Saturday, December 1, 2012

Join a conference simulcast near you

One of the most important things we do with The Lean Startup Conference is make a livestream of the plenary talks available for free to groups around the world, supporting entrepreneurship communities everywhere. The number of hosts has grown annually, and this year, we have 200+ groups joining us on Monday, December 3. They represent more than 10,000 people total. If you're not attending the conference in person, consider meeting up with one of these groups to watch. Past livestream attendees have reported great conversations and networking. Most simulcasts are free, although some charge a small fee to cover their costs. All require RSVP in advance, so please sign up via their page linked below.

The following sites are confirmed livestream hosts. Click through to sign up at any given location, and if you have questions, you can contact the host directly.

If you don't see a city near you, please check the conference livestream page - we are constantly adding more venues as they get confirmed.

Within the United States

New Hampshire:
New Mexico:
New York:
North Carolina:
Puerto Rico:
South Dakota:

Outside the United States

Costa Rica:
Czech Republic:
New Zealand:
South Africa:
South Korea:

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Solving the Pipeline Problem

This post was co-written by Sarah Milstein and Eric Ries, co-hosts of The LeanStartup Conference.

It’s well-known—and we ourselves have been publicly frustrated—that white men tend to dominate the speaker rosters for tech and entrepreneurship conferences, not to mention the portfolios of many entrepreneurship programs. Conference hosts, VC’s, and others often attribute this to a "pipeline problem," the idea that there simply aren’t enough qualified women or people of color who wanted to or were qualified to participate. So we were proud earlier this week to announce our program for The Lean Startup Conference, which comprises approximately 40% women and 25% people of color. We still have room to grow, but this is a significant improvement over last year’s conference, which had almost none of either. Our approach was deliberate, and we want to share it with you, in the hopes that you can replicate it for other conferences and for processes like hiring where equity is important.

We have argued previously that the pipeline problem may be caused by the selection process itself. If under-represented groups have a reasonable expectation of not being selected, it’s perfectly reasonable that they therefore don’t apply. After all, if you were thinking of submitting a proposal to present at a conference that had a record of not choosing people like you—if you weren’t sure that your proposal would be assessed on its merits or that you’d be welcome at the event—why would you spend the time applying? The problem compounds itself: because women and people of color are not often speakers, we’re less aware of them, and we’re less likely to think of them for our own events.

There’s a solution that addresses these issues: meritocratic selection. It’s not a game of quotas; it’s quite the opposite. Indeed, we picked the speakers we thought had the best stories and would be the most engaging presenters. We didn’t rule out any candidates for being white or men, and we didn’t favor women or people of color. Instead, we used a handful of principles to guide us: transparent process,  blind selection, proactive outreach and enlisting help. Here’s how they played out.

Transparent process. Over the summer, we made a big deal about how we wanted to find speakers based on merit (i.e., the great stories they had to share) rather than on their proximity to us. In August, we posted a call for speakers, asking people to apply. We explained that we were looking for speakers based on what they knew rather than who they knew. We also noted that in the past, Eric had mostly drawn from a pool of people he had worked with directly, which meant that in 2010 and 2011, this conference had had almost no speakers typically under-represented at tech events. We received nearly 200 applications, more than half from women and about a quarter from people of color. That included a notable number of black people, which we call out because we’ve received very few applications from black speakers at other conferences we’ve run. Similarly, quite a few men and women over the age of about 50 applied to speak. One person talked about the importance of representing people with disabilities. In addition to being pleased by the demographic range, we were stunned by the consistently high quality of the proposed talk ideas across groups, as the previous open calls we’ve run have brought in relatively few great speakers.

Here’s what resulted from that call for speakers: from the pool of applicants whom we chose for the December 3 conference program, more than half were women. From the pool of applicants whom we chose for the December 2 Ignite: Lean Startup program, more than a third were people of color. And we had to make some heartbreaking decisions to pass on a number of speakers just because we didn’t have enough time on stage for everyone. Taken together, this shows that when you have a broader group from which to draw, there’s a good distribution of speakers; not all—not even most—of the good speakers are white men. The common conference organizer’s argument that we don’t know any black people in tech or that women didn’t apply to speak just doesn’t hold up.

Did employing a transparent process make a difference? The August call for proposals described above was actually our second attempt to change the makeup of our applicant pool; the first attempt failed. In June, we posted our first call for speakers, asking people to nominate others they thought would be good speakers. We noted that we were particularly keen on learning about women and people of color who might be great speakers but weren’t on our radar yet, but we didn’t say anything about what had happened in the past or how we were trying to change it. We received about 35 nominations. Although some were very good, just about 10% were women and almost none were people of color. Every piece of data we have been able to gather on conferences says that 10% is the standard rate at which women will apply or be nominated and that very few people of color will be among these pools.

Let’s dwell on this for a moment. By using principles of meritocratic selection—i.e., being explicit about our desire to find great speakers whom we didn’t know, and by being honest about the process we’d used in the past—we created an atmosphere in which a much broader range of strong speakers felt invited to participate.

It’s also worth mentioning that we knew we’d hit on something important not just because we got such different results in the second round, but also because applicants told us so. We got a lot of comments like this:

“I LAUGH when you say, ‘under-represented at a tech conference,’ because had you not presented such a compelling invitation, I would have never even dreamed of applying for a position of a speaker.”

“The main reason I'm applying is because I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for your efforts to reach out to a new circle of contributors. Anything I can do to support you, whether it's speaking or just behind the scenes, is personally very worthwhile to me.”

“Thanks for opening this up to the non-famous. I think there are lots of great stories out there to be told.”

Blind review. It’s well documented that when people know the sex or race of a job applicant or the main character in a story, they generally assess the person’s qualifications and performance more favorably if the person is male or white. Because we all have internal biases, everybody does it, including women and people of color. We wanted to eliminate that bias as best we could. So we asked applicants to submit some written information, along with a video, and we made the first cut based on the write-ups, which we read without checking names or other identifying info. 

Did using blind review make a difference? By reading the applications, we quickly eliminated people who weren’t a fit for the conference because their topic clearly wasn’t on point for our audience. That was a small group of people, but the distribution was broad. Beyond that, blind review didn’t make a big difference. Why? We asked for relatively little info in writing, both because we wanted to hear directly from speakers (not their PR people) and because video much better represents the medium we’re trying to assess (often, people who can write a nice description of their talk can’t deliver the presentation well, and vice versa). So video was much more important to us than writing, but we couldn’t assess it blind. It’s worth considering whether there’s more we can do with this tool in the future.

Proactive outreach. A very common way that conferences build a program is to brainstorm speakers, come up with a bunch of familiar names, and then notice late in the game that you have almost no women or people of color (at which point, you might scramble to find some or just complain that you don’t know any). Our initial brainstorm wasn’t magically diverse; in fact, it included an overwhelming percentage of young white men. But we immediately—during the same meeting—started digging deeper to think of people we’d left out, and when we came up with less-top-of-mind candidates from under-represented groups, we reached out to them early and often. We kept that up throughout the whole cycle.

Did proactive outreach make a difference? As we noted earlier, Eric’s previous conferences rosters were based almost entirely on people who were top of mind, and they skewed heavily toward white and male.

Enlisting help. There were two primary ways we asked other people to help us. First, when we had a call for participation, we posted it to mailing lists with lots of women and/or people of color, we asked our friends to do the same, and we approached organizations like Women 2.0 to publish or cross-post our info on their blogs and Twitter accounts. Second, when we asked other people for speaker ideas or when we formed our few panels with moderators, we told them about our search for under-represented speakers, and we said that we’d appreciate their support.

Did enlisting help make a difference? It can be scary to ask for this kind of help, because you don’t want to suggest that you’re interested in diversity over quality. But we found that people were consistently, surprising open to working with us on this issue. And it did make a difference: When we forgot to mention to people that we were looking for speakers we didn’t already know, we almost always got back suggestions for more white men who’d be great presenters. When we included a note about our efforts to reach farther, we almost always got back suggestions for women and people of color who’d be great presenters. In addition, we heard regularly from people who’d found out about our call for speakers through Women 2.0 and other mailing lists we worked with.


Our four-pronged approached generated really encouraging, even exciting, results. We’re further encouraged by the fact that we didn’t execute this plan perfectly, so there’s still room for improvement. Here’s what we we’ll work on next time out.

Coordinating our approaches. As noted above, in addition to our public call for speakers, we also reached out to people we did already know in the Lean Startup community whom we thought would have really compelling stories. Although this group included some women and people of color, it had a big percentage of white men. Because we started this process before the public call, and because we didn’t know if our public call would work, we quickly filled a number of speaking slots with these great candidates from the group we did know, and we didn’t leave as much room as we could have for terrific speakers new to us. We’ll use a hybrid approach again, but next time, we’ll trust the open-call process and be more deliberate about the distribution of speakers.

Getting beyond the easy wins. Related to the issue above, it’s just plain easier to put people onstage when you know them personally or by reputation. There are a few reasons for this. First, like most conferences, we want to put well-known people onstage, because they’re a draw. So when somebody has a big name and is available, we we’re more likely to consider them for our program, even if their story is only tangential to our angle. For instance, we were interested in having some well-known entrepreneurs join us, and we were willing to let them talk about their experiences generally rather than have them focus on Lean Startup principles. Unsurprisingly, all of the people who fit into this category were white men; women and people of color with comparable stories but less prominence didn’t get this kind of consideration. Correspondingly, we had much stricter standards for people who were less well known, insisting that they have a direct Lean Startup story—and if we didn’t already know them, we were less trusting that their stories were really good examples of Lean Startup methods. (For the record, we had so many good Lean Startup speakers, we didn’t wind up taking anybody with a general entrepreneurship story. But we definitely considered a bunch of them.)

Additionally, we found that when we already knew a speaker, it was easier to find good slots for them in the program because we were more aware of how they were using Lean Startup principles. For instance, if we were looking for somebody from a hardware startup to tell a great pivot story, we might have had six candidates…but it just so happened that the one guy we knew from that group had an even better story about innovation accounting. Because we were familiar with his company generally, we knew his other areas of expertise, and it was therefore easier to put him in the program. It was harder to find the various angles that would work from people we didn’t know.

In other words, between knowing their stories less well and bringing our biases to bear in trusting them, we had a harder time green-lighting the people we didn’t know. Again, that’s human. But if we don’t make conscious decisions to account for it, we’ll never change the dynamics of these events. 

Finding people in other under-represented groups. Our program has almost no people of our parents’ generation, and we don’t think we have any speakers with disabilities. In the future, we can apply the approach above to find more great speakers from these groups.


Pulling together a conference program that highlights deservedly well-known people in your field *and* reveals compelling new stories is a challenge. But it’s one you can take on—and that, frankly, not enough conferences do.  As we’ve found, meritocratic selection isn’t just a phrase you can mull or a fantasy for the future. These tools, used thoughtfully and in combination, can help you achieve it: transparent process, blind selection, proactive outreach and enlisting help. And we hope this post will help spark this question: if you’re not using these tools, is your selection process susceptible to unconscious biases that could be making it work less well? Is it really as merit-based as it could be?

Monday, November 26, 2012

KQED Forum + conference update + a chance to win tickets

I've done a seemingly endless stream of TV, radio, podcasts, webinars, hangouts in the past year. And I've mostly refrained from posting about them here, but today I'm making an exception. Plus, I have very cool conference updates (our full conference program + more than 300 simulcast locations!) and a chance to win free tickets, if you keep reading.

KQED Forum: LIVE at 10am PST this Wednesday Nov 28
When I first moved to Silicon Valley, I used to have a pretty short commute. But in Menlo Park, every commute is highly variable, no matter how short, and so I often found myself sitting in traffic, bored, and eager to get to my desk to work on whatever engineering problem I was obsessed with.

So every day I found myself listening to NPR, and that's when I discovered a local program on our public radio station KQED called Forum. It's a wide-ranging call-in show that covers just about every topic you can imagine. The host is seemingly-omniscient Michael Krasny who somehow manages to ask in-depth questions on every conceivable topic. The show airs for two hours in the morning and then is rebroadcast late at night.

Maybe it's just the obsessive engineer part of myself, but pretty soon I found myself managing my schedule so that I could listen to Forum on my commute both ways. It helped that the timeline worked well for my engineering sleep schedule (since the morning block of 9-11am gave me plenty of time to drag myself out of bed) and the late-night rebroadcast gave me an excuse to sometimes stop working and actually go back home.

So this week will be a bit of a full-circle moment for me, as I'll be taking your questions live on the air from 10-11AM PST on Wednesday, November 28th on KQED Forum. We'll be discussing the Lean Startup movement, the upcoming conference, and whatever else you decide you want to ask about.

There are several ways to tune in:
  • In the Bay Area, tune your radio to 88.5 FM or 89.3 FM
  • Forum is also broadcast on Sirius XM satellite radio (channel 135 NPR Talk)
I know for many of you 10AM is not the common time you're sitting by the radio with nothing better to do than call into a live radio show. And, in fact, in my years of listening to Forum, I've never called in with a question, either. But I'd like you to make an exception on Wednesday.

I hope you'll call in and ask questions
Just as so many of you flooded the Commonwealth Club with your energy and questions when I spoke there, this is another chance to influence mainstream institutions so that the will take Lean Startup - and the whole startup movement - more seriously. Remember, radio programs get no realtime analytics, no click maps, no funnel reports. The main way they know which topics are of interest to listeners is by who calls in.

Call in lines are 866-SF-FORUM (866-733-6786) or 415-863-2476 if you live in SF. You can also email questions during the show at

Win free conference tickets
During the show, tweet your questions (or your favorite quotes from the show). Be sure to include the @KQEDForum twitter handle (so we know how to find you). Throughout the hour (from 10am-11am) we'll be picking people to win free tickets to the Lean Startup Conference on December 3.

Massive conference update
So about that conference: We’ve been announcing bit and pieces of the schedule, and today we’re pleased to publish the full program, below, including speakers, mentors, workshops, startup site visits and Ignite: Lean Startup. We are already on track to sell out all the tickets before the conference (indeed, the Platinum Pass is no longer available). No, this is not a marketing gimmick; we've already had to reduce the size of the stage (and eliminate my personal gold-plated green room) in order to make more seats available. If you’re considering joining us and you haven’t yet bought a ticket, today—right now—is the time to register.

The main day of the conference, December 3, includes more than 30 speakers. Some of them are entrepreneurship superstars like Steve Blank, Marc Andreessen, Drew Houston, Leah Busque, Scott Cook and Dave Binetti. Others are new voices in putting Lean Startup techniques to use and have great case studies to share. They include people like GE SVP and CMO Beth Comstock on bringing Lean Startup to a massive corporation. And Red Room founder/CEO Ivory Madison on popular metrics that everyone should stop using. And Sincerely’s Matt Brezina on the secrets of developing mobile apps quickly. And Tendai Charisika on creative ways to get out of the building. And LitMotors’ Danny Kim on the importance of testing the market before testing the technology—for a new kind of car. (By the way, Danny’s bringing a prototype of the vehicle right into the conference ballroom.)

Once Monday’s talks have inspired your startup spirit, you can go straight to the source and visit some of the hottest young companies in San Francisco. On Tuesday, December 4, Gold and Platinum Pass holders can visit the headquarters of several of San Francisco’s hottest young companies—Airbnb, Rally, Sharethrough, Twilio. You’ll see the physical spaces of innovation, get a feel for what makes the teams there tick, and meet up with other entrepreneurs looking to create something new and big.

Gold and Platinum Pass holders can also attend deep-dive workshops on December 4. Choose from half-day and full-day sessions with the great teachers and Lean Startup experts who have helped build this movement. (You can, of course, mix and match workshops and site visits, attending workshops in the morning and site visits in the afternoon, or vice versa.)

Finally, because we had so many great speaking candidates for the conference, we’ve added another segment of talks. On Sunday, December 2nd, the conference now kicks off with an evening event, Ignite: Lean Startup. Fifteen entrepreneurs will give short, fast-paced presentations. How fast? The speakers slides advance automatically every 15 seconds. The premise of Ignite is that of the Lean Startup itself: that the unexpected will happen. And when it does, it will be energizing, even fun. Note that Ignite is free for conference attendees, but seats are limited, and you must sign up in advance. We also have a small number of tickets for the general public.

Conference Schedule, December 3

9:00-10:00 Early Morning Talks
  • Eric Ries, Opening Remarks
  • Dianne Tavenner, Summit Public Schools, Running Short Experiments During a Long Product Cycle
  • Tendai Charasika, EnterpriseCorp, Ten Ways to Get Out of the Building
  • Eric Ries + Tereza Nemessanyi, High Ridge Group, Honestly Now, What is Innovation Accounting?
  • Beth Comstock of GE, in conversation with Eric Ries, Bringing Lean Startup to Life at One of the World’s Biggest Companies
  • Jessica Scorpio, Getaround, Prototyping to Validate a Big Idea at Getaround
  • Danny Kim, LitMotors, Fast, Cheap and In Control: Testing the Market for a New Kind of Car
  • Lane Halley, Carbon Five, I (Heart) Ugly
  • Matt Brezina, Sincerely, Secrets of Rapid Mobile App Development
11:30-1:00 Late Morning Talks
  • Ron J. Williams, Knodes, On the Way to Lean Startup: Curvy and Working it Out
  • Andres Glusman, Meetup, Failure is Great and Other Myths About Adopting Lean Startup
  • Evan Henshaw-Plath, Neo, How Engineers Embrace Lean Startup
  • Sam McAfee,, How Engineers Embrace Lean Startup
  • Melissa Sedano, BloomBoard, How Engineers Embrace Lean Startup
  • Jocelyn Wyatt,, We Went to West Africa and Learned Our Key Assumptions Were Wrong
  • Adam Goldstein,, Moving Fast While Caring About Design at Hipmunk
  • Justin Wilcox, Customer Development Labs, Testing MVPs with Crowdfunding
  • Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora of Back to the Roots, Making Decisions By Ignoring Sales Metrics
  • Stephanie Hay, FastCustomer, Lean Content: Testing Marketing Copy (Instead of Spinning Your Wheels)
  • Steve Blank, 10,000 Startups
2:20-3:45 Early Afternoon Talks
  • George Bilbrey, Return Path, Inc., Running a Lean Startup Sales Process
  • Ivory Madison, Red Room, Bonfire of the Vanity Metrics: Numbers You’re Still Using and Shouldn’t
  • Ash Maurya, Spark59, Innovation Accounting in Practice
  • Leah Busque, TaskRabbit, Lean Marketing
  • Dan Milstein, Wingu, How to Run a 5 Whys (With Humans, Not Robots)
  • Robert Fan, Sharethrough, The Challenge of Sustaining Disruptive Innovation When You Meet Success
  • Scott Cook and Carol Howe of Intuit, Creating a Culture of Experimentation: Ideas and Best Practices
4:15-5:15 Late Afternoon Talks
  • Drew Houston, Dropbox, One Year Later: Dropbox Answers Your Questions
  • Charles Hudson, SoftTech VC, Making the Call on a Platform Pivot
  • Dave Binetti, Votizen, One Year Later: Lessons from Votizen
  • Marc Andreessen of Andreessen Horowitz in conversation with Eric Ries
  • Eric Ries, Closing Remarks
5:15-6:15 Reception at the InterContinental

Mentors available December 3
  • Kent Beck, Facebook
  • Suneel Gupta, Groupon
  • Tom Eisenmann, Harvard Business School
  • Mark Cook, Quri
  • Whitney Johnson, Rose Park Advisors
  • Joel Yanowitz, Innovation Associates
  • Wayne Sutton, Pitch To
  • Elaine Wherry, Meebo
  • Farb Nivi, Grockit
  • Hiten Shah, KISSmetrics
  • Nicole Tucker-Smith, LessonCast Learning
  • Cindy Alvarez, Yammer
  • Stuart Kearney, Slant
  • Matthew L. Scullin, Alphabet Energy, Inc.
  • Netia McCray, Mbadika
  • Khalid Smith, LessonCast Learning
  • Christie George, New Media Ventures
  • Trevor Owens, Lean Startup Machine
  • Grace Ng, Lean Startup Machine
Workshop Schedule, December 4

9:00a – 12:30p

  • Jeff Gothelf, Josh Seiden and Giff Constable, Neo, with guest speakers: Ismail Elshareef,; David Bland, BigVisible; Stacey Gutman, American Express OPEN; and Bill Scott, Paypal, Lean Startup in the Enterprise
  • Kelly Goto, Goto Media, Build Successful (and Sane) Iterative Apps
  • Alistair Croll, Solve for Interesting, and Ben Yoskovitz, GoInstant, Lean Analytics: Using Data to Build a Better Startup Faster
  • Janice Fraser, LUXr, and Laura Klein, Users Know, Validate Your Learning Engines, Part 1 (this is a full-day workshop)
            2:00 – 5:30p

  • Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits, Drumbi, The Lean Entrepreneur: Embrace the Unknown to Go Big
  • Sean Murphy, SKMuprhy Inc, and Scott Sambucci, SalesQualia, Engineering Your Sales Process
  • Janice Fraser, LUXr, and Laura Klein, Users Know, Validate Your Learning Engines, Part 2 (this is a full-day workshop)
Startup Site Visits, December 4
We’ll post the exact schedule on our site in the next day or two. The companies we’ll visit are:
Ignite: Lean Startup, December 2, 8p

  • Arthur Bart-Williams, Canogle, It’s Not What You Think (Leap of Faith Assumptions)
  • David Bland, Big Visible, Lean Startup in the Enterprise
  • John Bradberry, ReadyFounder Services, The Psychology of Pivoting
  • Joe Dunn, Cloudbreak, When You Are the Disruptee
  • Kelly Eidson, Moveline, What I Wish I Knew
  • Mark Graban, Parallels Between Lean Startups and Lean Hospitals
  • Diana Kander, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Diagnosing Customer Problems
  • Beth Morgan, Marketing Nerdistry, Lean Your Marketing
  • Kendall Quiñones, Sparkative, The I of the Storm
  • Adria Richards, SendGrid, Why Every Startup Employee Should Learn to Code
  • Kuty Shalev, Clevertech, New York Port Authority Goes Lean
  • Arin Sime, AgilityFeat, Just Deploy It
  • Tutti Taygerly, Substantial, Building a Lean Mean Design Team
  • Navarrow Wright, Interactive One, Why Big Media Companies Should Go Lean
  • Ana Yoerg, Rumgr, Lean Startup Approach to PR
Or be one of the 10,000+ joining a conference simulcast
This blog post is too long already, so I'll keep this brief. But this is actually the biggest news, and the thing I'm most excited about. Hundreds of locations around the world - from Birmingham to Bucharest - will host a simulcast of the complete December 3 program. Most of these programs are free, and a bunch are starting to sell out. In all cases RSVPs are required. So if you can't travel to San Francisco for the conference, please stop by our Livestream page and see if there's a location near you (spoiler alert: there is).

Monday, November 19, 2012

Bringing Lean Startup to Life at GE

Guest post by Sarah Milstein, co-host of The Lean Startup Conference.

At a party in NYC recently, I was challenged by a VC to name the biggest company currently using Lean Startup practices. I think he expected me to describe a medium-sized startup or maybe some small, old-school media organization. So his eyebrows jumped when I said that GE is the largest company we know of. There are at least two companies in the world bigger than GE, so there’s room to expand. But GE is not alone among Fortune 500s. Indeed, it’s part of a large and growing group of enterprise firms incorporating Lean Startup techniques, and we’re very excited to have GE SVP and CMO Beth Comstock join us this year at The Lean Startup Conference.

Although everyone knows GE, Beth is new to many people in our community, so we’ve created a backgrounder for you. The two people who contributed to it, writer Lisa Regan and marketing coordinator Michele Kimble, both sent me notes about how interesting and impressive Beth is. Join us on December 3 to see her in person.

Beth is Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at GE, but her work defies the standard understanding of big corporate business. In a career that has moved from GE to NBC Universal and back to GE, she has brought technological innovation and agile business techniques to two of the US’s biggest legacy corporations.

As SVP and CMO at GE since 2008, Comstock is responsible for two major initiatives that use the capabilities of the corporation to identify and implement the best ideas offered by the crowd. She is the force behind the ecomagination and healthymagination programs, initiatives that tackle the environment and healthcare—two of the more pressing areas of concern in GE’s business area. She also runs GE Ventures, leading the company's efforts to partner with startups and entrepreneurs. Prior to taking on her current position at GE, Comstock was the President of Integrated Media at NBC Universal, where she took a traditional media company forward across new media platforms, heading the digital media team and shepherding the development of and Peacock Equity as well as the acquisition of (She is also a member of Nike’s Board of Directors and Trustee president of the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.)

While working within big corporations, Comstock has nonetheless pursued entrepreneurial methods—seeking out the best ideas, whatever their source, and pushing a large company like GE to adapt to a fluid and collaborative environment, rather than compressing ideas to fit a corporate model. As she told Fast Company last year, she has actively sought to shake up GE’s processes. "Our traditional teams are too slow. We're not prototyping fast enough, not innovating fast enough. We need to systematize change."

At the same time, Comstock has brought the power of a large company to bear on big problems, using a model of entrepreneurial problem-solving to take on environmental and healthcare innovation of the kind that is often left to government. “Innovation can originate from anywhere, at anytime,” Comstock has written. “To compete in the global marketplace, companies like GE need an approach to innovation that supports open collaboration and partnership, especially when dealing with big issues like the environment or healthcare that are too complicated for any one entity to solve alone.”

Enter the healthymagination project. Healthymagination is a cooperative endeavor in healthcare, which along with energy and transportation, is one of GE’s primary technological fields. The project’s intent is to find innovative approaches to improving medical outcomes worldwide, both in identifying areas that demand and are available to change, and in seeking out new ways of addressing them. These will be solutions that range from technological advancements to new delivery systems to research projects and data collection.

Breast cancer screening exemplifies the kind of complex healthcare questions that Comstock is trying to untangle, where barriers to better care are not only or even primarily technological, but involve a complex mixture of social, cultural, technological and economic factors. In Saudi Arabia, for example, where screening rates are low due to both cultural stigma around the female body and women’s fear of diagnosis, healthymagination has looked to solutions going far beyond just new equipment. “In the case of breast cancer, we can’t just show up with a mammography screening device and consider the problem solved,” Comstock has said. This is the kind of area where researchers most familiar with the community will offer the most effective new ideas, but where a company with GE’s reach and ability to deliver can bring those ideas to fruition.

If open innovation is one side of the healthymagination program, the other is “reverse innovation,” creating technology for the developing world that then becomes used in industrialized countries. The question, Comstock says, is, “How do you put resources in a market, then innovate from that market back, creating totally new offerings in healthcare and energy?” Reverse innovation means helping researchers and entrepreneurs partner with health care providers to develop immediate, deliverable solutions to specific, local problems. As Comstock writes, “Emerging markets are proving to be laboratories for the developed world—they demand the best technology at the best price point.”

The ecomagination program at GE applies similar open innovation methods to a different problem: the environment and energy use. As Comstock phrases it, “In the global energy economy, we face a chasm between nascent ideas with great promise and those that are commercially available to impact change today.”

Between ecomagination and healthymagination, Comstock has tried to go far beyond traditional corporate philanthropy. Her work takes global problems—ones that seem utterly resistant to any individual’s effort at change—and uses the power of a major corporation to leverage impact on behalf of innovative ideas.