What is Innovation? Smart, fast, radical ways to innovate

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Why we need fresh air, new insight, to drive innovation,

* Patrick Dixon has advised many of the world's largest corporations on a wide range of trends and opportunities for innovation, including the innovation process itself with methods such as crowd-sourcing.  He has been part of the innovation process for organisations like BP, GSK, UBS, Deutsche Bank, Nokia, The AA and Saga.  Here is a brief extract on Innovation - from his book Building a Better Business.  The first questions is - what exactly IS Innovation?

INNOVATION is the central issue in economic prosperity” -  Michael Porter

“INNOVATION is the specific tool of entrepreneurs, the means by which they exploit change as an opportunity for a different business or a different service. It is capable of being presented as a discipline, capable of being learned, capable of being practiced. Entrepreneurs need to search purposefully for the sources of innovation, the changes and their symptoms that indicate opportunities for successful innovation. And they need to know and to apply the principles of successful innovation.” - Peter Drucker

Better innovation means better products and service.

Most organisations are full of really great ideas which never make it – for a start most of the great ideas stay inside the minds or immediate friendship groups of the people who have them.

The Paradox of Innovation

Here is a strange thing:  the paradox of innovation:

- CEOs often complain about lack of innovation
- Workers often say leaders are hostile to new ideas

A common frustration for managers is finding better, practical, low cost ways to get the job done - but a common frustration for workers is being asked to do stupid things in an inefficient and life-wasting way.

Workers can then be labelled as obstructive and uncooperative, while management is heavily criticised by them for being out of touch, heavy-handed, arrogant and ignorant.

That’s why innovation workshops are often electrifying – so long as participants are persuaded that management are committed to making their best creative ideas work, and will back them with proper resources, courageous decision-making and campaigning at more senior levels.

There are few things more encouraging to a group of people than to be asked for ideas, and to see things change for the better as a direct result.  To be able to say:  “That was my idea”, or “it was our team that came up with that.”

Reward those whose ideas are used, honour them publicly, give them ongoing profile, show them why their innovation has made such a difference to many people’s daily lives, and before long you are likely to see more innovations.

Innovation must connect with improving people’s lives

“Systematic innovation is the purposeful and organised search for changes… and the systematic analysis of the opportunities such changes might offer for economic or social innovation”.  Peter Drucker

When people have a clear vision the future and are passionate about making it a reality, you can’t stop the flood of innovations:  great ideas, concrete solutions, practical down-to-earth immediate actions to get great results.  You also get huge co-operation, rapid agreement, solid effort, readiness to change and astonishing progress.
Convince people why the problem is so important and innovation will always follow

The only reason people innovate is for a better life – so…

- Show people why it really matters
- Convince people of your urgency
- Promise to take all ideas seriously
- Reward those prepared to risk failure
- Commit yourself to make great ideas a reality
- Celebrate successful team innovations

How often have you heard comments like these?

“If only they would do x…. they would save y overnight.”
“I don’t understand– if they had only done z it would have saved us two weeks work.”

If you’re not hearing these kinds of statements, watch out.  It probably means you are in a perfect organisation, possibly set for a big fall having relaxed after getting everything just about perfect…. Or….

a)  You are too senior and too remote
b)  People keep quiet the moment you walk in the room
c)  You work with people who are half-dead, non-questioning robots who should have left the organisation years ago

All children innovate

"If you want to be more creative, stay in part a child, with the creativity and invention that characterizes children before they are deformed by adult society." - Jean Piaget 1896-1980

Find me a young child that does not innovate – all the time.  Experimenting, exploring, pushing, pulling, trying, succeeding and often failing, with an intense curiosity about everything and everyone.

Imagination, the world of fantasy, is where innovation happens.  We see possibilities, unlimited by the rigid confines of today’s reality.

“When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.” - Albert Einstein 1879-1955

And then most children start to learn to conform, not to be different, to be the same, to be part of the crowd.  They copy the same accents, dress in similar clothes to their friends and so on.  And slowly but surely the natural innovation in all of us can start to die.

Lesson: make sure people feel as comfortable as a young child when they are taking steps to be creative to help you.

Creative Innovation – Breaking the Pain Barrier

The key to rapid innovation is suspending critical judgement at an early stage.  So often we get too serious and rational about the problems while we are just dreaming about a solution.

Remember, as Albert Einstein once said: "If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it."

"Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction."-- Picasso

“All great discoveries are made by men whose feelings run ahead of their thinking." - C.H. Parkhurst

"Creativity comes by breaking the rules, by saying that you're in love with the anarchist.“ - Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop

"Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward; they may be beaten, but they may start a winning game."- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 1749-1832

Lesson: Always allow free brainstorming of ideas as you search for a better answer. Allow feelings to run beyond logic, intuition before analysis, anarchy before order, without judgement of idea or person, and you will generate radical ideas as raw material for further creative thought.

Pushing through the “Impossible”

Innovation by definition will not be accepted at first. It takes repeated attempts, endless demonstrations, monotonous rehearsals before innovation can be accepted and internalized by an organization. This requires "courageous patience."  Warren Bennis

"Nearly every person who develops an idea works up to the point where it looks impossible, and then he gets discouraged. That's not the place to become discouraged." Thomas Edison

When the need is high, we will all take huge risks

The greater the future danger, the greater the risks we are prepared to take to avoid it.  I was recently giving a seminar in a room which was seven stories from the ground and looked out over a roof-top garden.  I asked them what we would do if both fire exits were blocked by a huge fire?  In a few seconds we had all agreed how we would get down.  Every table in the room was covered with table clothes.  We would tear them down the middle into narrower strips, tie them firmly together until we had enough length to reach the ground, secure one end to a metal bar on the roof and use it to climb down one at a time.

Risky?  Yes.

Danger of falling?  Sure.

Would we do it?  Just try to stop us.

Just see who would still be waiting at the top with flames pouring out of the windows.

Lesson:  Make sure people sense danger if you want them to innovate fast.

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