Tag Archives: Innovation

Why some good ideas spread slowly

Why some good ideas spread slowly

The main challenge for any innovator is idea adoption. So, it’s important to understand both how ideas spread and what motivates people to adopt those ideas. So, how does an innovation spread?

For the first clue, last week I published a post where I referenced Alex Pentland’s work on how ideas spread. He rightfully says that the key ingredients necessary to accelerate innovation in any environment are engagement and diversity.

If you are seriously considering building a culture of innovation, I encourage you to read about Alex Pentland’s research on how ideas spread in organizational and urban environments; it’s huge. Tim Kastelle has a great perspective on what it means for organizational design going forward.

Great! But, if you intentionally design your organization to always be innovating does that mean that all ideas will spread fast no matter where they start? Actually, as Scott Berkun insightfully says “the default state of an idea is non-adoption. Even in cultures where innovation is expected.

That means everything happens slowly…

To understand why, I direct your attention to a fascinating article Atul Gawande wrote last year in the New Yorker about why some good ideas spread slowly:

Practice frame shifting to spot untapped innovation opportunities

drawing on the right side of the brainPerception separates the innovator from the imitator. To see anew, learn to set aside preconceptions by exploring new perspectives.

How might we shift our perspective and explore what we might be missing? This is a common question I ask myself all the time because I want to overcome our human tendency to bring our preconceived notions with us whenever we are attacking a problem; therefore limiting our view of potential alternatives.

How do we overcome that?

Innovation is more a matter of attitude and perspective than process. I’ve written previously that there are four ways we can discover new insights. Insights are unexpected shifts in the way we understand how things work, and one way to get insights is by shifting our frame.

Ed Catmull makes a poignant point in his book, Creativity Inc., that Pixar has avoided stagnation because they’ve created mechanisms that force them to constantly fight their own mental models, and put Pixar’s collective heads in a different frame of mind.

The most innovative leaders are reframers, and unleash innovation in their organizations by asking new questions, and/or immerse themselves in the environment they wish to understand. I’ve written extensively about asking better questions to get better answers, here I’ll extend on that to include immersion.

But first…

Creativity Inc.: what it takes to build and sustain a culture of excellence

I just finished reading the book Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull, this is my review…

Unlike books written by consultants about how wonderful the companies they study are, and how they have reverse engineered their formula for success into repeatable soundbites, Creativity Inc. was written by someone who was in the trenches; from the beginning. Written by Ed Catmull, co-founder and President of Pixar, Creativity Inc. is a first hand tell-all about what enables Pixar to do its thing: successfully turn original ideas into blockbusters, one after another.

Mr. Catmull’s motivation for writing this book stemmed from a simple question: why do successful companies fail?

What are the key ingredients necessary to accelerate innovation in any environment?

In any environment, what are the key ingredients necessary to accelerate innovation?

MIT’s Andy Pentland says the best decision-making environment for good ideas to spread is one with high levels of both “engagement” and “exploration.

Via the NY Times:

The best decision-making environment, Mr. Pentland says, is one with high levels of both “engagement” and “exploration.” Engagement is a measure of how often people in a group communicate with each other, sharing social knowledge. Exploration is a measure of seeking out new ideas and new people.

New doesn’t equal innovation

misunderstanding innovation

Misunderstanding innovation

Just because something is new doesn’t mean it should be touted as an innovation.

What’s an innovation and what isn’t?

Normally, people believe that just because they’ve never seen or heard about something that it’s new, and therefore innovative. In their heads, because it’s new, it also means that it will succeed. Of course, it doesn’t work out that way. It is this type of misunderstanding, and others such as innovation only being about technology, that creates all types of headaches for those of us who help others innovate…

Innovation is a buzzword, but to some of us who use the word know that it holds value. We can tell you what is and isn’t an innovation. More than anything, we can tell you what isn’t: a new color, a change in your fonts, a new flavor, more horsepower, more processor speed, bigger screen, more pixels, etc.

Last year there was article on the WSJ where the parent company of Pop-Tarts laid claim that they had innovated because they had created a new flavor of Pop-Tarts. And now, Domino’s Pizza claims that one of its new products is innovative: breaded chicken crust.

These are examples of something new being mistaken for an innovation…

So, how do we distinguish new from innovation?

Failure isn’t the goal, it is a means for innovation

innovation at google x

Last week I wrote about how you can ask yourself one question to innovate how you innovate: What can we learn from ___company___ about __challenge__?

I then posted some ideas from Amazon and Google that help them drive innovation, which you can use for inspiration. Well, here’s another idea you can use to get you thinking, and it may sound like a cliche but it is really the principle that sets any innovative company apart from non-innovative ones: reward failure.

Jeff Bezos: Failure can’t be separated from invention

Jeff Bezos - Caricature

Jeff Bezos – Caricature (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

How do you maximize people’s potential to drive innovation? As Bob Ross says, “We don’t make mistakes, only happy accidents”. So, let employees make happy accidents.

This is what happens at the world’s most innovative companies, one of which is Amazon.

There are many lessons we can learn from Jeff Bezos about maximizing people’s potential to drive innovation. For example, in his annual shareholder letter, Jeff Bezos closes the letter with some final tips on what lets the company continue to lead. One is that invention comes from everybody, not just senior leaders. A lot of those ideas are going to fail. That’s not a bad thing: