5 Observations on Being Innovative (at an individual level)

After reading my previous blog post (5 Observations on being Innovative), a reader inquired if I had any thoughts on how an individual innovates. Here is my response.

Since organizations are composed of individuals, the observations in my previous blog post can also be applied at an individual level. Basically, similar to organizations, individuals can also come up with ideas from everyone and everything around them. These ideas can be disruptive or incremental or both. Disruptive ideas can create new industries and/or significantly change existing industries (e.g., iTunes) while incremental ideas can improve upon existing products (e.g., iPhone 4, blackberry, etc.) or services (e.g., banking, consulting, etc.). Generally speaking, ideas for products, services, and  management frameworks can come from various sources such as:

  1. Talking to and sharing ideas with your direct circle of influence (e.g., family, friends, etc.).
  2. Talking to and improving upon your ideas through your extended circle of influence (e.g., co-workers, alumni associations, professional associations, etc.).
  3. Having experience in the areas that you are interested in by:
    • Reading (e.g., books, articles, newspapers, blogs). Sometimes even walking through a library or a bookstore and reading various titles can generate ideas.
    • Talking to people who have experience in that area.
  4. Exploring seemingly unrelated areas to generate ideas by:
    • Reading a diverse genre of books.
    • Talking to and interacting with a diverse group of people.
    • Experiencing different cultures.
    • Observing the plant kingdom.
    • Observing the animal kingdom.
  5. Stitching, applicability, and combination of the above.
Idea Generation Map for Individuals
Idea Generation Map for Individuals

On a personal note, some years ago, I found it very inefficient that I could use only one hand to write or use the computer mouse. This meant that every time I wanted to write something on a physical notebook I had to stop using the computer mouse and then write. So, I trained my other hand to use the mouse and have seen significant personal productivity gains. This idea came to me one day as I remembered an instance where a substitute teacher used both of his hands to write on the blackboard.

5 Observations on Being Innovative (at an organizational level)

A typical organizational analysis entails observing the organization from the strategic, political and cultural lenses encompassing people, processes and technologies. While these lenses are useful in understanding the workings of an organization, they are not sufficient for an organization to be innovative. To be innovative, organizations need to have a constant flow of ideas that are generated, captured and then shared smoothly up/down and horizontally across the organization.  These ideas can potentially turn into products and/or services and thus propel the organization forward and keep them ahead of the competition.

In this blog post, I will focus on how to generate ideas for your organization and introduce a term I coined the Innovation Diversity Lens. The basis of this lens emerges from the fact that given the right environment, diversity of people and ideas can lead to innovation. So how does an organization generate ideas? Well, I am glad you asked.  According to my current view of the world, idea generation happens in the following 5 ways:

  1. By tapping into the innovation capabilities within the organization through internal customers. Typically people who are closest to the work can tell you what is not efficient and how it can be improved. Taking this information from multiple people and the co-dependencies of processes you can have a holistic idea of what can happen.
  2. By becoming a catalyst for innovation for external customers. Think about how new versions of the software are released typically based upon new requirements from the customers.
  3. Keeping abreast of innovation within your industry.
  4. Keeping abreast of innovation outside your industry through cross-pollination of ideas. Think about how concepts of Project Management emerged from construction and are now used in software development.
  5. Integration, customization, and combination of the above.
Idea Generation Map Idea Generation Map