Tag Archives: innovation

Innovation = Invention+Problem+Connection=Solution

I’m currently traveling in Australia for work so I really have no idead when this post will…post. It is entirely possible that I will post it Monday night for publishing Monday morning.

As part of our endeavor to connect our body clocks to our wrist watches today we had an interesting conversation about innovation and connections. The example we used was weaponry and the simple challenge of putting a hole in a man.

The progression went something like this: rock – knife – sword – spear – lance – bow – gun – drone.

Each step recalls not onthe the original problem but it makes a connection between that first problem and the evolution of the next level problem.

  •  A rock will put a hole in a man but it takes a lot of effort
  • To use less effort put a point on it, you get a knife
  • But you still have to really close, so create a longer knife, sword, or strap a knife to a stick, spear.
  • But as armor evolves the sword or spear needs more thrust.
  • To get more thrust ride a horse and use a lance.
  • But what if you could start the same distance away and NOT have to ride at the man? You get a bow.

You see how it works? The innovation is really just evolution in response to a specific problem.

Too often people sit down to “be creative” and come up with something “innovative” and completely miss the key ingredient…the problem they are trying to solve.

This little exercise/conversation leads to a set of simple steps for innovating.

Step 1: Capture the original challenge: In the case above, how to put a hole in a man. We’re not creating something from scratch here, we’re looking at a next generation innovation.

Step 2: Identify the problem to solve: Above it is how to put a hole in a man from a greater distance. So you don’t wind up leaping to a new thing, you put a small amount of distance into the equation.

Step 3: Solve the step-wise problem: To often people kill the sword idea, no pun intended, as being “not far ENOUGH away” but it DOES solve the problem. You might choose to jump to the spear as a kind of “yes/and…” to the sword.

The key is to remember that all three ingredients are equally important. If you leave out step one you may drift too far from the original problem/solution match. If you leave out step 2 you risk getting into the creative weeds or go the wrong direction again. If you leave out step 3 you don’t land on anything.

Where are you trying to innovate? What is the original problem and what is the connected problem?

3 Ingredients that Help Leaders Innovate

I’ve been fortunate throughout the majority of my career in that I have been consistently asked to innovate.

Whether I’ve been in operational roles and redesigning process, technical roles and delivering new solutions, or serving as CTO and re-branding entire companies I’ve had the opportunity to bring innovation, change, and new goodies to the table.

Unfortunately for a lot of people when they think of the word “innovator” they see a picture of Steve Jobs in their minds eye and resign themselves to thinking they could never be THAT good. (Hint: Steve probably wouldn’t have thought that way.) But the truth is that EVERYONE in a leadership position has the opportunity to be an innovator.

That doesn’t mean everyone has the skill set developed, or the desire, or maybe the need but every leader does have the opportunity to innovate, it’s part of the nature of leadership. So if opportunity IS knocking at your door let me suggest three ingredients that every innovator has to have in order to bring out the mad scientist.

1. A desire to break things
When I was about 5 my dad and I built a model helicopter, one of those plastic model kits that requires that stringy, smelly, Testors model glue. As soon as it was dry I broke it into pieces. I think in part to see if I could get it back to its original state and in part because I’d had fun putting it together with my dad. Needless to say he wasn’t as excited by my actions as I was.

Throughout most all of my life I’ve been taking apart stuff that has been labeled “I dunno, it just doesn’t work”: An old electronic vibrating football game, a car cassette player, (remember those?), a camera. If they didn’t work then there was no harm in taking them apart but if I DIDN’T take them apart there was no chance they’d work.

An innovator is someone who is willing to break something that isn’t working in order to make it work. (AND sometimes they’re even willing to break stuff that isn’t working as well as it should)

2. A desire to indulge dreams
How often have you said to yourself, “If only we could…” or “I wish there was a way to…” ? Innovators are the people that see inspiration in those statements. Non-innovators sigh deeply, shrug those ideas off and get back to the pile on their desk.

Innovators find sustenance in those kind of questions, blow out the wildest answers they can find, tear them down and build them back up again. They allow their minds to race ahead of their inner critic as though it were death on their heels.

As my younger brother, who actually IS a rocket scientist by education, used to say, “hey, define the limits…and start there.”

An innovator is someone who chases after their dreams to see where they lead.

3. A desire to make time
Innovators often run the risk of appearing to be lazy. If you come by my office and I’m leaning back in may chair with my feet are up on the desk I’m not sleeping. I’m imagining. (I sleep with my chin tucked to my chest facing my computer screen, it looks like deep thought.)

Th trick is that you don’t innovate in your spare time, unless inspiration hits you out of the blue. Spare time is your down time. You innovate on work time which means you have to have time in your work schedule to dream. If you don’t have time in your work schedule to dream as a leader…IT’S NOT WORKING. Break it apart and fix it.

An innovator is someone who make sure they have time in the schedule to dream.

Creativity, ideation, strategy, they’re all nice, but without the desire to break things, the desire to indulge dreams and the desire to make time you run the risk of merely creating prettier sameness.

What are some of the places you need to take a look at how you do business today and break it apart?