From my experience, there are two choices in how to fund innovation: invention or development. Invention means the actual genesis of the idea, usually through a concentrated effort or workshop using a proven method. Development is what you do with the ideas that have commercial merit. Both take time and money. The choice depends on whether you think spending the money to generate ideas will yield more than a pool of funds to invest the ideas that you already have.
For many companies, the catalog of products is the strongest statement of brand positioning a company can make. It is your arsenal of commercialization. So imagine you could peek into the future and see a copy of your company's product catalog five years from now. What would it look like? What if you could design it now? What would you put into it? These are the questions that confront you when you use a clever innovation tool called the Dream Catalog.
The Dream Catalog is a hypothetical company catalog from the future...well into the future, beyond just the next business cycle. It is far enough out into the future that it captures the innovative thinking and imagination of today's managers. It stretches a company's thinking about its future, and it provokes a healthy discussion about possible company direction. A good Dream Catalog causes tension.
The best Fortune 100 companies see innovation as an ongoing capabilty, not a one time event. These companies work hard to build muscle around this capability so they can deploy it when they need it, where they need it, tackling their hardest problems. Companies do this to keep up with the ever changing landscape both inside and outside the firm. What does it mean to build innovation muscle? I think of it as the number of people trained, the frequency of using an innovation method, and the percentage of internal departments that have an innovation capabilty. Call it an Innovation Muscle Index: N (number of trained employees) x F (number of formal ideation events per year using a method) x P (percent of company departments with at least one employee trained in an effective innovation method. IMI = N x F x P
If you want innovation in your company, hire innovative people. But how do you know if someone is innovative? What do you look for? What telltale evidence might suggest that a person has superior innovation skills? What is the telltale of innovation? I think I know the answer. But, just as with the youth hockey experience, I will need to collect data to be sure. My hypothesis is mental searching speed, an idea that Yoni Stern at S.I.T. taught me. This is a measure of how well you "Google" your own mind and memory for information or experiences when given a task. The task in the case of innovation is to take a Virtual Product (a mental abstract produced through the S.I.T. method), and mentally search your mind to find many productive, innovative uses for it. Whoever can find the most ideas for a given task is more innovative in my view. They make the team. My task now is to select a different team - a team of research collaborators to find and validate the Innovation Telltale, something the Fortune 100 will surely value.
Companies are enamored with chasing "white space opportunities." White space is the nickname for new, undiscovered growth segments. It spins the notion that opportunity lies just ahead of us. Telling colleagues you are working on white space opportunities suggests you are doing really important stuff. It is the ultimate growth endeavor, the risk worth taking. White space will save the day. I'm not so sure. I have two problems with white space. It is neither white, nor a space.