Brett Trusko of the International Association of Innovation Professionals (IAOIP) tells us about innovation education and certification.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Brett Trusko: The family is fine, and I hope yours is as well. It has indeed been an interesting experience. I have a wife that used to travel non-stop and three kids, two of who were in college during the start of the pandemic and one that was a junior in high school when it started. My wife and I can deal with the upheaval in our lives, and while things have been difficult, it is much worse for so many others. I do feel bad for my oldest, who graduated from NYU film School this spring and had his job offer rescinded. Movies and TV shows will start again soon, but the pause in his adult life wasn’t something we were expecting. The other one I feel particularly bad for is my youngest, who is now a senior in high school and has attended the entirety of his senior year (one of the best years in your life), socializing primarily with his mom and dad. Hopefully, he will at least get graduation and a fund summer before he heads off to college.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded IAOIP.
Brett Trusko: I have been involved in several businesses over my lifetime. I started out as an accountant at one of the international consultancies, and over the years (with a couple of departures from the course. A couple of years as a hospital CFO, and another at a Silicon Valley startup during the boom), I worked my way up to Managing Director. I eventually left as my kids were young, and my wife, who was also an MD at the same firm, liked the travel more at the time. I ended up at Mayo Clinic as a professor studying why medical errors happen. I soon ended up as a professor at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and New York University as a professor of data science, analytics, and innovation. Eventually, I came to Texas to be a professor at Texas A&M, also working in analytics, Data Science and Innovation.
Along the way, I starred in an academic journal called The International Journal of Innovation Science. This was founded because I was concerned about the lack of discipline in innovation and felt like it could never be a profession unless there was serious research in the space. After five years of publishing the journal, as well as pressure from the business community to create global standards and a body of knowledge, I published the Global Innovation Science Handbook (PROSE Award winner) and formed the International Association of Innovation Professionals. The founding was in 2013, and we now have over 4,000 members in 116 countries.
How does IAOIP innovate?
Brett Trusko: In our case, we promote innovators. We are currently the US delegates to ANSI and ISO creating the global innovation management systems standard. This is referred to as either ISO 279 or ISO 56000. Soon, ISO 56001 will be the auditable standard for innovation management systems. This will be critical as large organizations such as the U.S GSA need a reliable, objective measurement for contractors who need to demonstrate their innovation capabilities. Of course, we always find new ways to offer services to our members, and with a limited budget, we find that the most frustrating thing about being a small not-for-profit. We could offer more if the budgets allowed. Specific to your question, we have open forums and member opportunities nearly every day.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Brett Trusko: Corporate budgets have been dramatically slashed during COVID. Obviously, this affects us greatly as our revenues are primarily driven by member dues.
We had two conferences scheduled this year. We cancelled our annual meeting that was supposed to be at Georgi Tech this last fall but had an amazing virtual conference with the U.S. Navy this fall. In many respects, people liked it better than a live conference. We found a platform that allowed us to have breakouts, and we changed our speaking format to TED-like. The best part about it was that we pre-recorded all presentations so the presenter could be on the line to answer questions and, best of all, no one ran over time.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Brett Trusko: In our case, we did make a couple of difficult choices. For example, we decided that now was the best time to migrate to a new backend member system. It seemed like since we were not planning a conference and memberships flagged, now would be the best time to do this. A strange thing happened, though – we actually picked up 250 new members in the last couple of months of the year, after the migration was complete.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and IAOIP in the future?
Brett Trusko: I don’t think this is a trade secret, but now that ISO has committed to the 56001 standards, we are reorienting our business to focus on the emerging standard. We have given the members the marching orders to always think about how the standard will affect their companies, countries, and peers. This will lead to a lot of innovation consultants either working with companies to help them create model innovation management systems or lose their ability to work with major companies and companies in the future. Speaking of ISO, we are always interested in adding additional members to the US delegation so that they and their companies’ voices can be heard.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Brett Trusko: Our competitors are essentially for-profit companies that claim to offer certifications for innovation professionals. Since day one, our strategy was to follow the requirements for ISO 17024 and become accredited as an organization that certifies individuals. Because of the framework, everything in the body of knowledge and certification process is peer-reviewed and confirmed by experts. The competitors, since they do not follow the guidelines, are really making the decision about what you need to know. The way we do it to be compliant with ISO is a much longer process, but confirmed and reinforced by global experts instead of a couple of questionable “experts” on a zoom call. We have always contended that innovation in its current iteration is a lot like skipping the nutritious part of the meal (meat, vegetables, etc.) and only eating dessert. During the pandemic, we have noticed that a lot of innovation departments have been shut down because they couldn’t prove their value in a time of crisis. Our contention is that if you were REALLY doing innovation in a serious way, your executive suite would have called you first as the way we have had to do business has changed. When looking to lay off people, I think most people can guess which executives choose – The team with their head down or the team playing foosball.
Your final thoughts?
Brett Trusko: This has been an interesting road to travel. Many innovation professionals get into the business because it is fun and exciting. Most job postings these days require the person to be innovative. The problem is that many people underestimate the hard work required to truly be an innovation professional. It isn’t just about setting up a cool place to work, but it is about creating and managing an innovation portfolio. It’s about training your team (by the way, you don’t have to be “innovative” to work on an innovation team). It isn’t just about following the latest trends but doing the hard work of innovation like helping develop the global standard for innovation.