Four skills of innovative companies

Innovative climate! Creativity methods! Excellent people! Agile! Leadership! Crowd innovation! Strategy! These is just some of the good advice found on the Internet on how to make a company more innovative. But there can be a bit more structure to such advice: four skills.

It may be a bit surprising that an organization should have skills. But hey, why should it not? For the sake of this article, lets accept this at least as a thought experiment. What if an organization had skills? What skills would result in it being more innovative? Well here are four skills:

An organization’s four skills to turn an insight into an innovation
  • Nurturing the soil for innovation – Insights are born everywhere and pass into oblivion during brainstorming.
  • Letting ideas gain momentum – A secret wish when seeing a shooting star may be romantic, but if nobody hears it, who can grant it?
  • Maturing ideas into innovations –  The greatest challenge is stating the problem in a way that will allow a solution.
  • Killing and curing ideas – There are two places where there is room for creativity: the creativity that you bring to enumerating meaningfully distinct options and the creativity that you bring to how you make your choices.

The basic stuff for innovation are insights. By various reasons, like hard work, goofing off, lateral thinking and just coincidence people have them. It happens anywhere. Someone created a significant piece of knowledge and – drum roll – had an insight. Something like the answer to the Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. This someone might even realize, that the insight could be significant. People working in a company skilled in nurturing the soil of innovation are able to have insights that are more significant and they do better judge the significance of the insights.

Having insights is great, but being able to act on them is a completely different thing. Many insights cannot be turned into an innovation because they don’t arrive at the right person or the wrong person takes the big mallet and swats it. A skilled company found a way, so that insights become visible to that group of people that can follow up and make it gain momentum in the company. And it found a way to stop their Vogons from blowing up whatever they please just to make room for a new express route that suits their ego. A skilled company provides a place to make the secret wish become public so it can be granted.

Finally, insights can be transformed into innovations. And that is what the stars to road concept is all about. Maturing insights so that the best ones make it into product. A skilled company has people that understand, that the original insight has to go through a complex metamorphosis to become the best innovation ever. And if Einstein really worked 19 days to understand the problem and one day to solve it, then it took that much time to phrase a problem so it allows for a solution. Skilled companies are able to phrase the problem it allows for a solution while less skilled companies talk about solutions.

Sadly, metamorphosis is not enough. There are simply too many great insights around. Most companies do not have difficulty having insights but following upon the best insights is where they have to improve. People don’t like killing ideas and curing an idea is by none easier. But there is no way around this. Many possible innovations have to be stopped somewhere on the way in order to free resources for those options that will really change the market. A skilled company is very creative in finding means to evaluate and select the best innovations – and in ensuring that seeing your idea being killed is a moment of joy.

So if you happen to be in a position to make the company you’re working for more innovative. Here are a few questions to assess which skills the company needs to improve on:

  • How many great insights died the minute they were born, because the person having it did not follow up on it? (Nurturing)
  • Is your company like the one spending millions to lengthen the lifespan of their drilling machines while the average consumer used it to drill seven holes?  (Nurturing)
  • How much time do those with insights use to sell their ideas compared to the time they collect feedback about their idea? (Momentum)
  • Is it easier to get support for a feature once the competition launched the product? (Kill or cure)
  • How long do ideas stay under water like a submarine so that they can mature without anyone noticing it? Do the torpedoes sent by the submarines rather calm the conflicts in the company or do they even heat them up? (Maturing)
  • How many ideas did hardly change from inception until they were on the market? (Maturing)
  • How many of the ideas killed by upper management stay alive and reach the products? How many of these are cash cows now? (Kill or cure)
  • How many of the killed ones are now the cash cows of the competitions? (Kill or cure)
  • Have you prevented a good idea to get on the market in favor of an excellent one? How did you know the favored one was excellent and the other just good? (Kill or cure)

No company is perfect, actually, they’re just average. A somewhat more skilled companies is already gaining in the market. Very skilled companies blow the market up.