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The Democratization of Innovation: A Look Inside Jeff DeGraff’s Innovator Mind

Posted: March 25, 2022

Innovation starts as an idea—a tiny seed in the garden of invention. But that seed can only take root with the proper mentality, and the right nurturer to help in grow.

So says the Dean of Innovation, Jeff DeGraff, who has achieved success in bringing innovation across industries by tackling the perceived problems at hand with a mindset for organizational development. And he’s bringing that approach to SAE International’s WCX™ World Congress Experience on April 6 in Detroit, Michigan.

Throughout his career, DeGraff has used his innovation mindset to grow the business acumen of Bosch, Google, Mercedes Benz, Toyota, several other Fortune 500 companies—and even the U.S. military.

“Once you understand how they function, and you can think that way, then you can deal with a bunch of other organizations,” said DeGraff. “Seventy percent of what organizations do, no matter what they tell you, are exactly identical because they function the same way. The other twenty percent are different by sector and the last ten percent is what’s unique to a specific organization.”

DeGraff’s WCX keynote will focus on pressing problems and emergent opportunities for innovation, as well as how to adopt an innovator’s mindset in an everchanging world filled with global plagues, supply chain issues, social unrest and other persistent conflicts uprooting our plans.

“We are getting beyond the engineering perspective of innovation and were starting to think systematically about how things work,” said DeGraff.

He posits that businesses today don’t operate as businesses; they work instead as federations in which people don’t all have to work the same way, allowing for greater diversity of knowledge, opinion and skill set allowing for the outpour of new ideas.

“We need to talk about diversity in terms of why it is important to innovate. Yes, it’s a moral issue, but it’s so much more,” said DeGraff.

Innovation is a result of a creative power of constructive conflict, DeGraff shared, which comes from the consideration of multiple perspectives from a variety of backgrounds. He cautioned that businesses should be wary of assimilation, as the death of innovation is apathy or over alignment.

Ready for a full lesson in innovation from the Dean? School’s in session at WCX™ World Congress Experience, happening April 5-7, 2022, in Detroit, Michigan.