12 Most Valuable Insights on Innovation from the World Innovation Forum
Last June, I attended the World Innovation Forum in New York and highly recommend it if you’re looking for a two-day injection of high-octane thinking. If you take action on what you learn, it’s a great way to shake the mediocrity out of your company.
One caveat, however: people are resistant to change and will always revert to the status quo. Don’t expect radical change to happen overnight; especially if you’re working within a large organization.
Here are my top 12 takeaways:
1. Don’t confuse the absence of data with the ability to apply logic
If you’re idea is new and radical you’re not going to be able to prove it’ll work in advance. You have to put it out there and see what the results are which requires a leap of faith. This is one of the toughest keys to innovation, but one you shouldn’t let go of. You can add data over time but this is the time to trust your gut. And your ability to do so effectively comes from mastery so start there then move to being original because that’s where the innovation happens. This takes practice.
2. Bite off as little piece as possible to generate proof and give innovation a chance
The two most dangerous words around are ‘Prove it’. This kills innovation. People want reliability and validity. Since you can’t get that in advance, use analogies and stories to build engagement and trust. Break down the process into as small of pieces as possible to lower the perceived risk and gain approval to try your ideas.
3. New ideas happen at the intersection of analytical thinking and intuitive thinking
Analytical thinking is about achieving a consistent outcome and uses existing knowledge; intuitive thinking is about achieving the outcome you want and requires you to know without reasoning. Combining both results in design thinking, marrying judgment and analysis. You won’t create anything new with analytical thinking and because intuitive thinking is hard to replicate, you won’t grow large.
4. Rational thinking isn’t all that rational
When we strive to be practical and rational, we’re mostly fooling ourselves. We’re not rational nor do we make decisions based solely on hard data. The example here is outsourcing your simplest task to focus on bigger things and earn higher profits. Once you outsource the first component, you look for ways to further increase efficiencies and outsource the next, then the next, etc. until you’ve liquidated your business model.
5. Most business plans make up the numbers
You know those 5 year business plans filled with revenue and income projections? No one knows for sure what they’ll be. They’re made up but treated like gospel. A focus on these made up numbers hinders innovation. Think bigger and you’ll achieve the profits you desire. Spend your energy understanding how people and things work. That’s where you’ll find your ability to make a difference and a profit.
6. Manage costs and costs go up
Instead of focusing on costs, manage value. It drives costs out of the system.
7. Look at the things stopping you from taking a different path
If you’re going to innovate successfully, you must deal with the disconnect between management and staff. Don’t take conventional management wisdom at face value. It was invented for the industrial age and needs to be reinvented for the way we work today.
8. Don’t find the solution, frame the problem
We spend so much time focusing on solutions that we may not realize we’re working on the wrong problem. Take a look at the problem you’re trying to solve and put it in a new light. That might hold the keys to an innovative solution
9. The two most important words are ‘what if?’
When you ask ‘what if?’ you open the door to possibility and innovation. You’re not taking everything at face value nor accepting status quo. The more you ask this question, the better able you are to drill down to the essence of a problem.
10. Put a creative brief in the marketplace
Look outside your company for innovation. Target adjacencies, map them out. Build a network that gives access to ideas. People outside your company through their experiences may see things you don’t. Sometimes when you’re too close to the problem you can’t see the solution staring you in the face. By putting your problem out there, you extend your network for innovation. This was a key component of innovation for Proctor and Gamble.
11. People don’t engage by being managed or controlled
You’re not going to foster innovation when your people are micro-managed. Instead of spending time thinking of solutions, they’ll be worried about their jobs and expending creative energy watching their backs. It’s tough for many companies to let go, and that may explain why so many do not innovate. However, the ability to let go, depends on having the right people on the team so start there.
12. Carve out time for non-commissioned work
It’s more creative because there aren’t constraints and deadlines around it. Pay enough to take the issue of money off the table. People like to solve the tough problems in order to make a difference and few are motivated solely by money. In fact, a major part of job satisfaction is the ability to matter and be respected for the contributions made. Paying fairly removes that obstacle. Secondly, make time for work centered on self-directed problem solving — the ‘fun stuff’. You just might uncover the next big opportunity you didn’t know existed.
In order to sustain a competitive edge you need to create a culture of innovation. It’s part mindset and part strategy. These were merely some highlights from the collection of talks and each speaker from Clayton Christensen to Roger Martin and Larry Huston among others has a book that expands on these themes, and is worth reading. It takes time to build an innovation culture, but it’s a far better approach than competing for mediocrity.
Featured image courtesy of DonkeyHotey via Creative Commons.