Gabe Cooper is the President of Brushfire Interactive and the co-founder of Shotzoom Software and Virtuous Software. His passion for creating market-defining software in the nonprofit and for-profit sectors can be seen in the products he creates. With the help of his team and co-founders his products have received Apple’s Design of the Year Award, Apple’s Hall of Fame designation, and Starbuck’s App the Week. Their work has also have been featured in Mashable, USA Today, NY Times, and Microsoft Case Studies. Gabe, his wife Farrah, and their five kids live in Gilbert, Arizona. 

Christopher Skroupa: Over the past ten years, we’ve seen a lot of new innovation within the tech startup community. What prevents large organizations from innovating at the same rate as small tech companies?

Gabe Cooper: In most cases, individuals within large organizations are just as innovative as their tech startup counterparts.  The problem tends to be that large organizations don’t foster a culture of agility and innovation – and they don’t have the tools and processes in place to allow innovation to flourish. Concepts like “intrapreneurship” (or entrepreneurship within an enterprise), agile planning, and other lean startup principals have taken hold in some areas within the enterprise – but very few large organizations adopt these practices globally.

Skroupa: What tools or frameworks do you use when you are trying to help your larger customers develop a culture of innovation?

Cooper: I love applying author Alexander Osterwalder’s business model canvas in the enterprise, which is ubiquitous among startups but largely unheard of in large organizations. The business model canvas provides a simple one-sheet tool that forces large organizations to clearly articulate the opportunity. The unexpected advantage of this tool is that it becomes an incredible internal communication device when it’s complete. The simple layout helps your internal constituents quickly understand the concept… and then it forces them to stay focused on what’s most important. By shortening the time it takes to understand the problem, organizations are able to mitigate risk and act far more decisively.

Skroupa: How does this approach to innovation within the enterprise create resilient organizations?

Cooper: The key to organizational resilience is the ability to act quickly while simultaneously mitigating your risks. The best way to mitigate risk is by constantly testing and validating your assumptions as you go. Moving quickly and testing assumptions requires that businesses 1) clearly understand what their assumptions are and 2) have the ability to test and change their assumptions on the fly.  The business model canvas can provide massive clarity and organizational visibility around your goals, outcomes and assumptions. If you combine the canvas model with common “lean startup” practices, then I believe your organization will be well on the way to becoming more agile and resilient.

Skroupa: What advice do you have for organizations trying to switch to this new model of innovation?

Cooper: Be agile about becoming agile! Use lean and agile methodologies to roll out these ideas. Instead of starting with a five-year roll out plan and then implementing it on 47 projects simultaneously, pick a small project within your organization to test out the business model canvas. Your first small project will be your “minimum viable product,” the bare minimum amount of features needed to get an idea in front of a customer, used to validate your assumptions before you roll out these practices across the enterprise. This little experiment can help provide living, breathing proof of success to the rest of your organization. Report your successes and progress back to the rest of your constituents every two weeks and constantly find ways to test and learn as you go. The more transparency and willingness to learn that you bring into the process, the most success you’ll see over the long haul.

Skroupa: What would you identify as common obstacles a company may face when evolving into a more innovative culture?

Cooper: The biggest obstacle to a culture of innovation is the fear of change. The classic business book “Who Moved My Cheese” provides great little allegory related to the problem with innovation. Essentially, as humans, we have a propensity to resist change at every turn. Unfortunately, the rate at which most businesses are forced to adapt has increased substantially in the last 20 years. The more you resist change… the more you invite negative changes to your organization.  The only way to reduce fear and deliver consistent value to your customers over time is to embrace constant change and adaptation as part of your organization’s culture. The processes I’ve been talking about simply provide an easy, accessible toolbox for building change into your organization’s DNA.

Serhat Cicekoglu, Director of Loyola University Chicago, Quinlan School of Business, Center for Risk Management adds: Traditionally, Wall Street steers executives to value incremental improvements in competitive capabilities over fast change caused by innovation related strategies.  This requires a longer term commitment of resources needed to foster change, including the kind of change that creates a culture described by Cooper. Without experimentation it becomes challenging to create an innovative culture and develop talent with confidence–an important prerequisite to challenge the status quo.  It’s pure luck that companies are able to net out sustainable growth.”

On January 28th, 2015, Loyola University Chicago will host Innovation: Building Company Resilience. Continue the discussion with Gabe Cooper, Serhat Cicekoglu, Director of Quinlan’s Center for Risk Management and a select group of business executives, innovation strategists and academics on innovation and company resilience. To inquire about attending, contact