Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Innovate Strong or What would Edison Do?

After much consideration, I think I've got the answer to what has seemed to be a big disconnect between what is said about innovation, and what is done in the name of innovation. It all came about because of a wristband.

My daughter is a huge fan of Lance Armstrong, and has had a LiveStrong bracelet for quite some time. The LiveStrong bracelets became such a huge fad that it seemed everyone I knew was wearing one at some point. And, since a lot of the money went to fight cancer, the more wristbands, the merrier. What do wristbands have to do with innovation? Quite a lot.

Nobody ordered everyone to go out and buy (and wear) a LiveStrong wristband. People bought them because they saw their friends wearing them, asked them about the wristband, heard the story and decided to get on board. In other words, the LiveStrong wristband was a word of mouth success which eventually became a media story. That's when the whole think probably jumped the shark. What's interesting about this is that much of the attention and awareness of the wristband and its meaning and value passed from person to person - people committed themselves to buy and to wear the wristband because they thought it stood for something - curing cancer, and even their small contribution put them in solidarity with others who wanted to fight cancer. It became a cause to join.

That's where there's an intersection between innovation and wristbands. Innovation, for the last few years, has been an interesting hobby horse for CEOs and senior executives to trot out to Wall Street and their investors. "Look at our focus on innovation" they'll say. Yet in the mid-management levels, little has changed. Little additional money or resource has been set aside in many of these firms. As we've discussed previously, innovation needs top level involvement and a groundswell from the troops to be successful. It's time for the WWED wristband. WHAT WOULD EDISON DO?

We need for people in the trenches to get onboard with innovation - most firms need to create a cause that their employees, business partners and vendors can join to improve the prospects of the firm and become more innovative. Yes, they'll still be underfunded and yes, there will be high expectations for innovation and yes, the innovation teams won't get all the resources they need - but as people begin to wear the wristbands, innovators in business units and functions across the organization will recognize each other and learn to work together across the business units and in spite of the inadequate resources and slothful culture.

Most businesses don't need to be told that they need to become more innovative - they know that. What they need is something - a mission, something to belong to, that people within the organization can join in and support, so innovation become a bonding opportunity and a method to bring everyone together on the same page. If Lance can do that for Cancer, what can we do for innovation?
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 3:07 PM

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Anonymous Chris Woodruff said...

I enjoyed your post and looked around and found this company that will create custom bands. Would be cool to do the WWED bands. Just a thought.

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