Breakthrough Innovation

March 18, 2011

Ten Tips for Better Innovation

Filed under: Uncategorized — mosesma @ 7:51 am

With a name like Moses, it’s hard to resist the temptation to come up with Ten Commandments for stuff. However, innovation is so complex and multi-faceted, the best I can do are Ten Tips for Better Innovation. We’ll need four articles to cover all ten suggestions in sufficient detail, so come on back to check for additional tips over the next few weeks.

Here are the first three tips…

#1 – Innovation is Essential

In 1999, Arthur D. Little conducted a comprehensive study of 338 Fortune 500 firms and found that firms that were rated as “highly innovative” produced returns to shareholders that were nearly four times those produced by the least innovative firms over the period from 1987 to 1996. That bears repeating: highly innovative Fortune 500 companies return 4x value to their shareholders.

In fact, innovation is so important, that the management guru Peter Drucker once said, “Every organization needs one core competence – innovation.”

So the number one tip for innovation is that it pays to be virtually obsessed about it, because the development and refinement of twin innovation competencies – to create more innovative products and to design more innovative marketing – are the most important strategic priorities for any organization. When you are handed an excuse, like “maybe we should get back to innovation after the recession” or “let me be the devil’s advocate here”… you should have a clever retort prepared ahead of time. Something like “say, is Apple slowing down their iPhone product cycle… or are they redoubling their efforts even during a recession?” Cutting costs and increasing innovation are not necessarily mutually exclusive conditions.

And don’t worry about rocking the boat, because innovators are inevitably controversial.

#2 – The 31 Flavors of Innovation

Most companies commonly recite that there are four forms of innovation: incremental for process improvement, radical innovation to develop breakthrough products & technologies, development of new business models, and the formation of new ventures and spinoffs.

In reality, there are many more flavors and facets of innovation, which include creating radically new sales & marketing techniques, exploring new forms of compensation, inventing clever ways to manage risk in your supply chain, adapting to new methods for shareholder communications, and even using collaborative techniques for generating innovative cost reduction strategies. All forms of innovation are valuable. In fact, an optimal innovation initiative should reflect a diversified portfolio of ideas, pilots and ventures, which match your organization’s needs and goals. Every function of the organization needs to be continuously re-evaluated and tuned with a balance of continuous and radical innovation efforts.

The real goal is to create your own flavor of innovation that’s brandable.

#3 – Innovation is a Team Sport

Despite the enduring myth of the lone genius, truly productive invention requires a team effort. Ed Catmull, president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, describes what he calls “collective creativity” in a recent issue of Harvard Business Review. He writes, “Creativity involves a large number of people from different disciplines working together to solve a great many problem. Creativity needs to be present at every level of every artistic and technical part of the organization.”

But, like all team sports, some teams are simply better at playing the game than others. This is because human skill – like learning to play professional sports or play the piano – requires 5000 hours for the brain to master. Ideation – the skill of creating ideas that solve a central problem – is no different. Honestly, how many hours have your employees dedicated to perfecting their ideation skills? Or in practicing together, like a winning basketball team or a world class orchestra?

The key to forming effective innovation teams is simply to cover all the skill bases, just as you would do when building a professional basketball team. That is, by matching up the equivalent to forwards, guards and centers. In the game of innovation you are matching up empaths – people who see and listen more deeply than others, creatives –those who can build really neat stuff quickly, and conductors – like you, who can organize and coordinate those teams to deliver the best work of their lives.

And at the same time, you have to train fundamentals – just like passing, dribbling and shooting in basketball. The fundamentals of innovation and ideation are enhancing and expanding the core skills of listening, seeing, constructing, painting, storytelling and imagining. For an innovator, listening and seeing deeper opens into the skill of observing people interacting emotionally with your products and services. In a way that lets you to uncover tacit and unarticulated needs and requirements. Likewise, constructing and painting has to do with the skill of rapidly and skillfully creating visualizations and prototypes for your subjects to play with and imagine with. These are the skills of artists, except instead of painters using egg tempera or filmmakers using silver nitrate, these are the sculptors of ideas and architects of experience.

There is one other key skill, that is usually held by the conductor… this is the ability to ability to leverage and convince the organization to back a project that it is unable to see as valuable, but ultimately turns out saving the company. Think of him as your center.

And that’s what it takes to create and train a winning innovation team.

Again, these are the first three tips… send me an email if you’d like to read the other seven!


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