Thursday, September 24, 2009

Timeless innovation insight

While I'm not one to rest on historical precedents, especially where innovation is concerned, it is interesting that we can find indications of the barriers to innovation in historical records, and the answers to some of those barriers as well.

I'm thinking today of the proverb that Jesus told his disciples, which was that "no one placed new wine in old wineskins". That was because the new wine would eventually puncture the old skins. New wine needed new wineskins. This is taken from Luke 5:37-39. Jesus' point was that new thinking required new containers. The old containers simply could not contain the new, more radical ways of thinking. Jesus was an innovator, by the way, interested in radically changing the existing order. He had a vision for the change he wanted and was unafraid to live up to the standards he expected from others who would adopt his approach. You're also probably aware of his fate, and what can happen to those who attempt radical change without the sponsorship of the executive.

Here's a timeless analogy very relevant to what we face in innovation today. Too often we are asking for "new wine" (new ideas), but we want to retain the old "wineskins" (old methods, old processes, old structures). This is a disconnect of the first order, as demonstrated by Jesus over 2000 years ago. Yet it is a trap that present day executives fall into all the time.

In our work on innovation, we find this new wine/old wineskin problem consistently. I'm currently working with a firm that desires to radically change a product in its industry, yet has not set aside time for its innovation team to meet regularly, doesn't reinforce the innovation tools we've provided and doesn't want to place too much emphasis on the innovation goals and efforts. What's likely to happen in this case is that the participants will simply revert to the ways they've worked in the past, and few if any new ideas will be generated. The likely result will be frustrated teams, disappointed management and few viable ideas.

It is an oxymoron and a waste of time to ask people to generate new ideas in an environment that will continue to reinforce the existing way of doing things, and that is unwilling to make any significant changes or acknowledgments to an innovation approach. What is even more astounding is that management teams must re-learn a lesson that has been experienced for thousands of years, and proven correct over and over again. You can't put new wine in old wineskins, and you can't create new ideas in an old, tired process that reinforces conventional thinking.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 7:31 AM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude - killer post. I'm guessing that while it's easy to throw up your arms and say the Pharisees (executives) just don't get it, the smart innovator should plan some new process and/or structure (new wineskin design) to go with the new idea (new wine.) As you've taught us as disciples of innovation, it's about more than just a creative idea. It's about advancing and implementing those ideas... hence, you better have a blueprint for new wineskins too and be ready to get dirty trying to fill them! - Todder

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