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Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

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Tip 8 from Best Practices are Stupid. This one further explores the needs for open innovation.

A well-known healthcare company, after launching an incredibly successful new product, turned their attention to creating new complementary offerings. Multiple failed attempts later, they came to realize they didn’t have the in-house expertise to crack the code. Not knowing what to do, they decided to try posting the challenge on an open innovation website. Their hope was that they could find someone outside their organization who could find a practical solution.

Unfortunately, some employees took this action as a slap in the face. Unfamiliar with the benefits of open innovation, they felt that someone within the organization could solve every challenge. To prove their point, several employees took it upon themselves to submit solutions to the posted challenge.

In the end, the solutions submitted by the employees weren’t chosen. The breakthrough answer came from someone not only outside of the company, but outside of the company’s industry. The successful conclusion of this challenge solidified the company’s decision to formally launch their open innovation efforts. Their conclusion?

No one person can solve every problem.

And it’s corollary: No one organization can solve every problem.

The late, great Will Rogers once said, “There is nothing so stupid as an educated man, if you get him off the thing that he was educated in.”

One of the challenges with driving innovation in organizations is that smart people are often more interested in being right than doing right.  That is, they want to believe that they can solve every problem under the sun.  This pervasive belief can circumvent your innovation efforts. Continue reading >>

Today is a small snippet from strategy number 7 in Best Practices are Stupid.

Goldilocks enters the house of three bears and decides to go to sleep. One bed was too hard, one was too soft, and the baby bear’s bed just right.

The same is true when defining challenges.

They can’t be too big (broad or abstract, e.g., asking for new ideas) or too small (overly specific, e.g., extremely technical that can only be solved by one discipline). They must be “just right” – framed in a way that maximizes the likelihood of finding a workable solution.

When framing challenges, you must adhere to the Goldilocks Principle.

It is quite common for a company to ask its employees to find ways to increase revenue. This is a lofty goal and posing this type of general challenge usually results in fluffy solutions. Instead of asking people to solve broad problems, ask specific questions that will likely result in an implementable solution. For example, are there specific markets that you have not yet penetrated? Are you missing out on customer segments that present a greater opportunity?

NASA ran an open innovation challenge designed to find a “micro gravity laundry system.” However, the solutions they received were not as useful as they had hoped. In hindsight, they recognized two important lessons. Continue reading >>

One day, I was having lunch with a pharmaceutical client who said, “The problem with our innovation pipeline is it is really a sewer.” Ouch. But it was the inspiration for this tip from Best Practices are Stupid. Here’s a short snippet from that chapter:

We hear the expression “innovation pipeline” tossed around a lot.  But if you aren’t careful, your pipeline may get clogged.

The biggest challenge companies face is to figure out which challenges to solve.  I call this their “meta-challenge.” Given that organizations have limited resources and money, prioritization is critical.

You want to manage your innovation pipeline the way you manage your personal investment portfolio.  Putting all of your money in a saving account making 1% interest may be safe, but your investment will never grow and you will most likely end up destitute.  Then again, putting all of your money in risky derivatives and speculative investments that have a large potential upside also have an equally large downside and will most likely land you in the gutter.  The buzzword in the finance world is diversification.

Your Innovation Portfolio

Equally, your innovation portfolio should be comprised of a diverse set of investments in various types of challenges.  Include some safe bets (incremental innovation) along with some riskier investments (radical innovation). It’s up to you to decide the correct proportion of each one. You want a variety of challenges ranging from service to product enhancement challenges, and performance improvement to business-model changing challenges.

Challenges tend to fall into two broad categories: technical challenges (e.g., how do we create a new chemical compound with specific properties?) and marketing challenges (e.g., how to we get women to drink more beer?).

When you map these two dimensions, you get the following chart with four broad categories of challenges: Continue reading >>

Today we move to tip 5 from the book. People who know me, know I am a fan of open innovation and crowdsourcing – when it is done correctly. Today’s post shares why I am such a strong proponent…

Expertise can be the enemy of breakthrough thinking. The more you know about a particular topic, the more difficult it is for you to think about it in a different way. Your solutions will most likely be “been there, done that” ideas that are limited to your area of expertise. If you want breakthroughs, you need to bring together people from a wide range of disciplines, backgrounds, and experiences.

This idea was confirmed by research completed by Lee Fleming, a business administration professor at Harvard Business School. After analyzing 17,000 patents, he discovered that the breakthroughs that arise from multidisciplinary work “are frequently of unusually high value—superior to the best innovations achieved by conventional approaches.”

His research highlighted the pros and cons of each method. He learned that teams composed of people with similar backgrounds have a great number of successes, yet yield fewer breakthroughs. On the other hand, cross-disciplinary teams had a higher failure rate yet their innovations were more radical and had the potential to create incredible value.

Is there is a way to get all of the benefits associated with diversity without any of the negative effects?

Yes. It is called “open innovation.” Continue reading >>

This is tip 4 from Best Practices are Stupid and is the basis of my Invisible Solutions® book. It is fundamental to all of my work with innovation: Start with a well-framed opportunity. Here is a snippet of the text for this chapter…

Leaders of organizations often use the expression, “think outside the box” while urging their employees to innovate.  The belief is that eliminating constraints and allowing people to think freely will increase creativity.

Although this Tabula Rasa or blank slate method to innovation is conventional wisdom, this unbounded approach actually reduces creativity and leads to abstract or impractical solutions.  A television script writer in Hollywood once told me that he liked the idea of “creativity within constraints” as it gave him a starting point and then he could “riff” from there.

Instead of telling your employees to think outside the box, give them a “better box” to innovate inside of.  These constraints will increase creativity and lead to useful solutions.

Albert Einstein is quotes as saying, “If I had an hour to save the world, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute finding solutions.” In my experience, most companies spend the full sixty minutes finding solutions to problems that just don’t matter.

Well-defined challenges guide innovation efforts, provide useful constraints, and define that “better box.” Continue reading >>

This is tip 3 from Best Practices are Stupid.

I love this one. It’s core to so much of my innovation work. The concept of the SIGNAL-TO-NOISE RATIO is overlooked yet critical.

Here’s a short snippet of the content:

A large European retail bank that was suffering from eroding market share thought they had a great idea to solve this emerging problem. They decided to get input from all their employees with ways to improve and grow the business. To collect employee ideas, they implemented an enterprise-wide electronic suggestion box. They believed that this would help them tap into previously undiscovered innovations. Sounds like a great idea, right? Wrong!

They received thousands of ideas. Evaluators looked at every one and, in the end, none were implemented. The company’s entire innovation program lasted a total of 18 months at which point it was shut down and deemed a huge failure.

In an attempt to be more innovative, many companies start by asking their employees for their ideas. This is a bad idea! The ideas that are submitted tend to be impractical and of low value and end up only creating an overwhelming amount of unproductive clutter in the system.

This points to one of the most important, yet under-considered measures in the innovation process: the “signal-to-noise ratio.” Continue reading >>

In yesterday’s strategy from Best Practices are Stupid, I talked about the three levels of innovation: event, capability, and system. In today’s post, we explore the capability level.

Here is strategy 2: Avoid Becoming a One-Hit Wonder

Do you know the bands Lipps Inc, The Sugar Hill Gang, or Haddaway?  You might know the song that each of these artists made famous: Funky Town, Rapper’s Delight, and What is Love, respectively.  These artists were “one-hit wonders.”  They climbed to the top of the music charts once and were never heard from again.

This is not too dissimilar to what happens with many businesses.  They generate one good idea to gain momentum but quickly fall from grace.  What can you do to prevent your organization from becoming a one-hit wonder?  Make sure that your innovation efforts are predictable and sustainable by treating them like any other capability in your company.

Five key components are required for successful long-term innovation capability: Continue reading >>

As mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, I’m going to try an 8-week experiment. Back in 2011, I wrote Best Practices are Stupid (published by Penguin Portfolio). It was selected as the best innovation & creativity book of the year by 800-CEO-READ (now Porchlight).

The book contains 40 strategies for driving innovation.

The experiment is, for the next 8 weeks (5 days a week), I will post a very short summary of each strategy. It will be like reading the cliff notes version of the book – except it will take 2 months to read. I hope you enjoy these. And with that, here is the first strategy:

“Not Survival of the Fittest – Survival of the Adaptable”

When the pace of change outside your organization is greater than the pace of change within, you will be out of business. And as you know, the pace of change outside of your organization is faster than ever.

The only way to survive is to stop treating innovation as a one-time event. Innovation must be a continuous, never ending process and capability. The second you rest on your laurels, you can be certain that someone will catch you for breakfast.

There are three levels of innovation: Continue reading >>

It took me 25 years to write this article.

For the first time, I am writing about how we created a 20,000 person innovation practice at the consulting firm Accenture; completely shifting the culture in just 9 months with the results lasting for years.

In the article, I explore the 6-step process used, detailed organization models, specific activities we performed, and structures we used to keep the culture-shift alive. If your organization values innovation and you want to achieve similar results, please sign up to get this resource.

You can get this article by signing up at the bottom of this page or going here.

I hope you enjoy this article.

Clearly, an endeavor like this was a team effort with so many incredible people involved. Thank you EVERYONE who helped make this a reality.

Best Practices Are Stupid (3D)

Best Practices Are Stupid (3D)Hi everyone.

I’ve decided that for the next 8 weeks, I will post one of the 40 strategies from my Best Practices are Stupid book every day here on my blog and on LinkedIn.

If you are super eager to get a head start, head over to my LinkedIn page as the first handful have already been posted there. Or if you prefer, just visit here from time-to-time and catch up. If you select the “Best Practices are Stupid” category, you’ll see all of the posts here in reverse sequential order.

Tip #1 will be here tomorrow.

I hope you enjoy this little experiment.


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