Innovation: Inside the Brain

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Breakthrough, disruptive innovations do not happen every day and in general are not the daily focus of innovation at your company.

In his book “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen coined the phrase disruptive technology to describe an innovation that displaces an established technology. He acknowledges that most innovation in organizations is “sustaining” as opposed to “disruptive.”

Sustaining innovations should be the daily focus of all employees meaning individuals should come to work every morning seeking to reinvent, recreate, or renew present products and services. With this mindset, subtle enhancements are regularly made that please internal and external customers. Result? The customer continues to purchase. This the most viable way for companies to remain competitive in the global marketplace.

To enable individuals to innovate by making incremental improvements requires a stimulating company environment that rewards learning and permits mistakes while punishing inaction.

During this learning and mistake phase of innovation – the process to get to a new place, the individual follows a three step process: Observing, analyzing and communicating.

Let’s pretend you are an individual in XYZ Corporation who wants to contribute in innovative ways so your company can be on the cutting edge and continue to employ you. You will use the three steps identified above as described below:

  1. Observation and perception. I recommend you sharpen up your curiosity. Be genuinely curious about how things work, especially outside of your expertise and your immediate world. Take in as much information as possible. You need a variety of creative experiences so in the analysis stage you can literally connect the dots from things you know to new and different applications.  Join with your team in having stimulating discussions and thought-provoking experiences from webinars to attending association meetings and conferences. Be the person who makes presentations in staff meetings that energize the observation and perception process.
  2. Analyze and synthesize. When it comes to analysis, it helps to be a ‘Renaissance Man’ or a person who has many areas of expertise and feels limitless in your capacity to develop workable ideas. Once your brain is filled with content and a myriad of ideas, it can go to work exploring the ideas and analyzing the best or most feasible option. It can decide the best route. In this step, don’t be lazy: you cannot find a new solution by using old methods of solving problems. You want your brain to create new solutions to the new problems that constantly confront you. Analyzing the inputs and synthesizing the options into the most innovative pathway forward is the task of the brain in this step.
  3. Communicate. Your creative brain has generated a marvelous solution to an irritating company problem. All of your brain work is invalid and annulled if you cannot express your ideas and sell your solution to others. To be a great communicator and avoid miscommunication problems learn to be precise in your vocabulary by finding a friend and practicing verbalizing your idea until your words paint a visual picture. An alternate way to sell your ideas is to develop the ability to sketch so you can quickly draw your concepts on a white board, a piece of paper or even a napkin. As you articulate your ideas in visual ways, you are avoiding miscommunication. You are giving a test drive to your ideas. When people start to talk about your ideas, you have a winner, ready for the Indianapolis 500.

There is actually a 4th step: Be persistent. The reference above to the Indianapolis 500 was an intentional one. It may take you 500 laps to see the implementation of your great idea in the company’s products and services. By being persistent, however, you will be known as an innovator in your company. Who knows, your idea may be a disruptive one!

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