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An Innovator has an Obligation to…


If, as George Carlin said, “An artist has an obligation to be en route”

Please complete this sentence: An innovator has an obligation to…

– think outside the box. – Mitchell Levy, Thought Leader Architect, CEO, Speaker and Author

– simplify the useful things. – Benedetto Raffaele, Project Manager, Consultant presso TI.IT

– think differently. –  Jay Fraser, Principal, Data Bridge Management – Mgt. of Innovation; Strategy; Tech Transfer

– be forward thinking. – Tim Perrin, Senior Product Designer / Inventor

– to have the courage, skills and tools to address the default dysfunctional privileging of converging thinking (decision-making) over divergent thinking that has been imported into many organizations from the graduate business schools. This privileging is at the core of most organizational innovation dysfunctions seen today. Everything else is theoretical window dressing. Forget shooting for “disruptive” if you don’t have your fundamental building blocks in place first. – GK VanPatter, Co-Founder, HUMANTIFIC, SenseMaking for ChangeMaking.

– think long-term regarding said innovation – 50 years is a good number. – Anthony Hall, Grandpa-Geek | Artist & Inventor

– understand the existing products and kill them by ‘thinking like a Competitor’. – Isaac Gunasekaran, Delivery Manager IBM

– not think of himself as an innovator. – Eric Offenstadt, Senior Technical Consultant chez G.C.A.

The biggest barrier to innovation is “groupthink”.  Too many organisation unconsciously don’t want innovative new ideas that by definition challenge the status quo.  Instead they favour a kind of groupthink where “everyone knows” that a certain idea, process or way of doing business is the right one.  And all too often if anyone challenges this  accepted wisdom there are negative consequences.  And for many people its much easier, safer and more comfortable to go along. – Rob Atkinson, President of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation from Innovation: How Innovators Think, Act and Change Our World

Perhaps a belief that ‘anything is possible’ is as relevant and useful as ‘out of the box’ thinking and resolute resourcefulness to an aspiring innovative society and the communities celebrating the problem-solving capacity of the innovative individuals within them.” – Excerpt from the author’s essay, The State of the Nation Addressed: Taking Stock of How Things Stack Up, from Innovation: How Innovators Think, Act and Change Our World

If you would like to ‘have your say’, feel free to join in by sharing your thoughts below, and on the Innovation Excellence LinkedIn group forum!

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5 Steps for a Better Innovation Culture through Experimentation & Failure 

Group of  mixed hands showing unity with sky

I have recently written a white paper on how to build a stronger innovation culture by embracing failure. Unfortunately, I cannot offer a clear solution, toolbox or blueprint on how companies can do this and one major reason for this is that most — if not all — companies are very reluctant to share their failures and how they approach them and learn from them.

But we still need to look into this and as a starter, I can share these 5 suggested actions taken from the whitepaper on what companies that wants to tackle these issues can do:

1. Take responsibility.

All of what I’ve said so far points to the need to start changing behavior within companies when it comes to dealing with failure. For such change to occur, someone needs to take ownership of the process. And each person involved in innovation needs to recognize that smartfailing is something they need to do better, and determine how they can take a more active role in making that happen.

2. Understand what goes wrong.

You need to know why failures really happen. The answer will be different in each organization, but every company needs to gain a better overview of where the problems lie that keep them from learning from failure. The key thing to keep in mind is this is not about avoiding failure; it’s about how can we learn from failure and apply that into future processes. The challenge is to create a common understanding in which failure is seen as a learning opportunity that holds the potential to make the organization smarter and better.

3. Be transparent and communicate better.

It seems as if every organization I encounter can benefit from greater transparency and better communication on their innovation issues and the same goes with failure. The people – and especially the executives – taking the responsibility for developing a smartfailing process must put in a significant effort on how you communicate on this sensitive topic internally as well as externally. It can be damaging to communicate too much, or to share insights on things that do not really help in the long run. You need to find the proper tone and balance for this.

I often talk about perception as being important for building a stronger innovation culture and the same goes with failure. If executives and managers show and tell the employees that failure is not tolerated, then this will become a perception that will turn into reality. This also goes the other way. If your company has examples in which you actually have a high tolerance for failure and ways in which you also learn from this, then the company can build further on these pockets and build a more positive perception towards smartfailing.

4. Reward behaviors, not just outcomes.

Too often, organizations are too focused on rewarding the outcomes of their employees. It is just very difficult to reward the team of people in charge of a failed project or initiative, but then what do you do when the learnings the team captured and shared leads to great success in the future? Should these people not be rewarded and recognized in some way? If you really want to change a corporate culture, you must find ways to reward the behavioral changes that lead to the desired outcomes. If not, you might not get there at all.

5. Educate up and down.

It must be a key objective for a corporate innovation team to educate the organization on innovation and this goes for employees, managers and also the executives. The latter is more difficult, but it can be done — and it is really needed — as the executives in many ways are the reason for the mess that you are in. The corporate innovation team could take the lead on how to educate on smartfaililng together with other relevant functions such as HR and also representatives from the business units.



The steps I’ve outlined above all present challenges; it is no easy task to develop a more adaptive corporate culture that is open to smartfailing. However, I don’t think you have any other choice but to make the effort because innovation is key to prosperity — let alone survival — in a business environment driven by a faster and faster pace of change. You either get this or you fall behind. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the coming years.

As a final remark before you embark on this journey, I encourage you to open up and get in touch with the many other people who want to see their companies becoming better at learning from failure. You are defi- nitely not alone and the more we can talk about this and share insights and learnings, the faster we can all learn from our failures. Hopefully, this white paper can help us get started.

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What Keeps You From Innovating?

This morning, I watched a fascinating TED talk by Toby Shapshak about innovation in Africa. In it, he projected the image above.

“It’s a picture of worldwide electricity usage, right?” Toby asked the crowd. When people agreed, he replied, “This is actually a map of innovation. In the rest of the world, people are too busy playing Angry Birds to focus on innovating.”

world-power-consumption-1Is that true? Well, as it turns out, Angry Birds users log 200 million minutes every day! So it’s highly likely that a good portion of that electricity above is due to bored people playing a game where they lob virtual birds at each other. Astonishing, right?

But the point Toby is making is that in developed countries, people spend a lot of their day doing “time wasters” – which takes time away from the time they spend innovating.

Nearly 60% of US smartphone users spend most of their time on entertainment apps. People with smartphones spend 115 minutes a week using social networking. Going beyond mobile, 9.1 million viewers watched the season finale of The Bachelor and 112.2 million watched the Seahawks destroy the Broncos in the Super Bowl. (And trust me, both of those were a disappointment!)

Think about it – how much time have you wasted this week? What thinking could you have been doing instead? What problems could you have solved? What’s sucking up your time and distracting you from making amazing things happen?

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