Friday, September 17, 2010

Innovation and a Body of Knowledge

I've had the opportunity in the last few weeks to lead workshops in the US and in the UK, primarily introducing OVO's ideas about innovation process and methods to innovators from companies of all sizes.  What continually surprises me is that individuals who are working on innovation efforts, or who have a title that includes the word "innovation" are seemingly unaware of the significant body of knowledge available to them.  I've tried to reason out why people who have such an important responsibility are not aware of, or aren't engaged with, all of the ideas, science, methods and thinking that support innovation.  It's something like an accountant ignoring generally accepted accounting principles or a lawyer ignoring documented legislation and case law.

I'm not going to speculate on the reasons people aren't aware of, or don't delve into, the Body of Knowledge that supports innovation.  I will, however, list some books and thinkers whose works should be on your desk, at least, if you have innovation as a title or a responsibility.

First, you need to know about Alex Osborn and the Creative Problem Solving Process.  Osborn developed much of the original concepts around idea generation that we still use today.

Next, you need to know about Clayton Christensen, who dramatically re-invigorated innovation as a corporate or strategic tool with his book The Innovator's Dilemma.  While Christensen and his co-authors have written other, very valuable books about innovation, this is the one that you need on your shelves.

We like a number of authors who have written books about specific innovation topics, including:

I could easily go on.  The point is that a Body of Knowledge exists, and should be used effectively.  If anything, one could possibly argue that there's too much information about innovation and much of it is somewhat conflicting.  That's because innovation is such a large, and often poorly defined, topic. That clearly doesn't excuse the innovator from being unaware or ignorant of the source material any more than the overwhelming about of new legislation should excuse a lawyer from learning about the law to represent his or her clients.

Once you have these books and gain the skills defined in these books and others, you need to refresh and replenish your skills regularly.  There are hundreds of innovation training courses, creativity courses and seminars, and new tools like storytelling and design competencies that will add to, and extend your capabilities.

Innovation is not a black art or a capability that must be constructed from scratch.  There is plenty of good documentation and thinking available in the public domain that describes how to do the work, and innovators who ignore it do so at their own peril.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 11:27 AM


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