Innovative Innovation: Challenging Cherished Concepts

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By Don Creswell, SmartOrg

It’s that time of the year when publications plunge into deja vu all over again (to paraphrase Yogi Berra); ValuePoint is no exception. During the past 12 months, my colleagues and I participated in some dozen or more events and webcasts, many of which focused on the current state of innovation. I’d like to share some of the insights from these events. Note that the comments reflect the views of participants, mostly executives from Fortune 1000 companies, and do not necessarily reflect our views.

Innovative ThinkingInnovation is messy. Sorry about that. Highly-structured, linear processes seldom produce truly great innovation, if ever. Consider the popular approaches to ideation: during a PDMA webcast David Matheson cited Alberto Savoia, a former top Google innovator and co-founder of PretotypeLabs, who took issue with the “get thousands of ideas, sift through them looking for the next great thing” approach to ideation. Savoia stated, “People think ideas are the input to the process. This is wrong. Ideas are the byproduct of the committed innovator.” A committed innovator has “fire in the belly” and drives forward with passion, soliciting ideas to support his/her project.

The traditional idea of the innovation funnel, wide at the top and narrowing as development proceeds, came in for its share of criticism. Rather than narrowing, the “funnel” should expand and contract; for instance, an innovative new product proceeds from an idea to formulation, reformulation to incubation until product launch. This is essentially a learning process where ideas are tested, proved out and revamped based on new knowledge. This is akin to the agile software iterative development process, a conceptual framework that promotes interactions throughout the development cycle.

Executives in a recent interactive session at a PDMA event argued that strategy inhibits innovation. In the words of an innovation manager, “If you begin only with strategy, you probably will not hit your innovation growth objectives. You need to allow innovation to occur that is a bit off-strategy and create the space for hard work to demonstrate that the strategy should be refined.” (PDMA Visions magazine, October 2011.)

In another session chaired by SmartOrg, a group of senior executives charged with innovation in their companies generally agreed that you cannot institutionalize innovation; that by doing so you actually stifle things. It (innovation) is not a structured, rote process, but more of establishing a culture where people have the freedom to surface innovative solutions and promote their ideas much the same as an entrepreneur who seeks to gain investment from a venture capital firm.

Throughout the past year, we have been fortunate to have gained these and other insights from thought leaders and executives who have the battle scars from years of experience in the “innovation trenches.” We invite you to visit our web site to view white papers, blogs and replays of webinars on the art and science of innovation.

Webinar ReplayIIR Webcast

In this replay of an IIR webcast, moderated by Don Creswell, David Matheson reports on a group of executive’s views of the current state of innovation process and practice in their organizations.