• Innovation: Use It or Lose It

    Oh, innovation.  How you have been turned into a catch phrase, over used, misplaced, and marketed to the point where many people sigh when we use the term.

    Personally, I am very passionate about innovation.  However, given the broad context that the term is now used, before I can go on it is important to define what the term innovation means to me.

    Innovation to me is defined in a very simple way – something that is new and useful.  What I mean by this is that the product, service, or business model has never been done before and the market finds a use for it.  Or better yet, a value they are willing to invest their time or money in.

    If something is considered new and of no use/value, it is just a novelty.  It is an evolution if something isn’t really new, but it is simply more useful than it was previously.  An example of an evolution will be the iPhone 7.  The phone will not be “innovative” so much as it will be “evolutionary”.

    Innovation and Creativity

    Given my definition above, the logical connection between creating something new and useful requires creative thinking — as you cannot solve the problems of tomorrow using the same thinking that created them.

    Reflect on this point for a moment.  How many times have you been in a meeting and thought it felt like Groundhog Day?  The meeting covers the same points you talked about last week, month, quarter, year… decade…  10% of the room talks.  90% of the room tries to not look at their phones.  People feel better that they got to talk, others feel better when it is over.  Tomorrow is rinse and repeat.

    This is not a creative environment.  You need 100% of people engaged, thinking, creating, failing, having fun, and as a result… innovating!  Otherwise, the problems of tomorrow will come and your organization will not have an answers.  Someone else will.

    This is usually the part of the conversation where people give me that “look”.  The one where I can see them thinking: “great, I’m about as creative as a rock… I guess I’m out”.

    If this is you – don’t leave!!!  Please read on…

    How You Lost It

    I am the biggest advocate of education, learning from our past, and expanding your knowledge.  What I am not a fan of is our current educational and corporate paradigms.

    In observing my own children, I have found them to be the most creative and innovative people I know.  With limited knowledge or resources, they are able to solve problems that deal with constraints and needs.  They don’t fear failure, they experiment, they pivot quickly, they laugh along the whole way.   Studies prove it.  In many cases children are able to solve complex problems with unknown solutions faster than highly skilled adults.   Our fear of failure mixed with a sort of arrogance that we always know the answer prevent us from seeing the simplest and obvious things to a creative child.

    It will all come to an end when they go to school.

    Traditional school systems introduce the standard of pass/fail.  A single answer to all problems – that is known and predetermined.  Quickly we conform to standards to survival and we lose our natural want to explore and create.  Later, this is reinforced in many corporate paradigms where our manager knows all, we are plebs, and we need to quickly conform to the successful hierarchical structure that allowed the Industrial Revolution to flourish.

    However, it is the opinion of many that research the subject of innovation and creativity that all of us are highly creative individuals.  The issue is that we suppress this due to our environment and then we begin to believe we are not creative.  I completely agree with this viewpoint.

    How to Use IT – and Get It Back

    All hope is not lost!

    If you have a history of 10, 20, or even 30 years of school and/or work it will not permanently remove your ability to create and innovate.  You just need to learn how to ride a bike again.  Just as with riding a bike, it is a skill and a process that you can learn and repeat.

    Warning:  Sidetrack…

    I have to pause at this point and dispel another myth before I go on about getting your creative skills back.  That is the myth of momentary or singular genius – or the Eureka theory.

    In fact, the word genius has Greek roots in where the Genius was a guardian angel that followed a man around and gave him all his ideas.  At that time, they just did not believe man had any natural abilities.  We now know this creativity is within us.  However, we still idolize individuals like Steve Jobs as if they are a rare and unique anomaly that the rest of us cannot become.

    Let me be clear, Steve Jobs and Jony Ive did not wake up one Monday morning, drive to 1 Infinity Loop, have a nice latte, pull out a piece of paper, draw up the complete final mock-up of the iPad in an hour, then call it a day.  It is just not how it works.  Every highly innovative company and individual I have ever met or studied uses systematic processes to develop ideas, explore them, and kills the poor ones quickly so the brilliant ones can flourish.

    The difference between them and most others is that they are dedicated to this pursuit of creativity and refining these methods.  They also believe in themselves as being creative individuals.

    … I’m back

    The great thing about all this?  You too can learn these design and creative problem-solving processes to develop more innovative products, services, and business models.

    As with riding a bike again, you will fall off.  Get back on.  With practice your instinct to create will return.  You will enjoy failure and learn to have fun when this happens.  The teachers and judges are gone; the world now needs you to create like a child again.  There are simply too many problems that need your creative solutions!

    Once you get it back, don’t loose it again.  Nurture it and share it with others.  Make it part of your corporate DNA.  Bring in people from the outside to share their knowledge and seed your teams.  Avoid group think like the plague.

    It is my belief that as humans, we are all happier when we are creating, inventing, and truly innovating.  I’m sure you will agree once you get started as well.

    In Summary

    • Innovation requires the creation of something new and useful — and creative thinking results in this innovation
    • We are all creative – all of us
    • The Eureka theory is a myth. There is no single genius.
    • Creativity is a skill that has been repressed and can be relearned
    • You can start today


    In closing, I would like to recommend a few processes that I have studied and used to improve collaboration and creative problem-solving within teams:

    • Creative Leadership: Skills that Drive Change – Gerard J. Puccio
    • Building a Better Business Using the LEGO Serious Play Method – Per Kristiansen
    • Change by Design – Tim Brown
    • Intrapreneurship: Managing Ideas Within Your Organization – Kevin C. Desouza
    • Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide – Harrison Owen
    • Business Model Generation – Alexander Osterwalder


    This is a Guest Post by Aaron Alsop:  management consultant with a passion for innovation and creative problem-solving.  He holds an Executive MBA from Royal Roads University where his focus was on Leading Innovation and he has worked with start-up to Fortune 500 companies.  You can follow him on Twitter – @AaronAlsop and contact him at aaron@businessmodeledge.com.


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