Innovation That We Can Believe In

As we know, innovation has garnered a lot of attention—now most recently encouraged by President Obama in his State of the Union address of January 25, 2011. "The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation," he proclaimed. But is innovation just a buzzword to which everyone on either side of the aisle can nod their head in agreement, or does it represent a true competitive advantage for the Nation to embrace?

As Elaine Dundon, Ph.D., writes in the preface of her bestselling book, The Seeds of Innovation, "Over the last few years, I have witnessed a growing interest in the field of Innovation Management. Now more than ever, in an era of economic uncertainty, constrained resources, and increased global competition, more and more organizations are turning to Innovation Management as a source of new solutions and new inspiration."

Her next paragraph is telling and highlights the crux of the innovation discussion as espoused by President Obama.

"At the same time, however, I have witnessed a growing frustration surrounding the lack of clarity as to what Innovation Management is all about. I see many organizations declaring innovation as an objective but then failing to follow up with any concrete action steps or support."

Herein lies the problem and opportunity. What is innovation anyway? Is it creativity? Is it investment in infrastructure, such as highways and airports? Is it just technology? How can one jump on this innovation bandwagon? How can we encourage all citizens, as well as all employees within an organization, to embrace the opportunity that the focus on innovation gives us? If, as the President suggests, innovation "is how we make a living," then how can we ensure that the seeds of innovation are planted firmly in American soil?

Dundon provides a solid antidote to the questions raised by Obama's State of the Union speech. The Seeds of Innovation presents a disciplined yet practical approach to innovation based on a very successful Innovation Management course at the University of Toronto, the first of its kind in North America. The powerful insights and easy-to-apply techniques presented in the book have been field-tested with top corporations and government agencies around the world.

Most notably, Dundon recommends a holistic approach to building the awareness and skills for capitalizing on the innovation opportunity. She provides strong evidence that the core competencies (i.e., knowledge, skills, attitude) to make innovation actually happen can be taught. The how-to's of developing these competencies in innovative thinking include building skills in three critical areas: creative thinking, strategic thinking, and transformational thinking.

Creative thinking can be taught through increasing curiosity and the strengthening the ability to form new connections. Strategic thinking can be taught by increasing the ability to see the bigger picture, understand future trends, and strive for competitive advantage through "being extraordinary." Transformational thinking can be taught by increasing greater awareness of the supports and obstacles to a particular innovation project, and learning how to present ideas to garner maximum support for their implementation.

Possibly the most important chapter that Dundon includes in her book is entitled, "Take Action." All too often we hear speeches like the President's State of the Union address or the yearly kickoff speech by a CEO which center on the theme of innovation. All too often we also hear the same message, "We need more innovation." But all too often, we just magically hope it happens. Unfortunatley, simply relying on the "audacity of hope" will rarely help us achieve our innovation aims. America's "need to out-innovate...the rest of the world" along the lines espoused by President Obama will require a different kind of investment, one built upon more than just good intentions and wishful thinking. In this regard, the skills outlined by Dundon are the how to's to actually make innovation happen. Now's the time to plant the "seeds of innovation" throughout the Nation. Let's make 2011 the year we actually make innovation happen—innovation that we can believe in!

Read more State of the Union coverage

Dr. Alex Pattakos is the author of Prisoners of Our Thoughts (now in a second, revised and expanded edition) and Dr. Elaine Dundon is the author of The Seeds of Innovation (www.seedsofinnovation.com). They are the co-founders of The OPA Way!®, an initiative to help people "live a happy, healthy, meaningful life" inspired by and based on Greek culture. They invite you to visit their new Web site and join the "OPA! Village" (it's free!): www.theopaway.com.

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