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Looking For Innovation? Try Looking In The Mirror!

There are too many “innovators” around and not enough innovation…  — @dduhamel

There are too many “innovators” around and not enough innovation…  — @dduhamel

As I was discussing the intricacies of defining a semantic processing engine for a language which has no formally defined morphology this morning, I noticed the statement above popup in my Tweetdeck window.  It struck a chord with me because I had just had two conversations yesterday along a related theme.  The gist of the discussions was that there are many people who play important roles in the innovation process, but many of them are totally unaware of this and don’t perceive themselves as innovators.

As one data point to highlight this phenomenon, I was talking to one colleague who recounted to me a recent experience.  He was talking to a group of researchers, engineers, and designers about the continuum of innovation activity and how on the lower end of the innovation complexity curve, there are tasks we perform every day in support of innovation.  When he asked the group how many of them performed such tasks, not one of them raised their hand.  He then went on to explain some of the most common every day innovation tasks such as research to create knowledge needed to solve problems.  Once, he had explained the concept of every day innovation in these terms, everyone raised their hand when asked the same question.

This is important because the outcome of any endeavor is highly influenced by the participants’ perceptions of the purpose, scope, and rules of engagement related to the task.  If you don’t think innovation is what you are doing, you just aren’t likely to try looking for innovative solutions.  On the other hand, once you understand you are part of the overall engine of innovation in your company, you are freed to explore problems in new ways and find higher value solutions.

For managers, it is important to remember that your team may lose sight of this from time to time, so you must remind them of the importance of their contribution to the innovation agenda.

For individual contributors, it is important to be aware of the higher level goals of the enterprise and look at challenges in their whole context and look for solutions that create new value.  Ask yourself some simple questions.  Are you treating the symptom or curing the disease?  What have you done to expand your box today?  How are you adding value to the project, to your customer, to your company?

Yes, I found @dduhamel’s comment interesting.  I think it is because from what I can see, a key reason we don’t see more innovation isn’t that there are too many innovators.  In many cases, it is because not enough of us see innovation as our job.