Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Crummy innovation

What is innovation that doesn't happen? "Crummy innovation," according to Roger Martin (at right in the photo), Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

Roger said this last evening during an on-stage conversation with Cheskin's Darrel Rhea (at left in the photo, sitting to Roger's right) hosted by the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. Darrel had just said that the greatest innovations he had worked on during his career were never implemented, because the organizations that needed to implement them were too resistant to change. However, according to Roger, great innovations happen, because if they don't, you will never know whether they would have been great. "No new idea can be proven in advance," argued Roger. "Only the passage of time will prove whether an idea -- an innovation -- is great."

Hence, Roger argues that companies need to ban the use of two words when it comes to innovation: "prove it." If you can prove something in advance, it is not an innovation.

Additionally, Roger argues that a critical part of the innovation process that is often overlooked is the decision making process that determines whether an innovation will be implemented. It, too, must be designed.

Both pose great challenges.

In our most recent issue -- the November+December 2008 issue -- of interactions magazine, Nathan Shedroff (one of Darrel's co-authors of the book, Making Meaning: How Successful Businesses Deliver Meaningful Customer Experiences) describes several reasons why most organizations cannot innovate effectively (see "Design: A Better Path to Innovation"). Roger Martin has addressed this, also. For example, in my blog entry, "Preconceived notions," I wrote about Roger's presentation at the CONNECTING 07 World Design Congress:
"Roger Martin, whom I referenced extensively in 'Designing in hostile territory,' explained how the common notion that risk needs to be minimized for a business to be successful is a hindrance to innovation and development of competitive advantage."
Last evening, Roger touched on the importance of applying "design thinking" -- involving the use of abductive logic -- to the business decision making process, which is typically analytical involving the application of only deductive and inductive logic. And according to Roger, helping designers and MBAs understand the differences in the logic they have been taught to apply, and the value and role of all three, can increase the chances that innovation will not end up being "crummy."

There is much more that can be done, as I've described in past blog entries and addressed in courses, presentations, and consulting gigs. What needs to be done where you work so that your innovations don't end up being "crummy"? Do you need some help figuring this out?

And how should you approach the innovation process to increase the chances that it is not best for an innovation to end up being "crummy"? (The title of Nathan's article should suggest a good answer.)


Innovation receives a lot of attention in the November+December 2008 issue of interactions magazine. Nathan's excellent article appears in a section entitled, "Reflections on Innovation," which includes Steve Portigal's "Some Different Approaches to Making Stuff," Elizabeth Churchill's "Of Candied Herbs and Happy Babies: Seeking and Searching on Your Own Terms," Bill Tomlinson's "A Call for Pro-Environmental Conspicuous Consumption in the Online World," and Richard Pew's "An Exciting Interface Foray into Early Digital Music: The Kurzweil 250." Other articles also address innovation, particularly, and not surprisingly, those in a section entitled, "Emerging Approaches to Research and Design Practice." For example, Sus Lundgren describes tools via which to design innovative games in "Designing Games: Why and How," and Liz Sanders' "An Evolving Map of Design Practice and Design Research" makes reference to the most recent additions to that map.

We've addressed innovation in each of our previous issues of interactions magazine (the preceding 5 issues of 2008), and we'll no doubt do so in each upcoming issue. Indeed, look for an article from Roger Martin in an upcoming issue.

Some of the blog entries in which I address innovation can be accessed here.