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”

Bring back the great British tea break!

It’s an institution or, at least, it was an established ritual: the great British tea break.

Get together

When I first started work, and for many years afterwards, there was a break every morning and every afternoon. Everyone in the department would stop work for 15-20 minutes each morning and afternoon, to get together to have a cup of tea; it was important.

Being there

Well, maybe it was a mug of coffee, that was not important. The important part was to provide a social routine for the group in which we were working, Continue reading “Bring back the great British tea break!”

Innovation does not start with ideas

Innovations might come from ideas, but ideas might not lead to innovations.

Innovations enable us to make small steps, big jumps and giant leaps in the direction that we choose to go. But searching for, and realising, those innovations involves more than searching for, and developing, ideas.

An idea might be a key that fits a lock, that opens a door, on a route, through a barrier to our chosen direction. But in our search for ideas that might be keys, it is useful to know the direction, the barriers, the routes, the doors and the locks.

An idea is not the beginning of the development of an innovation. It is not even the end of the beginning. It might, however, be the beginning of the end.

Innovation is an opportunity

Innovation happens as new perspectives, thoughts and ideas lead to changes in behaviour. Doing the same things and expecting a different outcome is unrealistic. Only when we do new things, do we make a substantial difference.

Mankind has evolved through the application of small thoughts which continually make a difference to someone and big ideas which occasionally rock everyone’s world. There is always an opportunity to innovate in specific ways, but now something else is happening at a generic level.

Innovation is an opportunity now: not because we have access to many new technologies; not because we face major challenges; and not because the pace of change is increasing. These have been true during many periods of history.

Innovation is an opportunity now because the world is beginning to understand that innovation can be managed. This has been understood by some people for some time; yet, for most people, the concept of managing innovation remains out of reach.

We have the opportunity to do new things more effectively through the application of our understanding of innovation. The opportunity is to be more innovative, and we are still learning what that means.

[This post was originally written in connection with my contribution to the Like Minds 2011 conference in Exeter, UK between October 19-21, and was published in the conference magazine for the Apple iPad, see the AppStore under “Like Minds” .]

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.

Any riots in the clouds?

Earlier this week, I overheard an interesting and unusual support call being handled at a company which provides business systems. On the face of it, you might enjoy this topical little story, but it might also get you thinking, as it did me, about some rather more substantial issues.

This customer was calling because he wanted to take his business system home! Continue reading “Any riots in the clouds?”