ODE to Innovation

One of the most amazing leaders I’ve ever met, Mike Waite, President of Menasha Packaging Corporation, believes his job is making sure his people get to live their dreams.  While profit, revenue, shareholder value etc. are critical, without his people’s ability to turn dreams into reality – for customers and for themselves – there is no revenue, profit or anything else…simple…and too rare.  Mike is Menasha’s ODE, Official Dream Enabler. 

Dreams allow us to think of what could be, of what is possible - maybe not probable, but possible.  That’s why dreams are innovation’s fuel.  We know what happens to organizations that don’t innovate - look at the 1990 Fortune 100 list. 

We are innately creators and dreamers.  Somewhere along the way, for most of us, we are taught, encouraged, required to push those inherent capabilities to the back and obey the status quo (e.g., public education).  So how do we become an ODE to innovation?

My friend Whitney Johnson’s book, Dare, Dream, Do, provides a framework for becoming an ODE to our people and ourselves.  It provides a roadmap for risking to and realizing dreams – both for individuals and more broadly organizations.  If individuals aren’t allowed to dream, how can teams and organizations?

Three quotes in the book stick in my mind:

  • “The only safe harbor is our convictions…because it ensures we are honest to our core values.” For dreaming - innovation to have a positive impact, it must be based on values and integrity.  As we are finally recognizing from the financial crises and our youth’s response to ‘Corporate America”, without providing meaning and purpose, there is no sustainable money and profit;
  • “Sometimes we set out to be competent.  At other times our competence is simply the unintended consequence of doing what needs to be done…” We’ve been hiring for skills first and maybe culture and passion.  It’s time to turn that around.  Skills can be taught – enhancing a culture and bringing passion to work? Not so much; 
  • “Hell is a place where nothing connects with nothing.” T. S. Eliot commenting on Dante’s “Inferno”: As many of you know, connecting, networking is in my DNA.   Dreams and innovation are not solo events; they are team sports.  How you encourage, support, reward teams around common passions will determine how well you delight your customers…and your people.

Do you define your role, your success, by the ability of your people, let alone yourself, to dream? 

Do you allow your people, yourself, the freedom and autonomy to turn dreams into reality?

Can you become an ODE to Innovation? Start reading Whitney’s book – for your people, yourself, even your family.  And then you can start turning dreams into reality.  So, go – Dare, Dream, Do.

Why am I a VC?

Last March, Whitney Johnson and I were dining on exquisite sushi in Boston celebrating the upcoming launch of her powerful book, Dare, Dream, Do.  We also discussed the lack of women in Venture Capital (VC) because I had never noticed I was the only female partner in mine! While this subject is a blog post I been asked to, but not yet written, two things happened today, 1 in Cleveland, 1 in California, that made me write this from Maine:

  1. Neuros Medical, a company my VC firm, Glengary, invested in at its very early stage, closed a second round of $3.5M led by Glengary and Boston Scientific.
  2. My friend, Adrian Ott, responded to my tweet about Neuros thanking me for supporting neuro-medicine.

So what’s the big deal (no pun intended)?  I felt overwhelmingly privileged and honored to be able to invest in a company like Neuros Medical!  Wow! I have the ability, albeit insignificant, to make a powerful difference in someone’s life – to give a quality of life he or she didn’t have or dream of having (ah! Back to Whitney’s book!). 

Neuros’s device is designed to reduce amputees’ pain when a neuroma (a bundle of the cut nerve endings that form a ‘tumor’) develops at the end of the amputated limb continually firing intense pain signals to the brain (not phantom limb pain).  This is usually treated with narcotics – obviously not a great option that also isn’t very effective.  In clinical trials, Neuros’ device greatly relieved, even eliminated, pain beyond our expectations, allowing people regain their lives.  It’s not every VC whose deals bring tears of joy and amazement to their eyes.  

Another one of our investments, Cleveland HeartLab, was at TEDMed 2012 demonstrating their blood marker test for MPO (Myeloperoxidase) that predicts the odds of a cardio event based on atherosclerotic plaque.  Talk about having an impact – this test has tremendous implications for improving and saving lives.

For me, being a VC is not just about profits and money, it’s about purpose and meaning.  In my own small way, with the help of so many others (my partners, our investments, the ‘network’ that supports all this), I can improve, even save, lives and the families around them. 

If that doesn’t get someone jazzed, I don’t know what will.


Side Note: Neuros Medical and Cleveland Heartlab’s successes are two of many successful and impacting startups in Northeast Ohio and Cleveland.  The city of 19th & 20th century startups – from oil to steel to automotive to polymers to coatings is undergoing a renaissance on many levels and let me tell you, it’s one exciting place to be a VC – there is no shortage of quality deal flow and the excitement is palpable – economically, socially, culturally, recreationally, you name it.