How To Get From A Great Idea To Actual Innovation

There's a tendency for all of us to glorify the ideation process when in fact it's the reduction to practice that's perhaps more important, says Stephen Hoover, CEO of PARC, a Xerox company.

What's the formula for moving from a great idea to actual implementation? "You'd think we'd have a really complex answer for this one, given that PARC is in the business of breakthroughs," says Stephen Hoover, CEO of PARC, a Xerox company. "But for me, it's really simple and can even be captured in one phrase: 'Inventions with impact.' As in impact on people, our clients' businesses, and the world. In whatever forms it takes."

Fast Company sat down with Hoover, who is speaking at our Innovation Uncensored event on Wednesday, April 18 in New York City, to ask him how innovation works at PARC. 

FAST COMPANY: What can a big company learn from a startup?

STEPHEN HOOVER: Compared to big companies, startups have the advantage of no "legacy," which means you don't have to worry about disrupting your own business model or changing skillsets. So when big companies can—and some do—create the space for new opportunities that challenge the legacy, they can do incredible things!

Furthermore, there's a place in the innovation landscape for big companies and startups and others, such as government and universities. While big companies tend to focus on core innovations and startups can pivot rapidly, all of us need to work together when the problems are too big or complex for any one entity to solve alone.

How do you create a culture of innovation?

From both the bottom up and top down. Most organizations tend to focus on one or the other. One of the things we did at PARC is to create a portfolio management framework—and associated review processes—that balance localized autonomy for our researchers with a comprehensive, proactive approach to managing our innovation investments. Creating a true culture of innovation is very difficult. So we often recommend you start by trying to shift mindsets first. For example, mindsets such as embracing failure (not just fail fast but fail in order to learn), real options for metering and growing innovation investments (as opposed to net present value), and much, much more.

Shifting gears a little here, but we want to know how you found your last great idea.

So this is an interesting question, because it seems to put the focus on ideas—and I think there's a tendency for all of us to glorify the ideation process when in fact it's the reduction to practice that's perhaps more important. And what we've found at PARC is that the best way to move from ideation to implementation is to focus on the intersection of these three things:

  1. Technology expertise and trends beyond trendspotting
  2. New models for business
  3. Human-centered context, as in ethnography, to discover what people actually do and want and need, not just what they say they do.

One of these alone may give you good ideas and incremental innovations, but you need all three for innovation with impact.

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Over the next few weeks, Fast Company is giving readers a sneak peek at some of the speakers and the ideas we'll be discussing at the conference. Hoover will be speaking on our strategy panel at the event. Our goal for Innovation Uncensored? To inspire you to take the concepts, best practices, and stories you'll hear from our speakers, like Hoover, and take action from their ideas.

Here's a quick look at some of the other speakers featured at Innovation Uncensored.

  • General (Ret.) Stanley A. McChrystal, U.S. Army; Cofounder, The McChrystal Group
  • Tory Burch, Design and CEO, Tory Burch LLC; Founder, The Tory Burch Foundation
  • Scott Roen, VP Digital Marketing & Innovation, American Express
  • Bertil Chappuis, Partner, McKinsey & Company
  • Sarah Robb O'Hagan, President, Gatorade, a division of PepsiCo
  • Ajaz Ahmed, Founder and Chairman, AKQA

See the full lineup here and if you haven't registered yet, there's still time! Click here for more information and to buy tickets.

We invite you to share your own thoughts on innovation in the comments below or in our Innovation Uncensored LinkedIn Group. Join the conversation on Twitter, using the hashtag #IU12.

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3 Comments

  • PARCinc

    @Hoyt As you probably can guess, it's a complex history with many nuances. You can see some of our thoughts on this debate at http://bit.ly/ixz3JX. But PARC *today* has been practicing an open innovation business model for the last 10 years (we were incorporated in 2002). This model is partially based on our expertise and lessons learned as well as experiences engaging with multiple clients around what's needed for today's and tomorrow's innovation landscape. You can see some of our clients at www.bit.ly/parcataglance or learn more at www.parc.com

    @Bob That's an interesting point. Some would argue that every innovation is based on tweaking the ones before it (see for example http://bit.ly/tafalB). Ultimately, various innovation entities -- from startups to corporate R&D to government to entrepreneurs to others -- will have to work together to solve really complex problems that can result in advances for everyone. 

  • hoyt wilhelm

    Isn't PARC's idea of innovation to let everyone else steal your best ideas?  Are they really the best people to be talking to on this subject?

  • Bob Burdon

    I honestly believe that ownership of invention, ideas,discoveries should not be owned by anyone less than the whole think tank of human consciousness.We now have a perfect bill board to post our precepts. I maybe naive.