Wednesday, August 05, 2009

To Be innovative or To Do Innovation

Some famous quotes about being and doing:

To be is to do - Socrates
To do is to be - Sarte
Yabba Dabba Do - Fred Flinstone
Do Be, Do Be Do - Frank Sinatra
Being innovative is much harder than doing innovation - Phillips

OK, I just made that last one up, but I am convinced it is true.

After working as an innovation consultant for a number of years, and it seems even longer, I can tell you that simply doing an innovation project or program is simple. Yes, it requires funding, and getting people on board, and defining the project and all of that stuff. Frankly, nothing different from any other project or effort in a large organizations. Thousands of people do innovation work every day - forecasting the future, looking at trends, building scenarios, brainstorming ideas.

Recently I was in Chicago working with a client at a hotel. I entered an elevator for the ride up to the conference room. In the elevator was a small boy, perhaps three or four years old. He was holding a small toy that appeared to be broken. In a 30 second elevator ride he generated at least ten ways to fix the toy, including a solution based on a type of glue that doesn't exist. Oh, for the freedom and creativity of a child! But we all do this every day. Some of the most creative brainstorming happens when we try to avoid work or being assigned a project that we don't want to do.

Many people do innovative activities and tasks every day. However, that does not make them, or their team or organization, innovative. Even the slowest, least reactive firms in the market have people in them that conduct brainstorming and other innovative tasks. That means those people are doing innovation, but the organization is not necessarily being innovative.

For you see, to be innovative is a conscious decision about your plans, actions and perspectives. Once you start every question with "what if we..." and begin to create a culture within your firm where innovation is a consistent expectation, like breathing or avoiding long teleconferences, then your firm may become innovative. When innovation is an expected part of your annual plan and your firm consistently produces new ideas that become new products and services, then you are innovative.

Doing innovation is easy, but in most firms it never really leads anywhere. We've conducted brainstorms for firms that manage to create great ideas for new products and services, but since they haven't crossed the doing/being gap, most of the ideas languish. Being innovative is easy if the culture expects innovation and reinforces it. Too many firms think of innovation as the window dressing they need to spruce up the appearance of the organization, rather than thinking of it as one of the important foundations of how they operate.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:19 AM


Anonymous Dale B. Halling said...

Unfortunatly, the US has iplemented little known regulations that are stifling innovaiton. See

5:08 PM  
Blogger wisdom3 said...

Enjoyed reading this. Some great advice and observations. An example of Asset-Based Thinking in action. You suggestions about "what if" are right on target. It sets a tone of open minded aspiration right from the start.

Keep the good advice coming.

Hank Wasiak

11:35 AM  
Blogger Caitlin said...

I like this post, definitely important not only in our careers but also as a culture.

10:04 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Really enjoyed reading this.It sets a tone of open minded aspiration right from the start.

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