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How Lori Cross Drove Innovation Inside Corporations By Thinking Big & Acting Small

Courtesy of Lori Cross

Lori Cross dropped out of her all-girls’ high school in Michigan because there wasn’t enough physics and math to keep her challenged. Technical college was a little better, but Cross found her place at Northwestern University, where she got a degree in chemical engineering and became the first woman to play ice hockey on a men’s NCAA team.

Cross received her master’s degree in biomedical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Then, she was recruited to be a systems engineer at Baxter Edwards Laboratories, where she commercialized a series of catheter-based innovations from the research lab and completed her MBA along the way. That launched a career as a product intrapreneur at a number of well-known medical technology companies.

"[My philosophy is] that you gotta find something, a problem that’s really worth solving that gets you excited about a solution," says Cross. "Think big, act small — that's sort of my motto."

From creating one of the first video arthroscopy devices to developing an integrated SMART workstation for anesthesiologists, Cross again and again disrupted the status quo in markets ripe for a fresh approach. She’s now an adjunct professor for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Executive MBA program, is founder and president of MindSpan Consulting, and is on the boards of several innovative companies.

Lori's tips for other entrepreneurs:

  • Start with a real problem worth solving and know what you’ve got, but go shopping for ingredients outside of your own current capabilities. Then, work like an entrepreneur, focused and smart, prioritizing time with your customers above all else.
  • Feed the baby first! Invest your precious time and energy toward the most important questions — not just the ones you know how to answer or that are easiest to prove.
  • Circle like a hawk to find a problem worth solving and to discover alternatives and partners that can accelerate. Then, dive in to validate your assumptions and test with trials and low fidelity prototypes. If the logic starts to go sideways, then come back up and redesign. Circle and dive, circle and dive until the business feels solid to you. Then, go for it and don’t look back.
  • Validate the true desirability, feasibility, viability and sustainability of your business. Just because somebody wants your unique product doesn’t mean that you can provide it at a cost worth doing. And if you can’t stop or slow down competition or substitutes you might need to rethink the business model.
  • Don’t outsource your eyes and ears. Get out there with customers and you’ll be amazed at how smart you become. Diverge then converge. Move from uncertainty to certainty. When you are listening and seeing the world with a humble, beginner’s mindset, reality will guide you and success will follow.

Kathleen Gallagher is the host of Midwest Moxie and previously the host of How Did You Do That?.