David A. Owens

Professor for the Practice of Management and Innovation Faculty Director, VU Accelerator-Summer Business Institute

David A. Owens is professor of the practice of management at Vanderbilt’s Graduate School of Management where he also directs the Executive Development Institute. Specializing in innovation and new product development, he is known as a dynamic speaker and is the recipient of numerous teaching awards. He provides consulting services for a wide range of clients around the world, and his work has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, London Guardian and San Jose Mercury News, as well as on NPR’s Marketplace. Owens has consulted for NASA, The Smithsonian, Nissan LEAF, Gibson Music, American Conservatory Theater, Alcatel, Tetra Pak, Tennessee Valley Authority, Cisco, LEGO, The Henry Ford Museum and many other organizations. He has done product design work for well-known firms including Daimler Benz, Apple Computer, Dell Computer, Coleman Camping, Corning World Kitchen, Steelcase and IDEO Product Development. He has also served as CEO of Griffin Technology, a global company that specializes in iPod, iPhone, and iPad accessories. Owens earned his Ph.D. in management science and engineering through a joint fellowship program between Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and its School of Engineering. He holds an M.S. in engineering product design and is a registered professional electrical engineer (P.E). In his current work, Owens focuses on concrete strategies for creating positive change in all types of organizations. Dave was born in Germany and is fluent in German. He currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife and two daughters.

Professor Owens spoke at length about how companies and co-workers really do so much to stop innovation. Oftentimes, a firm ought not ask “how can we have more innovative people?” but rather “how are preventing innovation from happening right now?” He related a personal anecdote of a group of employees telling him that their manager came to brainstorming sessions and said all the ideas were bad right there, and the manager later agreed, saying that he feared if those ideas (many of which were indeed bad!) left the room, they’d be made into expensive projects. Owens discussed at length how innovation is often stopped by a failure in process – especially when ideas are being nixed at the brainstorming level. It’s important for a firm to develop and continually improve its strategy for brainstorming creative ideas, and then carrying them forward through constant evaluation, such that only smart bets are actually taken by the firm, but creativity isn’t stifled at the source. One interesting point Professor Owens made was on how Steve Jobs was so great at cultivating innovation – he removed roadblocks. When managers would ask for resources from one another, if the would-be-giver hesitated to give up resources, the would-be-taker needed only mention that Jobs wanted to see the project done, and the other manager would give up resources immediately, fearing to incur Jobs’ wrath for holding back innovation.