Written by Shala Hainer Tuesday, November 08 2011Snapshot: Jeneanne Rae, founder, Motiv
For more than 20 years, Jeneanne Rae has worked with nonprofits, government agencies, and such high-profile corporate clients as Procter & Gamble, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, and Kraft Foods, helping them with design strategy and innovation services. Dubbed the “doyenne of service innovation" by friend and Bloomberg Businessweek contributing editor Bruce Nussbaum, she also has been named one of the magazine’s “Seven Magnificent Gurus of Innovation” and “Best Leaders of the Year.”
After discovering the concept of innovation design at architect and engineering firm CRS Sirrine after her college years, Rae worked on the leadership team with design and innovation consulting firm IDEO for several years. She moved on to serve six years as president of innovation consultancy Peer Insight before founding the innovation strategy firm Motiv in 2011.
Considered an expert in the field and frequently called on to speak and write articles about innovation strategy, Rae also serves as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and is part of the Business Innovation Factory in Providence, R.I., and the Expert Panel for U.S. Agency for Health Care Research and Quality’s Innovation Exchange.
Womenetics: What is innovation strategy?
Jeneanne Rae: The work that we do gives our clients a lot of context into the environment they are working in, the consumer trends environment, the business model environment, and those kinds of things. We also help inform them how they should approach a particular opportunity and how they should go to market with a new offering.
Womenetics: How have you made Motiv different from other design strategy companies?
Rae: That's a great question because we see ourselves first as business strategists that use design methods to come up with new ideas instead of coming up with new ideas outside of the larger business context. For example, instead of just going and talking to users as a way of just kicking something off and trying to understand what's going on in the consumers' minds, we try to build the business context for where something needs to operate -- the competitive environment, the market environment, the environment for new business models, potentially. We help to form the innovation process by providing business information at key points along the way to aid in decision making.
Womenetics: Motiv's clients include nonprofit associations, Standard &Poor’s 500 companies, state government agencies, and industrial companies. How do you help these very different entities to focus their efforts?
Rae: No two projects are alike. We help them focus their efforts to be user-centric, to be thinking about people and how they're going to be using certain kinds of things, but we also get them very focused on their own business goals and what they need to achieve. We try to set criteria for how people are going to be successful and help to inform the criteria through the kind of business analysis that we do and the findings from doing field research with users. We like to have our work informed by user needs. The needs are different with the different industries, but the processes are the same.
Womenetics: You've worn many hats, from business owner to speaker to educator to Bloomberg Businessweek contributor. Which is your favorite, and why?
Rae: They're all great, and they're all challenging. They've all aided me in different points of my career. I think one of the reasons I'm good at speaking these days is because I was an educator. One thing leads to another. One role that I really like is I love to write. I wish I had more time for writing, but here lately I've been pressed with running a business. So if there's any frustration, it's that I don't have as much time as I would like to have to be a thought leader. We're just at a point in our maturity that requires me to do more building of the business.
We've got quite a blog going at Motiv, so that's where I've been writing lately. I just did an article for the new Design Management that's coming out. Also, we're working on a big paper following a speech about trends and what's going on in business-to-business markets. I've been thinking about how to make a platform out of all these kinds of thought leadership, and sometimes they don't all manifest the same way -- sometimes you start one way and go another way, but we just want a kind of pulse coming out about the things we think about and how we're looking at the evolution of how things are working.
The whole digital revolution has been just fascinating to watch, how digital business models are sort of taking over and how companies are taking advantage of the scale you can get doing things like this. Also, the whole social media thing and how people want to be more engaged than they ever have before. There are business ramifications around these kinds of trends that have been really exciting to write about.
Womenetics: What has been the hardest thing or your biggest obstacle during your career?
Rae: It's hard to say, but I think it comes down to people and finding the right kind of people to work with. I think it's hard to find the right kind of team, the right individuals, to be able to do great things. I had a long period of time where I had a great team; we were all on the same page, and we were able to do fantastic work together. It was just a perfect set of conditions to do great stuff. I think finding that optimal team has been, maybe not an obstacle, but it can make or break your situation.
Womenetics: What challenges do you face trying to find the right employees who have the diverse skills necessary to help Motiv's clients?
Rae: We have a lot of networks that we've built to try to find people to work with us, and we're trying to go in a bunch of different directions. We're trying to find people who have federal government experience, research experience, and experience building digital platforms. It requires a lot of networking and knowing where to find people who are in those kinds of positions. We've got to find smart people, so of course we're looking at all the top schools to lead our recruiting efforts, but we're also using networking to find people who are working with other people we know.
Womenetics: You've mentioned that the business design process is central to innovation. How so?
Rae: I wouldn't really it call it business design, I would call it more design process. This process is usually called design thinking. You can read a lot about design thinking -- I've talked a lot about it, and there are books out there about it. It's the process of building up ideas instead of reducing ideas. Certain types of schools teach what they call reductive reasoning, where you're eliminating answers to come up with a reduced answer.
The design process is an adductive process where you build up ideas. If you know nothing, you just add layers of information to your knowledge base and you use certain kinds of methods like visualization to get people to understand what it is that you're all shooting for. It's a very robust methodology. It's only taught in a few places, really. More now, but that wasn't the case 20 years ago. When I was teaching at Georgetown, I taught this to them and they loved it -- it makes a lot of sense.
Womenetics: What advice on innovation strategy do you have for young women about to enter the work force?
Rae: Everybody has to be ready to reinvent themselves and reinvent what they're working on at any given time. You have to have a toolkit to be able to do that and to be able to galvanize other people around new ideas. One of the first things that people need to understand is that they have to be quick learners -- they have to learn to love to learn. They have to be able to add new information into what they're working on and not be afraid to shift and change based on new things that occur in the market. Understanding how to design something, for example, is huge to keep moving in one's career and to be able to enlist other people in that effort -- to drive teams and brainstorming sessions.
Womenetics: What has been your biggest success story among the clients whose companies you've helped redesign?
Rae: I think the Amtrak/Acela program I worked on years ago with IDEO because it was a fundamentally new service. It needed a huge team of people working in the same direction. There was a new name, new brand, a new train set that had to come online; there were all kinds of new service requirements, interior design requirements, all kinds of things that had to happen. It was just an incredible effort within not only IDEO, but the client as well. It's one of the most accessible kinds of transportation in the Northeast corridor – people really love that train and depend on it much more so than the airlines. That's probably one of my favorite programs of all time.
Womenetics: How do you find time to unwind from the stress of running a business and being constantly on the go?
Rae: (Laughing) I think I might be able to answer that question in about six months, but I don't really have time right now. You have to exercise, and you have to take your vitamins and get some sleep, and you just keep going. You have to keep your head held up high and keep putting one foot in front of the other when you're doing something like this and know that it's going to be successful in the end.
Based near Atlanta, Shala Hainer has been writing and copyediting since 1995. Beginning her career at newspapers such as the Marietta Daily Journal and the Atlanta Business Chronicle, she most recently wrote and edited articles for several nonprofit organizations before purchasing a flower shop in 2006. She earned a bachelor’s in communications from Jacksonville State University.