Advancing innovation by understanding the idea process
By Robin Rowe
STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN (Venture Hollywood) 2019/5/16 – I’m in Stockholm drafting a standard for innovation processes. My working group is Ideation or Idea Management. That is, generating and capturing ideas during innovation. As I head to the meeting, I consider innovation processes that have succeeded in the past.
Types of Idea Generation Processes in History
Eureka! Archimedes sits down in the bath, discovers mass
Apple conk on head: Newton sits under apple tree, discovers force
Exhaustive experimentation: Edison finds 2,000 ways to not make a light bulb
Remove troublesome component: Tesla removes commutator from DC motor, invents AC power
Failed experiment: Pasteur finds mold in a dish, discovers penicillin
Rejected consensus: Wright brothers reject erroneous wind tunnel data that everyone is using, build their own wind tunnel and use data to build successful aircraft
The known combined: Pencil eraser by Lipman ruled by Supreme Court not an invention
Automation: Ford creates assembly line, innovation is the supply line instead of the product itself
Thought experiment: Einstein imagines riding on a photon, discovers relativity, also rejects dogma of the existence of “the ether”
Aspiration: Musk aims high, spends a lot of money to hire smart people to build SpaceX, Tesla, TBC, Solar City
We have four days of meetings to define what Idea Management is.
Introduction already drafted, we’re starting with an 80-page document, a rough draft contributed by many people. I point out that the introduction seems written for Fortune 500 and profit-motivated organizations. We reword to be embracing for NGO, NPO and government agencies, which may innovate without profit as a motive. The word “opportunity” is struck from the introduction because we can’t get the phrasing to not imply money, but leave open that it may be brought back later.
I suggest the phrase, “Innovation is fundamental to civilization.” After some debate, it becomes the opening line in the introduction. The debate is whether this sounds too aspirational, that it could frighten innovation practitioners. I say we should be aspirational. It carries on a majority.
Scope is already defined. However, the scope in the rough draft has issues. To be continued another day.
In the morning we have a co-session with another working group to address concerns that we might overlap with them in scope. We’re more low level procedures, not an overlap or contradiction of the work. Our mandate in Idea Management is not to create an Innovation Management Process, but to go deeper into ideation.
Break and return to our own session. I point out that our Scope and our ToC (Table of Contents) don’t coincide. More discussion on definition of scope. I object the phrase, “Tools and Methods”, that we don’t seem to make any distinction between the two. A hammer is a tool. How we use a hammer is a method. I lose this debate. I’m told that as a standards body we can’t discuss actual tools used in idea management, may not mention spreadsheets or project management software.
I suggest that we, “Eat our own dog food.” That is, apply the principles we’re defining in the idea management standard to our own process of idea management in this session. I don’t get any takers, perhaps because it is still too nebulous what our process should be.
Scope is settled. We break into groups to address each section of the Scope. Brainstorming sessions with Input, Activity, and Output as the top-level section labels. Concepts are written on Post-Its are tacked underneath. It takes all day to get through each of the sections with brainstorming.
Last day of the Stockholm meeting. Teams have each been given assignments. My team is working on the section related to producing innovation proposals, although it is not named that. We’re putting the concepts from the Post-It notes into a Word document and drafting paragraphs.
As we discuss the efficacy of innovation boards and steering committees, I realize that I’ve often found myself outside such structures. An alternative innovation process, when the system breaks down…
- Intention, decide to innovate no matter what the obstacles, internal or external
- Stealth, innovate without attracting the attention of blockers
- Matrix team, assemble an A-team without authorization because asking permission would result in being shut down or misdirected
- Clarity, what are we actually going to build, achieved through discussions among the A-team
- Rapid prototyping and experimentation, and if asked, it’s a technical evaluation, not really product innovation
- Find a champion by showing a working prototype to someone with the power to protect the A-team, so it can brought to market