Author Archives: Dennis Stauffer

Innovation is different from other business competencies because it’s not about extending our expertise; it’s about repeatedly revising our expertise, at times rethinking our most fundamental assumptions and beliefs about our business. We need to recognize that when we encounter new information and observations, we must constantly check to be sure that when we see a cat we don’t assume that it’s just another doggie. Continue reading

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Pitching an Innovative Idea

One of the principal challenges any innovator faces is persuading others of the value of an idea. It is a frequent source of frustration and angst, and an absolutely essential innovation skill. Without the ability to sell our ideas, we are unlikely to get any assistance from colleagues, permission from the boss or fellow decision makers, or any financial support. Perhaps most crucially, if we can’t persuade someone of the value of our idea, we are unlikely to have any customers or other adopters…hence no revenue or other value-creation. In my last post The Trouble With Facts in Innovation I discussed the problem of using what we already know, to advocate for new ideas. Facts are about where we’ve been, not where we’re going. Innovation is inherently forward looking. It’s about imagining and creating things that do not yet exist, and therefore things that may not have (and arguably cannot … Continue reading

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The Trouble With Facts in Innovation

“There are no facts about the future.” I don’t know who first said that, but I keep coming across it lately and I agree. It’s not possible to draw factual conclusions about things that haven’t happened yet (although that doesn’t stop us from trying)…which raises an interesting question: How useful are facts in evaluating innovative ideas? Facts are important. It’s no wonder that we prize having them…in science, in the courts, in education and in business. Facts, when they’re favorable, can be comforting. They give us a sense of security and control. They confirm our expectations and reinforce our beliefs. Facts are definitive. We can say that an assertion of fact is true or false, right or wrong, correct or incorrect. Facts have the power to give us answers, remove uncertainty, settle arguments and confirm our knowledge and expertise. They inform decisions and guide our actions. Without facts, the kind … Continue reading

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Always On Innovation

Why do we tend to compartmentalize our creativity? Where did we get the notion that it’s something we only need on a part-time basis? Maybe it started in art class, when we put away our books and pencils (the serious stuff) and took a “break” to play with crayons or watercolors. Or was it the handicrafts part of summer camp, when we learned how to make a lanyard or basket, before we went to the pool to learn to swim? We treated our creativity as just one of many subjects or activities. It’s an attitude that permeates business, where some people and departments are seen as needing to be creative, like marketing and new product development, while others not so much, like book keeping and operations. Creativity is too often seen as somehow separated from the “real” work of the organization. We hold brainstorming sessions, being careful to set aside … Continue reading

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Innovation is About Making Predictions

One of the most critical skills an innovator needs is the ability to predict, to have good hunches, good intuitions, to have a sense of what will work and what won’t, or at least what’s worth trying and what’s not. We tend to focus on having good ideas, assuming that idea generation is the critical input, but having good ideas is not all that helpful unless we can distinguish the good ideas from the not so good ones once we have them. Selecting ideas for implementation is an inherently predictive exercise. We’re trying to foresee what will happen as a result of pursuing one idea as opposed to another. Similarly, organizations have long realized that to improve their capacity to innovate they need to become good at identifying the most promising possibilities. They must distinguish them from the less promising…as early in the innovation as process as possible. That way … Continue reading

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Two Ways to Think About Innovation

Broadly speaking, there are two ways to talk about innovation inside organizations. One way is to talk about the systems and processes that are in place to manage innovation. These include things like new product pipelines, stage gate reviews, idea management programs, online portals for open innovation and so forth. It may include elaborate research & development programs and cross-discipline innovation teams. It’s whatever innovation “infrastructure” an organization may have or create. The other way is to talk about the personal and interpersonal behaviors, and ways of thinking that people in the organization engage in. How innovation friendly is the company’s culture? How welcome are new ideas and fresh perspectives? How open are folks to change? How willing are they to take calculated risks? I doubt that anyone would disagree with me when I say that these are both important aspects of the innovation picture. Yet I think there’s great … Continue reading

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Innovative Thinking and Defensive Driving

Whenever I talk about the importance of innovative thinking, I can count on someone arguing that while we should be creative and explore new ideas, that needs to be balanced with what we already know how to do. We should follow established business processes I’m told and then shift to innovative thinking as needed, when we encounter a problem or when current practices no longer work. They want me to tell them when they should make that shift. I tell them: How about right now? Problems and breakdowns are certainly appropriate times to become innovative, but they can also be a little late, and the way we drive (or should drive) is a good analogy. Few environments are any more rule-bound than a modern highway or intersection. Drivers are expected to stay in their lane, signal turns, observe the speed limit, stop at red lights and so forth. Those rules … Continue reading

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