Exceeding Expectations in Innovation

Innovation by its very nature takes conventional wisdom and related expectations and exceeds them. Often blowing past them in new and unexpected ways. As leaders of innovation we must be able to inspire others to do more than they believe is possible. We must be able to convince them of the truth of the Edison adage, “If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.”

In the video below, from the movie Invictus, Nelson Mandela is working with the captain of the South African rugby team to inspire them to not only win a World Cup, but also to help unite a nation. Here they are working to accomplish that which others say cannot be done. If you listen to the message and learn the principle you may be able to inspire others to exceed expectations and be successful at innovation.

This blog was originally posted December 16, 2016

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Deductive Innovation

Discussions on invention can cause one to think about scientists in lab coats working in rooms with test tubes until finally, BOOM!, one explodes and the inventor comes out and says, “I have made my great discovery.” (When I was a kid I loved the movie, The Absent-Minded Professor, the original old black and white film about Flubber.)

Edison saw some of the processes of inventing in a similar way. He said that some of his insights would come “with a burst,” and then the work would begin. Next you would need to fix the “bugs”. Then with additional study and work, you may get to the point where it is a commercial success.

But when describing his experience with inventing the light bulb he describes the process a little differently. As you will remember, in order to get the light to work he tried thousands of approaches that did not get the desired results. Or as he put it, “Results? Why, man, I’ve gotten lots of results! If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward…”

Here he does not talk about a burst of insight, but rather a more meticulous process. First you try one approach, when that does not work you try another, and then another and then another. Eventually he tried thousands of approaches until he found just the right one.

Edison describes this process in the following way, “The electric light has caused me the greatest amount of study and has required the most elaborate experiments…Through all of the years of experimenting with it, I never once made an associated discovery. It was deductive… The results I achieved were the consequence of invention–pure and simple. I would construct and work along various lines until I found them untenable. When one theory was discarded, I developed another at once. I realized very early that this was the only possible way for me to work out all the problems.”

This Blog was originally posted January 18, 2011.

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Why is there a Star Wars character in my Shower?

Star Wars in my ShowerRecently while I was taking a shower, I turned around and there was Kylo Ren from Star Wars: The Force Awakens standing there in my shower. He was had his light saber drawn and looked ready to fight. Fortunately for me, it was not actually him, but rather a picture of him on a new bottle of shampoo. I looked down and thought, I need to try this, will it clean by hair better than other shampoos? Will it give me the force? Will it help me complete my training and become a Jedi Knight? To my disappointment, when I was done it only provided me with clean hair. No special force powers or other enhanced abilities.

When we have discussion with people about innovation, marketing often comes up. Many people see the process of marketing as creative, but not necessarily innovative. But often getting people to use a new or innovative product is as important as the product itself. So even if marketing is not innovative it is part of the innovative process.

George Lucas understood this intellectually or intuitively. When he made the original Star Wars he retained the rights to merchandising and the soundtrack. At the time movie merchandise and soundtracks were more of a promotion tool, and the studios hoped to break even rather than another source of revenue. Lucas was more innovative in his approach and was able to make millions, and then billions by using the movie to promote the merchandise and the merchandise to promote the movie. Both areas became highly profitable.

So, was putting a popular movie character on a bottle of shampoo innovative? Is this even the correct question? Is the more important question, does putting a popular movie character on a bottle of shampoo increase sales? As I thought about these things, I came to a different conclusion. I looked at the process from the my point of view, the consumer. We purchased this product to encourage a seven-year-old boy to actually use shampoo instead of just standing in the shower for a while and then yell, “I’M DONE.” Nobody wants to go through the discussion with a wet child on whether or not they really used soap. The next thing you know you are smelling wet hair, and then sending them back in to finish the job. If any product or package can help with this, even if it is not necessarily innovative, it is definitely appreciated. So, when you work with a product or process, spend some time thinking about the marketing and packaging. This may be what you need to have to get others to use your innovation.

This blog was originally posted February 17, 2017

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Relaxing to Innovate

Relax for Innovation.Some times of our lives are busier than others. Last week was a very busy week. Fortunately, every week is not like that one. Multiple projects with multiple clients in multiple locations, with multiple deadlines all competing for time as well as physical and mental energy. Add into that other personal and family obligations and the week was filled with long days and very short nights. When Saturday finally came, I ended up working from early in the morning to mid-afternoon. When I finally made it home I took a quick power nap and then had some down time with dinner and the family. As I felt my mind relax and lose focus, I relaxed and realized that I had made a mistake this week. I had allowed work to get in the way of being able to be creative.

It is so easy to fall into this trap. Most of our days are filled with tasks of various importance, leading to deadlines. There is pressure to get to the work that has to get done, but we lose benefits by not allowing ourselves to have downtime and creative time. Often this is self-defeating. We lose the ability to be creative and do our jobs better, because we are too busy doing our jobs.

Here are several ideas that may help you to keep up your creativity and doing things that are more innovative:

  1. Schedule Down Time – Yes, put it on the calendar if you need to. You can even call it meeting with client or research.
  2. Get up from your Desk and go for a Walk – It is important to clear your head every once in a while. Once it is clear, a new idea or approach may be able to come in.
  3. Find time to take a Power Nap – While not something we may be able to do every day, it can be a good boost when necessary. I worked with someone who every once in a while would disappear. He confided in me later that he would go out to his car turn off his phone and take a quick nap. It helped to give him the energy and clarity to get through the rest of the day.
  4. Engage in a Creative Activity – Read, write, draw, listen to or play music, take time to dream and get your creative juices flowing.

These are four things that can work for me, but you need to find what works for you. What can you do to relax? What can you do to spark your own creativity? Answer these questions for yourself and then apply what you learn. It may be that what you need to do is relax.

This Blog was originally posted March 3, 2017

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Perfection is the Enemy of Good Enough

This past Christmas our kids each received a Nerf dart gun as a gift. I will admit that I was not in favor of them, but I was wrong. As parents, we quickly discovered that we had made a mistake, not in getting the product for our children, but not having them for ourselves. We quickly rectified that and during the holiday spontaneous Nerf wars would start at any time. Along with running came laughing and a fun time for everyone–from the student home from university to the kid in elementary school.

After the holiday was over I thought a little about that fun gift and realized something very remarkable. These toy guns are increNerf Gunsdibly inaccurate. In addition, this inaccuracy can be compounded by soft darts that get reused and bent and do not go straight anyway. But, here is the most interesting part, nobody cared that they did not always hit the target. That was even part of the fun when you thought you had an easy shot, but you missed.

The lesson here may be the difference between success and failure. You may have heard the old Italian saying “Perfection is the enemy of good enough.” If the makers of this toy had been sticklers for having the darts hit the target, they may have never have gotten this product to market. Apparently, they realized they did not have to even be that close too perfect in one area, accuracy. But, there are other areas they did have to be close to perfection. For example, safety. This is a child’s toy that shoots soft darts. It had to be safe and not hurt other children, the focus had to be on that area.

Many ideas get stuck in development as people work to get them to perfection. Some things need to be nearly perfect. Safety and some levels of performance may need to be close to perfection. But you have to ask are the extra years in development worth the improvement. Sometimes the answer is simply NO.

Edison and others are sometimes accused of stealing ideas. Often what is really happening is a race to get a product to market. Edison or other competitors are willing to take the product to market when it is good enough, not perfect. Those who wait for perfection may end up getting beat by others working on the same idea.

So, look at your innovation and decide. How close to perfection does it need to be? Vince Lombardi once said, “Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” You may find success when you realize that your efforts to catch excellence have been good enough.

This Blog was originally posted January 27, 2017.

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