Innovation should be viewed as a skill, not as a gift reserved only for special or uniquely-talented people. Innovation can be learned as with any business skill such as finance, process excellence, or leadership.
I've come full circle on the notion of improvisation as a source of innovation. I just finished a three day improv training program at The Second City to try to find direct application to corporate growth. I found it.
Mitch Ditkoff notes a common misperception regarding bad ideas: "One of the inevitable things you will hear at a brainstorming session is something like "there are no bad ideas." Well, guess what? There are plenty of bad ideas....The key for aspiring innovators? To find the value in what seems to be a "bad idea" and then use that extracted value as a catalyst for further exploration."
I agree. Good ideas usually start as bad ideas, an insight I learned originally from the folks at S.I.T.. But the question is: how do you extract the value from a bad idea to transform it? I offer three approaches.
"Divide and Conquer" is: a. classic military strategy, b. a computer algorithm design paradigm, c. a collaborative problem solving approach, d. an innovation tool, or e. ALL THE ABOVE
The answer, of course, is all the above. Division is one of the five templates of innovation in the Systematic Inventive Thinking method. The others are Subtraction, Task Unification, Multiplication, and Attribute Dependency. Templates were developed by recognizing the same consistent pattern over many products so that the pattern could be applied to create innovative new products. The method works by taking a product, concept, situation, service, process, or other seed construct, and breaking it into its basic component parts or attributes. The templates manipulate the components, one at a time, to create new-to-the-world constructs for which the innovator finds a valuable use. The notion of taking the solution and finding a problem that it can solve is called "function follows form" and is at the heart of the systematic inventive thinking process. It is innovation by working backwards.
Human Resource departments often find themselves tasked with creating a more innovative climate for their firms. That can make sense given that innovation is a people activity. It's a skill, not a gift, and it can be taught and learned like any other business skill. And it is usually team-based. My advice to HR leaders? Experience innovation close to home first. Use innovation tools on actual people or HR systems before venturing out to the broader organization. This has the effect of making true believers out of the HR team, it gives them a handy reference point for other departments to benchmark, and it yields creative new approaches to traditional HR processes.
How do you innovate a business model? You can create new products and services within the current business model to drive growth. Or you can create a new business model and open up a whole new world of possibilities for the firm. Either innovate within the current game, or change the game. But how?
Relying on mergers and acquisitions for growth sends a signal that you don't know how to innovate or how to manage it. M&A has other problems, too. Companies tend to overpay which actually destroys shareholder value. At best, firms end up paying full value, neither better or worse off financially. The firm grows in size, not value, and pays in the form of distraction. What if you could use the tools and processes of innovation in mergers and acquisitions? How could it help? Would you select acquisition targets better? Could it help understand the valuation
better so you get a better deal? Might it help you implement better? I believe innovation techniques could be applied to all three. Here is one example: targeting - deciding who to buy.
The suggestion from one of our readers (thanks, Erez!) is to use Task Unification on a guitar. His comment suggests that players have trouble keeping their guitars in tune when playing in a band. They need to reduce the time it takes to re-tune between songs. I liked this assignment because I play guitar, and I have a small collection of electric guitars, an acoustic guitar, and a banjo. This will be the first time I have applied a systematic innovation process to invent new guitar concepts. Let's see what happens.
The Multiplication tool is one of the five powerful thinking tools taught to me by the folks at Systematic Inventive Thinking. I like this tool because it is simple and yields great results. Even children can learn it.
Multiplication works by taking a component of the product, service, strategy, etc, and then making one or several copies of it. But the copy must be changed in some way from the original component. The original component is still intact, unchanged. Now using Function Follows Form, we work backwards to take this hypothetical solution and find a problem that it solves.