The Da Vinci Initiative: Creating Customer Value Providers through Community Colleges
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Posted by: Matthew Montoya
By Geoffrey Henny
Henny Innovation Technologies LLC
Providing customer value is the key to economic development today. Yet, people working or studying in any field have traditionally very limited experience learning the skills needed to provide customer value. Providing customer value is defined here as meeting a ‘want’ for someone or some organization that will pay for this want to be met. It is becoming clear that having customer value-providing skills is an essential competitive advantage in today’s fast changing technological society. It is also the key to entrepreneurship and producing an entrepreneurial population that can succeed in an emerging globalizing economy. In this economy more and more people have to create their own job to make a living or convince an employer they can produce and deliver something people will pay for.
Providing customer value is also closely aligned with the concepts of ‘innovation’ and ‘creating innovative opportunity.’ These can be defined as applying creative ideas and marshaling resources to provide an offering (product, service, system or process) that improves a customer’s situation or circumstance. Common customer value improvements are better quality, enhanced performance, lower cost and faster results. Less tangible customer value improvements can include producing meaning and beauty, creating excitement, generating a sense of mystery, promoting a sense of well being, creating a sense of purpose and correcting an error or an injustice. From my perspective providing customer value is the centerpiece of a healthy, successful and considerate society.
A New Community College Entrepreneurship Initiative
At present I am working with Cheryl Gracie, the business faculty member responsible for the Washtenaw Community College Entrepreneurship Program, on a training program that shows people how to produce customer value. In tandem with this activity, I am also working with the University of Michigan College of Engineering Entrepreneurship Certificate Program on creating what I call an ‘Innovative Opportunity Mapping and Development’ (IOMAD) curriculum. This curriculum is built on developing innovative opportunity development skills through the exploration of cases and exercises drawn from events in the history of innovation and current developments in key economic domains such as food and energy, arts and entertainment, transportation, healthcare, security, social services and consumer products and services.
IOMAD is designed to embed customer value-producing skills in engineering and design students. In this effort I am supported by the advice and counsel of Allen Samuels, a visionary product designer with many corporate clients, who used to be dean of the University of Michigan College of Art and Design. I am also supported by Archie Sader, former Madison Avenue advertising whiz kid and current director of the Eastern Michigan University Online Integrated Marketing Communications Master of Science program (MS-IMC).
Together the four of us and a team of trainers with backgrounds in innovative problem solving are integrating our work by developing what we call the ‘Da Vinci Initiative.’ This initiative is named after the famous 16th Century Renaissance artist, inventor, craftsman, engineer, scientist and entrepreneur. Da Vinci has come to represent the archetype of a cultural entrepreneur for a previous period of rapid technological development and globalization when people had to re-imagine their education and ways of making a living.
The Da Vinci Initiative is a curriculum and training program, linked to an intelligent online tutoring system and support network focused on assisting Community Colleges Entrepreneurship Programs. The Da Vinci Initiative uses cases, exercises and experiences under expert coaches that take people step by step through a process of acquiring these five customer value-producing skills:
- Defining, mapping and entering opportunity ecosystems and value creating networks.
- Performing wants analysis to surface customer offering opportunities.
- Using inventive opportunity development techniques to design an offering that meets a customer want.
- Marshaling people, technical and financial resources, cost-effectively, to produce, market and deliver an offering.
- Developing and implementing a funded plan that creates and provides a customer offering that is suited to the individual participant’s interests, passion, values and abilities at the time.
The Da Vinci Initiative is focused initially on Community College Entrepreneurship programs because we see them as the essential bridge between teaching and learning at all levels and a wider community that is struggling to redefine employment, cultural values and making a living. We believe these programs can be key catalysts and engines of economic development if they form customer value providers on a large scale because these people will create sustainable new businesses and successful new employer initiatives.
Inventive Opportunity Development Techniques Are Core Skill
Mastering inventive opportunity development techniques is the core skill around which the other customer value provider skills are structured. It is most likely to be achieved when there is ‘skin in the game,’ i.e. the learner has to successfully produce and sell a customer offering.
These nine clusters of inventive opportunity development techniques constitute what we consider to be the necessary repertoire for customer value creation:
Inventive Opportunity Development Technique Clusters
1. Adaptively Modeling, Mimicking, Borrowing, Prototyping and Mapping
2. Carefully Observing, Dialoging, Translating, Projecting & Reporting
3. Pattern Identifying, Mixing, Matching and Using
4. Abstracting, Visualizing, Function Analyzing, Trimming, Intermediating, Compositing, Dimensional Thinking and View Changing
5. Composing, Arranging, Networking and Orchestrating
6. Developing a Story, Theme or Message
7. Empathizing, Mood Managing, Self Knowing, Motivating, Values Identifying and Persuading
8. Systems and Subsystems Analysis, Swapping, Integration, Feedback Looping, Positioning, Segmenting, Separation in Time and Space and Synthesis
9. Identifying and Using Mental and Cultural Predispositions and Leveraging Thought Process Constraints
These techniques are the practical and validated distillation of historical human experience coupled with new methods that have been emerging in the current high technology era.
Geoffrey Henny is co-chair of the Washtenaw Community College (WCC) Entrepreneur Advisory Board to the Student Entrepreneur Competition and Founder/CEO of Henny Innovation Technologies LLC. He can be reached at