Wednesday, December 16, 2009

One (Thousand) ways to innovate

OK I made up the number.  But lately it seems on Twitter and Facebook and other social media sites people are claiming "N" number of ways to innovate.  That may be true.  There may, in fact, be an infinite number of tools and techniques to help you innovate.  But we miss the most important number:  1.  Most people simply need one way to innovate, and talking about hundreds of ways is missing the point.

Many of us who write and think about innovation are at risk of becoming fanboys - so caught up in the aura and the technology that we start to argue arcane issues, like the number of innovators that can dance on the head of a pin.  What we miss is that many people don't get to innovate at all, or don't know where to start.  For those people, offering hundreds of options is offering no options.  For those just about to start, let's simplify things by providing them one or two sets of tools or techniques that aren't simply thought starters or new perspectives, but give them a set of tools or methods so they can create, evaluate and launch a new idea as a new product or service.  That's innovation.

I fear we make innovation too complicated when we are trying to explain how simple and easy it can be.  By claiming so many different tools and techniques, we cloud the issue that any innovator really only needs to grasp one tools or method and have the guts to use that tool to its logical conclusion.  If we present such a range of tools without context then the new innovator is left trying to decide which one is "right" for him and his circumstances.  If that tool doesn't get the job done, was it a selection problem?  Was it an execution problem?  Faced with many alternative options and no clear winner, many people will choose not to choose.

We innovators need to be careful when we talk and write about innovation, especially when we talk about tools and options.  Most people need a very small set of tools carefully applied over a period of time to be successful.  If we simply present them with the smorgasbord of all possible tools, without context or a sense of when each tool is practical and successful, we've only made the decision to innovate more difficult, not less.  In trying to reduce the mythology, we've actually enhanced it.

Sure, there are probably a thousand ways to innovate, but remember most people only need one good one.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 10:06 AM


Anonymous Jana Görs said...

If I were on Facebook I would push the "Like" Button. You took the words right out of my mouth. ;-)

Every tiny little method or theory is trying to claim to be THE innovation solution. Whether it's an innovation management book (which by the way never tells you how to create ideas!) or just an innovation theory like mass customisation.

But where to start? ... which tool you will need depends a great deal what you want to achieve! If there only could be a toolbox like that: I say which goal I want to achieve and the toolbox would give me the perfect tool. ;)

A small research team at the University in Magdeburg (Germany) was trying to simplify idea generation. They discovered that there are only three principles which you can use to produce ideas. It's simple, teachable and very effective. You choose a principle depending on what ideas you want to create. It's called idea engineering.

11:18 AM  
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