The i-word, . . .

Innovation is everywhere. It’s become a very popular subject. In the news, on magazine covers, and filling books. They’re even talking about it around the boardroom table.

Many are curious about it. About it’s power to transform technologies and markets. They’re curious (and furious!) about it’s recent effect across the financial markets. Don Norman has even questioned “Is Design Thinking a Useful Myth?” And many are trying to engage it, to put it to work for their organizations, or within their groups. Many would like to institutionalize the processes, procedures and methods, . . . Reliable, and repeatable innovation. Crank it out.

But it’s a little more elusive than that. Look at Pixar, or Apple, or early HP. Companies that have trucked profits to their banks and stockholders for years on the wheels of innovation. They make it look easy, . . . but, it’s a bit harder than that. It involves risk.

It’s not a program or a platform, and I doubt that it can be taught. I know we’re hard-wired for it, and then conformity trains it out of our patterns of thought. It starts with a single individual with an idea for solving a problem. This happens in an environment that is tolerant to risk. Sound familiar? It gets better. Innovation involves lots of risk, boatloads in fact. It involves personal commitment. Lots of that too.  But, few can institutionalize it, or program for it. It’s kinda like David Copperfield’s kind of magic. Big Magic.

Noah at Play    -Photo courtesy Walter Yap

Noah at Play -Photo courtesy Walter Yap

Innovation, within an environment that tolerates this risky behavior, generally involves a vision and a viewpoint. It requires a way of approaching problems and searches for ways to resolve them. One person, no big deal. . . . Easy. Just watch any child at play, creating patterns and solutions simultaneously. Two people creating something new? We have introduced the complexity of a relationship. Now we have a culture of innovation. That’s Big Magic.

It is this culture, sometimes a small group of people, think of a start-up, that engages in, creates and is supportive of risk to solve a problem. There’s deep trust involved. “I trust you with my idea. I want to share it with you so you can help me make it better.” There is a shared vision, a viewpoint. Between these people there are patterns for looking at problems and creating solutions. This is a culture. And they’ve created it to support this risky behavior. They’ve created a culture that is innovative. Like any culture there are heuristics, and algorithms concerning involvement, contributions and shared adventures. And the culture feeds off of itself. It works. It creates new stuff. Like bicycle parts, or cures for polio, or moon shots, or derivatives.

It’s hard to program the creativity involved in innovation. That requires creative people. You’ve just got to keep thinking about the problem. Some things work, some fail. The vast majority fail. Except for that last one. A napkin sketch, or midnight magic. Yeah, it’s a cool feeling. But it comes from thinking and operating and trying and finally doing within a culture that tolerates risk. Within a culture that trusts, and believes in the vision.

Now, how do we program for that? Its going to take more than meetings and a slogan or ppt presentations, . . .

Build the culture. Encourage risk. Allow the environment to evolve. Enable trust.

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One Response to The i-word, . . .

  1. Norm Cameron says:

    Dale, great description of a simple yet complex process. We were lucky enough to have experienced this “napkin to successful product” together with the A12 program (just add a little extra chicken…). Many thanks, Norm

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