“How does it happen?”
We all know how important innovating new ideas are for the growth and future of any industry. But where does “innovation” come from? Is it strategic and thought out by some genius, or does it just happen organically? We have all heard about:
How 3M discovered Post-it® Notes through an accident in the lab.
How penicillin came about because Dr. Fleming came back from vacation to a messy lab and a contaminated peti dish that had grown a mold.
How rubber was discovered when Charles Goodyear accidentally dropped a substance he was working with on top of a hot pot-bellied stove.
Others include Velcro, NutraSweet, Viagra, etc. All happened by accident.
One of the most prolific management thought leaders, Peter Drucker, defined seven sources of innovation in his book, “Innovation and Entrepreneurship” (1985):
The Unexpected. This is indeed the Eureka moment where something unexpected happens that leads to a new product or service.
Incongruities. When there is a discrepancy between what is and what should be, you have an innovation opportunity. It’s that weird feeling, an incongruity, between expectations and results.
Process Needs. Perhaps there is a bottleneck or a weak link in a critical process? A substantial improvement to the process leads to innovation. When someone says: “There must be a better way!”
Industry and Market Structure. Industry and markets are always in a continual state of flux. Regulations change, product lines expand, and others shrink. Those that watch these changes may recognize untapped opportunities for new types of products and services.
Demographics. The changing demographics (age, education, disposable income, etc.) and moving populations are rich sources for creating new products and services.
Changes in Perception. Meaning and Mood. Over time, populations and people change. The way they view life changes, where they take their meaning from and how they feel about things changes over time.
New Knowledge. New technologies, knowledge and discoveries can completely change an industry. These types of innovations are usually what people mean when the talk about innovation. Unfortunately, these sources have the longest lead times to commercial development.
For your business to innovate, there are certain critical conditions that must exist. Some of these include:
Front line employees must be engaged and provided the freedom to experiment with random ideas.
Employees need to feel safe that they are allowed to experiment and have fun during the day. Some of the best ideas happen when people are relaxed.
Have diverse people and teams work together. This allows people to look at challenges from different perspectives.
Provide opportunities for lower level employees and senior managers to interact in a non-threatening environment.
Allow (no, encourage) failure. Thomas Edison, after 10,000 attempts at inventing a workable light bulb, said, “I haven’t failed; I’ve found 9,999 ways that don’t work.”
“Innovation is taking two things that already exist and putting them together in a new way.” – Tom Freston
A friend of mine, Dorian Baxter, is an (award winning) Elvis impersonator and an Ordained Anglican Priest. Remembering Elvis never lost his passion for Gospel music, and knowing that people love inspirational songs while worshiping, he put these two concepts together and created a lively church that is growing and thriving while many are in decline.
My question for managers this week: “Are you providing an environment where creative thinking, experimentation and innovation is encouraged and rewarded?”
Joseph Sherren, CSP, HoF
President of Ethos Enterprises Inc. & Gateway Leadership Inc.