This week’s guest is also an innovation guru, and has been around for years. Jeff DeGraff, known as the “Dean of Innovation,” is a business professor at the University of Michigan, He is an author and a respected thought leader on innovation. We will discuss social responsibility and his new book, “The Creative Mindset.”
After graduating from grad school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Jeff met a man who worked for someone who owned a twenty-million-dollar pizza company— Domino’s. He turned down a job offer from an Ivy League school to join the team. Five years later, they sold the company for five-billion-dollars to Mitt Romney.
Not long after, Jeff was recruited to teach at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. He didn’t want to teach MBAs because he thought they were dull and drab, but that is why they wanted him there.
Two Faces of Innovation
Innovation creates concave value or things that are presently manifesting and convex value—long-term issues. These types have to be measured entirely differently. People tend to think about innovation from the tangible side of it. In places like Iowa State, they have substantial innovation impacts, but no one sees them because they are research influence-based and not tangible products. Consumers tend to see only the result.
When it comes to a COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S, many different startups and big pharmaceutical companies have been working and building off of old research to create one. They have to figure out how to make billions of doses of the vaccine once completed. It’s a lot more complicated than people think it is. Big innovation is composed of a lot of moving parts.
The Creative Mindset
Jeff grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood and in an age of innovation viewed as a social responsibility. There are many creativity books out there nowadays. They are what Jeff calls “new age-y.” In his book, he took what he thought was the real research on creativity and put it in layman’s terms for everyone to use. The Creative Mindset focuses on taking ordinary things and making them extraordinary.
Jeff wants to re-install the old way of building things through developing learning and trying new things. He uses what he calls the six skills through the mnemonic device CREATE (Clarify, Replicate, Elaborate, Associate, Translate, and Evaluate). The book gives tools in a simplified form to somebody trying to grow and make something better.
I got invited to do a keynote speech for Vail Resorts several years ago. With a raise of hands, I asked how many people think of themselves as creative. It was quite a shock to see that many people didn’t raise their hands. People think it takes a select type of person to be creative, which is not true. We all have natural strengths that vary from person to person. The object is to recognize your strength, build on it, and find other people with different strengths.
Advice for the Listeners
People refer to Jeff as the “Dean of Innovation.” When he went to work at Domino’s, people often threw challenging problems at him. When he got to the University of Michigan, some of his students went on to be famous. The name stuck.
As far as advice goes, Jeff says that innovation happens from the outside-in, like a bell curve. Its easier to change 20% of the company’s 80% than changing 80% of its 20%. Secondly, diversity your gene pool. All the people in Jeff’s labs are different than him. Thirdly, give as much as you can away to people. By doing this, you'll build a network and become a better human being— and fulfill your social responsibility.
About our Guest: Jeff DeGraff
Jeff DeGraff is both an advisor to Fortune 500 companies and a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. His simultaneously creative and pragmatic approach to making innovation happen has led clients and colleagues to dub him the “Dean of Innovation.”
He has written several books, including Leading Innovation, Innovation You, and The Innovation Code. He has a regular segment on public radio called The Next Idea. Jeff also founded the Innovatrium, an innovation consulting firm focusing on creating an innovation culture, capability, and community. Inc., Fortune, and Psychology Today, hve covered his thoughts on innovation.
Jeff earned his nickname, the “Dean of Innovation,” while working as an executive for Domino’s Pizza in his youth, where he accelerated Domino’s growth from a regional success story to an international franchise phenomenon.
To know about the social duty of innovation and the creative mindset, listen to this week's show: Innovation and The Creative Mindset.