Tag Archives: Innovation

Structured serendipity: How Great Ideas Emerge

serendipity for innovationAlmost always great new ideas don’t emerge from within a single person or function, but at the intersection of functions or people that have never met before. As a business leader, you can engineer these connections; serendipity.

Serendipity is the type of word that paralyzes most business leaders because it is a loosey-goosey term that means “let’s see what happens”. Seeing what happens is not what traditional businesses aim to do when developing their strategies. Yet, many of the greatest innovations have sprung from serendipity: Happy accidents that sprung from tinkering, chance encounters that happen because you didn’t plan for something in advance; serendipity happens all the time.

So, what is the easiest way to engineer serendipity?

Two ways: varying what you learn and where you learn it.

Detecting seemingly random concepts is an act of creativity, this doesn’t happen if all you do is talk to the same people you always talk to, read (if at all) the same stuff you always read. It also doesn’t happen if you never visit places you’ve never been to.

A few years back I conceived a mechanism to engineer serendipity for a client: The Lunch Club.

Basically, in almost all organizations most employees always go to lunch with the same people. The Lunch Club aims to change this by setting up colleagues from different departments or with people from outside the organization for lunch; it happens once a week.

The result from these random interactions is new perspectives, new ideas; people who are more aware. When business leaders talk about developing their employees strategic thinking skills, this is one way to do it. There are many other ways to engineer serendipity inside an organization, such as moving from one workspace to another to be with different people, job swapping with colleagues with other departments, etc..

As an individual, I’ve benefited from serendipity more times than I can count; and deliberately try to create serendipity. What do I do to engineer serendipity? I’ve already told you about my practice of talking to someone new every week, learning from their trade and then immediately thinking about how I can use some of those ideas in my craft.

Creativity is about thinking new things, that means making uncommon connections between ideas from other domains. When all you do is talk to the same people, read the same thing over and over again you are moving in a straight line along with everyone else. Parallel lines never cross; serendipity requires diversity.

Bottom line: We should each invest a few hours a week, in reading stuff that has nothing to do with our day jobs, in a setting that has nothing in common with our regular workspaces. That kind of structured serendipity just might help us become more creative, and I doubt that it can hurt.

Interactions, not individuals, drive breakthroughs

A key skill all innovators have is the ability to network with the objective of developing ideas, finding collaborators, bouncing ideas off others and overall just building their ideas. Rather than being individualists, innovators are collaborators. They understand that it takes a diverse community of people working on a single problem to drive breakthroughs; as opposed to a single hardworking individual:

What is a mindset and why does it matter?

What is a mindset?

If you are really ambitious, I believe that rather than setting out to accumulate as many material things as you can, you should be aiming to spread mindset; a point of view. This blog is very much focused on innovation as a mindset, not as a collection of tools and frameworks that anyone can pickup and magically turn him/herself  into an innovator.

Serious about innovation? Here 2 more questions that demand the attention of leaders

Last week I shared with you what I call the litmus test for innovation leadership, two questions I ask leaders to get a feel for if they have what it takes to innovate; or create the context for innovation within their organization.

Those two diagnostic questions are key for me when I’m asked to help companies innovate. As I’m always on the hunt for new questions to add to my arsenal, while reading Alan Webber’s book Rules of Thumb I found two more questions that I believe demand attention from leaders:

Simplicity sells…and lasts

Pop-tarts In a time when innovation has diluted of its meaning, nowadays anybody can claim to be innovative if all they do is put out meaningless increments, Pot-Tarts can teach some lessons about innovation. 

Do you like Pop-Tarts? I love them! They are so good it brings a smile to my face just thinking about them.

A few weeks ago The Atlantic posted an article about the history of Pop-Tarts, and how it hasn’t changed much. Though the company that makes Pop-Tarts has claimed that they have been innovating, since they were first introduced 50 years ago.

What makes Pot-Tarts such a likeable product that has stood the test of time?

Stagnating? Innovate how you innovate with these 5 ideas

If a project has disruptive potential, it should make you uncomfortable.Throughout this past year, I’ve been having conversations with innovation leaders from a couple of BIG companies about re-inventing their innovation capability. The pattern of conversation: we’ve had a good run, but feel that our process for making innovation happen is delivering incremental results. Bureaucracy has developed, and so we aren’t taking a lot of risks anymore. How do we shake ourselves out of it?

This is a classic situation of the initial innovation enthusiasm becoming stagnant because innovation’s main killers are not kept at bay: GroupThink and ExpertThink.

One leads to consensus, and the other to unchallenged best practices. In combination both lead to stagnation. Later on, it will become more difficult to innovate because silence and fear will become the norm. Then you will really have a challenge in your hands!