Tag: Innovation

Do You Know How to Identify and Nurture Innovation Talent?

Nurture Innovation TalentMany companies today are experiencing an accelerated pace of change. As the world around us changes, how do successful companies drive change internally? After all, most of your workforce was probably hired for their functional skills, such as sales, accounting or production. Now we find that a new set of skills is necessary, and many companies aren’t sure how to identify and cultivate these skills.

Here are some common approaches to this problem:

Look for Creative Employees Creativity is most definitely a component of innovation, but only one component. It turns out there are seven other skills that drive innovation business results. Mistaking creativity for innovation has two consequences:

  1. When we overly glorify creativity, we minimize the importance of the other seven skills in the innovation process.
  2. We may over-look employees with the other equally essential innovation skills, making innovation a very exclusive club indeed.

These consequences put innovation at greater risk of failure.

Try to Make Everyone Innovative On the other hand, there is a precious belief out there that we can all be innovative. In our observation, this belief can create a certain tension, a sense of dread, even anger, among those who are not wired for change.  One CINO reported that she was asked, “When is all of this innovation stuff going to be over?” We all have seen the way such resistors can sabotage innovation efforts. According to Swarm research, about half of humanity really prefers that things stay the same. Why not let them focus on maintaining the current business and continuous improvement? They will be much happier.

Assume Diverse Teams are Strong Teams In 30 years of research on innovation teams, a slight correlation was found between diversity and innovation team results. But not all diversity. Diverse functional skills do help teams develop holistic innovations and de-risk them from many perspectives. But a functionally diverse team with weak coverage of the 8 innovation skills will still struggle. These are the 8 instrinsic skills required for success in innovation.

Now companies have the tools to identify innovation talent in their workforce. We can identify incremental to disruptive talent and martial it where needed. We can drill down to the 8 skills correlated with business results, and the 26 sub-clusters to diagnose teams, and build a culture of innovation on data, not guesswork.

To learn more about identifying and nurturing innovation talent, download the infographic here.


This is a guest post authored by Suzan Briganti, CEO and Founder of Swarm Vision. Suzan brings 25 years of experience in research, strategy and innovation. Suzan has patents pending in innovation software. She has grown Swarm Vision from a garage start-up to a trusted solution provider to global Fortune 500 clients. Suzan leads Swarm Vision with a focus on building great products and teams. Suzan has an MBA summa cum laude from Boston University and a design degree from Italy.

Customers We Love

Customers We Love

One of the best things about working at IdeaScale is the variety of customers, use cases, and success stories that you hear about. But recently, our work with the Commission for Environmental Cooperation reminded us of some of our favorite types of customers. Here are some of the reasons that CEC embodies these qualities.

Socially-Responsible. The Commission for Environmental Cooperation fosters conservation, protection and enhancement of the North American environment for the benefit of present and future generations. We feel really gratified when customers care about making the world a better place. That’s why we’ve loved working with customers like the Department of Energy’s Sunshot initiative and the DREAMS Challenge.

Creative. CEC didn’t limit their outreach to the standard playbook. In addition to press releases, videos, emails, and social media promotion, they also placed phone calls to universities and innovation hubs to garner interest. That’s why we’re excited by companies that find new ways to connect, evaluate, and nurture great ideas.

Forward Thinking. The winners of the CEC innovation challenge had some truly novel ideas like using food waste to create high protein foods and convert plastic into sustainable concrete. Without idea management solutions, these ideas sometimes go unsaid and undiscovered and they make the team at IdeaScale truly excited when those dreams get realized.

Great Networkers. There were multiple opportunities to connect with the CEC challenge, including an in-person mentoring part of the process.  Teams that combine online and offline connection generally have the richest sets of results. That’s why Scentsy always invites engagement at their annual event and Dick’s Sporting Goods had an in-person component as part of their launch.

Don’t get me wrong: we love all our customers and most of them are great at all these things. But it’s really awesome to see one story encapsulate some of those values that define our work.

To learn more about the CEC Youth Innovation Challenge, download the case study here.

Understanding the Source of Employee Innovation

Boredom is one of those facets of life that consistently amaze. How can any person be bored when there is so much around us that stimulates our intellect and inspires our awe? And why do we continuously and mindlessly scroll through television channels and facebook feeds instead of focusing our energy on creating something of beauty or value?

Boredom persists. In the workplace, we call this phenomenon, disengagement. All managers dread this and go to great lengths to improve engagement in the workplace. Whether it’s motivating staff, reaching customers, or simply having a conversation, employers want engaging interactions. They crave opinions and other forms of employee feedback, especially when those choice pieces of feedback help to directly further company goals.

The dilemma is, how do managers create engagement? Employees can’t be beaten with sticks (you can try but your HR team will likely frown upon it). You can’t yell at people to not be bored or to focus more.

No, the secret to employee engagement is curiosity and challenge. When people are challenged, their minds will naturally start formulating solutions. We call this, creativity. Marketing people call it, innovation. What follows are a few pieces of advice to encourage innovation (or creativity) from your employees.

Engagement Powers Activate!

Each day, we are flooded with information and stimuli. Take, for example, that little number in the corner of your inbox that numbers emails in the thousands or tens of thousands. Those are pieces of information that we have to analyze, prioritize and process. Our brains sort this information into two buckets — interesting and unworthy.

We actually have a dedicated neural network that manages this process which is called, The Reticular Activating System (RAS).  The RAS has two main functions; 1) highlighting relevant information in real time, and 2) stimulating pattern recognition to fuel innovative thinking.

In terms of our biology, the RAS monitors our shift between rest and wakefulness. Functionally, as it applies to how we communicate and perform throughout the day, the RAS determines whether we should tune stimuli out or tune them in.

Recognizing how the RAS functions provides an opportunity to improve engagement in the workplace. It can help us determine how we communicate and how often. Should we send someone thirty emails or have a ten minute conversation?

Are people falling asleep in meetings? If they look disengaged or bored, they are tuning you out. That means it’s time to change the content or format of your meeting. When people are engaged, they are attentive and responsive in meetings. They inspired to be more creative in their tasks and find new ways to accomplish their goals.

Reinforcing Engagement

Useful information activates the RAS to pay attention. When new or interesting information is in front of us, we focus. When that moment passes in a meeting, and we are told information that is irrelevant or that we already know, our RAS prompts us to disengage.

The best way to engage employees is to give them something that inspires curiosity. Being told a statement requires no thought on the part of the person to whom information is being conveyed. Being asked a question, though, prompts us to think about the answer.

The more questions we ask others, the more that they feel engaged – and that engagement persists over time as long as the questions remain pertinent. A question becomes part of our subconscious, and as time goes on, we are drawn to information that relates to what we were asked.

Leading Staff to Innovate

People managers can use the Reticular Activating Systems of their employees to engage staff in positive directions for the company. But do people always view the company’s success as their own success? How can you keep your staff focused and have them care about outcomes?

One way is to engage your staff by enrolling them in creating their own personal quarterly objectives that are tied to the quarterly objectives of the team and the company.

Another way to engage your staff is to move them away from a focus on individual success and towards a focus on success for the team. You can ask them what can be done to improve a situation and encourage them to crowdsource ideas from the rest of the staff. People who are challenged and curious and who are working towards a collective goal are more likely to innovate, instead of just passively doing their jobs.

Finally, let them know that their ideas have value through consistent recognition and reward.

Companies can provide personal incentives (a bonus or recognition of a job well done) to motivate individual participation. Employees learn that contributing to the company’s success will produce personal success for them as well.

Low employee engagement continues to baffle Human Resource professionals, middle managers, and company leaders the world over. But the solution is really not that complicated. Pay attention to employees and notice when they tune out and when they tune in. Then ask questions to keep them curious and challenge them so that their natural propensity towards innovation remains activated.

This blog is a guest post by David Mizne, Content Strategist of 15five

4 Ways to Promote Innovation Without Crowdsourcing

The crowd you source from doesn’t have to be outside the company.

Crowdsourcing is just one facet of innovation strategy. For some, it may not be the most workable. Perhaps there are legal concerns that make it impossible. Maybe your industry is so specialized you just don’t have that big a crowd to source from. Or perhaps there’s just institutional skepticism to deal with. So, if crowdsourcing doesn’t work for your specific issue, here’s how to bolster innovation without it.

Look Internally

Clearer, more open lines of communication all up and down your company is important in a number of contexts, but particularly when it comes to innovation. Members of your team should be able to put a problem out there in the company for everyone, as much as possible, to consider. Fresh eyes are useful for any problem, no matter what it is, and just as important, it involves stakeholders across the board. They’ll be able to spot problems, offer suggestions, or just give a different perspective that’s useful and that may ensure, as your work comes closer to release, a smoother, simpler rollout.

Listen To Your Customers

Any company worth its salt has a good relationship with its customers. Customers always have ideas and suggestions. They might ask if there’s a feature in the works, or say they’d love to use your product elsewhere in their business, except for one thing. Ask your sales team about what they’re hearing, and take a look at what’s workable.

Similarly, understand how your customers are using your products. The micro plane is a great example. They’re common in the kitchen now, but ten years ago, you could only find them in hardware stores. They were designed to grind down hardwood and metal. You can still use them for that, of course, but micro plane manufacturers quickly discovered home cooks were using their rasps as more effective, precise graters, so they began putting their products in kitchen stores. Learn how your product is actually used, not just how you intended it to be used when pursuing new ideas.

Tap your company’s internal genius.

Encourage Internal Experiments

Innovation is a situation where we only hear about the successes. Everybody likes to talk about the iPhone, but nobody mentions the decades of work Apple put into portable, connected computing, from the Apple Newton to a landline with a liquid crystal screen that was basically a proto-iPhone. There needs to be room in your organization to experiment, to engage in small projects, and test out ideas. For every great invention from a brilliant inventor, there are dozens of others that fail miserably, but they often build upon those failures to achieve their successes.

Follow The Competition

There are plenty of ways to legally and ethically keep an eye out for what your competitors are developing. Pay attention to their press releases, who they’re hiring, and what areas of your market they’re penetrating. Don’t copy their moves. Rather, ask yourself why those moves are happening and what they might say about the overall direction of your industry. That will point you toward new ideas and ways to upgrade and innovate.

Innovation is a process driven by every member of a company. Crowdsourcing can be incredibly useful to your innovation process, but it should be just one aspect of it. To get started with your innovation strategy, join the IdeaScale community.

Walmart: How an Innovator in Arkansas Continues to Change our World


walmart as innovatorIn the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, an unlikely corporation spearheaded the relief effort. Walmart, long maligned as a junky department store, pulled off a stunning logistical feat, getting 100,000 meals, 1,500 truckloads of supplies, and jobs for every displaced worker to the site with a speed that outmatched even the government. It was a reminder of what many who had been paying attention already knew: Walmart is, in many under-appreciated ways, a powerful innovator.

Walmart’s Past Of Innovation

Walmart has always been innovative. Sam Walton, the founder, pioneered the idea of using lower-cost suppliers and passing the savings onto the consumer, making up the difference in volume. It seems simple, now, but before Walton came along, products were marked up that same amount all throughout the chain, making things particularly expensive in rural areas. In the ’70s, Walton used small private aircraft to scout out new locations for his stores. Later the company would buy aircraft second-hand to fly managers out to stores.

In 1987, Walmart completed what was at the time the world’s largest private satellite network, which linked all its stores with two-way voice communications. Throughout the ’90s, as it expanded, Walmart pioneered the global logistics that underpin most retail operations today. In 2005, the company’s CEO decided to set the company on a path to becoming completely green, with no waste and the stores running on renewable power. By 2015, it led corporate America in solar capacity and is branching out into energy storage. You may well be buying your solar power from Walmart without knowing it.

Even today, it is innovating. Part of this is inherent in Walmart’s design. The company is so enormous, it makes more sense to build custom solutions than it does to buy “off-the-rack” tech. But some of it is the company showing a degree of flexibility you simply wouldn’t expect from “Wally World.”

Walmart’s Present And Future Of Innovation

Walmart has a trick up its sleeve with mobile payments. If you sign up for a store-branded credit card and use Walmart’s mobile payment app, you get the card and its benefit immediately. Walmart has become an incubator of startup retail technology, holding summits to find the best of the tech available and adapt it to their stores.

Other ideas are more subtle in their design. While headlines about the death of retail fill major newspapers, Walmart has been one of the few retailers to ask themselves why shoppers are moving away from brick and mortar and has experimented with new store layouts that put products more closely associated with each other in one place. Instead of pushing a cart from the clothing section to shoes to the baby aisle, it’s all in one place to get the trip over faster, and Walmart’s Scan & Go tech means you can put in all the barcodes, weigh the produce, get the total, and pay without having to wait in line.

Walmart labors under no illusions about the tough road brick-and-mortar retail is facing. If it had been, Wall Street’s punishing the company with a ten percent drop in value over an earnings decrease, not even an actual loss, warned it. But, unlike many companies, Walmart assumes the churn of innovation is just the cost of doing business. The innovative spirit of Sam Walton still lingers as the company forges ahead.

Want to be more like Walmart? Launch an IdeaScale community.

4 Powerful TED Talks on Innovation

TED Talks are great for lifelong learning.

Where do you get the best insight on innovation? For many of us, it’s the TED Talk. These lectures, from experts across the world, offer some valuable insight into how to innovate, and how the ways we innovate are changing. Here are four, in particular, any innovation-minded leader should consider watching.

Don Tapscott: Four Principles For The Open World

Tapscott, who studied the effect of technology on business and society, notes in this talk there are young adults who’ve never known the world without the internet. Tapscott explains that the world is “opening” in the sense that innovation is coming from unexpected places and we’re building more ideas from that openness, which he defines in four different ways:

  1. open-mindedness
  2. transparency
  3. sharing
  4. empowerment.

Tapscott argues that these four definitions interconnect to create the best innovation, and offers additional food for thought for innovators and companies alike.


“Companies no longer need a five-year-plan, just a goal and a willingness to get there.”


Clay Shirky: Institutions Vs. Collaboration

We all know it’s tougher to be nimble, the bigger an organization gets. But why? Clay Shirky, who spent years studying the social effects of the internet, argues it’s inherent in the model of large institutions. He presents a new way of thinking about cooperation in an institutional context; that, because the cost of communicating has dropped so low, institutions now need to make collaboration an essential part of how they run so that cooperation is a natural result of how the institution operates. Shirky argues that communication has advanced enough that companies no longer need a five-year-plan, just a goal and a willingness to get there.

What’s the future of innovation?

Yochai Benkler: The New Open-Source Economics

Benkler has an intimidating resume even by TED standards: He’s the Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies and a faculty co-director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard. That makes Benkler’s talk particularly fascinating as he views information through the lens of economic theory.

Benkler points out that where, before, the distribution of information was industrial, operated by newspapers and broadcasters who had the money to invest in the network, now information is radically distributed; it is produced and distributed by individuals for the cost of almost nothing. He argues that this has created a new type of economy, driven by the need to feel like we’re contributing to the world, that we develop a form of social currency by creating and sharing information and ideas.

In short, Benkler is arguing that more and more, open-source, not just in software, but in everything, is likely the future and that innovation will need to draw from this well more and more.

Howard Rheingold: The New Power Of Collaboration

Finally, longtime social critic Rheingold offers a unique perspective on how our shifting communications networks are rendering the normal business model of survival of the fittest, not so much obsolete as simply an option. Rheingold points out that no society has grown by relentlessly fighting with each other. There has to be at least some degree of cooperation. He argues that as technology has torn down the barriers to communication, that the degree of cooperation is becoming more important, especially for thorny problems with no clear market solution.

TED Talks are always useful for inspiration. If you innovate and need some inspiration, it’s worth picking one or two watch and consider. For more ideas on how to innovate, join the IdeaScale community.


How to Foster Innovation in a Risk-Averse Environment

foster innovation

Risk aversion can make innovation difficult.

How do you get around your company’s aversion to risk? There’s only a limited appetite for risk in any company, of course, but where some will enthusiastically embrace it, others hate risk so much even the whiff of it drives them away. So, how do you drive innovation in a risk-averse environment?

Start Small

The best way to deal with risk aversion is to limit risk. Often the problem with companies demanding strategies be “proven” is that it’s impossible to prove the strategy. That creates an endless spiral where innovation is sent packing because it hasn’t been “proven” and there are no tools to prove it. This can be a tough pattern to break, especially if it’s embedded in the corporate culture.

If you’re faced with this spiral, start small, with a test case or an example that will serve as a proof of concept. Perhaps there’s an enthusiastic client, or your test case dovetails with a strategy that the company is going to take anyway. That limits risk and allows you to demonstrate the benefits of innovation in a way with which everyone is comfortable.

Narrow The Gap

Risk-averse companies tend to be overly focused on their own practices, instead of the industry’s wider perspective and trends. Risk aversion tends to entrench a paradigm of “We Have A Way Of Doing Things” that can be difficult to crack. Put your innovation into the context of your overall industry to “narrow the gap,” as it were. Draw comparisons between what other companies are doing, make it clear why they’re doing it, and refer to their success and what they’ve learned from it. What may look like a huge jump for your company will look like a small step if you put it into the proper context, especially if your executive team respects competitors who have made the bigger jumps themselves. After all, “industry standard” is a standard we all want to meet.

How much risk is too much?

Set Clear Expectations

There’s nothing that will kill an innovation faster at a risk-averse company than overhyping the benefits or having only a vague sense of what you expect to achieve. Be concrete and clear. Lay out exactly what you want to do, what specific effects it will have, and why you expect to see those effects. Think ahead to potential objections and roll them into your pitch. Be ready to answer skepticism and to acknowledge potential drawbacks. Risk aversion grows out of a fear of the unknown, so bring as much as you can into the realm of the known. If an innovation hits or exceeds reasonable benchmarks, that could begin to crack the risk aversion barriers.

Don’t Forget The Personal

Finally, it’s important to remember a simple fact we often forget. Innovation means change. People tend to be scared of change. They might think they’ll be innovated right out of a job, that an innovation will leave them behind, or that it might push over a domino that will start a larger chain reaction. Not everyone will admit this to your face, but it’s important to keep in mind. Look at those who have a stake in what you’re innovating and make your case clear how your proposal benefits them.

Innovation is challenging, but it’s worth it, even in the most risk-averse of environments. To get started, contact us.

How Crowdsourcing Innovation Helps Your Team

Why is crowdsourcing right for you?

Many people tend to view crowdsourcing, internal or external, and internal teamwork as either/or propositions; one tends to be the backup for the other. But, in truth, they’re symbiotic, each building on each other. Why?

The More Diverse, The Better

We’ve all heard the stories of overseas marketing disasters, like the Chevy Nova going to Mexico only for the automaker to learn “no va” means “no go” in Spanish. But while they’re funny, they also prove that the broader the perspective on your team, the better your work is.

The reality, though, is that there’s only so many viewpoints that can be in a corporate team, even in the most diverse company. Crowdsourcing allows you to include more perspectives and ideas, to everyone’s benefit. It also means that you’ll be able to tap into more types and styles of creativity, instead of just one approach to the world. Great innovations may be made in labs and meeting rooms, but they’re often inspired in a multitude of different ways.

Everyone’s On Board

Especially with internal crowdsourcing, you can deal with an issue that can crop up; namely, that what seems like a good idea for a small team might be a problem for the wider company. This does need to be balanced with the understanding that “the way we’ve always done things” isn’t a good reason to be against innovation. Companies need to be flexible, and care needs to be taken that tradition doesn’t undermine forward thinking. But if there are practical concerns, they can be found and addressed before they become real-world problems.

Innovation can strike anywhere, so why limit it to the office?


Another useful effect of crowdsourcing is that it offers everyone a sense of ownership, and brings in more commitment to an idea. It’s a lot easier for people to write off even the best idea if they don’t have any skin in the game, but if they’ve offered feedback and ideas, and seen them incorporated, they’re more invested. That sense of ownership can extend well beyond just company loyalty or customer satisfaction, it can form deep emotional roots and spur others to offer more ideas. It’s not just a job or a product; it’s yours, theirs, everyone’s.


The pace of business is only speeding up. Communications tech and ideas like rapid prototyping are quickly becoming industry standard, meaning that a company needs to move more and more quickly when developing new ideas. That’s hard to do in a classical structure, where an idea moves supervisor by supervisor, committee by committee, up the chain. Crowdsourcing makes it easier to both generate more ideas and look at them through many lenses much faster; while the buck needs to stop with somebody, that person will have a better informed set of ideas to pick from.

Crowdsourcing isn’t one size fits all. You’ll need to determine if you want to go internal or external, and how to drive your campaign. But you’ll often find that when solving a thorny problem, or innovating to new concepts, the wisdom of crowds is often a great place to start. To learn more, contact us.

Expert Interview Series: Michel van Hove of Strategos About Creating Innovation Within a Company’s Culture

Michel van Hove is the co-owner and partner of Strategos, a strategy and innovation consultancy that helps companies grow. We recently spoke with Michel to hear his thoughts on how to successfully foster a culture of innovation within a company.

Tell us a bit about your background. What drew you to Strategos?

My career began with a small company in the entertainment industry that developed the first large screen stadium video displays for U2 and other leading music acts. Those were exciting times where we experimented with different technologies to bring new experiences to international audiences. Later, I worked for multinational companies in fast-moving consumer goods and specialty chemicals on strategic innovation initiatives. Strategos offers clients a robust and creative approach to strategy and innovation that appealed to me. I was educated as an engineer and have always believed that finding new ways to solve problems required creativity as well as systemic thinking and collaborating with people that have diverse backgrounds.

Since you have worked on innovation “from the inside,” what lessons have you learned from that process and how have they helped you assist other companies in their innovation efforts?

Working on innovation in industry roles can be very demanding. Often you are the initiator and the evangelist as well as the project manager and team leader. There are many roles to play when you are trying to get innovation off the ground in large companies. You learn that having a big-picture view of what you want to achieve plus executive buy-in and sponsorship is critical. You need a clear step-by-step plan with tangible outcomes to convince middle managers and team members that investing their time and resources produces results.

Could you explain what it means to “work from the future back” as a key strategy of innovation? Why is this important?

Traditional methods are more deterministic in that they extrapolate from the past to the present into the future – more like a planning exercise where we believe in certainties. It presents a future that is acceptable; but in our opinion, it doesn’t lead to significant innovation. Therefore, in our present situation of rapid change, traditional methods fall short. Working from the future back is much more exploratory of what the future may hold and the role that companies can play. It stretches our thinking and helps us to create a more ambitious strategy that drives much higher innovation performance.

What industries or regions are lagging behind right now when it comes to embracing innovation?

There’s good and bad in every industry or company, but generally speaking the companies that stick to their beliefs the longest about what it takes to win without examining those beliefs with the intent to challenge them will be in trouble. On the positive side, innovation is now high on everyone’s agenda, and there are plenty of successful examples.  However, we see many companies still lack the purpose, direction, and capabilities to act and often revert to whichever innovation solution is in fashion. This seems to be particularly true in retail and finance.

When you examine a client company, what do you often find that prevents them from innovating to the best of their abilities?

We usually find pockets of innovation success in every organization. The sense of urgency is there, but there’s also an uneven distribution of innovation capabilities. People understand that culture is an important driver of innovation, but often see it as a problem of motivating employees to act differently. They focus on skill building without having a “landing place” for employees to exercise those skills. We believe organizations need to build individual capability and surround that with organizational capacity to make innovation happen and make it stick.

If a company brainstorms numerous innovative ideas or approaches, how should they go about prioritizing their development or execution and keeping track of their progress?

We provide our clients with a step between brainstorming ideas and picking out the most promising ones called “domaining.” Individual ideas are rarely big enough on their own. We group or synthesize ideas into bigger growth platforms, or domains. These contain ideas that we can work on immediately, but also ideas that need much more refinement and often require additional capabilities that don’t exist today. Domains stretch out over time and provide both the big-picture view as well as a map to track progress. They are flexible and adaptable because along the way, you learn more about the growth platform you are pursuing.

Name one relatively simple step that a company can take to encourage innovative thinking and idea generation from its personnel.

Start by applying a few simple behavioral principles:

  1. Diverge before you converge. Explore a broad set of options before selecting the ones you choose (a straight line from A to B might be the quickest but may prevent you from seeing more interesting alternatives)
  2. Challenge your beliefs about what it takes to be successful, and think about what new opportunities might emerge if that no longer is the norm
  3. Don’t just ask the customer what they want, but invest in understanding what they are trying to achieve.

These behaviors may seem easy, but they require practice before they will lead to really interesting ideas.

If everyone agrees that innovation is important to a company’s survival, which companies will actually succeed and flourish in the future?

The companies that will succeed are those that understand that innovation is not just a series of isolated interventions in the hope that it will lead to a culture of innovation. Those that address innovation “systemically” tend to be the more successful companies who understand that strategy, opportunity, and capability need to be linked together.

How are today’s companies embracing a more innovative culture? For some ideas, join the IdeaScale community today!

Is It Possible for Companies to Over-Innovate?

Remember when this was the height of innovation?

Is it really possible to “over-innovate?” It seems baffling, on the face of it. What’s wrong with “too much” creativity and thinking ahead. The answer is that there’s a question of balance. Innovation drives a company, but no company can live on innovation alone. Innovation has to be done with perspective, or else you’ll find yourself building a brilliant product that nobody actually wants.

How To Over-Innovate

The masters of over-innovation are undeniably the Japanese. In Japan, they have an entire category of over-innovations called chindōgu, or “unusual tool,” products that seem to solve a problem, but create another, insurmountable problem. For example, hay fever sufferers can guarantee they have tissue on them at all times with what amounts to a hat with a roll of bath tissue on it. While the West may lack chindōgu, it’s easy to find its spirit if you know where to look.

A good example of this is the recent struggles of Keurig. Keurig rarely gets credit for solving a problem people didn’t know annoyed them; instead of brewing a giant pot of coffee that rapidly went stale, they could make a cup, as needed. Within a few years, they’d sold millions of machines.

That left Keurig with the problem of where to go next. So they went with the Keurig Kold, which, technologically speaking, is a fairly impressive machine. It applied Keurig’s coffee pod, single serving mentality to soda.

The problem is that Keuring created a machine any economist could tell them nobody wanted. Americans have been cutting down on soda consumption for over a decade, and in fact, it’s been an increasing decline. Furthermore, how we consume coffee, a morning ritual, and how we consume soda, the occasional sweet treat, was and is very different. The Kold was off the shelves in less than a year. So, how do you avoid the specter of the chindōgu?

Innovation needs to be thoughtful and balanced.

Innovating The Right Way

In the early stages of innovating, you and your team should always ask “What problem does this solve?” That’s good to remember in the first place, but don’t forget to ask your ultimate audience about this problem. Is it their biggest concern? Do they have others you hear about more often?

Secondly, always consider the future. Motorola’s RAZR and RIM’s BlackBerry were cutting-edge until 2007 when the iPhone arrived and made both of them utterly irrelevant in the time it took to explain what an “iPhone” even was. Look at what’s being talked about in your industry and be ready for disruptive shifts. At the same time, though, don’t let uncertainty paralyze you; after all, Motorola and RIM had no reason to suspect Apple, a company best known for an MP3 player at the time, was about to get into phones.

Finally, space out your innovation into short-term ideas, medium term, say one or two years out, and towards the broader horizon. In other words, don’t wait for the next iPhone; start asking yourself what the next iPhone of your industry would be, and work towards developing that. Sports quotes are a dime a dozen in business writing, but Wayne Gretzky was right when he said you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. It’s better to swing, for your business, than to never take the shot. To get a balanced, smart innovation strategy, request a demo.