Notes from the Innovator’s Workshop – an evening seminar on August 8th

Just an FYI – I ran an event back in June called “The Innovator’s Workshop” which was an all day seminar providing a strategic view of funding opportunities, resources, groups and ways to find problems to solve in the defense and intelligence communities.  The goal of that seminar was to curate and present a lot of the information I have gathered as moderator of The Intelligence Community group on LinkedIn.

There was a lot of interest in having these seminars offered on a recurring basis, so I am beginning to schedule them out every few months.  The next session will be August 8th and I have compressed the program down to 2 hours in the evening to work around everyone’s work schedule.

And yes, we will have a networking Happy Hour afterwards  🙂  Location of the Happy Hour will be announced at the seminar.

Also, for those who can’t attend in person, I am making the audio recording and presentation available after the event as a download.

Here are the details for the event on August 8th:


The Case Against Wearing the Same Thing Everyday … and for Wearing Ties

“What do ties matter, Jeeves, at a time like this?’ There is no time, sir, at which ties do not matter” P.G. Wodehouse

Successful people generally find a style formula that works for them and then stick to it without getting too distracted.  For Mark Zuckerberg, that means grey t-shirts and hoodies. For President Obama, that means blue and grey suits. The point of this is to settle in on a sartorial aesthetic that pleases you and helps you to be your best self.  The cultural context matters (despite the fact that many wish it did not).  How people perceive your aesthetic might be very different from your perception.  For instance, in Silicon Valley, wearing a t-shirt, hoodie, and cargo pants might communicate the message that you are pragmatic, honest, and competent.  In Washington D.C., the same outfit might communicate that you are on vacation.  Billionaires and Presidents do care about what their clothes communicate, otherwise they would be ambivalent rather than intentionally minimalistic.

“You know, they come up to meet me – a lot of the guys from Silicon – and they’re wearing undershirts. I could tell you a story. Some of the biggest in the world – they’ll come in on roller skates.”   Donald Trump

But let’s step back from the minimalistic option for a second and consider the other end of the spectrum.  My friend Phil Cohen, a fashion blogger and graphic designer, enjoysa wide variety of clothing options (albeit still with a unifying aesthetic). Another friend,Camille Tutti, Executive Editor of NextGov, posts shoe selfies to Instagram, or “shoefies” as she likes to call them, as she covers innovation and government news around town.  My buddies over in Georgetown, including Chris Kaufmann and Jack Eggleston will help you put together a professional wardrobe that both expresses personality but also keeps things simple so you can focus on work.  For them (and for me), having a little variety in the wardrobe, just like varying your menu or your music, keeps things human.  Sure, uniforms serve a valid purpose, and every fashion is a uniform within its own aesthetic, but humans are inherently creative.  The balance between compliance with social norms (whether justified through pragmatism or passion) and creative individual expression is one which can (as Zuckerberg points out) keep us from accomplishing more important tasks.  But denying ourselves from acting on certain creative urges can also hold us back in other ways.

The bottom line – If clothes can be used to help us become our best selves, it begs these questions:

  1. What is your best self?
  2. How does clothing affect your progress towards your best self?
  3. What is the appropriate amount of time, money, and effort to invest in clothing in light of the first two questions?


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Wouldn’t it be nice if …

Innovation begins with a question that addresses a problem.

It imagines a solution before the tools or materials are in place to build the solution.

When we pitch innovation to buyers, investors, or the general public, it is important to frame it as a solution to their problem, in the words of their experience.

There you are, standing in front of an audience of investors, ready to explain your technology, but instead you ask them a question:  “Wouldn’t it be nice if… [fill in the blank with some problem they face]… could be solved?”

Why is this compelling?  People are generally skeptical that their problems can be solved easily, if at all.  It takes some salesmanship and perhaps some quixotic determination to invite them into an imagined world where that problem is solved.

Here’s Cervantes inviting the prisoners to take in the story of Don Quixote in the musical, Man of La Mancha

Human nature has us hamstrung between the world of actual problems and the world of possible solutions.  We are both prisoners in a cave, and also potential escape artists with a (perhaps not impossible) dream.

Blaise Pascal, when describing the human condition in his Pensees, argued:

Substitute for religion (or non-religion, in the case of John Lennon) any innovative idea and you might still require similar steps to overcome human skepticism:

  1. show that the solution is not contrary to reason
  2. make it attractive to “good” or “appropriate” clients, users, etc.
  3. make clients and potential users wish the solution were real
  4. show that it can be realized
  5. show that it should be realized because it promises a worthwhile “good”


To hear Jason Calacanis doing this, check out this podcast episode of “This Week in Startups” (start at minute 16)


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