March through the Steps of InnovationGlobal market Need to compete Outsource pressures Slipping balance sheet. Must differentiate So, go innovate! Innovate! Innovate. (Yeeeah, Innovate!)
This is today’s rallying cry. Businesses leaders intone it, government officials cantillate it, employees worry about it, and whole industries are moving to embrace it. We call it ‘innovation cheerleading’ because lots of people know innovation will help us compete, therefore they talk about it; but very few people know how to do it, so… they talk about it.
- It is not enough to just speak about the importance of innovation.
- It’s not enough to just generate lots and lots of ideas. Brainstorming is not the same as innovation.
- And finally, it is not enough to just support innovation – this is critical to understand. Supporting innovation or creating an environment of innovation is nice to have but it is not necessary.
Innovation is produced by taking step-by-step action, by marching through a process that delivers results. Yes; there is a structured methodology for innovation, as counter-intuitive as that seems.
For some gifted few this process is instinctive and happens repeatably (Edison, G. Washington Carver, Eliza Murfey and Marion Donovan). For the vast majority, however, the act of innovation is like a lightning strike. It happens infrequently and below the surface of consciousness; therefore, there is no control and it is nearly impossible to manage.
As executives, we need innovation to become procedural within our organization. We need to schedule, track, and measure it. Once it is manageable it’s as useful as other business processes: cost reduction, Lean, optimization, new product development, inventory turns, and supply chain management. We need innovation to be repeatable, predictable, and positively impact our bottom line and align with our priorities.
During the past sixty years, experts have been studying the act-of-innovation from many perspectives: biologically, psychologically, socially, ethically, philosophically, procedurally, tool development, benchmarking, etc. We know quite a bit about problem-solving. Innovation actually has become structured.
We know that when “innovation lightning strikes” our brains are going through a common set-of-mental-steps. You see, innovation is procedural. And serial innovators understand that procedure on some level.
Much of the applied science of innovation has been devoted to chronicling and exploring these steps so they can be taught to others. Therefore, innovation can be teachable as well as predictable, measurable, and reliable.
A good analogy is a recipe. Once a chef’s mastery is documented in recipe-form it is considered repeatable by most cooks. Mathematics is also recognized as procedural, predictable, reliable, and teachable. Most people use math. We expect people to learn it. We make sure it is taught. (We don’t just lead cheers about how important it is.)When Isaac Newton first created calculus in the 1680’s, he was just about the only person who could use it. Today high school students routinely learn and use calculus. That’s because they have been taught the step-by-step procedures of calculus. Do you remember which teacher taught you the procedural steps for innovation? Me neither; because we’re not taught innovation. And yet, the science of innovation has been developed to the degree that it can be taught and applied.
When the methodology of invention is learned – just like math is taught – problem-solvers can resolve issues on-demand. Tools such as Structured Innovation, TRIZ or decision-making software can be applied to start a problem-solving project or program.
- There are innovation tools for value creation;
- There are innovation tools for failure analysis;
- There are innovation tools for risk-prediction;
- There are innovation tools for get more out of “fully-optimized situations”;
- There are innovation tools for managing the competition.
Be the first to embrace innovation. Almost any individual can learn the structure (whether they are left-brained thinkers or right-brained). Teams can be taught to innovate. Structured Innovation can be used to manage culture and organizational change.
Once innovation becomes procedural (structured) within an organization, it can be scheduled, tracked, and measured – it becomes predictable. Once it is predictable it is manageable – just like other business processes such as cost reduction, inventory turns, or supply chain management.
When employees learn the step-by-step procedures of innovation they can constantly add value to their employers: invent products/strategies that dominate global competition, improve processes, align strategy with company culture and more. With innovation as a core competency, every level of team and individual contribution can take repeatable actions that positively impact the marketplace and are in-line with priorities.
We already know innovation is important. It’s time to move from cheerleading to action. First create one innovation team to work across departments and book a few big wins right away. Then set up small training programs in critical areas of the company. The methodology will propagate adding value – adding value, adding value, adding relevance.