A process for innovative thinking sounds like an oxymoron, I know: It veers dangerously close to Dilbert territory. But it is risky to rely on individual brilliant ideas to surface at the right time and pace. So catalyzing everyone’s informed intuition and creative genius is very worthwhile. Free-thinkers and confirmed Analyticals alike can find something to like in this approach to coming up with innovations (something that is both new and useful). Last week I heard Bill O’Connor, Corporate Strategy and Engagement at Autodesk, describe it.
The Core Concept
Bill leads the very snappily named “Innovation Genome Project’ which is working on reverse-engineering innovation by examining 1000 significant innovations throughout history. (A cadre of MBAs may be harmed in the collection of this data, but that is the price of insight.) They are examining what kind of change from the status quo is involved in each of those innovations: So far, they have found that 7 kinds of changes account for most of the innovations. Bill is graciously sharing his insights. His team turned those 7 kinds of changes into set of 7 questions that anyone can use to catalyze innovative ideas on any topic.
Since Satisfaction is the difference between Expectations and Experience, here are a few expectation-setting observations of my own about what this tool is and is not.
- Asking oneself these questions will not ensure good innovation ideas. After all it is just a process; the quality of the ideas will depend on the people involved. But it is a way to channel and spur people’s thinking in directions in which they might not normally go.
- It is a way to structure a discussion, which can be useful, particularly in groups. It prevents a discussion that is so broad-ranging that nobody builds on or works off each other’s ideas. It provides focus while keeping each change domain (question area) is still large enough to evoke many different ideas.
- It is an aid for coming up with innovative ideas. It does not claim to address the all-important implementation stage.
- It is a checklist to feel comfortable that you have not neglected a significant dimension of potential innovation. Clearly, it is not a guarantee that you have actually considered all the potential innovations available to your business.
More detailed article by Bill O’Connor on this project and the questions can be found at: http://www.innovationexcellence.com/blog/2012/01/09/the-innovation-genome-project/
An article by another Autodesk employee whose team came up with a successful innovative product/service using the tool can be found at: http://www.fastcoexist.com/1679231/the-6-questions-that-lead-to-new-innovations
Retain and Develop Yourself / Your Employees
Inc. Magazine listed “Opportunities for Innovation” as one of the top 10 things that employees want from job. Founder Space lists “Feeling in on things” as #2 on the list of what employees say will make them happy at a job. These facts highlight how important it is to engage all employees in innovation. This is easy with naturally vocal and confidently creative people, or with those employees to like to start things rather than implement them. But I’ve found that some of the best innovative ideas have come from very conservative and implementation-focused people once they perceived a commitment to following through on innovation and were given the opportunity to contribute. A tool like the 7 Questions is a way to encourage and accommodate diverse employee participation in innovation at many levels.
Would you use this approach?
Do you have better or complementary approaches that have the same impact?