The Changing Front End of Innovation: Thoughts on the 2015 FEI USA Conference

The 2015 Front End of Innovation USA conference was held last week at the Boston World Trade Center and Seaport. The event demonstrated the increasing sophistication around innovation, still a new corporate competency. During the sessions and within participant conversations, several key themes came through loud and clear. This article provides an overview of the event with a focus on the key themes that we observed.

Sophistication in culture

A few years ago it seemed that everyone who presented at this event was talking about the great results that they achieved by running a challenge, or doing some sort of activity. At the 2014 FEI event, the issue of addressing and enhancing corporate culture seemed to take center stage. In 2015, corporate culture was addressed by speakers in increasingly sophisticated terms, case studies and responses. There were presentations around behavioral change and the infusion of culture into the DNA of corporations.  Suzan Briganti, from Totem, presented a perspective to identifying different personality types from an innovation perspective to a packed room on Day #1. Susan Cain (author, The Power of Introverts) talked about the value of introverts within a corporate context.

Innovation training continues to expand

The importance of empowering employees and providing the tools to support innovation in an effort to increase the throughput of executed ideas was a general theme.

Aligned with the cultural imperative, organizations showcased their efforts around effectively training and engaging employees on innovation skills and processes. A number of speakers talked about their experiences, including Anthony Lambrou (Pfizer), Deb Arcoleo (Hersheys), Kim Kleinmen (General Electric) and Steve Garguilo (Johnson and Johnson). Each organization took differing approaches to their efforts, but they all appeared to align with their goal of building the overall innovation capability. The importance of empowering employees and providing the tools to support innovation in an effort to increase the throughput of executed ideas was a general theme.

From vendor products to vendor solutions

A number of the vendor presentations talked positioned their offering more towards comprehensive solutions, that seek to extend their influences deeper into the innovation lifecycle. Aligned with this thinking was an apparent move to demonstrate more flexibility to account for the existing processes and needs within their client’s organizations. In the past, they may have demanded a specific approach, now they are showing more flexibility in aligning with existing processes. Overall, we take this as a sign that the customer base is becoming more sophisticated and have built processes to support their specific needs, rather than basing their approach on what is offered by the marketplace. James Gardner (Mindjet) and Hutch Carpenter (Hype Innovation) both seemed to demonstrate this thinking.

Laggards join the fray

We noticed a number of organizations in attendance that may be considered laggards within the innovation development space. This demonstrated to us that the desire to drive innovative thinking and development now permeates all shapes and sizes of organizations, private or public in nature.

Focus on focus

Many speakers referenced our increasingly frazzled and frantic lives within the context of innovative development.  The importance of taking time out to properly consider something, or even nothing, was referenced by speakers such as Tom Kelley (IDEO), Denise Fletcher (Xerox), Seth Godin (Author). They all talked to the importance of reflection, consideration and time for experimentation in order to drive innovative thinking and idea development. A great concept when we are all being pulled in a million different directions at any point of the day.

Quick and dirty

One of the many focuses of the conference was on lean approaches to idea development, primarily in the excellent keynote presentation by Steve Blank (author). Although the majority of the attendees were from larger corporations, this approach was regularly presented in the context of start-ups.

The myth of “positive failure”

Consistent with past versions of this and other events, examples of failure were presented in a favorable light. This can be a difficult reality when operating in a large, complex organizations who rarely look at failure positively. Sure, it is an opportunity to learn, but the reality is that in most organizations failure is failure, with little positive benefit achieved for anyone.


There were many discussions around Minimal Viable product used to bring products to market quickly to assess viability. In line with this thinking, the Shark Tank model of vetting ideas and raising money seemed to be an popular model for corporate engagement.

Overall, we felt that it was an exceptional conference. The quality of content was far higher than in years past, and we look forward to next year’s event. Congratulations to the organizers for all of their efforts.

About the Authors

Anthony Ferrier is the CEO of Culturevate empowering client’s employees to execute ideas and inspire innovative cultures. The organization offers innovation training (developed in association with Professor Chris Labash Carnegie Mellon University , a SAAS-based portal of innovation materials, tools and templates, along with consulting focused on building employee engagement around innovation. Anthony is a widely read author, speaker and advisor to industry leaders at organizations such as Pfizer, U.S. Postal Service, The Department of Veterans Affairs, Johnson & Johnson, ADP and Fidelity. He previously led The BNY Mellon innovation program and has a Masters of Commerce (University of Sydney) and Bachelor of Economics (University of Newcastle).


Josh Felderstein is the President, Client Relations, and began his career at JP Morgan Chase as a telephone sales rep in the mid 90’s. Over his 14 year career span with JPMC, he moved up the corporate ladder to Assistant Vice President on the mortgage side, becoming one of the NY metro area’s leading account managers. Upon leaving Chase, Josh began working for Coloredge, a leading large format digital graphics company- traveling coast to coast to manage clients from LA to NYC. While at Coloredge, he marketed large companies such as: Yahoo, Nissan, Whole Foods, and Johnny Walker. With 20 years of professional sales experience, Josh’s good friend Anthony approached him with a niche product in the innovation arena. With Anthony’s extensive experience in this industry and Josh’s B2B sales background, Culturevate was born. Having grown up in Upstate NY, Josh has a Bachelor of Science from SUNY Brockport and has attended numerous sales training courses throughout his career.

Tom McDermott is Vice President, Client Relations at Culturevate and has been in the innovation/idea management field and in step with the markets evolution for ten years.  He has extensive experience helping organizations build and mature innovation programs in a wide variety of industries.  Tom’s experience of innovation consulting, software, and a deep understanding of human behavior yield unique solutions for new and existing clients. Tom received a B.A. from Brandeis University and a Master’s Degree from Boston College, both in Psychology.  He spent several years in Massachusetts prisons as a psychotherapist working with adults and children.  Tom’s passion for understanding human behavior, combined with his successful track record in innovation helps his clients see real business value come from their programs.

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