The First Sessions of the Innovators' Lab: Scottsdale, AZ and Chicago, IL

Session One: Scottsdale, Arizona

Taliesen West Lab - John

Our first meeting was at Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home, Taliesen West. We moved among historic rooms, including the Wright’s living room and the current CEO’s desert home.

In addition to starting friendships, we generated hundreds of ideas and ended up with 26 experiments divided among our original seven member companies.

The variety of the experiments demonstrates the leverage of The Innovators’ Lab: Where else can you learn in a single quarter from 26 ongoing management/marketing experiments, and look forward to first-hand accounts of what went wrong and what went right with each one?

Session Two: Chicago, Illinois

By the time of our summer of ’02 session, we had grown to eleven member companies.

Our session was at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre overlooking Navy Pier. (An actor treated us to brief selections from Shakespeare’s works, including the uplifting St. Crispin’s speech in Henry V delivered from atop our conference table.)

We added an informal reception the evening prior to our all-day meeting, allowing us the chance to renew friendships from the first meeting. Our day included “Mendelian Creativity,” named in honor of Gregor Mendel and his work on the mathematics of genetics.

In our case, we were “cross-pollinating” ideas. More important, though, was our chance to get reports on the experiments, and offer each other advice and encouragement. This last benefit of The Innovator’s Lab was surprisingly powerful. Innovation can be lonely and frustrating; the Lab allows like-minded people to remind one another of the joys of experimentation.

As one member reported, “We went back after the first session and said, to ourselves, ‘Hey, we can do this. We can be innovative.’ And within days we hit upon an entirely new industry. It was right there all along, we just never noticed it till after the first Lab convinced us to start looking for breakthroughs.”

Session Three: Scottsdale, Arizona

Our third session was at "the world's coolest auto complex," which is described in the "Corporate Curmudgeon" newspaper column Dale wrote about it....

United Auto Group Showroom, Scottsdale, Arizona

What Comes After "WOW!"

by Dale Dauten

"Mass transportation is doomed to failure in North America because a car is the only place a person can be alone and think."

-- Marshall McLuhan

Is there a greater joy than a new car? Oh, sure, world peace, contributing to society, and saving the planet look good on paper, but can they compete with a sunroof, eight speakers and leather like butter? A car is not about getting somewhere; it's about getting away. Selecting a car for "transportation" is like going to Communion for the snack.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me back up and start at the beginning… which was a meeting I'll never forget. I was there with George Brochick and Jon Wiggins, two executives with United Auto Group, a five billion dollar company that owns auto dealerships around the country. They told me they were about to build a giant auto complex outside Scottsdale, Ariz. to house high-end auto brands - BMW, Porsche, Range Rover, Jaguar and so on.

Having had me in to speak on innovation, they wondered if I'd like to help them find ways to make it even more special than just great cars. That day at that lunch we set a goal: to make it the coolest auto complex in the world. There is magic in adding an "est" to a goal - fastest, newest, coolest. It makes an concept magnetic, for it forces the mind to do more than imitate.

At the time, Tom Peters was urging companies to create products and services that would delight consumers with "WOW!" However, there is a higher standard than "WOW!"; it's what I call "WOMP," for Word of Mouth Potential. We didn't just want people to walk IN and say, "Wow, this is cool." No, we wanted them to walk OUT saying, "I have got to tell Jimmy about this place!" That's WOMP.

World's Coolest Auto Test TrackAnd, as I eavesdrop on early visitors, that is just what they're saying. Why? The facility is a square, a quarter-mile on a side, and the best place to enter is at main corner, through the Penske Racing Museum. Named for race driver, Roger Penske, who is also CEO of United Auto Group, there are the cars that won Indy and other major races, surrounded by racing memorabilia. Go up to the second floor of the museum, and there you'll find a Starbucks. You'll walk through the open-air back of the museum and sit on a giant deck and look out at the test tracks. You watch Jags and Porsches and BMWs going around the curving track, but more entertaining, is watching the Range Rovers on the off-road track, entered by dropping down below the regular track, through a waterfall, then up a hill that seems impossible with wet tires, and then around curves where everything you know about physics insists that the vehicle must topple.

With the beauty of the cars and the special exhibits from the auto manufacturers, you've got hours of recreation, and plenty of chances to fall in love with a car. Moreover, if all goes well, it won't be long till you'll be able to attend a charity event at the Museum featuring some of the cars from famous collection - I'm hoping for Jay Leno or Clive Cussler. Maybe they'll be some speed records for the "Guiness Book." Who knows what will come from the lively mind of the man who runs the complex, Jon Wiggins.

I don't have space to detail all there is to the complex, but I want you to visit to see the embodiment of WOMP. It's a business trip. If you go, you'll understand that while it may seem an extravagance to have space devoted to non-revenue producing items, it's going to turn out to be a bargain. First, they can dramatically cut the ad budget. Second, turns out that a lot of high-end autos are impulse purchases and lots of high-end people are going to come there for some business or charity event and have an opportunity to be impulsive. Further, the complex will be an attraction, one listed in guidebooks - winter visitors to Arizona will stop in and decide to drive back home in a new car.

Most auto dealers spend lots of advertising money to get people who've decided to buy a car to come to their lots. What the United Auto Group has done is to give people a place they want to come, where they can fall in love with a car they didn't even know they wanted. In other words, it's going to change the way people buy cars. At last there is a place worthy of the joy of a new car. That's beyond WOW, all the way to WOMP.

© 2002 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

Other Sessions

The first year of The Innovators' Lab included five Idea Sessions. Six are planned for year two, including one at NASA headquarters in Houston. For details, click here!

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