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TCPI News Vol. 3, No. 4

September 4, 2003

In this issue:

  1. Innovation For Our Time
  2. The Process of Innovation
  3. Creativity and Innovation

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1.     Innovation For Our Time

Thomas A. Edison is arguably the greatest innovator of the past two centuries.  By the time Edison reached the age of forty, he had:

“Edison's two most famous inventions, the light bulb and phonograph, are models for his commitment to persistence and teamwork. His view of disasters as learning experiences allowed him to excel as an innovator. Said Edison about his early failures with storage battery experiments; ‘I haven't failed. I've found 10,000 ways that don't work.’

Thomas Edison felt that inventing was only the idea stage, the first step in a long process. The end came only when a patent was filed. The term innovation defines his work, with a vision from the laboratory to society.”

One wonders at how many modern organizations would survive if the benchmark for innovation were 10,000 failures.  Dave Ulrich, Jack Zenger, and Norm Smallwood in their book, Results Based Leadership, talk about the need to move with speed without spending enormous amounts of resources on strategies that might fail. “The future looms uncertain for all—both losers and winners.  While those destined to lose form task forces to study change, winners will have already adapted.”   (p.92)

So, how do we reconcile these two perspectives on innovation?   In their executive summary of the comprehensive Rand Corp. Report, New Foundations for Growth: The U.S. Innovation System Today and Tomorrow, Steven W. Popper and Caroline S. Wagner summarize the hypothesis of a major study on innovation with this observation.  “Discussion of innovation has shifted from a focus on products (identifying critical technologies, for example) to processes, from individual outputs to the mechanisms for producing these outputs.  During this transition, the realization has grown that this system constitutes a dense and complex network of interconnected parts.” (ix)

We might conclude, then, that innovation today will depend on how effectively these interconnected parts work together.  In a broad sense, this means collaboration between the private sector, government agencies and labs, universities, and the non-profit research sector.   However, if we focus on the private sector alone, we can see organizations struggling with collaborative activities like strategic alliances, partnerships, and “competition.”  Ulrich, et. al. suggest that the ability to generate new ideas – the base metal of innovation – is directly related to the emphasis placed on learning in the organization. Despite the roadblocks in the path to organizational learning -- downsizing, consolidation, limiting resources toward the effort -- if innovation is key to success, learning is the key to innovation.  How does your organization stack up on the learning scale?  Here are some questions to ask for a quick inventory.

Ability to Generate New Ideas

1. Competence Acquisition: To what extent do we demonstrate public commitment to learning by constantly seeking new ways of working and by having learning as part of our business strategy?

2. Boundary Spanner: To what extent do we learn by going outside our boundaries to learn what other companies do?

3. Continuous Improvement: To what extent do we learn by constantly improving on what has been done before; that is by mastering each step in a process before moving on to new steps?

4. Experimenter: To what extent do we learn by trying new ideas and being willing to experiment with new ideas?

5. Ability to Generalize Ideas With Impact: How well do we move the results from one area of success to another?

6. Culture: To what extent is our culture focused on learning?

7. Competence: To what extent do we have individual, team, and organizational competencies for learning?

8. Consequence: To what extent does our performance management system encourage learning for individuals and teams?

9. Governance: To what extent does our organizational structure and communication processes encourage learning?

10. Capacity for change/work systems: To what extent does our work processes and systems encourage learning?

11. Leadership: To what extent do leaders throughout the organization demonstrate a commitment to learning?

 [Based on: Dave Ulrich, et. al., “Results Based Leadership,” (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1999), 94-95.] 

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2.  The Process of Innovation

What is the process that businesses take to implement innovation? Is there a clear set of instructions or do we develop these as we go along.  According to research done by the Innovation Centre of Europe, there are four steps that one can use as a guideline to implement the innovation process in the workplace.


2. Ideas

3. Selection/Control

4. Action.

Once the goal or problem is suggested, ideas need to be formulated. This formulation of ideas is one of the most important aspects of innovation. Without the ideas, there is nothing to put into action. There are many ways that people come up with ideas. We commonly refer to this as “brainstorming”.

The term brainstorming was invented by Alex Osborn and described in his book "Applied Imagination". Other authors have attempted to explain brainstorming. Michael Morgan,  from the book Creative Workforce Innovation, outlines the following guidelines

“Brainstorming is a process that works best with a group of people when you follow the four rules.

  1. Have a well-defined and clearly stated problem
  2. Have someone assigned to write down all the ideas as they occur
  3. Have the right number of people in the group
  4. Have someone in charge to help enforce the following guidelines:
    • Suspend judgment
    • Every idea is accepted and recorded
    • Encourage people to build on the ideas of others
    • Encourage way-out and odd ideas”

Edward De Bono, in his book Serious Creativity, challenges the notion that brainstorming is done best in a group setting. He says that, “individuals are much better at generating ideas and fresh directions. Once the idea has been born then a group may be better able to develop the idea and take it in more directions than can the  originator"

Once the ideas are generated, there needs to be a system in which to categorize, which ones will go to the selection phase. Many organizations have developed labeling systems to categorize. Most of these include;

After the ideas are organized, the ones that show the most potential can be examined further. There needs to be a learning environment in an organization to explore the various ideas. The climate must be open to innovation so that the new ideas can be put into action. Support from management is vital to the final phases of any innovation.

More information on TCPI’s custom programs.

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3.  Creativity and Innovation

Creativity is marked by the ability or power to create–to bring into existence, to invest with a new form, to produce through imaginative skill, to make or bring into existence something new.” (Webster)

Innovation has always been a primary challenge of leadership. Today we live in an era of such rapid change and evolution that leaders must work constantly to develop the capacity for continuous change and frequent adaptation, while ensuring that identity and values remain constant. They must recognize people's innate capacity to adapt and create -- to innovate”

-          Margaret Wheatley

Creativity and change begin with the identification of a problem or opportunity that somebody finds meaningful. When people are interested in an issue, their creativity is instantly engaged. If we want people to be innovative, we must discover what is important to them, and we must engage them in meaningful issues. The simplest way to discover what's meaningful is to notice what people talk about and where they spend their energy.

When in meetings or discussions it is beneficial to take note of:

 Within an organization, creativity needs to be valued to encourage innovation.  Without creativity, new ideas would not be generated. These are some characteristics that Michael Ditkoff, has defined as important to successful innovators.

While not everyone will possess these characteristics and some may seem difficult to do, the more of these traits that one can strive to possess the more apt they are to be creative and be innovators.

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Learn More

For information on Marvin Gottlieb’s other publications.

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