First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Anthony Mills: We’re okay. The first couple of months of “stay at home” were hard… lots of driving around with my wife. But now it’s better. We live in West Michigan, and here things aren’t too bad. Our kids are back in school in person, some sports are happening, and so on, and so there is more social activity, so I would say that now we are okay.
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined GInI
Anthony Mills: My background academically was in Mechanical Engineering. My background professionally was in Product Development – leading the development of all manner of new products across a wide range of industries, including automotive, consumer appliances, bicycles, life science equipment, and more. At that time, I worked with partners, suppliers, and customers worldwide, traveling around Europe and Asia a fair amount.
After nearly 30 years of doing that, I engaged in the consulting world to further develop and apply my knowledge of business innovation, which is, of course, infinitely broader than just product innovation. I have my own firm called Legacy Innovation Group, but some of my work there caught the attention of those who had organized the Global Innovation Institute. I was invited to develop and deliver professional training for them, which I did, and then based on that, I was invited to come on board as the Institute’s Executive Director and develop out its professional certification and business accreditation programs – an offer I accepted. I’ve now been with the Institute for about 5 years.
How does GInI innovate?
Anthony Mills: Primarily in two ways.
- First, we do need-findings, where we actively search for unmet customer needs (by talking to customers, observing them, etc.), and then we try to create new offerings that satisfy those needs.
- Secondly, we do trendwatching. Looking at what innovation topics are trending most and looking for new opportunities to either integrate that into our offerings or else develop new offerings.
We also look for additional means of global expansion. Because the Institute’s programs have been so popular in the Middle East, we recently launched a MENA Operations Centre in Abu Dhabi and have fully arabized all of the Institute’s educational materials. This is providing for much deeper penetration into organizations in this region.
Most likely Chinese materials could be next.
Finally, we strive to ensure that all of our offerings are as digital as they can be. Our certification exams, certificates, Applied Innovation Master Book (the Institute’s body of knowledge, and Training Kits, etc. are all delivered online in digital format.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Anthony Mills: The certification industry overall is heavily dependent upon the training industry, and the shutdowns resulting from the pandemic have significantly curtailed training in general, and so this has impacted the certification industry as a whole, including the Institute.
We are coping in that many of our providers have transitioned to deliver virtual training and virtual assessments (for the business accreditations).
With doing everything virtually, there is still a lot of activity going on, just in a very different way.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Anthony Mills: Perhaps the most difficult thing was to postpone some of the major new initiatives that we had otherwise planned on pursuing in 2020, such as a major new conference event and awards program. We really want to launch these – being brand new – as live events, and so we decided to postpone some of these things.
I think the lesson is that while we will never go back to the old normal, we are still social beings at the end of the day, and there will never be a substitute for being live with real people. The human element of all this is very important to innovation, and despite how effective digital tools can be, the fun level is just never the same. We believe having fun is important, and that happens when people get together with one another.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and GInI in the future?
Anthony Mills: Patience is a key element of dealing with stress and anxiety – taking one day at a time. The other part is just “showing up”… being present and taking definitive actions whenever and wherever we can.
We protect ourselves by continuing to be in touch with our customers and with the market so that we are constantly delivering the sort of value they need… so that we are always relevant to the market.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Anthony Mills: Our main competitors are other certifying institutes in business innovation, of which there are a couple.
First of all, we don’t worry too much about what these competitors do; we don’t guide the organization according to what they do. We guide it according to what the market and our customers’ ongoing and emerging needs are. If we can be the best at meeting the market’s needs, desires, and expectations, then what our competitors do is irrelevant to us.
Thinking more broadly, other certification programs outside of business innovation also compete for our potential certificate-holders’ attention, and so we also compete against them, as well as against non-certification in general. We address that by making business innovation certification as attractive and meaningful as possible through a quality program and good marketing.
Your final thoughts
Anthony Mills: No matter where your business is in its cycle, it will always be an ongoing and constant fight to find, maintain, and optimize “product-market fit,” as what we are doing today may very well be irrelevant tomorrow. So, whether your business is one month old, one year old, one decade old, or one century old, it has to stay in tune with markets and find new ways to deliver value that is constantly relevant to where markets are going.
Some of that happens because of external events, but some of it happens because we have the opportunity to shape the future ourselves. But that requires us to get out front with lots of different experiments to figure out what will take hold and what will not as we try desperately to shape and define the future before us.
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