Tag: Innovation

What are the Limits of Innovation?

Limits of InnovationWe are living in a time when most science fiction fantasy seem possible. After all, we are living in the world of bionic limbs, stem cell research, and artificial intelligence. Because of all this, sometimes it seems like there’s nothing we can’t do. But is that true? What are the limits of innovation?

Innovation leaders sometimes define innovation as the intersection of desirability, feasibility, and viability. This working definition is sometimes the criteria used to rank order promising ideas. But it’s also useful in thinking about the limits of innovation.


This is probably one of the fundamental components of innovation and one of the key value adds of a system like IdeaScale. Assessing desirability in the form of votes (or sometimes in volunteer resources or money or by using other methods) is a great way to find out if an idea has legs. Even if it’s an interesting idea, but it’s not very popular, then it’s unlikely to find an audience willing to spend their time or money on it and the idea won’t last and it reaches the limits of innovation.


If you simply can’t achieve the core components of an idea, then you reach the limits of innovation. For example, it would be a great idea to solve crimes by downloading the last 20 minutes of thoughts from a victim’s brain. Unfortunately, that technology does not exist…. (but maybe it’ll be next year’s runaway sci-fi hit on Netflix?) Of course, feasibility isn’t always just about global capabilities, but your capabilities as an organization. Do you have the talent and track record to be able to deliver on any given idea – if not, you’ve reached your innovation limit.


Perhaps the most nebulous quality to define, but also one of the most important if an innovation is going to have lasting impact. If your idea is associated with a fad rather than a persistent trend or certain laws or regulations eclipse the idea’s potential, then you have reached the limits of innovation.

How do you conceive of the limits of innovation?

5 Brands with Inspiring Sustainable Innovation Stories

Sustainable Innovation StoriesIt doesn’t matter what industry you’re in – one of the key innovation trends is sustainability. That means business practices, products, packaging, etc.  Almost all of our customers have run a sustainability campaign (and if they haven’t yet – they’re planning on doing so soon). But there are a few brands with new innovative offerings that we truly find inspiring so we thought we’d highlight them here:

Lego. Lego created a new line of Lego blocks that are shaped like plants, but they are also made out of sugarcane so are more sustainable than their traditional plastic. Considering it will take about 450 years for a piece of plastic to break down (that means basically every piece of plastic that was ever created still exists…), moving to more sustainable materials is a big move!

Avery Dennison. Avery Dennison is known for its labels and packaging solutions – which is sometimes the hardest part of recycling materials. With its new product called WashOff – it cleanly removes labeling from glass or other containers when submerged in hot water, which means that it will be easier for anyone to recycle materials. When you think about the prediction that “when U.S. recycling levels reach 75% it will be the environmental and CO2 equivalent of removing 55 million cars from U.S. roads each year” – things like this could make a huge impact.

Adidas. Adidas has debuted shoes with biodegradable biosteel fiber. In addition to its new levels of sustainability, it has other benefits like being 15% lighter in weight than other synthetic fibers and is (possibly) one of the strongest natural materials made.

Johnson & Johnson. J&J has made a commitment to sustainable innovation by creating its own award for products in their brand family that are thought leaders in sustainability. Earthwards honors those who “incorporate sustainable thinking across the entire product lifecycle, including design, manufacturing and product use.” One example of a winner was HARMONIC FOCUS®+ Shears with Adaptive Tissue Technology. These Shears reduce product materials and packaging, which  “decreases the hazardous waste of hospitals by six pounds per 100 devices.”

Hershey’s. Hershey’s has made a major investment (half a Billion dollars!) into sourcing sustainable cocoa. This is an important challenge to overcome for companies like Hershey’s, because some people say that we’re heading towards a global cocoa crisis, mostly because cocoa farmers live in extreme poverty and are therefore unlikely to keep farming this crop, which is just as vulnerable to disease and poor cultivation as any other.

Studies have also shown companies that lead in sustainability are 400% more likely to be considered innovation leaders, as well. That’s an impressive correlation. The reason this relationship exists is because thinking creatively about these types of problems often leads to creative solutions in other areas, as well. To learn more about the relationship between innovation and sustainability, download our infographic.  

Are Digital Transformation and Innovation the Same Thing?

Digital Transformation and InnovationSome companies have an innovation strategy. Some companies have a digital transformation strategy. Are these the same thing? The short answer is “no” but both efforts are important and here’s a brief explanation and an example of each of them.


Innovation is the introduction of any significant, positive change. This can be changes in public policy, small improvements to a company’s processes, totally new, disruptive product offerings, and more. Global Innovation Management Institute’s describes the distribution of innovation possibilities into one of five categories: business model, production, offering, delivery, and market innovation. And those innovations can be either small, incremental changes that improve an existing concept to huge, transformational that shift the foundation of an organization. It is a pretty inclusive term for progress (sometimes maddeningly so since it covers progress in both range and scope).

An example of a workplace production innovation was a new sick PTO policy co-created by NYU employees. In an online employee conversation about a sick time buy-back process improvement, employees began to think of other ways it might benefit workers and instead decided to create a PTO donation policy for co-workers in need. Employees then shared shared suggestions about how to create this new program and identified best practices from institutions with similar programs.

Digital Transformation

Digital transformation is not just moving all processes into a digital format, but fundamentally shifting thinking to accommodate the digital environment into all products and processes (online and offline). In this way, a lot of digital transformation can be innovation, because it can improve products or processes incrementally or have more sweeping changes (like fundamentally changing a company’s business model).

Porsche demonstrated digital transformation thinking by not only launching “Car Connect” (an app which handles everything from navigation services to real-time traffic information, reading out news to selecting music), but it has asked for feedback and invites co-creative commentary from its entire employee base. Car Connect and other systems gather customer data that help optimize experiences over time, but also help to report on product performance.

Does your company have an innovation or a digital transformation strategy? Both? Neither?

An Innovation Lexicon

Innovation lexiconInnovation means different things to different people.

Sometimes it’s hard to have a good conversation about innovation, because people understand the concept in very different ways. Let’s start with a general definition that states “Innovation is something new and useful” incorporates both the concepts of novelty and value. Of course questions arise: What things? How new and new for whom? How useful do they have to be?

The way we think about innovation has changed over time. When Edison first established a deliberate, organized process to produce new things of value at his lab at Menlo Park in the late nineteenth century, he was in fact re-inventing the process of invention itself. When I was doing my MBA in the early eighties, the London Business School did not offer a single course on innovation. Over two years I believe we went through just one case study on how to produce and market a new technology (it was on fiber optics).

Today when some people talk about innovation they mean inventing or adopting new technology.

Others define innovation as entrepreneurship – starting a new business.

For an academic or science-based organization innovation is primarily research and development and has a very broad scope – from generating new insights with no possible present use, to inventing new things for a market that is likely to exist in the future, to improving things we already have for markets we have defined today.

Information technologists may argue that innovation is mostly about new processes or process re-engineering.

Outside the capitalist loop, we have the proponents of social innovation – developing new things which have a demonstrable social value. Or of Jugaad – small, smart innovation for ordinary people.

The power of collaboration beyond the confines of a conventional organization are leading many to crowdsourcing and crowdfunding innovation – so independent parties work together to design, produce and finance new things. This is not only a practice of poor little start-ups but giants like IBM and Procter and Gamble.

Innovation is when breakthroughs are made. Innovation is significant new strategies and new business models. Innovation is continuously improving lots of little things. In all cases innovation is change. In most cases innovation is progress. Do we all appreciate the fact that innovation is now a way of life for all human beings?

All of these definitions carry interesting insights. Each approach has different parameters and different points of emphasis. Their utility is often a matter of context. Defining precisely what your own organization’s innovation is all about, is a crucial step to making it happen.

This is a guest post is authored by  Dimis Michaelides who is a keynote speaker and author on innovation, creativity and leadership. He has extensive international experience as a business executive and as a speaker in corporate  and public events. He also offers workshops and change management consulting for private businesses, NGOs and public organizations.

His model for innovation was published in his book The Art of Innovation© – Integrating Creativity in Organizations and followed by Leading Innovation in Practice – a Roadmap for Innovation in Organizations.

Experiences with Dimis are out-of-the-ordinary, designed to have a lasting and practical impact. He blends subject-matter expertise with each individual client’s needs, participants’ energy and  … a touch of  magic! Contact him at [email protected]

Four Real-World Examples of Innovation in Healthcare

Innovation is changing how we care for each other.

Healthcare is constantly in the news as an industry, and if you pay attention, what most catches attention is how desperately it needs innovation. Whether it’s the paperwork in the backend or the need for powerful solutions to complex public health problems, innovation platforms are finding new ways to make the world a happier, healthier place. Here are three promising examples of innovation in healthcare that may inspire others in the industry:

Fighting HIV and AIDS

Dreams is a group dedicated to helping girls and women by reducing HIV infection rates through education and prevention. However, this is a far more complicated task than just explaining the routes of HIV transmission and offering prophylactic solutions: Any approach to reducing HIV/AIDS has to look to social good. Their innovation strategy led them, as an example, to bolster education funding to ensure girls in Malawi finish secondary school, as better education is directly correlated with lower infection rates.

Tackling Addiction

Substance abuse is a major health crisis in America, costing society billions in lost productivity, law enforcement costs, and medical care. The National Institute on Drug Abuse, or NIDA, is hoping to change that by looking into app design. One of the most important factors in reducing the social cost of substance abuse is the ability to quickly gather and report data. NIDA’s most recent campaign was to create an idea for an app that allows citizen researchers and professionals to effectively work in the field, offering NIDA ideas on how the app would work and what tools it should offer. Instead of anonymous survey data, NIDA will get real, concrete data into a genuine problem.

A doctor today has access to innovation strategies undreamed of decades ago.

Eradicating Cancer

Cancer is an enormously complicated family of illnesses, and part of the problem for researchers is figuring out where to marshal a truly enormous set of resources and volunteer energy. The Cancer Moonshot is a multi-stage process harnessing the power of crowds to determine how data should be gathered and studied, which cancers most need the power of the group, and how clinical trials of promising treatments should be developed and run. Winning the war against cancer, like any war, will take every last one of us, even if great strides have been made in the last few decades—and it starts with forming the best battle plan.

Bridging The Last Mile

Innovation is also coming to how we deliver basic services. One of the most fundamental problems with resource allocation and health is what’s called “the last mile.” Getting vaccines, water treatment equipment, and a host of other helpful materials to nations is quite easy: Mostly it’s just a matter of putting it on an airplane and getting the proper permits. It’s getting it to the villages and towns that most need it—that “last mile”—that matters the most, and it’s trickier than you might think, especially in places with barely any roads or other methods of access. Innovation platforms are helping UNICEF come up with bold new ideas to bridge that last mile and deliver healthcare to everyone.

Innovation platforms are changing the world for the better, harnessing the power of crowds to solve the thorniest problems. To see the power of innovation in action, join our newsletter!

The Role of Women in Innovation

Role of Women in InnovationA scroll through my LinkedIn today is pretty powerful. I see numerous organizations profiling and celebrating their “First Female CEO” or “Women in Charge of Blockchain” or “the Female Entrepreneurial Movement.” It’s exciting to see a more balanced future of the workplace and think that pioneering new ideas are already being championed and redeveloped by women. But it has me wondering, what do we know about the role of women in innovation management?

To begin with, we know that diversity (diversity of gender, race, age, socioeconomic status, etc) fuels innovation. In a Harvard Business Review article, it was found that firms with high levels of diversity were 45% more likely to report market growth and 70% more likely to report capture of a new market. Creating space for numerous voices and celebrating those voices (even the ones that disagree with you) will actually help fuel productivity and creative growth, so we should start the discussion there: that there are far more kinds of diversity to consider beyond gender.

But women are coming up and “between 1997 and 2006, businesses fully women-owned, or majority-owned by women, grew at nearly twice the rate of all U.S. firms.” Gender diverse firms are also 15 percent more likely to deliver better financial returns overall. And female entrepreneurship is currently experiencing a surge as more and more women become educated and enter roles traditionally held by men. And a recent finding – one that I find particularly interesting for innovation – female founders are on an upward trend.  It’s an exciting time and I expect that the future of innovation will be shared equally by men and women.

Psychology Today published an interesting finding that people will tolerate failure more easily in a man, because he is perceived to be a risk taker and that women are expected to work to steward new ideas through to completion because they are more adaptive. The article proposes making sure that all innovation teams have an equal gender representation, but I would also argue that we should begin shifting attitudes so that innovation failure and success is equally tolerable across both sexes or the workplace will eventually prove an unsustainable environment for new ideas.

And this brings me to a second thought about gender and innovation. Many people think that as one identity begins to excel, it means that another must decelerate, but in innovation (as I suspect, anywhere else), it is not an either/or but a new opportunity to partner as all groups gain the opportunity to learn new skills and in the end what wins is not an idea’s author, but the idea itself.

The State of Innovation in the Financial Sector

Innovation in the Financial SectorFintech funding is increasing. Just over a decade ago, we were spending a little over $5 Billion on financial technology – today we’re spending nearly $78 Billion. Why are we seeing that investment accelerate? Because the financial sector is ripe for disruption and investors want to make sure that they’re part of the financial future which is an industry that is estimated to make up 20% of a country’s gross domestic product.  

Here are two reasons that the financial sector should anticipate disruption:

New Technology. Certainly you can’t go on any website without seeing the word “blockchain” (whether that technology is relevant to the website or not). But that’s not the only piece of emerging tech that is impacting the financial sector: big data and market predictions are certainly developing, crowdfunding technology allows for microfinancing of small businesses, digital security continues to be one of the chief executive’s concerns in the financial sector. All financial institutions are running to keep up or risk becoming irrelevant.

Shifting Customer Trends.  Customers no longer feel like financial decisions and planning are the purview of specialists alone. 46% of affluent Millennials and 41% of affluent Gen X perform research online, make decisions and execute their own trades without ever turning to an expert. And trust in a brand is no longer determined by how long its been around. In fact, 76% of affluent Millennials are open to financial services provided by non-financial brands.

So how do you stay ahead of the curve? Crowdsourcing ideas allows you to ask for signals (like emerging trends) from your crowd, but also empowers that crowd to make suggestions and share ideas that will drive the business forward. That’s why lots of financial institutions are starting by asking their employees for new product ideas, process solutions, and more.

To learn more about innovation in the financial sector, download our complimentary infographic on the subject.

2018 Innovation Learning Priorities

2018 Innovation Learning PrioritiesEvery year, IdeaScale asks its customers what they’re focused on learning this year. This information becomes the backbone of our content calendar for the rest of the year for both our customers and prospects: it informs what we blog about, what white papers we research, what sessions we feature at Open Nation, and more. This year, we were somewhat surprised at the top three study priorities that innovators are focused on, but it’s also what you can expect to learn about at Open Nation 2018.

Community Engagement Strategies. Well, actually, there’s no surprise here. This subject is one of the leading themes every year. The good news is that so many engagement strategies are evergreen and can be used time after time, but there’s always something new to try every year (whether it’s a new channel for outreach or a new incentive structure that works better for public sector organizations). It’s a subject that we’ll probably always write about, because if a company can succeed in its communications strategy, it’s far more likely to succeed in its innovation program.

Innovation Metrics and ROI. Now this subject was a surprise finalist this year and in our deeper dive into the subject matter, it’s become even more complex. Innovation metrics and ROI can mean very different things to different companies or even to different people within the same program. For this year, we’re focusing on innovation program metrics (outlined in this infographic) and then also introducing the concept of firmer, longer-term metrics that companies can track after the launch of a new program, product, or service.

Implementation Strategies. This is probably the theme that we were happiest to see appear in our top three. We think that the fact that this is a key concern for innovators this year means that innovation programs are maturing to the point that ideation is no longer enough. Lots of organizations start out simply by asking for ideas – they just want to brainstorm and fill their innovation pipeline. Ideas, however, don’t make you more innovative – it’s the follow- through that defines an organization. So we’ll be focusing on implementation strategies like how to assemble resources, how to make the case for new ideas, how to plan for implementation and more.

If you’re interested in learning more about these themes, consider joining us at Open Nation in Berkeley on October 25th this year. We’ll be discussing all of these topics and more.

What about you? What are you focused on learning this year?

Music for Innovation

Music for InnovationThere is a growing body of research that is dedicated to analyzing what kind of music makes an employee work more efficiently, joyfully, or precisely. Here are a few interesting working theories for music in the workplace.

Music can help in task efficiency. One study found that if you’re completing repetitive tasks, listening to music will make an employee perform their task faster than a counterpart without music.

Ambient noise can help improve creativity. But be carefu! If you listen to that noise (music or otherwise) at too high a volume, the creativity level begins to drop back down.

Introverts and extroverts have different responses. Introverts prefer the clarity of silence when they’re working, whereas extroverts like to have some music on in the background.

Happy music is better for teams. When researchers played happy songs (like “Yellow Submarine”) members of teams were more likely to perform activities that contributed to the good of the team (as opposed to their behaviors when they were listening to more aggressive or less well known songs).

At IdeaScale, almost all of us listen to music throughout the workday. We all have our pet theories: Joby swears by drone metal to really dig into a bit project while I appreciate lyricless, but optimistic electronic music. Rob just knows everything about The Boss.

Well, one of our innovation strategists, Whitney Bernstein, took some time to crowdsource an “Innovation Playlist.” She asked our customers, our partners, and us to share music that we like when we’re trying to be creative and she created “Workshop Tunes.” The thing that’s particularly fun about this crowdsourced list is that there’s something for everyone. There’s no study to prove whether or not it’ll help you be more innovative, but you might take a tour through innovative personalities and their music tastes all the same. You can find the playlist on Spotify, listen to it, and tell us what you think.

What sort of music do you listen to when you’re innovating?

The Complex Relationship Between Innovation and Risk

Risk vs. reward can be a hard thing to balance.

All of business, it has been argued, boils down to weighing the likely rewards of a decision against the likely risk. The problem with any innovation strategy is that, at some point, innovation runs into this equation. Any innovation, to some degree, is a risk. It’s just a question of weighing that risk against the reward.

Risk And Innovation

The fundamental problem is that neither risk nor innovation is an objective property. Something that seems an obvious innovation to a forward-thinking executive can seem like a pointless luxury or just an intriguing, but unlikely to pay, side alley to a more conventional one. A business making profit hand over fist isn’t going to want to risk profit, while a business with nothing to lose either way won’t be bothered by one more roll of the dice. Neither of these perceptions is wrong, either; a CEO of a huge, profitable company is probably smart to be more conservative with his risk, considering the jobs that might be lost, while the garage-based side hustle team should swing for the fences.

So, as you work on your innovation strategy, part of that needs to be an assessment of your appetite for risk. Many large companies have been found to keep innovation within a certain fence; they want to see innovation on their product lines, not entirely new product lines arriving. So get a sense of the risk and how much potential reward is truly worth it before you innovate.

If you’re a mouse, why bother? If you’re a human, why wouldn’t you?

Rolling The Dice

The truth is that often risk and innovation balance each other out early on in the process. It’s easy to pitch the idea of building a flying car, but even the most ambitious automaker probably rules that idea out rather quickly. But breakthrough ideas, or even just innovations that might push your company further, or cost a lot of money, do come through. So how do you balance out the risk?

To start with, ask yourself this: Where did the idea come from? If you’ve been developing it because customers keep asking you to fill this specific need, for example, then your innovation has a market. Another way of looking at this is to ask what problem this specific innovation solves for your customers. An idea with a built-in market is far less risk than a blue-sky solution.

Secondly, what’s the needed scale to prove it works? Google is a superb example of this; in any given year, they will pilot thousands of innovations in carefully designed small experiments that are dirt-cheap to run and potentially yield massive dividends. A $50,000 pilot project is a lot more palatable as a risk than a $500 million product launch.

Finally, what are the likely rewards for taking a good risk, and the likely costs of not taking one? Self-driving cars are an excellent example. It’s not clear yet what the market is for the self-driving car. But for the passive safety features self-driving car technology pioneers, like automatic braking and lane assist warnings? The research into a self-driving car pays for itself in that scenario.

Innovation is the lifeblood of any company, but risk is one of its fundamental dangers. A careful balance of the two, and collecting as much knowledge as possible, will help you better innovate and take the big, smart risks when they really matter. To learn more about innovation and risk, join our newsletter.