Friday, August 01, 2008

Why innovation is like (and unlike) electricity

I was sitting in an innovation discussion with a client recently when it struck me - in some ways innovation is very much like electricity, and often we want it to behave exactly like electricity, even when it won't.

Innovation is unlike electricity in that you can't simply "flip a switch" and expect an immediate outcome. I can flip a switch to turn on the lights in my room, but I can't simply say "be innovative" and expect an immediate result. Nor can I flip the innovation switch off and on repeatedly, since the "flow" of ideas takes time to build.

However, that last concept - a "flow" of ideas explains why I think innovation can be compared to electricity. If you flip the switch on, and leave it on, electrons flow until you flip the switch. Likewise, in a well run innovation program, ideas literally flow constantly, because that's the only way to succeed. Starting and stopping when you have "enough" ideas is ineffective and inefficient. Want more? We can continue the analogy to a circuit board.

Just like in electrical circuits, innovation has its resistors and capacitors. Now, resistence is used for important effect in most electronic circuits, but it almost always creates waste, especially heat. In the same manner, innovation has it's resistors - they are the people who want to demonstrate why it can't be done, or are the doubting Thomases who say "we've never done anything like that before". Alternatively, most innovative teams have power sources where the ideas flow from, and capacitors, which store and manage the flow of ideas, just like an electrical circuit. When the ideas are flowing, they originate from one or multiple sources and are managed through a process with an effective governance.

We've become so accustomed to turning on the lights and getting results that many managers believe that programs like innovation should work in the same way. Inertia, change, risk, fear of the unknown block an innovation program and keep the ideas from flowing. Only through establishing a consistent, continuous circuit can an organization succeed at innovation. You can't just flip an innovation switch.

Note: My apologies to all the electrical and circuit folks among you who are probably cringing as you read this. My one and only class in electrical engineering proved to me that I belonged in marketing. Feel free to add your own analogies (even if they are a stretch) in the comments or tell me where I went wrong!
AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 3:50 AM


Anonymous alat ternak said...

Thanks for the sharing

7:38 PM  
Blogger felicity said...

Fascinating article- I must say. So nice to find somebody with some original thoughts on this subject.
home treatments for hemorrhoids

7:38 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home