Saturday, May 18, 2013

Random thoughts on Innovation

Recently, I had a conversation with a friend from the healthcare industry.  Given the future new world of upcoming healthcare legislation that is coming into effect (The Affordable Health Care Act’s main clauses are supposed to take effect 1 January 2014), she stated that healthcare had to be innovative in their approach to affordable care. 
I am being bombarded lately with the word innovation. In the last three issues, Harvard Business Review has at least one article mentioning innovation.  The tech community is constantly talking about innovation and the “speed of innovation” and “innovative entrepreneurs.” My same healthcare friend now tells me there is something called "reverse innovation."
For quality professionals, Praveen Gupta wrote a piece in Quality Digest called “Innovation: The New Face of Quality."  I am hearing in the hallowed halls of ASQ talk of “should there be an Innovation Body of Knowledge?”  Being a contrarian I am asking, why?  We still have many frontiers to overcome in quality, why worry about this one?
Let’s get to down to basics.  Merriam-Webster defines innovation as a noun: 1) the introduction of something new or 2) a new idea, method, or device: novelty.  For me, this describes an end result; something produced.  The IT community uses innovation as a way to add features to existing products.  Deconstructing this further, innovation requires a behavior and a process in order to produce a result.  That is where all the articles come in.  They describe someone’s path on how they became “innovative.”  Praveen Gupta describes three rules of creativity (Choice, Combine, Practice).   But creativity has become just as amorphous to me as innovation.  How does someone be creative or increase their creative capacity?  From Mr. Gupta’s aspect of things practice is the thing that increases creative capacity.  This means we have to fail which is often the kiss of death in the business world.  Given the circular reference—failure may increase creativity capacity but it sure doesn’t help your reputation as successful, has this call for innovation become trite?
Again, back to my quality roots, innovation should not solely be focused on creativity.  There is something more important—Anticipation.  Successful innovation requires customer acceptance which means that there has to be some level of anticipating demand for that innovation.  How we anticipate, in my view is the key success factor for successful innovation.  Steve Jobs had a number of failures (Lisa, Newton, Next). Knowledge gained from those failed introductions led to the Macintosh, iPod, and MacBook.
So rather just creating something new, I propose the following definition of innovation:  the ability to anticipate coupled with the ability to execute.  We can create new ideas but if we don’t create the ones that consumers are willing to buy all those great ideas just become wasted.

Update: I wrote the above post before the ASQ World Conference in Indy.  While there, I got to meet some folks who are members of the Innovation Interest Group.  My first blog post from Indy covered their booth but what was interesting is the apparent lack of strategic knowledge as it relates to innovation.  There are a number of "case studies" that talk about how a person innovated but very little on how do I plan for innovation.  John Latham had an excellent blog post about how innovation is not prediction (Agree!) and HBR had a recent blog post in a similar vein.

Last word: Innovation is much more than a definition or a desire to change.  There has to be a plan--and that plan has to include what to change.  In my pea-brain, innovation is the path that gets you to your desired state.
Post a Comment