We seem to pass over distinctive innovation, why?

I see so many suggestions on the types of innovation, actually I’ve offered a few myself, just go and take a look at http://cirf.pbworks.com for a different slant on this . For me, one ‘type’ of innovation that seems always to be often passed over is distinctive innovation in discussions. Why is that?

Most people work away in the trenches of incremental improvements and these outputs make up the vast substance of innovation activity.  Many working in these trenches of innovation on a daily basis would love to be part of a breakthrough but tend to find this is always ring-fenced for a few others to work upon. All they can often do is gaze over the fence or quietly accept this divide simply goes on.

I believe many who work within innovation simply do not share in this delineation of innovation activity, as it divides talent into separate teams, often pitting scarce innovation resource against each other, often in many unseen ways.  This divide of activities is often a real pity but perhaps another story for another day we can explore.

Disruptive innovation is seen, partly by the way it has its effect on us and our lives. Many of us are always happy to discuss disruptive as long as it does not have an impact on ourselves, on the receiving end. As long as we are the ones doing the disrupting, or just wanting to show off the status as being early adopters or within the early majority of the innovation adoption curve, then we love disruption. Otherwise it is a very uncomfortable space many are not prepared to travel too.

I would suggest most people understand incremental as the first type or basic stage of innovation, especially in larger business organizations. For me large organizations give this incremental area far to much of a focus in their resources and efforts, to the detriment of other options which is partly due to their risk-averse cultures. I really do think though, they miss a trick, by failing often to ramp up to breakthrough or disruptive innovation, by not focusing on building a real capacity to strive for ‘distinctive innovation’ on a more consistent, even sustaining basis.

We should move out of the incremental trap far more and not continue to reinforce it as many do. Lets ‘name and shame’ the incrementalists and get them thinking more about distinctive innovation.

The missing value of distinctive

I think we miss something and it is a great big pity. Distinctive innovation is actually not just the middle ground, the passing through point towards breakthrough or disruptive but it is the inspirational point for all of us to rally around far more than we do. Inspirational is really important, it is a great motivating point if we can all achieve far more in our identity with something distinctive than just incremental. Whatever we work upon in innovation we should seek something distinctive as an outcome. I don’t regard the latest flavored yogurt, improvements to the speed of our computer processor power or a few more pixels on our I-phone as anything more than incremental. This is to keep pushing up the awareness curve to extract longer value from the brand or product. I’m looking at something that makes it stand out, to be distinctive.

A transforming point for all to all gather around

I think there is far more value in talking about this transforming type of innovation that I call distinctive. It is not a complete breakthrough, it is not something that really disrupts an industry but it enables a certain leadership status, a chance to build a reputation for your brand or service. Distinctive innovation gives you the ability to build and lead in either design, in solution resolution, in improving function etc., etc. We forget to talk about this type of innovation as we move from incremental to breakthrough.

I believe there is a clear consensus building point for all working on innovation would want to achieve, that is knowing they are delivering something distinctive. It is the new innovation neighborhood we should all move towards and plan out. Lets find ways to get out of the overcrowded incremental slums.

Most people can’t jump or not even be able or allowed to think about breakthrough, as that is far too often  “left to others” What they can really identify with is working on being more distinctive and less trapped in the basic, incremental mindset. What do you think?  Would you want to be associated with something distinctive, I would.

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My one word for 2012 – ingenuity

Some weeks go better than others; I’m sure we all have found that. This last week has been a good one for me. I think my weeks are getting better the more I read and explore other peoples thinking or find that ‘precious’ time to have a good conversation or two- they simply spark and strengthen my identification with critical points for innovation and its need.

This week I was talking to Jeffrey Phillips in one of our regular exchanges and he was asking me if I took some time out, straight after Christmas, to reflect on the past year and also begin to sketch out some of the thinking for next year. I love mind maps to capture these evaluations but I also like to ‘squirrel’ away lots of insights into a folder (scrapes of paper, articles, insights, references and visuals) that sits on my desk, for one of those moments I need reminding or prompting me to get back on track. That folder can stay unopened for weeks but it is a constant ‘drop box’ for those reminders.

Unrelated connectors often occur for gaining new clarity.

I then had two unrelated prompters to get me thinking. One was an article by Linda Naiman from her blog on “Reflections on Working with Centers of Excellence” (http://bit.ly/ru0Xnw ) talking about arts-based business learning  and the need for more humanity and fewer algorithms to develop emotional intelligence and empathy. Part of Jeffrey and my conversation had been on the value of art to stimulation and where I had argued that it had its place in business of relaxing the brain to absorb more information and knowledge than just business only related aspects. I do feel the business brain has a certain ‘tightness’ and it needs a different stimulus to allow it to relax and let go.  I liked that timely coincidence from Linda just hours after the conversation, a sort of reaffirming of a growing need. Something I must become more conscious of in my own approaches.

The second prompter came from the Atlantic, for me an increasing source of good innovation thinking. The article that caught my eye was from John Kao, Chairman of the Institute for Large Scale Innovation who wrote an article “What does innovation even mean?” http://bit.ly/t8Cuc8

John was suggesting too propose a new lexicon, in hopes of better structuring and focusing discussions of innovation through its constituent parts, and related concepts. His final one struck me with such force; it stopped me in what I was doing to really think about this, he suggested human ingenuity.

Ingenuity is the secret sauce of innovation

He suggests innovation is enabled by human ingenuity. In a sense, he suggests, it is the “secret sauce.”

“While innovation is the journey from the problem statement (A) to a result (Z), ingenuity is the capability of getting from A to Z faster. Ingenuity is often about a surprising process in which the dots are connected in unexpected ways. And ingenuity delivers social value, not just economic gain.”

“Ingenuity” , he offers, is perhaps the most under-represented discussions of innovation, and at the same time, one of the most critical elements for addressing the challenges facing global society today. Many of these, from climate change to economic disparity, are escalating at a staggering pace that requires precisely the acceleration of the innovation process that ingenuity can provide.

Ingenuity is my watchword for 2012, maybe it should be everyones’.

It was after this I realized the force of this word and how it will play such a critical part of how we manage in 2012. We should recognize ingenuity and its importance in the innovation process as it takes you from an idea through to an achievable dream. It is the art of overcoming and winning against, sometimes, impossible odds to really achieve something different.

Those that struggle to overcome in the developing world

Ingenuity, invention, inspiration, improvisation, ingenious all are leading to innovation in the developing world that seem to offer initiatives that create ‘leapfrogging’- that ingenuity against overcoming often intractable problems. You do see ingenuity occurring more and more to resolve obstacles. It is lying within us all to find and use.

The definitions of ingenuity

Wikipedia suggests the term ingenuity refers to the process of applying ideas to solve problems or meet challenges. The process of figuring out how to cross a mountain stream using a fallen log, build an airplane from a sheet of paper, or start a new company in a foreign culture all involve the exercising of ingenuity. Human ingenuity has led to technological developments through applied science, but can also be seen in the development of new social organizations, institutions and relationships. Ingenuity involves the most complex human thought processes, bringing together our thinking and acting both individually and collectively to take advantage of opportunities or to overcome problems.

Ingenuity is often inherent in creative individuals, and thus is considered hard to separate from individual capital, more of personal quality. I think it actually can be developed, encouraged and worked upon in collective environments, it is not just individual.

Ingenuity is that pioneering spirit– to find those ways to overcome natural obstacles for tomorrow’s solutions that will add new vitality, new prospects, and new horizons. Ingenuity sits alongside innovation; they are blood related, both essential for evolution and both in-built in us as a species waiting to be released so we can be able to push the limits of possibility.

The ingenuity within art and creativity

Creativity and ingenuity—creativity is also a personal quality and a collective one, creativity is also inherent to ingenuity, there is ingenuity in music (the jam), in painting, in design.

It is often explained to achieve certain mastery for instance in improvisation you do, paradoxically, require intensive detailed preparation and equally innovation needs to be a sustaining process. It is the constant practice, the search; the experimentation is the result of many hours of preparation and reinvention, learning and adjusting.

We must find creative ways to transcend and overcome barriers and as Linda Neiman writes “arts play vital roles in helping us find our authentic voice, and remembering who we are as human beings”. Ingenuity flows from this ‘well’ if we allow ourselves time to tackle those seemingly intractable problems that are around us today.

So a word for all of us to carry into 2012 with a real mission – ingenuity.

We need solutions………through ingenuity……..in response to market needs and many problems we are facing around the world as we enter 2012. It just struck me as this is the word that should govern my approach to my advisory business next year. Ingenuity everywhere needs to emerge.