forward, instead of stuck in overwhelm.

Technology should be about helping businesses solve critical issues like:

  • How to attract talent.
  • How to grow revenues.
  • How to manage your cost structure.

Technology should be able to provide us with more effective ways to run businesses in a scalable way to accommodate growth.

Abbie Lundberg, Founder and President of Lundberg Media also lead discussions around challenges in accessing talent and expertise, networks and growing revenues.

At the End of the Day

At the end of the day, there was a tremendous exchange of information, tips and networking between the entrepreneurs and business owners. A strong connection was made and Dell gained valuable insights into challenges, successes, recommendations and even wish lists all in one day. I’m sure the attendees were engaged to learn more about the Center for Entrepreneurs and what comes next.

Thanks to Dell, the Center for Entrepreneurs, and all the speakers and contributors for this engaging event.

Dell's Boston Think Tank How can we help you?

All photos, graphics and video courtesy of Dell’s Official Flicker Page

What is your biggest challenge: Being human at a distance, positioning your message, or feeling that technology is a curse and not a blessing? [Post your comments below. I’d love to hear your feedback.]


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