Across industries around the world, everyone is talking about INNOVATION — all caps intended. They’ve been talking about it for quite some time. So much so, there’s a plethora of content available. You can watch a TedTalk, read an HBR article or peruse a book on the topic and become an expert in no time, right?
Your CEO likely has innovation as an initiative in your organization’s strategic plan. Your boss expects you to innovate, and quickly. To get up-to-speed, you need to take several classes in order to successfully lead creative teams, and adopt a design, lean, agile and team-centered approach.
It can be confusing. And exhausting.
Meanwhile, the more behind you feel, the more if feels like the world is leaping ahead with INNOVATION. And the reminders are everywhere — in bold, fancy, design-forward typefaces on every billboard, magazine spread and flashy website.
But who are these innovators? And how are they doing it?
The media portrays them as hoodie-wearing Silicon Valley types who are working — pardon, innovating — to design flying cars, teleportation devices and self-operating bagel delivery drones. (The latter of which, if we’re being honest, we’re very excited about.)
The truth is, there’s a myth to innovation, and it’s important that all of us understand the mythical nature of this story.
The Myth of Innovation
If you take a few minutes to look at innovation stories, you will learn they all share the same mystique. Those innovation stories go something like this…
The heart of innovation beats in Silicon Valley. It was created within state-of-the-art, circular, glass-and-steel architectural masterpieces that act as headquarters for the most forward-thinking companies of our era. Inside these well-lit, artfully-designed spaces, you’ll find the most creative and intelligent individuals.
Here, under a security blanket of non-disclosure agreements, these individuals collaborate as design teams, working with real-world users to directly create the future. They — and no one else, save for a small percentage of startups— can create INNOVATION.
Soon, a blizzard of colorful Post-it(™) notes, professional concept sketches and graphic designer-built presentation decks cover the walls (which are made up of OLED screens, by the way). Ideas flow through digital compositing tools. 3D printers hum and rattle as the future unfolds before our very eyes. All that remains is preparing for the IPO and the cover shot for Fast Company.
So that’s it. That’s how INNOVATION happens. Right?
Of course, this story is great for selling magazines. And the idea of overnight success is sexy. It’s just not true.
Innovation is not exclusive to a few elite visionaries. It is not a simple formula you can just follow. And it doesn’t happen for a lone genius overnight.
That is a myth.
Innovation, for the Rest of Us
Let’s look at the reality of work today. You have a busy schedule and multiple projects in flight. If you were to take an innovation class, you may learn some great concepts. But, you will never have time to apply these in your everyday work — and you certainly won’t have time to restart your project from step one, in order to apply the innovation process you learned.
In fact, it’s rare to start a brand new project, fresh and clean. Our projects are up and running at various stages, with different layers of complexity and multiple teams or stakeholders involved.
“The majority of innovation happens in increments. It rarely happens all at once.”
So what does innovation, in the lives of everyday companies and everyday people, look like? The majority of innovation happens in increments. It rarely happens all at once. It is less like the story of innovation you hear on the news, and more like individuals in organizations around the world taking incremental innovation-ish moves.
And those incremental innovation-ish moves? They add up to make a big impact.
INNOVATION(ISH): adjective + verb
Innovation, for the rest of us.
After years of teaching innovation at Stanford and Harvard — and working with clients around the world in a variety of industries — the two of us created INNOVATION(ISH), a new design approach created for the rest of us.
Our goal? To give anyone seeking to create more well-designed, innovative work an approach that can work anywhere, on any project, in any organization, for any individual. We were inspired to do this because we believe every individual should have radical access to design and innovation. We created this through a critical theory lens, and hope to eliminate the idea that innovation can only be created by a lucky few.
“INNOVATION(ISH) doesn’t require state-of-the-art glass ‘innovation centers’. It requires you, some paper, some pens, and a sense of adventure.”
In other words, you don’t have to work in the most elite organization based within a “innovation hub”, have “designer” in your title, or even hold a leadership position.
In designing this innovation approach, we conducted research looking at existing frameworks, methodologies, classes, skills and tools. But to ensure that innovation could be created by anyone — and not just a lucky few — we realized we needed an approach that didn’t require the latest design technologies. (It doesn’t even require you to wear a hoodie. But you’re welcome to do so if you’re feeling chilly.)
INNOVATION(ISH) doesn’t require state-of-the-art glass “innovation centers”. It requires you, some paper, some pens, and a sense of adventure.
Innovation(ish) is a collection of six perspectives and accompanying moves you can use to approach and look at your problems and challenges. These ways of thinking are called Innovation(ish) Mindsets.
Each of the Mindsets helps you decide on the next steps you can take toward solving your problem. These steps are called Innovation(ish) Moves.
Mindsets focus on how you think about the work you need to do.
Moves are the actions you take to push the work forward.
Let’s explore them further.
The Innovation(ish): Mindset & Moves
Look at your problem in multiple ways. Then, take incremental moves to progress your designed solution forward.
Just as the name implies, interactions are about engaging with other people, getting out of the office and into the world to discover real human needs.
This mindset is holding the perspective that only with the people involved, can you truly understand the nature of the challenge before you. You can learn from people who have lived experiences, feel the effects of the challenge, are currently involved, or even excluded. They may have control or influence, or they may come from an extreme perspective.
Ask yourself: How can you learn from other people?
Insights are the perspective of curiosity and discovery. Insights offer an approach of observing, listening, evaluating, reframing, questioning and finding beginner’s eyes.
That exploration creates the opportunity to discover the surprises, tensions, contradictions, challenges and pain points that exist for people in the real-world. You have to nail the insight to create something truly innovative. And once you do, everything else falls in line.
Ask yourself: What is the main question you want to answer?
Ideas are the perspective of seeing beyond what the world is, and seeing what it could be. It is finding the creative inspiration to generate hundreds of wild ideas, sift through them, connect them, combine them, and share them with others with complete humility.
Ideas are the beginning, not the end. If you generate enough of them, you start to discover a few that are new. Then, with time and effort, those ideas can grow into an innovation that creates the impact you need.
Ask yourself: What actions can you take today to solve your problem?
Iterations are the process of letting go of your ideas and offering them to the world to shape or shred. You have to hold them loosely and let go of them quickly — ideas are ephemeral.
Iteration is about learning, editing, adding, subtracting, killing and evolving your ideas. Letting others see your unfinished work and raw thoughts gives you the critical feedback to know when you have something worth pursuing, and when to let something go.
It’s not easy, and it’s certainly more work. But, you can consistently save your investment in bad ideas, eliminate sunken costs, wasted efforts, and quickly find the best ideas that will succeed.
Ask yourself: How can you experiment with your ideas to try them out?
Inspirations are the perspective of enrolling others in your idea, cause or movement. A true innovation is at the intersection of a wide range of stakeholders.
Inspirations tell the story of your idea to others, in order to gain support, buy-in, collaboration, investment and partnership. They test the viability of an idea with people — whether they are investors, customers, clients, partners, employees, team members, executive committees or boards.
Ask yourself: How can you get other people involved to help you?
Implications are the perspective that ideas are never enough. Once you have the right idea, you have to take responsibility for it.
First, you have to get past can we do it? Then, you must ask yourself should we do it? Followed by, who will be impacted in a positive or negative way if we do it? And, what are the follow-on implications that cascade from the core idea?
Second, you have to show that the idea has merit and sustainable value — what is the intended impact on on stakeholders?
Third, you create the path to build and scale the ideal into full implementation. To fully realize your idea in the world, it often takes more effort than discovering and validating it.
Ask yourself: If you could eliminate your problem today, who would notice? And what would they notice?
As you read each of the mindsets, you likely thought of some additional moves you could take right away. Consider iterations. Common moves include adding stakeholders to your team and chatting with customers to understand their pain points and their wildest ideas for improvement.
If you are looking at your project with an Innovation(ish) Mindset — any framework, brainstorm exercise, note-taking method or tool is. Any business, engineering or financial idea can be innovation(ish). Any books, websites, classes and other resources filled with “official” innovation tools are also.
No matter where a move comes from, if it helps progress you forward, it’s an Innovation(ish) Move.
The Innovation(ish) Mindsets + Moves give you a focus that generates questions about your work. Then, you select moves that can help you answer those questions. You can also pair any mindset with any move and vice versa!
So, now that you are Innovation(ish) you can see many of the people around you as Innovation(ish) too!
So what do you think? Are any of these innovation tools? Maybe? Maybe not? The good news? They’re INNOVATION(ISH). And the more of us outside of the “innovation hubs” in the world that get to participate in creating innovations that create our future, the better we’ll all be.
We can’t promise you a 10-step innovation process with a money-back guarantee. Or one that will create the moonshot project that lands you on a magazine cover.
What we can promise however, is that looking at your in-progress project with Innovation(ish) Mindsets, and applying Innovation(ish) Moves, will give you a more innovative, well-designed outcome.
This innovation approach is used in collaboration with partners via People Rocket.