The Office of Strategic Innovation

The Office of Strategic Innovation, Inc. is a process consulting firm that focuses on connecting and integrating innovation, creativity and quality into a deliberate strategy for generating and implementing new ideas on a continuous basis. The techniques and processes we use today were originally developed to support long-range technology planning for the Air Force's Innovation Initiative. Rolf Smith, the firm's principal, is a retired Air Force officer who created and ran the first military Innovation Center and Office of Innovation.

Rolf retired in 1987 as a Colonel and entered into an exclusive long-term contract with Exxon with the charter of creating an Innovation Center on the Air Force model. He incorporated the Office of Strategic Innovation (OSI) and assisted in the design and rollout of an innovation system within Exxon's Marketing Department. By 1989 the innovation process had spread to virtually every department in Exxon, and OSI created the School for Innovators to teach people how to jumpstart new ideas, facilitate innovative thinking, and lead change processes. OSI also brought its out-of-the-box thinking techniques to bear in developing and training the 280-person Emergency Response Team which was created after the Valdez oil spill.

Exxon's Vice President of Marketing expanded the innovation initiative by launching the company into a large-scale continuous improvement program. The challenge lay in integrating the concepts of continuous improvement and Quality with creativity and innovation. OSI developed a very successful model for that and trained a network of 170 innovation and Marketing continuous improvement facilitators. Similar to the innovation initiative, continuous improvement rapidly spread from Marketing out into the rest of the company. By 1992, the use of creativity and innovation processes, tools and techniques was widespread and heavily coupled into major change projects, including restructuring and reengineering.

In 1992 we negotiated changes to the exclusive contract with Exxon and began assisting other companies interested in innovation as a strategy. We have since worked with companies such as IBM, Shell Oil, E-Systems, Hoechst Celanese, R J Reynolds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Mohawk Industries, Texaco and Chase Manhattan Bank on various aspects of innovation, creativity and change -- and the School for Innovators has continued to be a mainstay for facilitator training.

What we do falls into six major groupings. These six groupings are the key thrusts of our efforts to make innovation and creativity strategic values in America.

  • Strategic Innovation
  • Thinking Expeditions
  • Innovation Consulting & Unusual Problems
  • Innovation Education & Training
  • Innovation Jump-Starts
  • Keynotes & Large Conference Facilitation

Strategic Innovation:  This is usually connected with new business development teams, offsite meetings, long-range planning groups, and more senior leadership. OSI has designed, led and process-assisted on a number of major "deep look" projects such as ExPro Geoscience 2000, Exxon 2025, SPACECAST 2020 (U.S. Air Force), and the Defense Communications Agency Strategic Plan. Team-building and vision & mission work is frequently connected with such efforts. Consulting support is focused on assisting organizations in the design and launch of an innovation initiative and creating internal innovation networks.

Thinking Expeditions:  In more immediate applications of innovation, we have facilitated assaults on "unusual" problems connected with cost-cutting, reengineering and new product development. We have drawn on learnings from our School for Innovators and developed a mindshifting process that leads groups to very different perspectives: The Thinking Expedition. Creative process tools and techniques are combined with exploring the unknown (unusual challenges) to create an intense, demanding, high-energy operation that pushes thinking to new levels along unclear paths. The results are a number of multi-million dollar breakout ideas that have been quickly implemented as cost reductions, reengineering projects, new business development concepts, and long-range strategic initiatives. This avenue of innovation has been so successful that we formed a division within OSI dedicated to Thinking Expeditions --
The Virtual Thinking Expedition Company!

Innovation Consulting:  This is typically work with a corporate Innovation Steering Committee, an emerging Office of Innovation, the Quality focal point, or someone relatively senior who wants to infuse innovation and creativity into the organization. Such consulting typically progresses to a strategic alliance, cooperative innovation development work, studies and publications, and one-on-one coaching with key leaders.

Innovation Education & Training:  A wide range of courses, training and workshop offerings aimed at energizing in-house innovators to create an innovation network within large organizations. The School for Innovators is an intensive seven-day program for innovation facilitators, change agents and innovation initiative leaders. "Thinking about Thinking"
(1-3 days), "Me, Inc." (2 days), the "Innovation Briefing" (1/2 - 1 1/2 days) and "Innovating Quality" (2-3 days) are representative of our shorter offerings, and we have developed 60-90 minute overviews for senior groups on the practice of innovation and creativity
("Why Innovation?") and the concept of Thinking Expeditions.

Innovation Jump-Starts:  This is typically new business or new product oriented along two approaches: (1) An innovation session to generate and develop new and significantly different ideas and concepts for some specific strategic focus area of a company's market or (2) a session aimed more at taking an existing business concept or process that is "stuck" and stretching its boundaries ("out-of-the-box" thinking). The sessions move groups through increasingly higher levels of change in their thinking to produce a series of new ideas with supporting action plans.

Keynotes and Large Conferences:  Very different keynotes and talks are our trademark. Interactive in terms of audience involvement, they are made even more energizing through the heavy use of multimedia (35mm slides, video clips and audio snapshots). A "starter" is a keynote that sets the stage for the use of creative thinking techniques and innovation processes throughout a conference or major meeting; it is coupled with the equivalent of a one-day innovation workshop, embedded in the meeting. Again, both our keynotes and starters aim at energizing a group and producing useful results and output by the end of the meeting.

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