On Systematic Innovation

Remaining Competitive

Surfer - DreamstimeTo beg the obvious, an organization that seeks to be Sustainable — that is, to thrive in perpetuity [1] — must remain competitive with all challengers for the business that organization intends to enjoy. In a rapidly changing, technology driven global economy, to “remain competitive with all challengers” is a daunting task. The image of a surfer on the curl of a great wave comes to mind.

In today’s business environment, to remain competitive increasingly requires an organization to establish and maintain a culture of systematic innovation. Innovation needs to be practiced broadly, to include: innovative products, innovative value propositions, innovative production methods, innovative business models, innovative business relationships and more. All this while still getting today’s orders produced, shipped and invoiced.

Most of us regard innovation as an occasional happening — the bright idea that comes along now and again. A culture of systematic innovation is another matter. It is a continuing process where the culture of the organization routinely produces and incorporates innovative ideas. How does that happen? Scott Anthony’s Little Black Book of Innovation [2] offers a place to start.

Scott Anthony learned business innovation, in its academic context, at Harvard Business School. One of Scott’s contributions to the field springs from his experience as a journalist. He can reduce an academic specialty to its practical essence and present that essence in a form that is immediately useful. The Little Black Book consists of two parts. The first part provides a foundation. The second part offers a four week short course in how to innovate. Each of the four weeks addresses a phase of the innovation process:

“Week 1: Discovering Opportunities”

“Week 2: Blueprinting Ideas”

“Week 3: Assessing and Testing Ideas”

“Week 4: Moving Forward”

Each one week phase is delivered as seven succinct daily lessons.

Day 9

As an example, take Scott’s lesson for Day 9, which covers eight pages on my Kindle:

“Central Question: Where should I look for inspiration?”

“One-Sentence Answer: Rapidly explore as many avenues as possible when searching for new ideas.”

The balance of the entry for Day 9 consists of a diverse collection of thoughts and suggestions on where and how to search for ideas. Scott concludes Day 9 with “Cast as wide a net as possible to get inspiration that translates into tangible innovation ideas.”

Fast, simple and useful. When taken with the other twenty-seven daily lessons, a basic systematic approach to fostering innovation emerges. Of course, there is much more needed to grow a basic systematic approach into a culture of systematic innovation. First things first: bring Scott’s basic systematic approach to innovation into your organization. Then learn to incorporate that approach into your organizational culture.

Chuck - SedonaThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated. Click on the title of this post to open the comments section.

…  Chuck Harrington

: This blog provides one source for Day 9 innovative ideas.
For example:

“If a problem cannot be solved, enlarge it.” — D. D. Eisenhower

If the problem concerns your company’s competitiveness, now and future, you might take Ike’s advice to heart. To “enlarge it”, of course, doesn’t mean to make the problem worse. Rather, it means to increase the field of vision, the context, in which you view the problem. Enlargement in this way presents new points of view and suggests new approaches to the problem, within which a favorable solution may become apparent.

Photo: © Chris Van Lenning | dreamstime.com

[1] Werbach, Adam, Strategy for Sustainability, Harvard Business Press, Boston (2009) Page 9


[2] Anthony, Scott, Little Black Book of Innovation, Harvard Business School Press, Boston (2012)