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Dr. Stephen A. Di Biase served as the Chief Executive Officer of Laser Applications Technology (LAT) LLC and as currently President of Premier Insights, LLC. He is an entrepreneur, building businesses and capabilities from emerging technology.  In leading LAT, Dr. Di Biase developed the business model and go to market strategies for introducing a disruptive technology for labeling produce.  With Premier Insights, Dr. Di Biase teaches leaders how to become more innovative by making innovation a discipline they can refine.

During his 40 year career, Dr. Di Biase has become accomplished in using innovation to create value in a global commercial setting.  He has over 20 patents, mentored technical professionals, and taught innovation and human resource management in both corporate and university settings. He has guest lectured at several academic institutions and has authored books, patents and corporate publications. 

Dr. Di Biase graduated from The Pennsylvania State University and sits on the Science Advisory Board for The Pennsylvania State University. He is also a retired member of the Board of Trustees for the Mt. Union College, and has served on the Board of Directors of the Industrial Research Institute, a leading experienced based innovation management association.

Prior to joining JohnsonDiversey, Dr. Di Biase spent 26 years with the Lubrizol Corporation, where he held a variety of leadership positions, including general management roles and those with profit and loss responsibility for emerging businesses derived from technology platforms.  These global assignments often involved business development from strategy conception to execution managing teams of Sales, Marketing, and Business Development professionals.

Prior to accepting the assignment in business development Dr. Di Biase was the Vice President – Research, Development, and Engineering where he was responsible for the global technical and scientific leadership for a centralized R&D function comprising of 700 professionals, an operating budget of $120+ million, and a capital budget of $10+ million. 

In this role Dr. Di Biase fostered innovation and delivered results using processes such as stage gates, project and portfolio management, 6-Sigma, and advanced statistics while introducing a variety of IT based tools such as data mining and predictive modeling.

Dr. Di Biase has served as chairman of The Lubrizol Foundation Scholarship Committee, Chairman of the Northeastern Ohio Section of the American Chemical Society, Board member of the Cleveland Area Research Directors (CARD) and in The Boy Scouts of America where he served in a variety of posts.   Dr. Di Biase has been honored by The Pennsylvania State University College of Science with its 2007 Distinguished Alumni Award and serves as an adjunct professor at Benedictine University in Naperville IL.






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Food for Thought

Must Have Link to Publishing On LinkedIn

Stephen Di Biase

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Everyone is Born Innovative

Stephen Di Biase

What happens after age five is that the person goes to school and is taught to give answers rather than ask questions, and curiosity is extracted from the student for the next twenty years by the process known as their formal education. Given that curiosity is the root of innovation, our educational system deprives students of their most valuable trait – the willingness to ask genuine questions driven by their innate curiosity. How ironic is that?


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Making Innovation A Discipline

Stephen Di Biase

Making Innovation a Discipline    

A discipline is learning a skill in such a way that serves as a vehicle for creating value. Most people are skillful at least one thing but why would anyone want to make innovation their discipline? Further could anyone even be disciplined in innovation?

If you ask most CEOs if they want more innovation they’d say YES and make it consistent and predictable so I can forecast how my firm will increase shareholder value. In effect the CEO wants innovation to be a discipline something that’s elusive to most people including CEOs.  However, should the average person aspire to being more innovative? Absolutely!! Being an innovator is synonymous with being a problem solver and solving problems leads to a higher quality of life (along with increasing shareholder value)!!

Innovation drives competitiveness, critical to increasing quality of life and widely considered an important capability. It’s very difficult to argue that innovation is a bad thing when a simple Google search of the term innovation yields more than 420 million citations in less than 1 second most of them positive.  However, innovation is like the weather: It’s widely discussed, poorly understood while being critically important. So how does one approach the topic of becoming more innovative? Perhaps an old adage is useful: “How does one eat an elephant?” The obvious answer: one bite at a time.

What I’m suggesting is that innovation can be broken down into the simplest elements providing a road-map a person can follow on their journey to becoming innovators and more effective problem solvers. I submit that innovative people, who become skilled problem solvers, have a higher quality of your life. If you accept this then everyone should aspire to becoming more innovative: But how? I’ll address this question in my column.

Becoming an innovator is like learning to ride a bicycle: At first it’s daunting, then it’s easy and fun and finally it’s mastered and never forgotten. In effect, it’s becomes a discipline. Innovation, treated the same way, can not only mastered but constantly improved.

So the real question is: How does one teach, learn and master innovative behavior so it becomes a discipline?

My hypothesis is simple:

·         Everyone is capable of, and desires to be, innovative;

·         Innovative behaviors can, and must be, taught, learned and mastered over a                      lifetime;

·         Once mastered innovative behaviors become a discipline never forgotten;

·         Innovators and problem solvers are synonymous;

·         Innovators solve their more problems leading to a more fulfilling life;

·         Innovation is fun to teach and do.

So what’s an actionable definition of innovation? Innovation in its simplest definition is a human response to change creating something valuable in the present. It’s important to realize that all human beings are born with the ability to innovate because our DNA demands we adapt to change to survive. Simply put we are a successful species because we are innovative.

So what happened? Why is being innovative so difficult and even rare? Life got easy. We don’t need to solve life preserving problems today to survive and we’re educated “not to be innovative”. Curiosity and inquiry are the roots of all innovation and our educational system gives credit for answers and not questions. Worse a curious, potentially innovative, student gets punished in our educational system.

Being innovative demands a person to recognize the changes around them, being curious enough to investigate what the change means and creating options for responding to this change as a way of creating value.

So the first steps towards becoming more innovative are:

1.       Recognize and analyze the changes around you;

2.       Allow your natural curiosity to characterize the change;

3.       Develop a hypothesis for responding to the change;

4.       Put your hypothesis into action;

5.       Assess the results;

6.       Create a new hypothesis;

7.       And repeat the process until you have a way to create value however you define it.

This process should be familiar since it’s the scientific method and while simple in form it’s difficult to master. All innovations have common features applying to all circumstances while concurrently being situational or impacted by the context in which innovation occurs. The situational element of innovation is one reason why innovative methods, which work for one company, will not work for another.

Especially challenging is the fact that innovative people are not innovators by themselves. The “lone innovator” is the exception and not the rule. This fact alone raises many questions about how collaboration should occur something for a future article.

The common features of innovation are:

1.       Collaborative – innovation occurs in groups of people often engaged in playful activities;

2.       Involving diversity and many skills – innovation occurs when a group of people with different skills come together to respond to a given change;

3.       Results from trial and error – experimentation is the cornerstone of learning allowing people to intelligently respond to change;

4.       Driven by inquiry – the natural curiosity of children needs to be reinforced as a way of learning by doing and being opened minded about what’s possible;

5.       Expanded by imagination – a person’s imagination is how they connect unrelated dots in ways that are unexpected and innovative; Innovators have a “child-like” imagination that is unbiased by their experiences;

6.    The process has to be fun – an innovator requires a playful point of view that is motivated by the individual’s passion.

These characteristics need to be recognized and embraced by would be innovators.

So what are the critical success factors for becoming an innovator? They’re actually straight forward, common sense, normal activities we all embrace without even knowing it. It’s by recognizing these success factors that one begins transforming innovative behavior from an art form into a discipline.

The critical success factors of innovative behavior are:

1.    Only people can innovate because only people can think. Innovative behavior requires the innovator thinking about the changes they’re experiencing and respond accordingly.

2.    This thought process needs to be educated which means that innovative people  have some past experience from which to understand the change occurring. This is why innovation is a collaborative effort involving many people and not just one person. When confronted with change an innovator asks: Whats this like? not “Why did this happen?”, “What does this means?” or “What do I do?” By asking What is this like? Innovative people begin to understand the change.

3.    Learning must occur in multiple ways: by doing, watching, listening, writing and reading about the change. People must recognize their preferred way of learning and use this as a tool for becoming innovative.

4.    The environment needs to be safe for inquiry with failure allowed and even encouraged. Learning by experiment, which is learning by experiencing, is the most impactful form of education and must be promoted. However, those who can learn from the experiences of others are who I consider “Master Innovators” and to be emulated.

In summary:        

1.       Being innovative is in our “DNA” – everyone can innovate;

2.       Innovation has common and situational features both of which need to be                             recognized – innovation is fractal;

3.       Change drives ALL innovation – the innovator must be attentive to these changes;

4.       Human curiosity is at the root of responding to change – skillful inquiry is the first               step on the journey to becoming innovative;

5.       Effective inquiry must become a discipline – knowing how to ask questions,                        satisfying the innovator’s curiosity, is a critical success factor;

6.       The environment for inquiry, and failure, must be “safe” – threatening environments          inhibit innovative behavior and punishing honest inquiry is fatal;

7.       Every innovator must know how  they learn – knowing one’s self allows for the                    innovator to understand the changes they’re experiencing on their terms;

8.       Applying the scientific method works when responding to change and developing             innovations – it’s easy to use and familiar to most;

9.       Innovative behavior is collaborative – diversity drives innovation with the “lone                   innovator” being a myth;

10.    Finally becoming an innovator is “child’s play” – if you can recall how we are at 5                years old, then mimicking that behavior in adulthood, helps a person take their first          steps towards becoming more innovative. (Why 5 years old? Because at 5 years old          a person is capable of having an honest question, but not an answer, they’re                       questions are not biased by their experiences and they haven’t gone to school yet             (and gotten “ruined”).

Applied Innovation Abstracts

Stephen Di Biase


"Applied Innovation: A Handbook", by Stephen A. Di Biase, Ph.D.

Chapter 1 – Doing the Right Things – “It’s All about Strategy”

Context for Innovation                                    Historical framework                         

Strategic Elements of Innovation                 What must an innovation be                   

Managing Oneself                                             Knowledge workers   

Michael Porter                                                   Approaches to Strategy                             

The New Venture                                              The Beginning                      

Abstract: “Doing the Right Things” considers knowing what the objectives are, and what they are not, and why, allowing the deployment of resources in an effective manner given the context in which innovation must occur. Combining this view with a framework for an employee managing themselves and Porter’s Five Choices model, helps the innovator focus on the handful of approaches people should take when interacting with their environments which is the underpinning of how people make choices leading to innovative outcomes. Also embedded in the treatise will be a description of what roles individuals play in making a New Venture successful.

 Chapter 2 – “Only People Innovate”                                                

Innovator Agency                                        Understanding the context    

Learning Methods                                        What to leverage

Tactical Elements of Innovation               Hiding in plain sight

·         Adjacent Possible                       First order combination                     

·         Liquid Networks                         The “Goldie Locks” approach            

·         The Slow Hunch                         It takes time                                        

·         Serendipity                                  Divine Intervention             

·         Errors                                           A special gift to ourselves                   

·         Exaptation and Diversity         Legos in action                                    

·         Platforms                                     Building on the past, creating the future    

Becoming Wise by learning the “Tricks of the Trade”

Abstract: “Only People Innovate”, termed the “Innovator’s Agency”, addresses the context under which innovation occurs followed by a detailed assessment of six methods proven to drive greater innovative outcomes. Critical to becoming innovative is how a person learns and processes data into actionable knowledge. Given most innovations are derived from existing items, which are modified for a new purpose; some “Trick of the Trade” will be considered providing ideas of where to begin.


 Chapter 3 – “Doing Things Properly”

Role of the 21st Century CEO                      The firm’s critical leader        

The Culture

·         Effective Leadership                     Key characteristics                                          

·         Leadership Essentials                    It’s all about you                                   

·         Inquiry Driven Leadership           "Tis better to question than to answer" 

·         Managing Conflict                           A fact of life                                      

Leadership in Action                             Odor control case study                    

Organizational Design                          Bringing it all together

Abstract: “Doing Things the Right Way” considers how cultural norms of behavior, especially during rapid change, impacts innovation. While many innovative techniques withstand the test of time new tools and techniques are constantly emerging the role of leadership, inquiry, managing conflict and change effectively remain standards of any innovative methodology. Data availability and new tools like Social Media are impacting the role of the individual and how people do work leading to organizational designs, becoming sources of sustainable competitive advantage. Easy inquiry and access to large amounts of data do not necessarily yield actionable knowledge and more innovation.                                                       

Chapter 4 – “Processes: The Means to the End”                                      

Innovation Roadmapping                              Where to go                                         

Portfolio Creation and Management           Why go there                                      

Open Innovation and Stage Gates                Looking outside                                           

Project Management                                       Getting there              

 Product Life Cycle Management                  Closing the loop                    

“Big Data”                                                          Getting to great decisions                           

 Social Media Techniques                               Driving high energy idea collisions

Abstract: “Processes: The Means to the End”, addresses processes necessary for sustainable innovation especially the unmanageable amounts of data being generate every day. Given that only people can innovate and that data, information, and knowledge are expanding dramatically, a strategy for deploying “knowledge workers” in organizational designs becomes critical. Supporting these designs are decision-making tools such as Road Maps, Portfolio Creation, Stage Gates, Project and Product Life Cycle Management, and managing “Big Data” all in the light of newly emerging Social Media techniques.


 Chapter 5 – “Sustaining the Business by Serving Customer's”                

The Business Model        Creating an enduring competitive advantage

  • Value Proposition
  • Go to Market Model
  • Exit Strategies

The Lead User                    They’ll know it when you show it to them    

Investment                          An abundance mentality for making “The Pie” bigger                                         

Protection                            You’re only as strong as your Intellectual  Property                                        

The Advisory Board           Select well, manage proactively

Corporate Governance      Strategically advising the firm                    

Abstract: “Sustaining the Business by Serving Customers”, deploys the concepts in the first four chapters, while framing the role of the 21st century CEO. The CEO’s leadership, defined by their field of vision, are essential to any enterprise thriving. From the CEO’s vision will emerge how the enterprise creates its business model, acquires financial support, and protects their innovations once deployed while closing with the elements of effective corporate governance creating a virtuous cycle of innovation. Core to chapter 5 will be a case study of “Customer Driven Innovation”.

 Chapter 6 – “Case Studies: How Some of the Best Did It”        

The Fruits of War                                         Innovations from crisis        

Chicago’s Innovations                                 The top 20 Innovations                       

Josia Wedgewood                                         Fine Chinaware                                               

Marshall Field                                               Retail                                                               

Michael Dell                                                  Personal Computers                                       

Estee Launder                                               Cosmetics                                                                                  

Laser Applications Technologies                Food Labeling                                      

Air Scrubber                                                    Odor Mitigation                                         

Emulsion Fuel                                                Low emission diesel Fuel                              

The Pipeline                                                    Innovations yet to come                               

Abstract: “How the Best Did It”, assesses case studies like Joshua Wedgewood’s building the first high-quality Fine Chinaware business in the 18th century to Michael Dell, of the Dell Computer, circa 1980.  Interestingly the context encountered by both innovators was the same. Examples, including Chicago’s Top 20 innovations, are reviewed comparing successes to failures where the context was correct, but something was amiss. Given many innovations result from a crisis we’ll explore how war drives innovation with unexpected consequences. A paradox of innovation from war is destroying wealth before creating it.       

Strategic Innovation

Stephen Di Biase

Strategic Elements of Innovation

Innovation is a paradox with precepts easy to comprehend but difficult to implement. Often, and incorrectly, innovation is delegated to the ranks of the technical community. In reality, harvesting the economic potential from innovations, requires the entire enterprise to innovate.  Specifically the coordination of technical and commercial efforts becomes a critical success factor in making innovation successful.  In fact, commercial innovations like new business models, leverage technical investments yielding more sustainable financial outcomes.

The components of successful and sustainable innovation are fairly obvious and even common sense.  First the enterprise must want to innovate as a key part of their strategy.  This commitment must begin with top management and be continuous and long term in nature. Desire without commitment wastes the organizations time and energy and squanders shareholder value.  Since people innovate, not buildings, infrastructure, systems etc. the individual, and collected talents of the organization’s human capital, represent the raw material of innovation. 

More important than the raw skills of people is their innate curiosity and desire to understand changes surrounding them while being part of an enterprise focused on converting these changes into advantages.  These advantages benefit the enterprises customers, markets, communities, shareholders and employees.  Unless the advantages from innovation have a broad impact over time they’re unlikely to be significant or sustainable.  The advantages do not need to be large just real and broad.

Once strategy and people are in place the systems and procedures by which the enterprise conducts business must facilitate innovation. Knowledge is the root of the innovation process and systems supporting data gathering, information assembly and understanding allow ideas to be transformed into meaningful innovations.  The curious mind can not create advantage from change if the change can not be understood.  “Knowledge Management” has become a key core competency for industry “innovation powerhouses” like P&G and will soon be a condition of simple existence for most enterprises.  This is a direct and unavoidable outcome of the 1990 “tech revolution” (which actually began in the 1970s).

In addition successful innovation requires the enterprise to avoid “self-inflicted injuries” such as:

  1. Arrogance, especially by the leadership team.
  2. Setting unrealistic expectations. Innovation is not easy, quick or large (at least initially).
  3. Simplicity is mandatory at all times. Being “clever” invites expensive failures.
  4. An unwillingness to recognize innovations must be for the present first. The future will take care of itself.
  5. Inability to calculate and manage risk. Successful innovators are not “risk takers” but “risk managers”.

However, the reality is all innovations start small and in the beginning, those that become big, are indistinguishable from those which stay small. Finally, unless an organization is capable of successful systematic organizational and business innovation it can not create sustainable shareholder value over time. Reinventing the business to lead events in the world and marketplace requires a sense of constant urgency and willingness to embrace change, in effect creating the future.

Unless an organization is capable of successful systematic organizational and business innovation it can not create sustainable shareholder value over time.  Reinventing the business to lead events in the world and market place requires a sense of constant urgency and willingness to embrace change.

Key concepts in creating the future are:

·         The “Silent Revolution” has condensed the timeline for innovation. Abandonment must occur frequently and rapidly including everything about the business not just it’s products.

·         The six classes of opportunities must also be considered in the context of new information, geography and changing demographics. This context must be considered explicitly and focus on challenging the basic assumptions about the business held by management.

·         The power of processes – bringing about key resources, fostering disciplined decision making and collaboration and allocating resources is more important than at any time in the past and growing in importance as information becomes more dynamic and impacting.

·         Innovation in the “Lego World”, or the world of integrated solutions derived both internally and externally, is about building relationships and inventing white space not about helping a product survive one more round of improvement.

Finally, the entrepreneur creates new wealth by four primary means, which can be practiced by the firm, as well as, external to it:

·         Abandoning ongoing efforts to make room for innovation,

·         Continuously seeking opportunities found in change,

·         Converting those opportunities into value for customers.

·         Strategically allocating resources.

Connecting resources from externally derived sources has now become a new competency requires for creating a sustainable advantage.

Innovation in the 21st Century

Stephen Di Biase

Innovation in the 21st Century

Innovation, a discipline highly impacted by the environment in which it is conducted, is the life blood of creating wealth and sustainable competitive advantage.

The industrial revolution was thunderous. You could hear the factories and trains; you could see cities transforming; you could smell the changes. Key to the innovation process and business development was the centralized research laboratory that evolved from a prototype developed at Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park facility into a general model in the 20th century.

Today another revolution is occurring driven by the wide availability of information which was coined by Peter Drucker as “The Silent Revolution”.  We can't look out our windows and see the catalysts that will change the way we innovate and organize our companies and employees do their work. However, it’s becoming clear that this silent revolution is built around human assets which are the key to all innovative activity. It's all about knowledge, information, and collaborative connections and partnering which impact how companies are designed and compete on a global basis.

The impact of this silent revolution is far from quiet. The role of management at every level is amplified as is the influence of the customer. Employees must learn more quickly and work collaboratively while dealing with ever increasing complexity. Employee motivation is driven less by financial gain and more by organization purpose. In this revolution, leaders are seeing the heightened risks from wrong decisions, no decisions at all, or poor execution of right design decisions concerning innovation and wealth creation.

These change forces are mandating that innovation management and business development move from the internally driven centralized model that has worked so well in the past to an external view where virtual organizations and processes become key factors.  A key driver of the virtual concept is the acceptance by companies that they can’t be good at everything and in reality they can only be competent at a few distinct skills with other requirements being coming from specified external sources. In a highly networked, global economy, skillful execution of a well-crafted open innovation program, designed to consider the elements of the “Silent Revolution” and new knowledge worker employee, is critical to their survival. My comments will touch on innovation management within this new paradigm driven by “Silent Revolution”, the emergence of the knowledge worker and the need to access innovation external to the organization while skillfully integrating such acquisitions within the existing enterprise.  The ultimate goal is the development of new businesses that become the source of wealth.