Thursday, October 20, 2011

Making Sense of Innovation: Three Questions to Ask Yourself

A lot has been written about innovation - perhaps too much. As a topic and as a practical matter, it can be hard to your head around it. To that end, here are three questions to ask yourself as you try to figure out how make innovation happen in your organization. 

1. Which "pathway" to innovation is best for your organization? 

It turns out there are a number of pathways to innovation (as illustrated below). The trick is understanding which will make the most sense for your kind of organization. 
  • The "Expertise" Pathway:  Developing superior knowledge and expertise to gain leverage. Consulting firms, when they are able to establish a clear intellectual leadership in a particular field, are a good example.
  • The "Re-mixing Common Elements Uniquely" Pathway: Innovation is realized by how an a company packages or presents its products or services. In its heyday, for example, The Gap's clothing was not impressively unique, but its method of merchandising and presenting were.
  • The "Unmet Customer Needs" Pathway: This reflects the ability to match products with unfilled consumer needs. Church & Dwight, maker of Arm & Hammer baking soda, has expanded it sales by finding new, unfilled needs for its sodium bicarbonate: toothpaste, carpet freshener, and mouthwash.
  • The "Leveraging Functional Excellence" Pathway: The ability to execute, consistently, a certain function better than one's competitors. The Ritz-Carlton defines functional excellence for customer service in the hotel industry while Procter & Gamble has mastered the skills to excel in consumer packaged-goods marketing.
  • The "Pure Imagination" Pathway: Using imagination to see possibilities that are not always logically evident. Walt Disney Company has given the lexicon of marketing a whole new term - "imagineering."

2. Do you have a well-defined approach to Creative Problem Solving?

It is not sufficient to simply say, "let's get together and brainstorm a solution" and expect consistently good results from your innovation efforts. Staff needs to be in-sync about how to proceed with Creative Problem Solving. .For that reason, a number of organizations train their staff in the Osborne-Parnes Creative Problem Solving Model, which consists of six well-defined steps:
  1. Determine the objectives or desired outcome.
  2. Assemble the facts. 
  3. Define the problem that needs solving.
  4. Generate ideas for possible solutions.
  5. Determine the best ideas leading to a solution.
  6. Determine strategies to make sure the solution will be accepted and implemented within the organization. .

    3. How will you manage the team?

    Execution is the name of the game, here. This requires a framework for managing a team working on an innovation project. One approach is to use the the C.A.R.E. Profile® -- an instrument that identifies five key roles in innovative team performance:
    1. Creator: Generates original concepts, goes beyond the obvious, and sees the big picture. Hands off tasks to an Advancer.
    2. Advancer: Recognizes new opportunities, develops ways to promote ideas, and moves toward implementation. Hands off tasks to a Refiner.
    3. Refiner: Challenges and analyzes ideas to detect potential problems and may hand plans back to an Advancer or Creator before handing off tasks to an Executor.
    4. Executor: Lays the groundwork for implementation, manages the details, and moves the process to completion.
    5. Facilitator: Works throughout the process to ensure tasks are handed off to the right people at the right time.
    The C.A.R.E. Profile enables a manager to choose the right people to fill each of these roles so a team has a balanced mix of skills needed for success.

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