Can we practice innovation as a discipline? The answer is YES. The process of moving from idea to innovation can be practiced as any other discipline. Scratching the surface unveils the structure from past occurrences of innovations and how we can evolve a disciplined mindset. What makes us progress is the not the mindset of “all I know”, but “learn from the team” mindset. Disciplined innovation is a paradigm shift. I will discuss the framework of disciplined innovation with observations made from how some of the world’s leading innovators made great impressions including unicorns like Google, Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, and Netflix and the apparent demise of several long-standing established companies including Blockbuster, Nokia, Kodak etc.
First comes the mindset. Move from “Knower to Learner mindset”. Knower leader may play the game well, but Learner leader can change the game with the possibility of thinking and collaboration. Don’t limit the possibilities of ideas to take a diverge first and then converge to Core Idea. Practice “power of the pause”, which offers a moment to reflect on a particular situation at hand, to listen to other and blend with your own intuition to react. Expand the options and cultivate the mindset of possibility. Remeber what pioneered entrepreneurial leader Henry Forst said 1 century ago, ” Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right”.
Second, develop start practicing innovation right now mentality. Don’t wait for that golden moment knock your door, start doing a little more of what you were doing already, a little faster and a little more inclusively. Focus first on problems, not solutions. You cannot solve exponential problems with linear mindset. Exponential mindset is incrementally progressive and pursued practicing a right-now approach.
Third, invest upfront and invest in a staged manner. Innovation and investments should go hand in hand demonstrating the efficiency and effectiveness of the process. Staging lets innovators and entrepreneurs abandon ventures with low early returns sorting out good projects. With based idea tested in a “Minimum Viable Product”, it is efficient to invest more in later stages. Innovation project stages might be deterministic, in a reality financing stages simply mimic the development process of the project with trade-offs.
Fourth, is fail fast and do quick iterations to evolve the idea. Cultivate design thinking and learn as you make a progress on the idea of innovation. Failing fast not only save from catastrophic end result with a bing-bang approach if the outcome is not positive but also promote a culture of incremental learning. Designing low-cost experiments to test options fast and evolve the core idea in pursuit of landing with a successful innovation. The product design company IDEO is the best example of practicing this principle.
Lastly, don’t put all eggs in one basket. There is not sure shot approach to innovation. Properly weigh the chances, apply decision sciences leveraging statistical models to gauge the probabilities in the innovation continuum. One way to tackle is to spread budgets across multiple ideas and develop a knack of moving ahead with the idea of the highest chance to become a successful innovation.
Based on the above 5 core principles of practicing innovation as a discipline, offer the following framework for executing innovation projects,
- Practice innovation as a discipline with a phased investment following an iterative approach and learning from failing fast.
- What is important in the pursuit of disciplined innovation is transforming from a Knower to Learner mindset with an appetite for an incremental gain of insights or gain a better understanding of the context/situation. Alongside self-transformation to learner mindset, promoting the learner mindset in teams and organization-wide definitely improve the decision making across the board.
- Define an objective in an innovation effort is the first step in the process. Be divergent in gathering ideas, converging to find the core, defining the success criteria to maximize outcomes, and identifying the practical constraints will aide in achieving the real results.
- understand the importance of defining key assumptions. Develop an open mindset to trigger and invite ideas from broader teams, thinking from others point of view etc. in making the underlying assumption and success criteria robust.
- Master the development of a Learning and Action Plan. Pinning on the critical assumptions, dig deeper to identify and preempt risks and failures, and find ways to share risk and maximize business outcomes by building and complementing the right partner ecosystem are some of the techniques.
- Find ways to conduct low-cost experimentation is an art testing innovative ideas faster to hit the success at a reasonable cost
- Lastly, create an open-mindedness and developing habits in maximizing learning strategies for better outcomes.
In summary, build the traits of innovation leading from the front and nurturing innovation culture with values like making others successful, fostering meaningful conversations, learning from failures, embracing ambiguity, being optimistic, collaborating and more importantly taking ownership.