- Adapting to Change & overcoming Fear (5)
- Ambiguity and embracing the Unknown (4)
- Apple and/or Steve Jobs (2)
- Business Reports: 2010 IBM CEO & 2010 BCG (14)
- Changing Cultures to become Innovative (10)
- Collaboration vs. Silos (7)
- Continuous Improvement or Process Improvement (5)
- Creative Arts & Innovation (10)
- Creative Genius among Staff (8)
- Creative Problem Solving (8)
- Creative Thinking Practices & Exercises (11)
- Creativity/Innovation (1)
- Critical Thinking (3)
- Curiosity & Asking Questions (14)
- Divergent vs. Convergent thinking (5)
- Employee Engagement (9)
- Fun and innovation (2)
- Hierarchy vs. Innovation (3)
- How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci (7)
- Innovation & the Economy (1)
- Innovation in Government (2)
- Innovation in History (5)
- Integrity; Following own drummer (7)
- Langdon Morris (6)
- Leadership & Management Best Practices (15)
- Learning from Mistakes (8)
- Lifelong Learning and innovation (3)
- Mentoring and innovation (4)
- Model Innovative Organizations (9)
- Podcasts on innovation (2)
- Processes and Structures for Innovation (5)
- Redefining Innovation (8)
- Scenario Planning (2)
- Six Sigma and LEAN vs. innovation (2)
- Social Change and Innovation (2)
- Spirituality in Workplace and innovation (2)
- Trust and Respect in Engagement and Innovation (7)
- Types of Innovation (6)
- Weirdness and Creativity (2)
- What-iffing (5)
- Whole Brain Thinking (6)
- YouTube Videos (3)
What Does “Innovation” Mean? Many Things.
A friend recently said he didn’t know that when I talk about innovation I am referring to improvements in processes, workflows, and efficiency, in addition to new product and service development. So, let me set the record straight.
According to The American Heritage Dictionary (2006), “innovation” is defined as:
n. 1. The act of introducing something new. 2. Something newly introduced.
In Oxford American, it’s:
Change, alteration, revolution, upheaval, transformation, metamorphosis, breakthrough; new measures, new methods, modernization, creativity, ingenuity, inspiration….
So, as the terms "new methods" and “new measures" don’t exactly indicate radical marketing breakthroughs or revolutionary unique products, being innovative can simply mean applying ideas to doing routine procedures in somewhat more efficient or more effective ways.
Making Improvements in Processes vs. "Process Improvement":
The term "process improvement," for some, brings a system like “Six Sigma”* to mind. Although there is resounding evidence that formal programs such as Sigma have made significant contributions toward achieving greater efficiency and eliminating waste, this sort of system has been found to be detrimental to the creative process in research and development departments, such as the one at innovative 3M, as reviewed in an interesting Business Week article.
Many of us would agree that it's a matter of balance, and one solution certainly does not fit all situations. Of course, R&D programs should discipline themselves to be as efficient as possible in their planning, collaboration and communication processes, in vetting ideas, and rapid prototyping, without being hindered by some of the Six Sigma-type constraints.
K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Silly!): For some of us, the term “process improvement” simply means what it always has: modest improvements in how we do things. Such as, “Let’s start writing the dates completed on the boxes that we’ve sorted through so no one wastes time going back through them.” It can be any “new method” that’s never been done before that helps us to achieve greater efficiency in our workflows or improve quality – like the 100+ ideas that each Toyota employee is encouraged to contribute to their company every year.
Most of us have numerous process and work-flow improvement ideas pop into our heads at work all the time. As Langdon Morris has written, part of innovation involves the creative tension of “seeing things as they are and things as they could be.” Unfortunately, many people are not empowered by their employers to share their suggestions, let alone see them discussed or implemented. This all too common situation is a tremendous waste of brainpower and resources, frustrates employees, and contributes to low moral and higher turnover.
Many Forms of Innovation:
At a conference on innovation, Brownell Langdrum of Draw Success (www.DrawSuccess.com) supplemented her own list of types of innovation with ideas generated by a group of chief innovation officers from companies such as Google, Mattel, and Hewlett-Packard. A few of these are included below. If you go to her full document, you will find that some of the descriptions are, fittingly, quite original. Actually, the list itself could be a very useful tool for generating ideas!!
Efficiency innovation delivers ways to improve efficiency and the speed of effectiveness. It can include internal systems and processes or ways to expedite the customer/client experience.
This form of innovation conveys ways to increase sales, reduce costs, improve tracking of expenses, and reduce accounts receivable, along with other ways of managing finances to enhance profitability. It also includes ideas to improve tax/audit compliance.
Process Innovation encompasses the implementation of a new or significantly improved production or delivery method.
Note: I’m a big fan of efficiency, so I believed that process improvements imply greater efficiency. But, it was pointed out to me that changes that improve quality do not always result in greater “efficiency,” in that these can slow speed of operations down. I think the argument can be made that improvements in quality are ultimately more efficient uses of time and effort, but for now, I yield to these as being two distinct forms of innovation.
This form of innovation includes introducing a new infrastructure or system, which could produce new sectors, and induce major change across several areas of business.
Breakthrough, disruptive or radical innovation:
These forms of innovation involve launching entirely novel products or services rather than providing improved products and services along the same lines as currently marketed. Breakthrough innovations are rare because of the risk and uncertainty, but they can deliver tremendous rewards. They require large leaps of thought and a high-risk tolerance.
Business Model Innovation:
Business model innovation involves changing the way business is done, whether in terms of sales and distribution, marketing, pricing or any other core business strategy.
This is when one adds something extra to a product or service that the competition doesn't have or isn't doing. Or, when one makes something last longer, more convenient or faster.
This involves development of new marketing methods with improvement in product design or packaging, product promotion, communication or advertising, pricing or distribution.
Product innovation is the introduction of a good or service that is new or substantially improved, which may include improvements in functional characteristics, technical abilities, ease of use, or any other dimension.
Service Innovation, compared to goods or product innovation or process innovation, delivers ways to improve the delivery of a service or expertise and is both interactive and information-intensive.
This may include coming up with new technologies to solve a problem or new uses for existing technologies. Solutions may be high-tech (i.e. computer systems) or low-tech (a better mouse trap).
In summary, when I use the term “innovation,” I mean a range of ways of putting good, new ideas into action within operations, workflows, and processes as well as in the marketplace and in solving social, environmental, and economic issues. The organizations that will survive and thrive in this rapidly changing environment welcome and apply ideas on a wide range of topics – the more the merrier!
* Wikipedia: Six Sigma is a business mangement strategy originally developed by Motorola, USA in 1986. As of 2010, it is widely used in many sectors of industry, although its use is not without controversy. It seeks to improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing the causes of defects (errors) and minimizing variability in manufacturing and business processes.
This week, we'll take a not-so-happy look at the state of affairs in many organizations: underlying blocks to innovation. Gotta look at what’s broke to be able to fix it! Next week, I promise the happier view, looking at solutions and inspiring best practices being used by innovative companies.
According to Bloomberg Businessweek’s “Most Innovative Companies” article, “Most businesses operate in ways that are antithetical to innovation. They want stability, predictability, avoidance of risk…” But “innovation is more about managing risk” than avoiding it…” [i] The functions of quality control and Six Sigma are about “control.” “The cultures of most organizations are set up to resist fluctuation and purge deviants,”[ii] known to others as “the innovator’s DNA.”
“But innovation is all about novelty and the unexpected…. innovators upset the apple cart, and move the cheese!” [iv] “In almost every company there are the ‘rebel’ thinkers, people who are always looking for ways to improve things, solve problems, individuals that look to the future, not the present or the past.” [v] Research varies, but reports that 50-90% [vi] of all new product innovations “fail” at even the most successful companies.
Given this predominant modus operandi, most organizations have a lot of work to do so that employees will feel safe enough to openly share their ideas and take risks. A great amount of trust must exist in an environment in order for innovation to take place. Very hierarchical “Win-lose organizations usually are not trusting environments…” [vii] In short, a sense of trust, safety, and partnership are key to innovation which is “a collaborative endeavor… There is little innovation without collaboration, and there is no collaboration without trust.” [viii]
Parallel Organizations: “Skunk Works”:
Some believe that it may be more efficient for large organizations to start satellite entrepreneurial organizations to germinate and develop the innovative ideas, rather than undertaking the significant task of changing the ways and culture of the primary organization. These sub-organizations are often called “skunk works” or “skunkworks”: “groups within an organization given a high degree of autonomy and unhampered by bureaucracy,” tasked with working on various projects. (Wikipedia) The term "Skunk Works" is a registered trademark of Lockheed Martin, which by some accounts, was responsible for the creation of both the practice and term around 1943.
This model will be explored in an upcoming post, as well. However, I will say that I am highly skeptical about the wisdom of viewing this approach as the panacea. It may be best for some rapid solutions or time-to-market “hits.” However, it does not solve two significant and interrelated problems. By simply handing over creative thinking and innovation to the parallel, more agile “David” structure versus forcing the larger "Goliath" organization to reshape its management practices leaves the same problem in place: the creative ideas and full range of talents of all of its employees continue to be blocked and wasted. “Skunk work” organizations can only do so much. What if the creative genius of everyone within the entire primary organization was cultivated and set to work – what would be possible then?
As the 2010 Boston Consulting Group report recently summarized in this blog pointed out (and other studies concur) – U.S. businesses do not have time to leave the creative thinking to the few. All hands are needed on deck. For the first time since Bloomberg Businessweek began ranking the Most Innovative Companies in 2005, the majority of corporations in the Top 25 are outside the U.S. as new global leaders emerge from Asia.
From My Soapbox…
I believe the primary shifts that need to occur boil down to this: “In many organizations, the real thinking is seen as the purview of a privileged few.”[ix] There’s the rub! From my professional experience, from what I learned in my organizational development master's program, and based on the research I have conducted thus far, innovation and management bottle-necking cannot co-exist. That’s what many of the IBM CEO study innovation leaders were telling their colleagues. “Flatten thy organizations!” Lose, or certainly lessen the hierarchy.
“People are dying to bring their passionate, authentic selves to their jobs. In most cases, their jobs often won’t let them. These people often represent the undervalued intellectual capital in a company. Choke personal creativity, and you choke that organization’s chance to flourish.” [x]
As the saying goes, “A good mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Sadly, most organizations, from corporations to small nonprofits to governmental agencies, are wastelands of brilliant, potentially profitable or otherwise beneficial ideas that were smothered by others before they were allowed to see the light of day.
And on a More Cheerful Note…
In the next post, I’ll share specific practices being utilized by some to create a “thinking organization that encourages discovery and celebrates new ideas and the people who generate them.” And then how they gather, vet, and prototype those ideas. I hope you'll send in suggestions for some of the best practices you've encountered, as well!
[ii] Langdon Morris, “Creating the Innovative Culture: Geniuses, Champions, & Leaders,” InnovationLabs. (2007).
[iv] Langdon Morris, “Creating the Innovative Culture: Geniuses, Champions, & Leaders,” InnovationLabs. (2007).
[vi] “50 Ways to Foster a Culture of Innovation,” Idea Champions puts it at 50-70% and Wikipedia offers the 50-90% figure.
[vii] Langdon Morris, “Creating the Innovative Culture: Geniuses, Champions, & Leaders,” InnovationLabs. (2007).
[viii] Langdon Morris, “Creating the Innovative Culture: Geniuses, Champions, & Leaders,” InnovationLabs. (2007).
[ix] “Fostering an Innovative Company Culture,” EOS Strategies White Paper (2010) attributed to Daniel D. Elash, Ph.D., “Thought Partnerships Build A Company's Thinking Skills.” (2003).
[x] “Fostering an Innovative Company Culture,” EOS Strategies White Paper. (2010).
Subscribe to receive new blogposts below
- Adapting to Change & overcoming Fear
- Ambiguity and embracing the Unknown
- Apple and/or Steve Jobs
- Business Reports: 2010 IBM CEO & 2010 BCG
- Changing Cultures to become Innovative
- Collaboration vs. Silos
- Continuous Improvement or Process Improvement
- Creative Arts & Innovation
- Creative Genius among Staff
- Creative Problem Solving
- Creative Thinking Practices & Exercises
- Critical Thinking
- Curiosity & Asking Questions
- Divergent vs. Convergent thinking
- Employee Engagement
- Fun and innovation
- Hierarchy vs. Innovation
- How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci
- Innovation & the Economy
- Innovation in Government
- Innovation in History
- Integrity; Following own drummer
- Langdon Morris
- Leadership & Management Best Practices
- Learning from Mistakes
- Lifelong Learning and innovation
- Mentoring and innovation
- Model Innovative Organizations
- Podcasts on innovation
- Processes and Structures for Innovation
- Redefining Innovation
- Scenario Planning
- Six Sigma and LEAN vs. innovation
- Social Change and Innovation
- Spirituality in Workplace and innovation
- Trust and Respect in Engagement and Innovation
- Types of Innovation
- Weirdness and Creativity
- Whole Brain Thinking
- YouTube Videos