"Instead of attempting to learn from observing the actions of leaders, I prefer to swim upstream to the antecedent of doing: thinking. My critical question is not what various leaders did, but how their cognitive processes produced their actions." (Roger Martin, The Opposable Mind)
I'm working out some thoughts on how to implement innovation in an organization. There's likely manuals and processes already out there. I've recently a number of blogs and books on innovation and I need to start compiling some of these thoughts. It's part of the process.
1. Innovation takes personal responsiblity. I think this is more difficult for most people to accept than the simplicity of the statement would suggest. Innovate: to create value, to think, to guess, to dialogue, to prototype, to put your customer first, to design, to empathize, to care, to dive deep into a problem without nothing more than a bic lighter. (The idea of personal responsibility comes from Martin's book and used in relation to all of the leaders he profiles.)
2. Innovation is both a process and a destination. It's actions and results. How you innovate is as important as what you create. We can no longer ignore how the sausage is made. But at the outset you may not know what your result should be. Start with a blank slate and go from there.
3. Out of the box thinking requires out of the box thinkers. Designers need a seat at the table. Engineers need a seat at the table. Designers need to think more like engineers. Engineers need to think more like designers. Everyone needs to think like the customer.
4. Innovation happens in the world of both-and not either-or. Of course, business still has trade-offs. That's life. But to create something truly original, beautiful, and practical, takes more. Both-And solutions don't lend themselves to easy answers and rules-of-thumb (heuristics). Both-And solutions require us to embrace complexity. Innovation is a matter of courageously seeing solutions as both unobvious and obvious at the same time.
5. Challenge the underlying assumptions of everything. Rob McEwen, former CEO of Goldcorp, is quoted in The Opposable Mind with the following: "I was looking for the fundamental, underlying, unquestioned assumption that everybody in the industry grows up with. And if you find that assumption, and then question it, you can start seeing opportunities. If you can define the problem differently than everybody else in the industry, you can generate alternatives that others aren't thinking about." This is a fundamental starting point -- understanding the status quo, the underlying assumptions, the rules of thumb, the tried-and-true analysis -- because innovating in small ways will likely bump up against these pillars of thought.
Innovation is toil. But it can produce works of stunning beauty. There's a sense of completeness and peace and even awe and deep appreciation -- even when the innovation is small.