A colleague asked me, "Who is that innovation guru at the Harvard Business School?" That's easy: Dr. Teresa Amabile.
Dr. Amabile heads the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School and is the only tenured professor at a top business school to devote her entire research program to the study of creativity. She is one of the world's leading voices in business innovation.
Congratulations to the team at Invention Machine for hosting this week’s conference, Power to Innovate, at the Seaport Hotel in Boston. The theme of the conference centered around the Innovation Intelligence EcosystemTM and how companies can boost performance by coordinating information, communities, and innovation activities. Invention Machine’s premier product, Goldfire, is at the center of this ecosystem.
I sincerely thank you for reading this blog. Readership continues to grow, and this motivates me to contribute new ideas to the innovation community. This month marks the two year point, and I wanted to share some thoughts about what happened this year and what to look forward to in 2010.
The most challenging aspect about innovating is rooted in a concept called fixedness. Fixedness is the inability to realize that something known to have a particular use may also be used to perform other functions. When one is faced with a new problem, fixedness blocks one’s ability to use old tools in novel ways. Psychologist Karl Duncker coined the term functional fixedness for describing the difficulties in visual perception and problem solving that arise when one element of a whole situation has a (fixed) function which has to be changed for making the correct perception or for finding solutions. In his famous “candle problem” the situation was defined by the objects: a box of candles, a box of thumb-tacks and a book of matches. The task was to fix the candles on the wall without any additional elements. The difficulty of this problem arises from the functional fixedness of the candle box. It is a container in the problem situation but must be used as a shelf in the solution situation.
Certificate programs are a way for universities and colleges to offer training that is less intensive and less expensive than traditional degree programs (baccalaureate, masters, doctoral). They are ideal for working professionals who want advanced training in highly focused areas. They are ideal for corporations as they are less expensive and a better value than many executive education (one week) programs. The world of innovation could benefit from such programs. While many institutions offer courses in creativity and innovation, very few have full degree or certificate programs in this field. Most of those tend to be technology/venture start-up oriented. Here are some examples:
Innovation that is linked to strategy is seen as more realistic and supportable. Innovating is efficient because you avoid creating ideas that are out of scope. Firms struggle with this as Idris Mootee observed in his blog, Innovation Playground:
"The most amazing thing with strategic experience innovation is that it takes one kind of company and leadership to create the idea and another kind of company to scale it up and drive industry transformation and we see it in markets after market."
Andrew Hinton offered this insight on his blog, Inkblut:
"We hear the words Strategy and Innovation thrown around a lot, and often we hear them said together. “We need an innovation strategy.” Or perhaps “We need a more innovative strategy” which, of course, is a different animal. But I don’t hear people questioning much exactly what we mean when we say these things. It’s as if we all agree already on what we mean by strategy and innovation, and that they just fit together automatically."
There are two approaches to linking innovation and strategy: Strategy-Informs-Innovation and Innovation-Informs-Strategy. Here is how:
Language and innovation are inseparable. Language puts meaning to our ideas, be it spoken, written, or symbolic. We convey ideas to others which is essential in corporate innovation. Innovation would be nearly impossible if we did not have language. If you want to improve your innovation effectiveness, improve your use of language. Structured innovation methods help regulate our thinking and channel the ideation process. At the moment immediately before we innovate, we hold in our minds a pre-inventive form or structure that has yet to be understood. It is at that exact moment we begin to conjure up words and associations to attach to the pre-inventive form. It is this process of linking objective facts and judgments to the pre-inventive form that transforms it to an inventive form - an idea. Here is a step-by-step approach how language is used in innovation:
Sustainable innovation requires structured methods. But it also requires collaboration and information sharing among colleagues. Innovation is a team sport - groups produce better results than the lone genius. So how do you create a more favorable context for collaboration and sharing in your business unit?
Reputation is what matters. The degree to which a technical worker will share information with a colleague depends on that colleague's reputation for returning the favor. The rule of reciprocity states that people give back to those in the form they have received from others. It is a social rule taught by every human society to its members - you give back to those who have given to you. But the key is: to make the first move. You have to be seen as someone who gives and shares information with others, and has a reputation for returning the favor when others give to you.
Are some customers better than others at developing new concepts? Professor Donna L. Hoffman at the University of California Riverside thinks so. Emergent customers have a unique ability to “wrap their head” around a new concept and improve it. She created a scale to identify them so companies hear the voice of the “right” customer during new product development.
Emergent customers are better at imagining how concepts address latent unmet needs. Dr. Hoffman describes it as a “unique constellation of personality traits and processing abilities that enables such consumers to engage in a synergistic process of visualization and rationalization to improve product concepts.”