The discontinuous nature of innovation

Making sense of the field of innovation is not simple. This is partly because of the range of aspects of innovation that are frequently discussed.

In this interview with Brightidea, the leading provider of innovation management systems, Keith McConnell, of Sara Lee, makes a distinction between innovation and “continuous improvement” in the first 25 seconds, when he says:

“My role is in continuous improvement. And my job is to actually improve the innovation process. So it is both continuous improvement as well as innovation.”

Keith McConnell [Sara Lee] from Brightidea on Vimeo.

#innochat today

Today (13 March 2014), during #innochat, this interesting aspect of innovation is proposed as the starting point for a discussion of the relationship between innovation and kaizen, which is often described as the pursuit of “continuous improvement“. The discussion will be led by our guest Elli St.George Godfrey (@3keyscoach). Continue reading “The discontinuous nature of innovation”

Gordon Edge, remembering a great innovator and leader

Gordon Edge

It was with great sadness that I learned of the recent death of Gordon Edge. These are some of my memories of a great technology innovator and business leader.

For a period of almost three years, during the 1980s, I was privileged to work at PA Technology, near Cambridge. This was a great place to be and formed part of what became known as the “Cambridge Phenomenon”.

Populated by a bunch of bright mavericks, it was led by its founder and chief maverick, Gordon Edge. Dressed immaculately, he spoke quietly, using few words, and what words!

Continue reading “Gordon Edge, remembering a great innovator and leader”

Tesla in Texas: two innovations interacting?

Selling innovative products

If you are selling something, then you want people to buy it, but how? The challenge is greater if your product is more innovative. But maybe other innovations can come to the rescue.

Resistance from existing distributors

Tesla_logo

For Tesla, the electric car manufacturer which is shaking up the motor industry, Texas is different. Tesla believe that existing car dealers have little incentive to sell electric cars, so they decided to sell them direct through their own sites, rather like a kind of Apple Store chain for cars.

But in Texas the car dealers don’t like that and they have laws to stop it.
Continue reading “Tesla in Texas: two innovations interacting?”

How much fun will your three year old child have learning to ride a bike?

Training wheels don’t work

If you have a young child who will learn to ride a bike sometime soon, you probably have recollections of the bike that you learnt on, and the awkwardness of bikes with stabilisers (also known as: training wheels). Recently, I came across this article about training wheels and balance bikes and it reminded me of the very different experience with my youngest son.

Balance bikes are much better

Balance bikes are great, as this video (not of my child) shows!

In my experience, they are obviously a better way to learn to ride a bike and it’s very surprising that anyone buys bikes with stabilisers (training wheels) any more. On a more professional note, this is also one of the best examples that I have encountered of innovation applied to learning by choosing different disclosure sequences, but that is a much bigger story.

How it started Continue reading “How much fun will your three year old child have learning to ride a bike?”

Unified communication, this is not!

In this world of increasingly diverse communication, our conversations are becoming scattered across channels.

A few channels in a few minutes

Yesterday, my ex-partner sent me a text (SMS) message which approximated to: “Will you please reply to my email about …?”.

A few minutes later, she sent me another: “Actually, it might have been a voicemail“.

So I telephoned her and said: “Actually, it was a text message!”

Funny, or not?

On one level, we can dismiss this as being part of our funny old world.

But as the number of channels increases, it is not so funny when an important conversation breaks down because messages are being sent and expected on multiple disparate channels.

We like differently

It is a very simple idea: we like differently. And a wide range of consequences flow from it.

You and I like different things. Also you and I like or dislike the same things for different reasons and to a different extent.

A significant hurdle to understanding this is the difficulty we frequently have in accepting that other people have different perspectives from which they view the same things as we view.

Yet, we know that we all have different experiences and capabilities, and different hopes and fears; so is it a surprise that we have different criteria by which we observe, assess and evaluate anything? This is the basis for variety and diversity. It is also fundamental to trade and commerce; if everyone’s valuation of an item is the same, then there is no basis for trading it.

So if we have any blind spots which hide differences between our valuations, these can have wide ranging consequences for our ability to cooperate and interoperate. They limit our capacity to assist each other and to enable each other to contribute as effectively as we might.

Our existence would be extremely limited if we all liked the same.

To innovate or not to innovate? That is not the question!

Sooner or later continuous improvement, by any individual or organisation, runs out of steam.

Marching up the slope ahead of us makes sense as an effective way to move onwards and upwards, until we reach the summit. But the summit of what? Most likely it is not the summit, it is just a summit.

There are other summits, and many of them are higher than this summit. Now what?

Discontinuous improvement is called for, to transition across the valley or chasm to the slope of our next, higher challenge. With sufficient resources and expertise, we might be able to build a bridge or to swing or, even, fly across. Without them, we must commit to descending into the valley.

Or, of course, we could just stay where we are at the top of our little summit.

The questions about innovation are not about why we innovate or whether to innovate. They are about what, when, where and how we innovate.

Opportunities: how can we look for them?

We are all looking for opportunities, aren’t we? Or do we focus mainly on problems?

How often have you heard that every problem is an opportunity? Is this true?

So what is the difference between a problem and an opportunity?

Opportunities and problems are opposites.

Usually, we do things because we can see the benefit of doing them.

A problem exists when we see a benefit, but we are not able to generate it.

An opportunity exists when there are things that we are able to do, but we have not yet seen the benefit of doing them.

Whether or not we can turn every problem into an opportunity, we can focus less on problems and focus more on opportunities.

When we have a problem, we focus on the benefits that we cannot generate:

  •  we do not know what things to do to generate the benefit
  •  we know what things to do, but do not know how to do them,
  •  we know how to do them, but are not able to do them.

When we have an opportunity, we focus on benefits that we can generate.

How can we look for opportunities?

We can relax about the things that we are not able to do, and focus on the things that we are able to do.

We can relax about the benefits that we are not able to generate and focus on benefits that we are able to generate.

Is this an opportunity for us all?