How we will 1,000X Black Belts

At this VERY MOMENT we (Maggie, Angela - see photo and myself Doug Hall) are in day 3 of teaching the new Innovation College - Cycles to Mastery™ course for new Innovation Engineering Black Belts. It's a major milestone for the Innovation Engineering movement as it will give us the ability to: 1) 1,000X the number of Innovation Engineering Black Belts, 2) generate up to a 4X increase in the number of students achieving mastery and 3) build into the teaching never ending learning inflation i.e. increasing the mastery standard.

This week is a big week as we are completing the loop in our alliance between academics and industry.   As you'll learn below - the program started with discovery cycles with industry - was developed at the University of Maine - and now comes back to industry in it's full form.

The story of how this new teaching technology came to life - is a lesson in how Innovation Engineering works.

VIP & VIO:  The Innovation Engineering Institute team  (UMaine and Eureka! Ranch) realized about a year ago that we had a Very Important Opportunity - the demand for Innovation Engineering education - at Universities, Colleges, Governments, Small and Large Companies was 1,000X what we could support with the standard system of education.  Our Very Important Problem was it took too long to teach a teacher how to teach Innovation Engineering as they didn't have depth of experience (given that it was a new field of study).

Solution:  We used Innovation Engineering to reinvent how we teach.  The result is a patent pending - yes, we patent first, publish second as we teach :) - Cycles to Mastery™ teaching system that has been proven on campus to generate 240 to 400% improvements in the number of students achieving true "mastery" of course content.

Process Management

Given that this was our absolutely MOST IMPORTANT Problem and Opportunity - I (Doug Hall - Eureka! Ranch Founder) volunteered as project leader.   Maggie Nichols of the Ranch - Renee Kelly and Margo Lukens of UMaine are management coaches (I need more management coaching than most people).  The project DEVELOPMENT team includes:  Angela Marcolini, James Beaupre, and Brad Hall of UMaine - Scott Dunkle, Maggie Slovonic, Greg Lemon, David Lafkas, and Keith Montgomery of the Ranch.

As I've written before - I feel that it's important that every CEO have one project that they are project leader.  It keeps them "close to the work" and it sets an example to others.  For example when you fail (and believe me I've failed a TON) it shows others that you are practicing what you preach.

The Original Idea

The initial inspiration for the new method came from Tech Mining (the work of Benjamin Bloom and others), Market Mining (on-line) and Future Mining (Connecting to eduction thought leaders).

Next, rather then "study, study, study" - we did as we teach and made it real.   Last spring we did weekly Fail FAST Fail CHEAP cycles using the Innovation Engineering Green Belt curriculum with test groups - and using Insight Mining - to optimize the system.

The Decision to go to Development

Last June we reviewed what we'd learned.  We did patent searches.  We checked off all death threats.

Then we made the GO decision to move from DISCOVERY to DEVELOPMENT.   And when we made the GO decision it was, as it should be, an ALL IN DECISION.  The project went from a side project of mine and a few others on an informal basis to part of people's full time work.

We filed our provisional patent application and Cycles to Mastery trademark application.   We then outlined the key milestones.  The big one was we were going to "ship" the Alpha Version in four sections of Innovation Engineering at the University of Maine in September.   AND - given the importance of this - I made arrangements to move to Maine for the fall so to be first person close to the work.

Note - when I say the MOST IMPORTANT VIP/VIO I mean the MOST IMPORTANT.  Fortunately, with today's video conferencing, iPads with video cameras, etc - you can be connected anywhere.

In development we continued with the nimble and agile Fail FAST Fail CHEAP approach.  Similar to how Toyota starts up a new plant - we just shipped.  It broke, we fixed it, it broke, we fixed it.  Four sections of Create, Communicate and Commercialize were set up at the University of Maine - where students were made "part of the process."

In brief, Cycles to Mastery blends the work of Bloom, Formative Assessment, Deming’s Quality System principles and an internet based digital hub.

The Decision to go to Delivery

The impact of Cycles to Mastery was nearly instantaneous.  We instantly found dramatic improvements in the comprehension of the content by students.  At the four week point we asked for their recommendation and they were unanimous in their support.  A small sampling of their comments are shown below.


How is this better? Less stress, don't really learn anything in other classrooms, whereas this allows the information to stick in your head so you don't forget it.  The applying is the important part that makes it stick.No more information regurgitation.

Failing isn't a bad thing here.  You lose your fear of failing here, because it's okay.  Because you are doing live grading, it's like you (the instructors) are working with us, not against us. 
I like that we can spend the entire class working instead of having to take notes on a lecture.
Forget about the naysayers...Once they see that it is working they will change to the new method.
We have to change how we teach eventually, so why wait?  Just do it.  The current system of teaching doesn’t work. 
Why is this less stressful? No tests, so you don't feel like you're learning to take a test - you're learning to learn.You're focusing more on the content.  With less stress, you have more fun so you're learning more.
No test, just lots of assignments means you can fail.  With a test, if you fail, you fail the class.
I’ve always struggled with regular lectures and I am always wondering if I'm really learning, but with this I feel like I am actually learning and actually building skills.
Compared to old classes, here you are learning a new way to think, not just the content.  Working on changing the mind instead of cramming it with information.
You know what you have to do... The old system is broken and shitty.  In this class I feel like you are here to help me learn.  When I go to other classes after this one - I feel like yelling - you’re here to just show off how smart you are - you’re not here to help me learn. 
This system isn't perfect yet, but the old one is broken, so why not take a risk and change it?
This is the best thing that ever happened to any college.
I don't like the fact that teachers just do the same things every year.  I like that with this class you adapt as we go forward.  It’s more fun and dynamic.  It's not static. 
What I enjoy about this class... I often feel  frustrated because I have a lot of goals in life but I don’t know how to get there because of fear of failure.  By taking this class, I am beginning to see I can go forward with my ideas, I have the groundwork laid to make ideas happen. 

A review of quantitative data from the system quantified the improvement.  With these findings we made a GO decision for delivery.  The plans were to flip all Innovation Engineering Black Belt courses to Cycles to Mastery in January (as well as IE Retreat and Green Belt).  We would do one more semester of testing on campus - adding another school as another learning site.  Then expand to all campuses in the fall of 2013. What's In It For YOU at Companies

What's in it for you at companies is that Cycles to Mastery means you and your people can achieve mastery of the innovation Engineering mindset faster and more reliably then ever before.

In place of the previous lecture class followed by homework (Black Belt 100 and 200), the content is learned through a five day Innovation College.  At Innovation College, you learn by doing.  It's 100% hands on.  There is NO LECTURE.  Students do a lot more assignments (and get much smarter) but they also get most of the assignments DONE during the week.  We are estimating that time to Black Belt off campus will be cut by up 75%.

To Current Certified Black Belts: To those of you certified in the previous version of IE Black Belt - we will have continuing education courses on line - so that you are ALWAYS state of the art.

A Credential That Is International:  Innovation Engineering Black Belt is a singular certification.  The 48 Skills (and the curriculum content) to become an Innovation Engineering Black Belt are the same world wide.   It doesn't matter at which university or college you take the undergraduate minor or graduate certificate or the executive education programs like we are doing this week at the Eureka! Ranch.  In fact, all IE Black Belts off campus will now get their Black Belt certification recorded in a permanent record through UMaine Continuing Education Units (CEU) credits.

For those who are students of the quality movement - it’s interesting to remember that Phillip Crosby's success with teaching and implementing a quality mindset during the 80’s  was driven in large part by his investment in a then new and more effective method of teaching i.e. the use of video cassette case studies and scenarios to make the teaching “real.”

Sorry for the long blog post - but we're kind of excited :)

To learn more visit

Call the Ranch for more details on the new IE Innovation College.

OR - if you are part of a University, College, Government or Corporation that is supporting Innovation Engineering contact your organization for details on registering.


Doug Hall - Maggie Slovonic - Angela Marcolini Instructors at Innovation College #1

EXCITING NEWS:  We are proud to announce that Ideas to Go - one of the top innovation consultancies in the world has joined the Innovation Engineering movement.  They will be using Innovation Engineering to help their multi-national clients grow cultures of never ending innovation with increased speed and decreased risk. This is a world class organization and we are very proud to have them join the movement.

A more proper announcement of this - with an interview with their leadership will be released soon.