TOP 50 STL Person of the Week: Dan Reus

Brian: Today we are joined by Mr. Dan Reus, who is the Chief Instigator for a company called Openly Disruptive. Dan, thank you for being here today.

Dan: Awesome to be with you, Brian. Thanks

Brian: Dan, I love your title. You’re the Chief Instigator for Openly Disruptive. Can you tell us a little more about your role as Chief Instigator?

Dan: Sure, thanks for asking. So Openly Disruptive really comes from the idea that there are two kinds of innovation: there is iterative or gradual innovation, and then there’s disruptive innovation, or big shifts. You want to be part of the big shifts and we want to be open about. As a Chief Instigator, I’ve noticed over my career that the people with the best ideas frequently need somebody to be an ally, somebody to help them kind of get in there and stir things up. Because, to be honest, our organizations and everything are really big. You don’t want to go into the hospital and have the people in the hospital thinking, “Hey, what are we going to do today?” They should be fixed on what they’re doing. So, they need an instigator to help gradually change them into something bigger and better than what they are right now. That’s what I try to do.

Brian: Good stuff! I wanted to mentioned that I had the pleasure of attending Product Camp this year, which was hosted by Webster University and brought together a great collection of speakers, experts and innovators. I really enjoyed all the speakers, but I particularly liked your discussion this year on How to Practice Disruptive Innovation. Can you tell us a little bit about your history with Product Camp and the process you highlighted in this year’s presentation?

Dan: Thanks Brian. Product Camp is a really awesome thing. I got the privilege of helping start our chapter here. There’s chapters all over the world and it’s an un-conference, which means that actually it’s just people that get together around one topic and all you really do is say we’re going to show up at this time, we’re going to have some rooms, we’re going to have some projectors, some white boards, and then we actually make up the agenda on the spot. So people submit talks they want to do and everybody votes on which ones they want to see because there’s more talks submitted than there is space for. So, I got to help start that here in St Louis along with the guys at the St. Louis Product Management Group who really continue to run it and I just speak at it every year. The session that I led was How to Practice Disruptive Innovation. That’s really the idea that innovation, you know, there’s gradual innovation and it’s like the difference between last year’s Ford Mustang this year’s Ford Mustang and there is disruptive innovation and that’s the difference between a horse and buggy in the Model T. You want to be part of that disruptive innovation because ultimately that’s where all of the future value and jobs and wealth and everything else are. So, you want to be a part of that, but it’s really hard to just say I want to be part of whatever the next thing is so the framework I showed is a way to engage people in that because I think that your idea, you know, I think that everyone has a really amazing idea but it takes a little bit to articulate it in a way that you can get partners or customers or investors or regulators or whoever on board with it. So the framework I showed is really a response on how to do that.

Brian: Yeah. It was a really interesting discussion and we actually took somebody from the audience and worked through their idea. If I remember correctly, it was it was a hunting bow or something really kind of clever and we worked it out as a group and had a lot of fun doing that.

Dan: Yeah, that was great. You know, part of the fun of it is that you need to be able to do this; it shouldn’t be a long process with hundreds of consultants and lots of stuff. So, we did it really quickly, we did it in under fifteen minutes with him. With his idea, he really had some clever ideas and we helped him find some ways to understand why he wasn’t getting the traction he needed.

Brian: Yeah, I definitely think we made some progress with the concept. So, Dan and I met through a mutual friend of ours. We got connected because we really both enjoy big picture thinking and brainstorming about how to make great projects come to life. We’re currently working together on a project that Dan originated called Make-Play-Hack. We will give a more detailed description of the project later in the show, but Dan, can you explain the basic premise of Make-Play-Hack for our listeners?

Dan: Sure, the basic thing is that I realized that in talking to a lot of innovative people that there are people that are innovative and then there are people that really likely to drive big change. Frankly we want those here. So, I alluded to the Model T, I mean, don’t we want the Henry Ford of the future to be working in our community? Whatever community you’re in you want that going on. In talking to those people, you know, it’s not just about the idea, what emerged over and over again. A lot of ideas come up over and over before they actually succeed so it’s actually an ecosystem – of the right talent, the right ideas, the right resources, the right insights or data, the right market with the right customers and right investors all in the right place. And that’s really hard. So, if we’re going to have a new commercial space industry, for example in the U.S., it’s not just one guy with one company; it’s actually a whole ecosystem. Knowing that really helped me see what all of those people in the ecosystem need, and they really need an excuse to get together and work together. They’re tired of going places to sit and look at presentations. They want to actually collaborate so the idea of Make-Play-Hack is to give them, kind of, a fantasy nerd camp for the people that really want to invent the future. We’re putting the final details together but we think the first one will be about food. It doesn’t really matter who you are you realize that food can be better from field-to-fork, there’s an opportunity for it to be better, more sustainable, more healthy, more just, more profitable. So, that’s what we’re looking at.

Brian: It’s awesome. It’s a big concept and it takes awhile to explain it all, but it’s really exciting and I’m looking forward to getting this project off the ground and encourage anyone who has an interest in getting involved or would like more information to contact Dan. Dan, what’s the best way for people to contact you?

Dan: You can follow me on Twitter. I’m just @DanReus or send me an e-mail it dan@openlydisruptive.org. I can’t respond to everybody and sometimes people have ideas that I can’t really help them with, but often enough an hour or so is enough to help people get their vague idea to a vision that they can start working on.

Brian: So, you know, part of the show is really a big focus on what’s going on positively in St. Louis and one of the questions I have for you is, you know, there’s a lot of buzz going on with the start-up community and the entrepreneurial energy that’s going on and I’ve been talking about it for a few weeks. When it comes innovation, what do you think St. Louis needs to do to become a great city for innovation?

Dan: You know, I think every city needs to figure out that part of what got you here is not going to be the thing that gets you to the next chapter. So, we have to accept that things that succeeded in the past aren’t going to continue to succeed and for us to have that willingness to take chances on the future, I mean, nobody wants to build or invest a billion dollars in something that’s not ready for prime time yet, and we shouldn’t. What we should do is say over and over again, “Hey, I’m willing to take a small risk at that.” If you are a decision-maker in a large organization, “Hey, that’s an emerging idea and we need to explore that. I don’t want to be the family farm on it, but I want to explore that and I’m willing to put a little bit of cash behind it.” And if you’re an entrepreneur, you need to figure out how to make those ideas come forward. And we need to make sure that, you know, the world needs fresh ideas but not every idea is going to take off so you’d have to have a thick skin to know that the market might tell you that time is not right for whatever it is that you’re doing. I think there’s a collective desire to move things forward, but we need to know that some people can get left behind.

Brian: That’s great. That’s really a good perspective on what’s happening here and I think a good insight on what can move us forward. So Dan, I want to thank you for coming in to talk with me today. There’s a lot of innovation going on right now in St Louis and Dan is right in the middle of it all. If you are looking to get a little disruptive, and need someone to help instigate, I encourage you to reach out to Mr. Dan Reus.

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