Fourth Age Communiqué - Leadership for the rest of us

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Innovation for the masses

“Innovation is the beginning of the intersection between invention and business insight.” – Sam Palmisano, IBM CEO (emphasis added)

Are you an innovator? Do you know how to reproduce or sustain novel and meaningful results?

When we are able to break innovation down into its discrete building blocks, we can begin to measure the real work involved in being innovators. And when we understand the level of commitment required to successfully deliver innovative results, we can begin to quantify what ‘innovation that matters to ourselves and the world’ really is.

Can you bottle lightning?
As Palmisano alludes to in his definition of innovation, the process of breakthrough thinking is fluid, iterative and ongoing. As such, there is no one catch-all classification, because not all creative endeavors produce innovative results. But there are some common characteristics and patterns that distinguish genuine innovation from creativity.

Defining innovation
At their core, innovation and creativity share common traits: novelty and utility (which can also be referred to as value). While creative results are new and meaningful to their originator, those results may not resonate with others. Contrast this with innovation, which is a function of creative scale and impact. That is, innovation’s value proposition is exponentially greater than creativity, because it represents an increasingly wider audience.

Think of creative problem solving as a proof of concept. While a new car prototype may be novel, and perhaps even useful, its derived value is most fully realized when the car is reproduced for others.

Once a new product concept begins to roll off the production line, it has scaled value. On its own, this could represent innovation. But it is the impact of scalability that truly defines the product’s value. A good working definition of ‘impact’ is the ability for a product or service to disrupt the industry or market space into which it is introduced. The extent to which a product, service or offering can ultimately be consumed begins to define its game-changing capability.

If innovation were a mathematical equation, the formula would look like this:

Invention + Business Insight + Execution

For almost 15 years running, IBM has been the undisputed leader in new patents issued in the United States. This trend is impressive by all measures, and represents a key underpinning of innovation. As a standalone exercise, invention is also a key feeder of the innovation process.

Another term for business insight is “breakthrough thinking.” Breakthrough thinking is the process in which a promising invention shows how it might yield tangible value.

Just as a patent disclosure represents potential business value, no business insight stands on its own as innovative. The catalytic moment only begins when the two building blocks intersect. Without application, neither invention nor business insight will yield value – or foster innovation.

Execution is the result of collaboration and communication. Thomas Edison once said his work was the product of 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. By Edison’s reckoning, uniting invention and insight still requires 99% sweat equity to see results.

Breakthrough results
No one can innovate alone. Innovation is an applied mix of networking, teaming and customer insight. And in large companies, the business value of innovation is directly proportional to the scope of the organization required to bring them to bear in the marketplace. In other words, applied innovation tends to take root in smaller organizations faster, but the impact is greater as the size and influence of the organization grows.

Every individual has the opportunity to turn creative thoughts into innovative action, because each of us brings a unique dimension of thought to any challenge or opportunity we face. When we combine these diverse thought processes with our network of peers, we have the potential to yield greater results from the collaboration.



Post a Comment

<< Home