The Innovator's Toolbox

The Innovator's Toolbox

My earliest years were spent growing up in a small village in Haiti. We didn't have running water or flushable toilets. In fact we were lucky if the electricity came on for a few hours a day. Innovation was not a buzzword used by business people; it was the difference between life and death.

Stanford Design School professor William Burnett defines innovation as applied creativity; creativity applied to a problem where we can measure the output, and the output is usually measured in market share, profitability, or some kind of increased metric. In his classic book Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Peter Drucker argues that innovation is not an art or a science but a practice. A practice just like law and other applied fields. While these decorated men in the field of innovation and business make valid points, my experience has taught me that innovation at its fundamental root is a way of thinking. A way of thinking that can be made more effective and efficient with tools and resources. The key is to never confuse the tools and resources with innovation itself.

Design Thinking, The AIDA Model, The Lean Start Up Method, and IDEO’s Insight for Innovation Toolkit are great tools. Tools of which I am very skilled in, but they did not in themselves make me an innovator. Although I have A Six Sigma Black Belt Certification (certified to reduce operational errors at a level of 4.6 defects per one million opportunities), research innovation and leadership at a graduate level, and have visited Harvard Innovation Lab as well as MIT to observe innovation in process; those experience still do not MAKE me an innovator.  I learned to be an innovator from spending my earliest years growing up in that small village in Haiti. I sharpened my skills growing up in low-income communities. It always blows people’s mind that my dad never sat at a school table or ever received formal education.

My first experience with innovation was drinking cold water at my grandmother’s house in Haiti. Her house always had cold water. The ironic part is, that was 3 years before I saw my first refrigerator. Grandma made a temperature controlled water device out of clay. Water was always cold and the materials she used prevented bacteria from growing in the inside. The device did not come with a how-to guide or touch screen display but once you tasted it. You knew this was disruptive innovation. We just didn't have the terms to call it that. I remember people always coming to her house for water. Grandma was a problem solver.

My mother was a problem solver also. We lived in a fishing village where my dad was one of the best fishermen with multiple fishing boats. Mom with less than an equivalent sixth grade education was the most effective financial manager and process improvement personnel in the village. She managed my dad’s fishing enterprise as though she had an MBA from Stanford. Managing money was one thing but a bigger hurdle was managing the product. Without refrigeration fish would spoil. Not only did she preserve the shelf life of the fish for weeks by using the common method of salting. Over time she invented a unique method for drying the fish by harnessing the power of the sun and amplifying the heat by placing metal pieces in strategic locations. She cut the normal drying time in half.

My father was an expert fisherman but perhaps his greatest contribution is navigating a fisherman’s boat with no GPS or other wise navigational device from Haiti to Cuba to flee from political persecution.

 I come from a family of problem solvers. When I came to America at 7 years old, I was overwhelmed by the technology in schools, the buildings were magnanimous, the wealth was immense and yet in our neighborhoods, there was a clear difference in equity. I learned to be an innovator from “the hood”. I remember my oldest brother Yarlin making footballs from 2 Liter soda bottles. I remember my older brother Luckson climbing to the window of a boarded abandoned building to nail a plastic milk cart and tie hangers around it to secure it in place. That became the apartment building’s basketball rim and the graveled ally became the court.

Growing up, my friends and I didn’t have much. We didn’t have much wealth. We didn’t have much access to resources. We didn’t know many people who had degrees. We couldn’t tell you a specific industry we wanted to be part of. We grew up financially disadvantaged black boys trying to navigate a world seemingly stacked against us. But we did have great examples in our parents. Although we didn’t have much we learned to do the best with what we had. I learned to be an innovator. Once I learned how to do a business plan in college, I could communicate problem solving more effectively than almost all of my peers. I had been watching or engaging in problem solving my entire life.

When I became the youngest CEO of a strategic planning firm in the country at 21 years old. There wasn’t much fanfare because for me it was just what I needed to do to solve a problem. When I took a year off from work to start a business development non-profit where I worked for my peers and community for free. People couldn’t believe it. My wife Ashley Aguy believed it though. She also believed in me. I told her that I really wanted to solve the failure rate of black businesses and for that I had to see for myself of the issue was the entrepreneurs themselves or something else. Working for free and developing at least 4 successful businesses answered the question. The entrepreneurs are talented and their ideas are disruptive but there is a lack of resources, especially financial and industry resources.

 Over the years I have coached and consulted with individuals and organizations in a variety of industries including: Business, Technology, Healthcare, Law, Banking, Higher Education, Non-Profit/ NGO's, as well as Domestic & International Governments. My experiences have led me to this project “The Innovator’s Toolbox”.

I could have just wrote what the Innovator’s Toolbox is and what the project is all about and spared you all the reading. Especially since the experts claim people don’t read anymore. But I believe in authenticity. I wanted you to know my why. I wanted you to know that while I offer premium services and I have expert level skill and knowledge, the reality is I’m a kid from the hood living his dream. When I work with my client’s I take their organizational and professional issue personal. They expect excellence because for me innovation is about life and death. It’s the difference between having to terminate good people with families to raise and hiring more people who depend on their check for survival. It’s the difference between saving for your son or daughter’s college or them having my experience with student loans. Many of my clients have been richer than I could have ever imagined and yet still executive coaching and innovation can make the difference between them being married to their job or being a present significant other.

The Innovator’s Toolbox is my mind. It’s your mind. It’s a collection of experiences I have gained along the way. It is also a place where you can find resources on innovation, entrepreneurship, and strategy. These resources will include free and low cost resources to provide access to people like how I was growing up; people who have talent but may lack access to resources and industry knowledge. We will add resources every Wednesday at 12:00 P.M. EST. I believe innovation is not relegated to an elite class of people or the product of decades of training. Innovation is for all.

My earliest years were spent growing up in a small village in Haiti. We didn't have running water or flushable toilets. In fact we were lucky if the electricity came on for a few hours a day. Innovation was not a buzzword used by business people; it was the difference between life and death.

I want to save lives through innovation; my name is Jeff and I’m an Innovator, welcome to my Toolbox.

 

 

 

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