Malcolm Gladwell’s article How David Beats Goliath is one of the 100 most interesting things I have ever read.
In his book FedEx Delivers: How the World’s Leading Shipping Company Keeps Innovating and Outperforming the Competition, Madan Birla states that his experiences “with one of the most innovative companies in the history of free enterprise—FedEx—and my success in helping other companies become truly innovative” has shown him four key things about innovation:
- Everyone has the capacity to be creative.
- Creativity is a function of the mind and must be understood in the context of a mental model.
- Developing creative people (minds) requires the right mental environment (model) and the right leadership practices.
- A critical mass of creative people will enable the development of an organization-wide culture of innovation.
For his book The Myths of Innovation, Scott Berkun researched lots of mechanisms similar to Google’s 20% time. He summarizes some observations regarding the most common misconceptions of the concept in a helpful post from a few years ago.
Tom Peters in In Search of Excellence, quoting Theodore Leviit:
The trouble with much of the advice business gets today about the need to be more vigorously creative is that its advocates often fail to distinguish between creativity and innovation.
Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things. . . . A powerful new idea can kick around unused in a company for years, not because its merits are not recognized, but because nobody has assumed the responsibility for converting it from words into action….
If you talk to people who work for you, you’ll discover that there is no shortage of creativity or creative people in American business. The shortage is of innovators.
All too often, people believe that creativity automatically leads to innovation. It doesn’t. . . . The scarce people are the ones who have the know-how, energy, daring, and staying power to implement ideas. . . .
A good post with a letter from Thomas Edison to a young engineer in his company, from the new blog Online MBA.
This is from my notes — I think I got these from an article a few years ago:
- Innovation can come from without as well as within. Apple’s real skill lies in stitching together its own ideas with technologies from outside and then wrapping the results in elegant software and stylish design. Apple is an orchestrator and integrator of technologies, unafraid to bring in ideas from outside but always adding its own twists. This approach is known as network innovation.
- Apple illustrates the importance of designing new products around the needs of the user, not the demands of the technology.
- Apple teaches us that smart companies should sometimes ignore what the market says it wants today.
- Fail wisely. Learn and try again.
The latest issue of Fast Company ranks the world’s 50 most innovative companies and contains a good article on why Facebook is number 1.
When looking for these creative ideas and innovative solutions, it is often said that one should “think outside the box.” But what exactly is this proverbial “box”?
You can think of it as the space in the brain that contains all those bits of information and connections made so far. A dot is a bit of information in the knowledge base. And after solving a problem, repeatedly the same way, the connections become automatic. So, when a person is faced with the same problem, the mind, without any conscious effort presents the old, known solution.
In many ways, the mind operates like a computer. It scans the knowledge base of the memory (mind) to come up with creative solutions. If the knowledge base is old, the ideas generated may be obsolete. If the knowledge base is limited to a very small part of the total business process or operation, then the solution will only take that area into account.
Solutions that are derived from the same thought processes that the mind has used for years are unlikely to be innovative. The requirement for outside-the-box thinking is the ability to make new connections. New connections can be made in one of two ways: (1) having more dots to connect (a new or updated knowledge base) or (2) connecting the old dots in new imaginative ways.
Because creativity is the ability to connect seemingly unrelated variables (the dots we store in our minds) in imaginative ways, employees must continually update their knowledge bases…
Creativity in the business world involves continuously asking “What if . . . ?” Yet when faced with a problem, people tend to quickly lock into “how to” — a quick solution — before exploring all the options.
An easy way to measure the creative environment in an organization is to count how often someone in the company asks questions like “What if we frame the problem this way?” “What if we look at the relationships between these variables?” “What if we explore these options?”
When it comes to innovation, the question is not how to innovate but how to invite ideas. How do you invite your brain to encounter thoughts that you might not otherwise encounter? Creative people let their mind wander, and they mix ideas freely. Innovation often comes from unexpected juxtapositions, from connecting subjects that aren’t necessarily related.
Another way to generate ideas is to treat a problem as though it were generic. If you’re experiencing a particular problem, odds are that other people are experiencing it too. Generate a solution, and you may have an innovation.