Fast Company

Innovation Lesson From Ratatouille

The animated movie, “Ratatouille”, tells the tale of a most improbable hero who dreams of being a great chef.  This hero is a rat named Remy.

Inspired by the great chef, Gusteau, this unlikely protagonist wends his way to Paris, and with Gusteau’s words, “Anyone can cook!”, echoing in his mind, Remy find success and happiness as a chef.

As we come to learn in what is sure to be a Disney-Pixar classic, anyone can cook, but not everyone can.  This is true in many of life’s endeavors and we should all bear this in mind when it comes to innovation.

Anyone can innovate, but not everyone can.

Current trends of companies toward opening up the innovation process to customers and partners show broad acceptance of the concept that innovations can come from anyone.  More interestingly, these same trends suggest that not everyone will be the source of great innovation as many companies are feeling dissatisfied with the quality and relevance of recommendations coming from within their extended innovation ecosystem.  This leads to an interesting question.  If innovation can come from anyone, why is it that not everyone can innovate?

Letting stand the assertion that anyone can innovate, I’ll suggest that the innovation gene is something with requires environmental stimulus to be expressed.  Remember that at its core an innovation is a response to a situation, and not just any response, but a response that creates value by solving a problem inherent in the current situation.

In essence, to innovate someone must:

  • Recognize a problem
  • Understand the problem
  • Have access to the information required to identify a solution

It’s these latter two points that are the hurdles which prevent many people from being substantial contributors in the innovation process.

Too often, in the rush to solution, the crucial steps of understanding the problem is bypassed.  This leads many would be innovators down the path to catastrophe as they end up with a creation that doesn’t actually address any ones needs.  The disciplines of sustainable innovation practice are useful to help keep people focused and ensure that the right questions are identified the first time.

Yet even when people do have a deep understanding of the problem, that doesn’t mean they will see the path forward to a high value innovative solution.  Contrary to popular belief, people don’t get stuck at this point because they know too much.  It is precisely because they don’t know enough that they are subject to mental inertia.  History teaches us that great innovation happens at the nexus of information.  It is this convergence of knowledge that leads to the insights that drive innovation.  However, access to relevant knowledge is difficult, and the problem is getting bigger every day.

So, what is an organization to do if they want to enable more of their workers and partners to be innovation value creation agents?  How can you equip more people to innovate?  Here are two things that you must do to properly prepare your innovation workers for success.

Provide training on innovation skills and best practice.  This is a key part of building a sustainable innovation culture.  (See this post for more on this.) 

Enable them through knowledge.  The best way to find great innovation concepts isn’t thinking outside the box, it’s redefining the box.  Your employees need seamless access to information from both inside the enterprise and outside.  They need the information in a form that they can readily assimilate, in the context of their work, and when they need it.  Only in this way are you truly knowledge enabling them by helping them see through the impenetrable fog of data and recognize the actionable knowledge they need.

Give your knowledge workers these tools and you will be amazed at how much more productive your innovation efforts will be.  Not everyone can innovate, but you can certain put your employees in the position where they can by giving them the basic skills and access to information necessary.  You can increase your organization’s innovation capacity by enabling more people to express their innovation potential.

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