Author Archives: Jeffrey Phillips

Innovation is Solving Problems Without Constraints

As a person who started out as an engineer, I know that most engineers like to solve problems that are useful to society. Often this means that there are tradeoffs and constraints associated with any problem. Cars that get higher gas mileage may need to be lighter, but lighter cars don’t survive crashes as well as heavy cars. So when we are presented a problem to solve or an opportunity to address, we often start out by trying to define the constraints.These constraints could be based on technology issues, but are often based on other factors, like legal or regulatory issues, pricing or cost issues, distribution or transportation issues and so forth. When we as innovators agree to work within a set of bounds or constraints to solve problems, we are like the kids in kindergarten who are encouraged to “color within the lines” – that is, we accept the … Continue reading

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Innovation Training Reinforcement

We deliver innovation training for our clients. Surprisingly, it’s a service we are frequently asked to deliver, and a service we get great feedback on. You might think then that we are aggressively selling this service to our existing customers and to our prospects. If so, you might want to keep reading to understand when we think innovation training works well, and when it is just an exercise to demonstrate innovation activity.First, let’s consider training delivered in any organization. Most people have some awareness of the tools and methods they use to do their jobs, and some welcome the chance to brush up on those skills or learn new skills. Unfortunately, training budgets are often the first items cut when times are tough, and there’s clearly been fewer training dollars budgeted in the last two years due to the slowdown in the economy. Most training, therefore, had to deliver real … Continue reading

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Why

As a person who works with a number of firms attempting to improve innovation capabilities, I am constantly astonished by the disconnect between what senior executives say they want and what actually gets done in most businesses, at least within the context of innovation. As they say in government, the President proposes and Congress disposes. Most executives I interact with say they want innovation, but the force of their desire and the clarity of their vision doesn’t translate down to the people who will actually do the work. I think there are at least three reasons for this.First, most senior executives aren’t innovators themselves. Most senior executives grew through the organization and moved up by being effective stewards of the company’s funds, resource and culture. Most of them were respectful of the history of the company and the brands. They progressed by doing things well, and doing things efficiently. Few … Continue reading

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Finding Time to Innovate

I’ve been in many corporate meetings that left me wondering where I could apply to get back the two hours I had just spent that were completely unproductive, so I am completely convinced that it is possible to lose time, or use it ineffectively in any organization. But what’s puzzling to me is the argument that I hear from many people that they need to “find” time to innovate, as if there are spare pockets of hours or days in hidden corners in their office, simply waiting to be discovered. Finding time to innovate is nonsensical, at several levels. First, if an initiative is important to you or your management team, then those activities make it onto your calendar. Second, if you are good at what you do, or are in demand from others, then they will place demands on your calendar to participate in their work or activities. Third, … Continue reading

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The Art and Science of Innovation

I’m a bit troubled by the fact that many people in corporate America seem to believe that innovation is a mystical art, rather than a set of skills and capabilities that many people can learn and implement. I suppose around every complex problem solving process there seems to be a bit of magic, but at the core of all magic there’s a simple set of rules. It may take an Einstein to figure out the rules to relativity, but they are knowable, demonstrable and proveable. So, too, are the processes, capabilities and skills behind innovation.Another barrier to broader innovation deployment is the sense that innovation is an art – an intrinsic skill that you are either “born with” or not. I, for one, am terrible at drawing. I simply didn’t receive an innate ability to depict people or landscapes from my parents. I believe, though, if I tried to, I … Continue reading

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The Importance of Innovation Skills and Best Practices

There’s a difference between knowing “about” innovation and having experience doing innovation. Just as I don’t compare myself to Lance Armstrong although we both ride bikes, there are skills and knowledge that are manifest in people who lead effective innovation programs that may not always be manifest in your organization. These skills can be learned through training and through careful exercise within your organization, but it is dangerous to presume that people who have an interest in innovation possess the skills and best practices to carry out innovation efforts. This was brought home to me in a meeting I attended recently.I was at a meeting with a number of other people interested in innovation, and we were asked to brainstorm to help solve a particular problem. A person who is an “innovation” leader in his company was asked to facilitate the brainstorming session. An executive from the firm who was … Continue reading

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Selling Innovation to Your Boss

I’ve argued before that most firms innovate when faced one of two conditions: fear or greed. The fear factor indicates the firm has explored all other options, and now only the most “radical” option – innovation – remains. To paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, “when you’ve eliminated the possible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the answer”. And, like Gordon Gecko from Wall Street, I believe many firms innovate when they believe they’ve spotted an emerging opportunity or new market. In this case, greed is good.But if all innovation were based on these two drivers, then little innovation would get done. Clearly many firms latch onto innovation as a life preserver, a last ditch effort rather than a strategic focus, but there’s more innovation underway than could be accounted for by desperation. And I’m relatively certain that while some firms are good at spotting innovation opportunities and moving aggressively to … Continue reading

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