Innovation is everywhere. Well, the word, at least. Search any company’s website and chances are you’ll find the term “liberally tossed” across the site’s pages. Check any company’s annual report and chances are you’ll find claims of innovation all about. Pick up any recent business magazine. I’ll give you 10 to 1 odds you’ll find the term mentioned, as a minimum, once.
Now contrast that picture with news from multinationals announcing that their new products pipelines are drying out; with focus-group reports where customers cry out their frustrations about products and services that don’t meet their needs; with process improvement teams that hit a wall when reaching for the next level of performance. How can we explain this contradiction? If “innovation” is so pervasive, why don’t we see its manifestations as frequently as we should?
At QBS, we have been working with this question since our inception. By 1993, we formalized our Creativity and Innovation Institute and launched a series of research projects that dealt with creativity and innovation in the workplace. In June of 2000, while scientist from the Human Genome Project and Celera were announcing the “cracking” of the human genome, with a little less fanfare, our researcher were celebrating the “cracking “ of the innovation code!
After all, innovation is not an accident. It can be triggered by a serendipitous event; but to bring into existence a valuable offering, you need a method.
Methodology might sound contradictory to innovation but nothing is farther from the truth. The misunderstanding probably arises from confusing innovation with creativity. Creativity is the spark that initiates the innovation process. Creativity is the source of new ideas. Without creative ideas, innovation is null. And, for sure, creative ideas can emerge spontaneously, without a method. However, to turn creative ideas into new and valuable products, services, offerings, improvements or results, organizations need a process, a methodology. Chance will not fit the bill.
Creativity and innovation differ in a second important aspect, as well. The creative act, the “aha!” experience, occurs in someone’s mind. That is to say, the creative idea materializes in an individual’s consciousness. It is an individual act. Of course, you can be inspired and influenced by your interactions with others. But, by definition, a creative idea emerges within an individual’s mind.
Innovation, on the other hand, is a social phenomenon. Turning an idea into reality, particularly a complex idea, requires an organization and a deliberate method. How does this occur in your organization? That is, how do ideas turn into projects and eventually into results? Particularly ideas in the minds of your front line operators, in the minds of your sales personnel, in the minds of your back-office people, in the minds of your customers! Are you confident that these ideas are being heard? Nourished? Channeled correctly? Properly funded? Supported? … Do you get the idea?
Four critical processes come into play and need to be optimized for innovation to prosper. The first process is idea generation. As I mentioned above, serendipity can play a role here but it is not the only agent. You don’t have to sit and wait for creative ideas. Creativity can be provoked and jump-started.
The second key process is idea capture. An idea you don’t know about is an idea that doesn’t exist! Without the proper “life support systems” a new idea will probably wither away and die. Ideas need to be captured and nurtured properly to stand a chance.
The third key process is development. Knowledge is essential to turn an idea into innovation. Rapid prototyping and open innovation are just two of the many best-practices under this innovation phase.
Finally, launch and commercialization processes come into play as our innovations hit the market or get implemented within our processes.
Innovation is essential to survival. If you don’t create your own future, someone will create it for you. And if creating your future is critical, innovation is at its roots. In that sense, all innovation is strategic. And strategy can not be left to chance. Developing the capacity to innovate must be your first and utmost priority.
Ulises Pabon is QBS Chief Operations Officer and Chief Innovation Officer. He leads the QBS Innovation Institute and is member of the Board of Directors of the American Creativity Association.
Copyright 2006 QBS, Inc.