Book Title: The Little Black Book Of Innovation
Author: Scott D. Anthony
Innovation is a buzzword today. The term jugaad being associated with it has only catalyzed its usage in our geography. Almost anything that is slightly different is categorized under this subject. Innovation is also touted to be the game changing tool for emerging enterprises. While there are hundreds of books on innovation, the little black book of innovation is more like an introductory book for practitioners. It brings a good blend, of theoretical references and their practical adaptations. It demystifies numerous illusions that so many of us carry on the field with regards to the subject. A very interesting chapter on the author’s selected ten innovation masters, also introduces the reader to more worlds and bodies of literature. While some aspects of the book tend to have American references, I believe it will not come in the way of grasping the essence of the book’s intention by a non-american reader.
The second part of the book contains a suggested 28 days innovation program. This four week program is structured around four broad groups or stages namely , discovering opportunities, blue printing ideas, assessing and testing ideas and moving forward. The overall themes are then broken down into short day wise suggestions on behaviors and practices. Each of those chapters contain interesting anecdotes, cases, how to tips, exercises and references for further reading.
The interesting trend that I am beginning to see in recent books including this, is the references to blogs and websites rather than papers and books. This in my opinion is bound to increase. There is also a list of interesting books put together by the author relating to the various topics discussed in the book.
Overall the book is an easy and interesting read. It is written with practitioner in mind and contains number of triggers which may make you put the book down and start doing something about innovation. I am sure the author will be delighted if this happens!
Links that caught my attention this week range from a scholarly paper to the on-ground challenges with regards to innovation
a) A paper that attempts to explain wealth gaps between West and ‘the Rest’ . Why was ‘Rest’ of the world struggling to catch up on entrepreneurship in the 19th century while West was pushing its way to success? http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/7227.html?wknews=04102013
b) A very interesting write up on how art and science of delivery brought effectiveness not just to a company, not just to a community but to a country at large http://voices.mckinseyonsociety.com/the-origins-and-practice-of-delivery/
c) An article around the moderated panel discussion on Innovation at Wharton Economic Summit 2013 around definition of innovation, its relationship to entrepreneurship and what is required to nurture it http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=3242
Interesting reads on innovation, Entrepreneurship and Strategy on this weeks favorite links:
a) How peripheral knowledge is aiding companies to exploit the power of innovation http://bit.ly/TYgA3N
b) How did John Mackey made it big with Whole Foods? Hear it from the man himself http://bit.ly/106OqzW
c) The fate of Apple is one that will continue to be predicted and debated. But I liked this article for it’s view on strategy in general http://bit.ly/XHWqWd
Steve Jobs and the like are exceptions! Let us respect them. But they alone are not enough. Apple and Steve Jobs alone cannot the run the world. We need people like them in every line. We need people like them at every scale.
While Apple and Google provide inspiration; there is a company through its sheer consistency in innovation has shown how small thoughts can go onto making a large company. This is 3M. When one studies 3M and history of its product, one can understand that they are not running behind a single path breaking innovative idea. They are coming up with products that solve simple need and most of it extending on an earlier idea.
This is a thought that is important for businesses of smaller scale. Innovation can be a game-changer at all scales and at all levels. Not necessarily only for multinational or products. Innovating one’s supply chain, innovating one’s processes, innovating one’s production floor layout, innovation in services could cause a considerable shift in both productivity and profitability for a small and medium company. And the best part is the rate of jump that happens with a small twist to thinking is definitive in impact and significance!
So SME companies instead of relegating innovation as something that needs to be considered only when they become large, should swiftly and adeptly embrace it at every aspect of their operations and strategy. For only when they do this, can they even realize the dream of becoming large!
One of the first things that successful innovators learn as a skill is ‘observation’. Learning to observe what? Problems, challenges, frustrations etc., that potential customers face on a daily basis. Learning to observe these opens up plethora of opportunities for innovations.
If we ask people what they want, they may never know. But if you engage with them in conversation about what bothers them or what is it that they want to achieve – it will open up unseen and undiscovered needs and wants.
All such opportunities are potential centres for ideation. When we ideate around opportunities we create solutions that are useful for the market. These innovations are potential business ideas. The entrepreneur’s search for an appropriate business model should happen after this. Else innovation could remain as mere fantasies and hopes.
We need more successful entrepreneurs. For this we need successful innovations. For this we need market centric solutions. For this we need to know what the market wants. For this we need to observe more.
So if you want to become more innovative..observe more!
Creativity is an important aspect of Innovation. Many of the scientific discoveries sit on a creative thought – A thought that stopped asking Why? And started asking why not? Right from moving from geo-centric to helio-centric planetary system, to structure of benzene, to buoyancy and scores of other life changing discoveries and invention, the question ‘Why Not’ has paved the way.
Courage to come up with ideas that seem outright crazy is but an essential aspect of creativity.
If people in the past had not made attempts to think of these out of the world ideas, we may not have seen many of the developments that we see today. We certainly may not remember too many of them, but their contributions remain fueling many of the modern day contraptions. These selfless people with open minds that had the capacity to dream big, are the ones who have led society forward. We need more of them. But the truth is all cannot be them. However we can all play a definitive part, in the collective journey of innovation. Then the first step that we need to do is to stop asking ‘WHY’ when someone suggests a solution, and start saying ‘WHY NOT!’ Even this requires tremendous courage. Many a times even more than the ideaist! Do you have it?
When I was invited to speak at the DMI College of Engineering this week, I happened to talk to a bunch of students from both bachelors and masters level courses in Engineering and Technology. I shared with them my thoughts on creativity and the art of coming up with ideas.
When one of the students asked me if he can think of entrepreneurship without that single out-of-the-box idea, it got me thinking! Is innovation only for companies like Apple and Google? Is innovation only for people like Steve Jobs and Mohammed Yunus? I think it is for everyone. Every little improvement, every little advancement, every little progress is innovation maybe on a smaller scale. It is many small steps that take you to the possibility of a paradigm shift.
The message I left for the students was to make progress one step at a time. I asked them to keep attempting to figure problems in the world and come up with solutions one at a time. It may be an idea that solves only a part of the equation – so be it! When they do this regularly, they will start with simple solutions, but along the way, their ideas will get better. Archimedes did not come up with the idea of buoyancy suddenly – neither was it his first bath! Staying with the problem as he lived his life made the solution build up in his mind over time. Every single small improvement in thought must have led him to suddenly discover that big shift. In a similar manner when a student keeps working on the challenge, problem, or subject of his interest – there will be many small ideas that will come along. He / She has to learn to accept it and build on it. As they stay with the problem and keep coming with number of ideas, at some point they will come up with a break through idea.
The best part is they will never know which one it is for a long time after they have come up with it. But if one is courageous to come up with it and make the world a better place, they will be remembered. If not directly, definitely through their product or service! So keep ideating for no idea is good or bad, its just one more along the way…
We were discussing a rather frustrating problem at office last week. How much ever we tried we found ourselves at our wit’s end. The problem was not a business related one that we are used to. It was of an entirely different kind.
There was some recent celebration for which the team had used streamers and fixed it with cellotape on the wall. After a week when they wanted to remove it, much to their dismay they found it left the otherwise spotlessly clean white wall spotted with hues of yellow, pink and orange in a most disorganized way. And it did not help that it was in the room that we would meet clients. And on that day an hour from then was a scheduled meeting with a prospective client. This was our first meeting too! Nothing from my side was able to placate my team on letting it go and get on with work. Though they were preparing for the meeting, every now and then someone would walk into the room; stare at the wall and attempt doing something about it.
From water, nail polish remover, usage of manicured nails, applying cellotape to rip off the color, trying to write over the spots with chalk – everything was tried. And suddenly a member of my team walked-in, removed a large world map that was there on the opposite wall and fixed it on this wall. And smugly the map sat over the patches on the wall. There was an audible gasp of relief. The first reaction from most of us were ‘ Why could you not think of something so simple earlier?’
In many cases quick thinking is equated to thinking faster and with increasing complexity on the issue at hand. More complex the thought process, more gratifying it seems to all involved! However many times innovative solutions come up rather easily when we focus on the problem properly. The problem we were all trying to address was how to remove the stain – while the actual problem was how to make the wall look cleaner in time for the meeting! Once we changed the question – the answer that came to us was simple, straight and served the purpose.
We can argue endlessly on this being a quick fix and hence not correct. While this and many other aspects can be true – the thought that I want to place in for consideration is when you are unable to solve a problem or come up with an innovative solution to a business challenge for sometime– Revisit your question. Maybe it is defined incorrectly.
As we did mention in our latest innovation report (http://bit.ly/14RsvlV ) - aligning of the thought process by asking right questions and identifying the organizational issues that is to be solved is a needed anchor for innovation! Innovation reaps benefit of free thinking – but it requires direction!
Infact I had written about a similar dilemma one faces in consulting engagements, for YourStory http://yourstory.in/2011/08/the-complexity-of-simplicity/ You could find that of interest too!
Any organization wanting to tap into the power of innovation has to be willing to develop the mindset of accepting failure. If managers do not develop a mindset for this, most innovation efforts / programs will die in their infancy. The reason being, nobody wants to be looked upon as the person who failed. But most are fine if they are seen as people whose experiments didn’t work out. Understanding this difference can have a large impact on your innovation program.
When managers leading the innovation program are able to set clear and short experiments, incremental in nature and building just a little on the previous step – failure when it happens becomes a part of the process. It does not get too much attention. This allows the team to tweak the experiment if required and take another attempt at it. Innovation programs, then must incorporate experimentation as a way of nurturing creativity and enthusiasm amongst employees to participate.
As against this imagine a program structured to run as a big-bang process, where on selection of an idea, the attempt is to run it end to end on a single run. What would happen if this fails? What could be the impact commercially and on the psyche of the team behind the idea? Will it encourage others to try? Will it encourage the firm to stay on its course of searching for the NEXT idea?
Failing early provides for better utilization of resources, efforts and most importantly enthusiasm. The next time you hear about organizations discussing innovation as an important aspect of growth – check if there are enough opportunities for failing early in the program. If not the program is bound to fail!
WILL INNOVATION BE THE REAL GAME CHANGER FOR THE INDIAN CORPORATE?
INNOVATION is the lever that companies are looking to for giving turnaround results. Apart from interest, a lot of time, effort and money are being invested by corporate on their innovation programs. However our survey indicates corporate are far from happy with the outcome of the innovation program. Low employee engagement, quality of ideas, alignment issues and sustainability of the program are key challenges. Read this ichiban INSIGHTS report on the impact of innovation programs and the Six Point Anchor that can catalyze better returns
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