Saturday, December 19, 2015

Recipe for Innovation Stew

Image courtesy of wikimedia commons
Every culture in the world has a stew.  It is humanity’s original recipe and still one of the most efficient ways to cook food.   In wilderness survival training, you’re taught to make a bowl by leaving hot ash on a piece of wood.  Then you place water and ingredients in the bowl along with a hot rock from the fire.  No calories are lost as everything stays in the broth.

For innovative thinking, there are many methods that you can use.  But the most basic is a stew made of these three steps:
  • Gather ingredients
  • Combine ingredients
  • Heat

This is probably the most important and time consuming step.  Learn as much as you can about the topic at hand.  Do this in as many ways as possible.  The more difficult it is to gain this knowledge, th more likely it will be to spawn something truly innovative.  Want to create an innovation in the garden gnome industry?  Sure, you should start with a Google search, but the real juicy nuggets are going to be through finding the people who sell garden gnomes, the people who produce them, and the people who collect them.  Be a knowledge sponge.  An go as wide as possible.  Anything remotely related to your target is fair game.  Doing this as a team is even better.  More people researching means more perspectives gathered.  Happy hunting!

This is the step most associated with innovation: the infamous brainstorm.  After gathering all the research, you need to combine it in one physical place and (if done as a team) bring everyone together.  We'll talk more about brainstorms later, but they key aspects are:  
  • the right preparation (make sure the gathered ingredients are accessible)
  • the right people (around 6 max)
  • the right scope (you need to define the problem you're trying to solve)
  • the right space (you need a standup space conducive to discussion, not presentation)

Step 3: HEAT
People often stop there, but for true magic to happen, you need a catalyst.  Heat turns water and bone into a delicious broth.  Now that you have the right people with the right knowledge, you need something to get the reaction going.   We'll talk a lot about these methods in the future.  They include:
  • "What if?" prompts
  • Trends extrapolation
  • Insight and quote sharing
  • Scenario based discovery
  • Combining, filtering, and separating
  • and many more!

Directed innovation is when, over a short period of time (weeks), a team goes through a process to solve a specific problem.  Undirected innovation is when a team works to spark innovative concepts over a broad arena over a long period of time.  I like to use innovation stew as a general recipe for undirected innovation with teams and individuals.     

Specifically, to create an innovative team, you want to make sure individuals are dedicated to learning a broad and diverse set of knowledge (GATHER).  Then you need to provide opportunities for the individuals to collide and combine their knowledge in informal as well as formal settings (COMBINE).  Finally, you catalyze innovation by building some of the methods mentioned above into the culture of the team (HEAT).  Done well, you end up with a tremendously powerful innovation engine that spawns new ideas preemptively.   Feed your ability to innovate with this hearty stew!