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Innovation is still being innovated - Part 2 of 2

Innovation is still being innovated

The art and discipline of Innovation is still being innovated. And rightly so. It’s a never-ending journey, with notable milestones along the way.

In Part 1 of this blog, I proposed that a transformation in the mindset and practices of innovation is already occurring, and it’s continuing forward towards a richer, more impactful sense of Human Centered Innovation… characterized by a greater depth of meaningful purpose, inclusive engagement, values-based motivation, innovative thinking, innovation ROI, and the innovation process itself.

Part 1 covered the first 3 characterizations that demonstrate how the art and discipline of innovation is still being innovated:

  • 1st sign: The growing emphasis on knowing (not just believing) that each of us has a meaningful purpose in life bigger than ourselves… and to know that each organization we work for has a purpose to have a positive impact beyond itself
  • 2nd sign: The rise of inclusive engagement: that every person can be innovative
  • 3rd sign: The emergence of emotional intelligence and good character values to balance the historical bias towards the mental side of innovation

In this blog, I’ll review 3 other signs that innovation is still being innovated: the transformation in how we treat innovative thinking, innovation ROI, and the innovation process itself.

The 4th sign of the ever-evolving mindset and practice of Innovation is the expansion of innovative thinking from just “brainstorming” to eliciting the uniquely different ways that people prefer to think innovatively.

In the 1980s, Michael Kirton leapt into the creativity scene with a model of 2 types of creative problem solving personalities, which he called the Modifier and the Innovator. He has since moved away from the personality labels, and denoted simply 2 cognitive styles: Modification and Innovation.

Subsequent research conducted at the Stanford Research Institute found that 4 styles better portrayed the variety of approaches or strategies that people use to think innovatively. Those 4 styles are named Visioning, Modifying, Experimenting, and Exploring. Each is like a “language” of innovative thinking, such that a person may have a “mother tongue” even as they use all 4, and can develop the skill and versatility to use each style.

From working with this model over the past 30 years, I’ve seen that understanding these 4 styles enables a greater capability to listen to ideas from others who have totally different ways of thinking innovatively. That breeds trust and inclusion within a team. It has also opened up a greater versatility for facilitating with ideation techniques: some techniques based on the Visioning style, others are based on the Modifying style, etc. This awareness enables facilitators to orchestrate the use of techniques to ensure that every person’s favorite style of thinking is incorporated into an innovative solution.

The 5th sign of the continuing innovation of Innovation is the evolution from measuring Return on Innovation Investment (ROII) from purely tangible results to a mixture of tangible and intangible outcomes.

Back in the late 1980s, the head of HP Labs, Frank Carrubba, told me about a valuable lesson he learned about leading innovation – a lesson that resonates even more strongly today with the advent of Design Thinking and Agile Development. To paraphrase, he said:

“If we at HP Labs set our goals at the beginning of each year and consistently meet them 100% year after year, HP as a corporation is going to be in very big trouble. That’s because the only way to be 100% successful is to set very safe, ‘low-bar’ goals, and we would lose any semblance of industry leadership.

For me to be a successful leader in pushing the envelope of what’s possible, I need to have x% of failures. Even though most people don’t consider ‘failure’ as part of their positive career growth, I need to plan for, measure, reward, and promote people for failing.”

He did that by instituting the notion of “Intelligent Failure” along with “Intelligent Success.” By “intelligent,” he meant that something was learned along the way that had a value to the company (for future projects, etc.). In essence, he looked for new learning and knowledge that contributed to the Intellectual Capital assets of HP. As a result, individuals and teams had 2 ways of succeeding with stretch projects: tangible outcomes and intangible new learning. That was Frank’s formula for a true “Return on Innovation Investment (ROII).”

Design Thinking and Agile Development both put a premium on quick prototyping and iterative learning cycles with customer input until a final product is ready for delivery. Documenting and rewarding the composite learning gained are extensions of Frank’s insights.

The concept of tangible and intangible outcomes also applies to business performance. The market valuation of the large majority of companies is typically 15-25% for tangible assets and 75-85% for intangible assets (“aka Intellectual Capital”). Thus, the traditional reliance only on “bottom line” results to measure ROII is limited and misleading for full value creation.

The 6th sign of Innovation being innovated is a redefinition of the tasks of the full innovation process to include the human dimensions of being innovative. 

Over the past 6 or 7 decades, most models of the innovation process start either with “What’s the Idea” and gives steps to refine, decide, and implement that idea; or with “What’s the problem/opportunity?” and quickly move on to “What’s the idea?” etc.

From my 37+ years’ experience in this field, there are 3 questions missing at the front of these models:

  • What’s our meaningful goal? (a goal statement that is intrinsically motivating for each person that will be impacted)
  • What’s at stake in achieving that goal? (possible consequences of success vs. failure)
  • What gives us confidence and courage to engage in the full innovation journey? (tapping into attitudes, knowledge, skills, and values)

And there’s 1 question missing at the back end, based on Frank’s 2-fold measures:

  • What have we learned as well as achieved?

All of these questions bring in a human dimension that integrates emotional intelligence, meaningful purpose, and good character values withthe mental discipline of innovation. Design Thinking’s emphasis on empathy when determining key factors and issues is another example. Research at Google, the Great Place to Work Institute, and others provides even more evidence that bringing this human dimension alive in each task of the process promotes more effective, innovative teamwork.

I’m sure you can add your own experience about how Innovation is still being innovated. I’d appreciate learning from your insights. Connect with me on Linkedin and share your thoughts!

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William Miller's picture
About the author

William C. Miller, co-founder of Values Centered Innovation, is passionate about integrating emotional intelligence, human values, and mental discipline with our innate capabilities to be innovative.