Author Archives: Dennis Stauffer

Innovator Mindset - Best Problem Solvers Win

I’d like to make the case that life is fundamentally about figuring things out. We enter the world possessing a quite remarkable biomechanical device with powerful software already installed. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) there’s no owner’s manual, not even a schematic or the most minimal specs (which we couldn’t make sense of if we had them). So from the moment of birth, our first challenge is to figure out how to use this elegant machine, how to make it walk and talk, how to gain nourishment, how to discover its capabilities and limitations, and then how to use it to learn about our environment and fulfill our desires. Just how powerful this device is, and how arduous the challenge can be, is vividly illustrated by those who have some handicap, a Christopher Reeves, a Gabrielle Giffords, or a child with a learning disability. Figuring out can be extremely challenging. We … Continue reading

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Innovation Requires the Courage to be Wrong

To update C.K. Chesterton: Conservatives think Liberals are too prone to make mistakes, while Liberals think Conservatives are unwilling to ever correct their mistakes. No, I don’t want to engage in any political debate, but I do think that same divide that is so prevalent in politics also comes up when the subject is innovation. When is it appropriate to abandon what we already know and believe (with all the risks that entails), and when is it appropriate to hold onto life’s reassuring certainties (with all the risks that entails)? In any successful business there are many things that are going well, reliable business processes, proven products, predictable customer needs. So it’s certainly understandable that there would be resistance to changing them. In many organizations, making that shift tends to wait until something is no longer working. Yet isn’t it better to anticipate the need for change and prepare for … Continue reading

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Innovation and the Business Ecosystem

Innovation is driving change in the business ecosystem and the dynamics of this change are remarkably similar to those found in nature. Several years ago biologists studied the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park and its impact on plant growth. This may seem like an odd connection to explore since wolves don’t eat plants. However the elk that wolves prey on do. What researchers found was a significant ‘fear factor’ impact. Wherever visibility was low or escape difficult due to topography or other obstacles, plants like fast growing cottonwoods were significantly taller. This is apparently because elk – now fearing the wolves – browse less at those locations. In wide open spaces with good visibility, there was no significant difference in plant size. It’s a great illustration of how a single change (wolf reintroduction) had significant indirect effects that have literally changed the look of the whole landscape. Similar … Continue reading

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Mindset Comes Before Innovation

In a previous post here – Innovation is Not Problem Solving, I chose a title I knew was provocative, and one I labored over. I debated with myself over whether to perhaps make it: Innovation is Not Necessarily Problem Solving, or …is Not Always Problem Solving, or …is More Than Problem Solving. I chose the blunter version partly to see if it would prompt any response and it certainly did. Since being added to the Innovation Excellence Group on LinkedIn, it has sparked a lively discussion, one that prompted some additional thoughts I think are worth sharing. I’m convinced there really is a qualitative difference between innovation and problem solving…and there are compelling reasons why this is more than a matter of semantics. It matters because a problem solving mindset is different from what I call an innovator mindset. And the mindset we hold to a great degree determines how … Continue reading

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The Bluebird of Unhappiness - and Un-Innovation

Inspiration appears in odd places sometimes. As the spring nesting season gets underway, I’ve been wondering if I will see the return of one very determined little companion. Last year at this time, I had a daddy bluebird perched outside my office. Bluebirds can be extremely territorial and this one was determined to guard his brood from any intruders—especially other bluebirds and in particular the bluebird he saw reflected in my window. He spent a beautiful spring day chasing away that unwelcome visitor, each time crashing into the glass, fluttering to the ground, flying back to his nearby perch and repeating. This went on every minute or two all day! Swoop! Thud! Swoop! Thud! His spouse even joined in for awhile, apparently determined to show him how to do it, as she repeated the same pointless (and surely painful) exercise. As a participant in a recent panel discussion on innovation, … Continue reading

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Innovation is Not Problem Solving

The most effective innovators don’t wait for problems to arise. They fix what isn’t broken and seek to improve on things that have no apparent deficit. When I speak about the behaviors and choices that drive innovation, I mention things like preferring imagination to knowledge, choosing to explore rather than apply. I often get pushback from those who argue that we should do what we already know how to do, then shift to other strategies only when that fails to work for us. It sounds so practical and business like, and it’s how most of us operate. I agree that it’s good business to have such processes to follow, but it’s only the most minimal incremental form of innovation. Years ago, I was Communications Director for a state agency with a wide ranging mission. In that role, I proposed that we create an online system to enhance internal coordination and … Continue reading

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Innovation Essentials - Unlearning

It goes without saying that to successfully innovate, we need to be willing to learn new things. What doesn’t get said as often is that we also need to be willing to unlearn old things—and that’s often the more important task. One of the central challenges innovators manage to overcome is the tendency to cling to past assumptions and beliefs and orthodoxies. Being willing and able to escape that mental inertia is one of the things that most distinguishes innovators. They’re skilled unlearners. This means two things. Being willing to change our assumptions and beliefs about how to do things. For example what we believe is the best way to market music. Recording artists have had to unlearn some assumptions about the necessity of retail sales of CDs, in order to embrace a different business model of online digital downloads Being willing to rethink how we use our own heads. … Continue reading

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