Mapping Innovation with Greg Satell

Mapping Innovation Every Business Manager asks itself the same key strategic question about how to approach innovation: what do I do?

Having gone through the experience of having to figure out an answer to that question Greg Satell, the author of the very popular blog Digital Tonto, wrote his new book Mapping Innovation: A Playbook for Navigating a Disruptive Age to help Managers do the same.

Greg developed a tool called The Innovation Matrix to help managers answer this question by mapping out the different types of innovation and how to approach them:

innovation matrix

Start with a problem, not an idea

There are many misconceptions about innovation, Greg believes the most important one is that it’s all about ideas. Yes, every innovation starts out as an idea but more importantly the idea should be preceded by a very interesting problem.


There are many ideas out there looking for a problem to solve, it’s a lot of throwing ideas at the wall to see what works. This results in a lot of wasted time, resources and failure.

Another way to look at this is questions become more important than answers as you move away from the core of what you do; so better questions will help you figure out the right problem to solve.

The point is don’t look for a great idea, look for a good problem; which makes it easier to figure out a path forward. Because if you start with the wrong problem, it’s unlikely you’ll ever arrive at an effective solution.

There is no one true path to innovation, you have to create your own playbook

Not all innovation is disruptive, mostly its sustaining; the type that keeps strengthening and extending the core. With this perspective in mind, it’s easy to see why there are so many me-too businesses as they all try to one up each other following the same playbook.

The difference between innovators and non-innovators is a portfolio approach to innovation, where they approach the different types of innovation in their own particular way. Greg maps out how this looks like in various examples on how companies like Google, IBM and others innovate; neither follow the same approach and thus their respective “maps” look different.

As Greg says in the video below, all great innovators do things differently:

I’m a big fan of Greg’s articulate and engaging writing, and his book is no different. Mapping innovation is a great book that all business leaders and managers should read; you’ll be better for it. Download and read the first chapter and you’ll see why.

With that said, below are some questions that guided our chat:

  • There are so many books and articles about innovation and having read many, including your blog, what motivated you to write a book? What did you see missing, or that you could add to the table?
  • What are some misconceptions that people and organizations have about innovation?
  • There is a belief that innovation can be turned into a predictable process, you say that there is no single path to innovation, you have to make your own playbook. Why is this and how can business shift their perspective and accept the inherent uncertainty that comes with innovation?
  • Your book’s main idea is that “Innovation is not a path, it’s an ecosystem” and the core of that idea is The Innovation Matrix which you use to explain how companies like Google, IBM and others innovate. The interesting part is they all have different “maps”. Please explain how Google innovates compared to IBM.
  • You write how Google’s 70/20/10 model is at the core of how they innovate, what obstacles do established organizations have to implement a similar model?
  • An advantage that tech companies have over non-tech companies is they were born in the digital age, which requires a different playbook. One that you write is about leveraging platforms to access ecosystems of talent, technology and information. Please explain why this changes how innovation happens.
  • Taking the last question further, you write that collaboration is a competitive advantage. What are some key things organizations must do to develop a competency for collaboration?
  • What is the key ideas that you want business leaders to take, think about and hopefully execute after reading your book?

Checkout our chat below:

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The Big Bang is a weekly podcast. Tune in every Tuesday for more discussions on what’s possible.

Intro audio is by Arturo Arriaga, outro audio is Candyland by Guy J.

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