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If You Give an Innovator an Idea, He'll Want to Launch It

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When my kids were little, we used to read bedtime
stories. We had a number of favorites. The classics of course were
always in demand ' books like Goodnight Moon were perennial
favorites. Another set of books that has really stuck with me were also
favorites, and they've been in my mind lately because they illustrate issues
with innovation so well that are so often
You may be familiar with the book If you give a mouse a cookie, or perhaps If you give a moose a
muffin. These books open with farcical but funny conundrums. For
example, if a mouse were to show up in your kitchen and ask for a cookie, you
might be inclined to give him one. That's just kindness. However,
that act of kindness will lead to unexpected consequences. Because, as the
book points out, if you give a mouse a cookie, he'll want a glass of milk to
wash it down. And, being the kind individual you are, once you give the
mouse a glass of milk and he finishes it, he may want to check his appearance
in the mirror to ensure he doesn't have a milk mustache. But when he views
his visage in the mirror, he decides he needs to trim his mustache, and so
on. The book is filled with these If, Then statements that lead on to more
or less logical next actions.
How does this
illustrate something about innovation?

From my experience, it seems that everyone thinks about innovation, but they think about
it in very discrete, disconnected ways. R&D folks think about
innovation as creating a new polymer. Marketing folks think about
innovation as changing a marketing channel or delivering a new
product. Finance folks think about innovation as driving new revenue or
perhaps modifying a business model. What very few people think about are
the knock-on effects, consequences and series of events that are required to
unfold when you innovate.
For example, if your management instructs you to innovate,
you are going to want some scope, instruction and definition of goals or
outcomes. Lacking those you'll create your own, or wait for someone to
provide them. Once you have defined the goals or scope or had them offered
to you, you'll want to ensure your skills are adequate to the effort. You'll
acquire skills or hire them, or attempt innovation with the skills you
have. If you generate ideas, you'll want to know how to evaluate
them. You'll seek input on what matters, how to evaluate and measure ideas
and what ideas matter most. Once you have good ideas that you are happy
with you'll want to know how to commercialize them. That means getting the
best ideas in front of people who can make decisions about product development,
prioritization and funding. If you can't get your ideas in front of these
people with a really compelling argument, all your previous work is for
naught. Even if you can get your ideas in front of these people with a
compelling argument, it won't matter unless there are available resources to
implement the ideas. And even if there are available resources all the
capabilities or technologies may not reside internally, so you'll need help to
find and acquire the intellectual property or technologies and bring them in
It's all

Like my relatives in the small rural community where I grew
up, all the aspects of innovation are related. Some of the relationships
are strong and evident ' to get new products I need new ideas. Some of the
relationships and interconnections are less obvious ' to get new ideas I need
to do good research to understand customer needs. Some of the obvious
relationships and actions aren't comfortable conversations ' to move new ideas
into production, something else has to be removed from production, or we need
more production capabilities or assets.
The real problem is that the individual acts are all easy to
define, and somewhat easy to conduct. The 'magic' in the innovation
process is defining and understanding all the strong and weak interactions,
dependencies and decisions and building a ' wait for it, here comes the MBA
consulting word ' holistic innovation approach that recognizes and understands
all of the interrelationships, consequences and dependencies. If I build the
best idea generation facility in the world in a large corporation but neglect
to consider and rework the means of getting ideas into a product or service
development process then all I create is cynicism. But idea generation
tools and techniques are easy, and rethinking priorities and product portfolios
and rejiggering priorities for existing products and services to make way for
new product development is risky and difficult.
image credit: business growth image from bigstock

The hip bone is
connected to the thigh bone

This isn't really a mystery ' everyone knows how
interconnected and tightly woven an efficient, effective organization
is. What most managers and executives recoil from is the work necessary to
unwind 20 years of ever-increasing efficiency and capability to make room and
recognize the consequences of incorporating more innovation into these
processes. Introducing innovation tools like brainstorming or idea management
software solutions is easy. Incorporating them into end to end processes
that recognize the knock-on effects, decisions and consequences is difficult,
time consuming and introduces a tremendous amount of risk. In the old song
about the skeletal system we learn that bones are connected to other bones, but
sometimes we forget that it is muscle that holds the bones together in the
joints. Skeletons hold together through tension created by tendons and
muscles that make up the joints. In a similar way we need more muscle and
better design around innovation process, so that good ideas have a workflow
that makes sense and considers the knock-on effects and consequences. We
can't simply string the right bones in the right sequence and expect a skeleton
to stand without the muscles that link the bones together, any more than we can
introduce a lot of innovation tools or techniques and neglect to link them
together to lead to logical outcomes.
Building a competency
versus introducing tools

If you want to sustain innovation, you need to build a
competency for it, and perhaps the most significant part of that competency is
a well-considered, integrated, fully thought out workflow that describes how
ideas are defined, created, evaluated and converted into products and services,
and that considers all of the consequences, changes in prioritization and
resource allocation. Without that you have a set of tools that while
powerful individually will consistently fail to deliver results.
Too many firms introduce interesting, powerful innovation
tools but fail to create the linkages between the tools, and the bridges
between innovation phases and product development phases. These bridges,
and more importantly the consequences of the decisions within those bridges,
are perhaps the most difficult component of innovation. That's because it
is in these bridges that real trade-offs and resource allocations are made.
Like this topic?
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About the Author: Jeffrey
Phillips is a senior leader at OVO Innovation. OVO works with large distributed
organizations to build innovation teams, processes and capabilities. Jeffrey is
the author of Relentless Innovation and the blog Innovate on Purpose.
 Follow him @ovoinnovation.

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