Disruption, Opportunity, and the 90-Day Innovation Roadmap: A Conversation with Michael Binko

Michael Binko thrives on disruption. The pandemic; shakiness in traditional financial markets; the collapse of crypto currencies; the skyrocketing capabilities of AI; the continuing challenges of supply-chain issues, rife inflation, and the threats of a recession – it’s all grist for his Innovation | Venture Development mill.  

“I look at every disruption as nothing but opportunity. I have always been challenges and inspired in times like these,” attests Binko, Think Managing Director for Venture | Innovation | Ecosystems and Venture Partner for Think Ventures. “My mind is always tuned to Challenge+Solution problem-solving; and is always amplified during difficult economic times.”  

The key, Binko quips, is to use the window between disruption and recovery to “think about how to onboard innovation with a venture development lens of Ecosystem, Metrics+Milestones and Waypoints.” He is creating a new service for Think, driven by his 20+ years of success inspiring 90-Day Innovation Roadmapping.  The concept applies to portfolio owners, business ventures large and small, and ecosystems of support across industry sectors and innovation categories. He outlines the project in this Q&A with longtime business journalist and writer Bill Atkinson. 

(Atkinson) Let’s start with the basics: What is a 90-Day Innovation Roadmap? Is it just a buzz word for “load up on new technology”?  

(Binko) No, it’s typically NOT about technology! Let’s start with innovation. Sure, we hear a lot about generative AI and cybersecurity, big data and analytics, as well as supply chains – but innovation can be any improvement that makes your business more efficient and more profitable such as human capital and operational excellence.  

But here’s the thing: Innovation is change. Change is hard. Your team members might need to take on roles they’re currently not doing; they may need to be released from other responsibilities and empowered to take on added objectives, goals and milestones.  

Innovation is always ambiguous and applying innovation to venture development is always challenging. Especially in disrupted moments and markets, teams will often rally around what they know. What they don’t know is unsettling at a minimum and frustrating or crippling at worst. They need to know where they are supposed to navigate and that they are heading in the right direction to get there.  

That’s where the roadmap comes in, and it needs to be a really thoughtful roadmap. At Think, we put our strategic lens behind Waypoints for Innovation and Venture Road mapping, supported with metrics and milestones along the way to guide your progress.  

And why 90 days? What can you accomplish in a quarter? 

Let’s say we are 12 to 24 months from the recovery. Once the economy starts to return, you won’t have the time to take 90 days (or even 30) as you will begin to get drawn into the recovery tractor beam.  If you start early you can make decisions in a 90-day period and start to execute.  Also, you may find that multiple Innovations can have impact on your Venture.  

Now is the time to act. Now is the time to invest. Thanks to the many disruptions, great opportunities abound. Also, there is so much great talent looking for a the next landing place right now.  Whether by choice or by force this human capital will likely be have perspectives on innovation that are fresh and rewarding for ventures equipped to engage and inspire their ambitions.  

You have to trust your gut, of course, but hone those instincts with information and real data/metrics. You need to become a student of where the disruptions have happened and what the impact they have had and, then, where the opportunities are emerging.  

“Hang on” is definitely a skillset; you will likely have to preserve capital and get your burn-rate as tight as it can be (particularly for startup and rampup stage ventures); but while you’re doing that you still need to extend your runway so you’re ready to activate Innovation and new offerings when the right time arrives.  

How about some examples? How can you not only survive this disruption, but thrive coming out?  

That’s going to vary for each organization, but the method is the same: it starts with goal-setting – choosing a destination – then plotting out the steps to get there, identifying the waypoints, milestones and metrics needed to stay on track. 

If you’re a portfolio owner (venture/equity capital), what can your team be doing to guide and advise portfolio ventures, either as a board member or in counseling board members and management teams?  

For ventures, is the goal to improve existing lines of business (LoBs) with new methods, processes, human capital, or operational excellence? For the Fortune 100 or 500s, is the focus on R&D, M&A or developing new or refining existing products/LoBs? Do you have too many eggs in one basket (such as industry sectors)?  Should you diversify offerings and opportunities?  

This could look like finding one product or service to add to the core, that customers would be willing and able to pay for when the economy turns around and their finances improve. Or it could be spinning off a subsidiary, or an arm’s-length held entity, or an entirely separate venture entity to add to the one you’re operating now. For larger organizations, it could also mean acquiring established businesses or lines of business. 

When the market turns and economy struggle, which is where we seem to be today, that is when executives have to dig in, right? 

Of course, disruptions by their very nature can limit the resources available to invest. The first question, then, is deciding where to put those limited resources. What’s your focus going forward? 

In general, it’s best to focus on operational excellence, business acumen — basically, your human capital – and on attracting and retaining, motivating, and celebrating success. Again, that underscores the importance of strategically chosen waypoints, milestones, and metrics.   

The building blocks of great ventures, the tactical steps of innovation roadmapping — let’s bake that into the DNA of the organization. In an economy that is disrupted, those who invest in those types of skill sets and capabilities are going to be ready to thrive when the market turns.  Both Customers and Investors will be ready! 

Here at Think, our own DNA really captures this mindset and offers a Waypoint framework approach to opportunity. We roll up our sleeves with customers and peers because we are bare-knuckle managers. We are going to do the tactical things you owe it to yourself to invest in. The next 90 days can be very productive.   

So, “What is YOUR 90-day Innovation Roadmap?!”