Innovations
May 7, 2012

Tools to innovate

The Innovator’s Toolkit
David Silverstein, Philip Samuel and Neil DeCarlo
John Wiley, 352 pages, $32.95

Cats: The Nine Lives of Innovation
Stephen Lundin
McGraw-Hill, 168 pages, $23.95

Sometimes innovation happens serendipitously – a Eureka moment, when the answer drops out of the sky. But more often, we have to create a novel solution. And for that, like any craft, it can be helpful to have tools.

In The Innovator’s Toolkit, consultants David Silverstein and Philip Samuel combine with author Neil DeCarlo to offer 50 techniques to help create the new. It’s aimed at business, but there are plenty of techniques that government executives can also employ.

It opens with two crucial approaches. The first, based on the work of Harvard business professor Clayton Christensen and colleagues, is to initiate the innovation process by figuring out the “job to be done.” What problem is your improvement actually intended to solve? Without calculating that, you might miss an opportunity. For example, if a lawnmower company examines the actual purpose of cutting the lawn – keep the grass low and beautiful at all times – it might stray beyond its usual machines to contemplate genetically engineered grass seed that never needs to be cut. So start your innovative thinking by figuring out exactly what the job is that needs to be done.

A second, complementary technique is to determine outcome expectations. This harkens back to one of the more famous aphorisms by legendary marketing professor Ted Leavitt of Harvard: “People don’t buy quarter inch drills, they buy quarter-inch holes. The drill just happens to be the best means available to get that job done.” So once you have the job to be done, figure out what the outcome expectations are for the internal or external customer you are serving, and write it down, in a terse but clear sentence.

Government executives have to deftly deal with various constituencies to push their innovations through, so the Stakeholder Management Tool will be of particular interest. It starts with a diagnosis that portrays each stakeholder, which you can complete in the various cells of a spreadsheet with these columns:

  • Key stakeholders: Write down individuals who have direct influence over the project or who will be directly affected by it, and who can influence other stakeholders.
  • Role in organization: List the stakeholder’s title. Make sure that every affected organizational area is covered, including often-neglected ones like IT.
  • Impact of project on stakeholder: Estimate the impact of the project on each stakeholder. How much will it change the way they work or otherwise deal with your unit?
  • Power/influence: This tracks how much power the stakeholder has, and gets filled in later in the exercise.
  • Current/desired level of support: Indicate what you perceive to be the stakeholder’s current level of support for the project. Later, you’ll add the desired level of support.
  • Reasons for resistance or support: Indicate why you believe the stakeholder is opposed to or in support of the project. If you’re not sure, ask.

With that documented, you move on to create a Power and Influence map. Create a matrix that has “power in the organization” on the vertical axis and “influence over the project” on the horizontal axis. That will give you four quadrants. Plot on the map where all the stakeholders lie.

Now revisit the Stakeholder Diagnostic and enter the corresponding quadrant for each stakeholder. In the same area where you documented the stakeholder’s current level of support, indicate how supportive you need each person to be for success. Now develop a plan to reduce resistance, using one or more of the following approaches: education and communication; participation and involvement; facilitation and support, such as putting them in touch with others who have gone through similar efforts; and negotiation, in which you develop a compromise to please everyone.

Finally, you should develop a leverage matrix, listing the stakeholders by name down the vertical side of a grid and then again on the horizontal. That allows you to list how much leverage each stakeholder has on every other one. Rank that leverage as high, medium, or low.

Innovation requires provocation. You need to break away from your current pattern of thinking to unleash unexpected thoughts. The SCAMPER technique asks questions:

  • Substitute: Can you substitute part of your process or offering for something else?
  • Combine: Can you combine two or more parts of your problem to create a different process or offering?
  • Adapt: How can you adapt parts of the process or offering to remove the problem, or how could you change the nature of the process/offering?
  • Modify: Can you change part or all of the current approach to distort it in an unusual way? Perhaps that will reveal a new approach.
  • Put to other purposes: Can you put your current solution to other purposes, or think of what you can re-use from somewhere else to solve your current innovation problem?
  • Eliminate: What might happen if you eliminated various parts of the process or offering
  • ?Reverse: What would happen if your process or offering worked in reverse or was done in reverse order?

Or try Brainwriting 6-3-5, which can help to bring together a divided team through brainstorming in which everyone participates equally in written rather than the more typical oral idea formation. The technique’s name derives from six people writing down three ideas in five minutes, but you can utilize it for a somewhat larger or smaller number of people. After the first round of ideas pour forth, everyone passes the sheet on which they wrote their ideas to a colleague, who can then add three new ideas or build on those from the originator. When everyone has contributed to each sheet of paper, you have a flurry of ideas to contemplate, perhaps one of which, when refined, will be your solution.

There are other brainstorming techniques and tools to help you through all stages of innovation, from defining the opportunity to prototyping and rolling out your eventual solution.

In Cats, Stephen Lundin argues that organizations don’t innovate, people do. And to help them innovate in your unit, he presents the Nine Lives of Innovation, a title that he justifies because each of the lives will move you in the direction of greater personal innovation. I’m more cynical: With a previous best-selling book to his credit, Fish!, an animal form was probably desired. But the ideas are worth considering nevertheless:

  • Cats create an innovation-friendly environment.
  • Cats are always prepared, since innovation favours a prepared mind.
  • Cats know that innovation isn’t normal. We need routine but we also need to break out of routine to innovate.
  • Cats welcome physical provocation to escape from the clutches of normal. Thomas Edison went fishing, so he could sit and think through ideas; he never had bait on his hook because catching a fish would be a distraction.
  • Cats enjoy social provocation – conversation is a prime example – since it stimulates ideas.
  • Cats promote intellectual provocation, stimulating their thinking with unusual thoughts or reading.
  • Cats say “How Fascinating!” after a failed innovation event, trying to pick out what they can use from the debris.
  • Cats fail early and fail well. They get failure out of the way early so then they can adapt and continue, rather than waiting for a long time to find out something doesn’t work.

Cats provides some interesting backing to each of those ideas, ultimately providing you with a foundation for innovation in your unit. The Innovator’s Toolkit prov

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