Recently there have been a lot of conversations about Innovation. Scott was talking about it at Seattle MindCamp 3.0, and of course everyone has a general interest in the topic. I attended two sessions at MindCamp on the subject, Scott lead one discussion that related to his upcoming book, The Myth of Innovation, the second session was about innovating in a corporate culture.
The interesting thing was the pressure to be a great inventor that so many people expressed during the MindCamp sessions. I thought it was very odd, I have been encouraged to innovate in a non-threatening manner in the past. Hu’s blog has indicated a similar culture of carefully fostering innovation at HDS. I have not come across many in my current industry who feels as though we have to live up to the false role models that Scott’s book de-myths.
I was in awe at the number of people who felt this pressure…..then I found that most of them worked or had worked for Microsoft!!!
It is kind of an interesting concept as the people who worked outside of the Microsoft brainwash machine were able to truly think more freely and innovate more creatively. I have been able to do this been able to do this at other companies I have worked with like iConclude. Not every group can be this way though can they? Vista, Powershell, Exchange 2007, SQL 2005, there are some neat things in there…. It’s not Google, but there are some valuable innovations that set Goliath apart from it’s competition. The question is though, will Microsoft be able to change culturally to an idea fostering environment or will they be able to stay in the lead by enforcing strict idea policies for everyone they are in the middle of building offices for?
I have seen a lot of people leave the giant in search of a fostering environment, yet some of the great thinkers that have left stuck it out for some time before leaving, ten, fifteen years to try and innovate at Microsoft before moving along. Does this mean there is some value to the innovate like Edison or find a new job attitude?
I think there is a line somewhere in the middle. Startup style innovation is natural for a lot of people, fun, young, hip, potential upside attracts these types to of people to countless startups around the globe. They are able to think, work, and run their businesses creatively as the try to move their small close-nit team to find a place in our society. Large engineering style innovation is also natural for a lot of people, surrounded by PhDs, home by five, wife and kids, free to program a processor all day. They are able to think in the same vain that engineering types in other manufacturing industries do, thoroughly, thoughfully, and in the time frame allocated. Then there is the last, Large grown-up startup style which also have a natural innovative style, surrounded by hard working people, young and old, leave at five or ten, some are trendy, some are not, it is somewhere in between the startup style and the engineering firm style. The people who work there are trying to live in the real world with numbers to meet and act like a startup with a black line to reach.
Most innovators fall somewhere along the three, the historical figures we associate with great innovation can fit into each of these categories as the traits are quite natural.
As for me, well I certainly like to be comfortable and feed my family (so I tend to stick with the second two); although, I am still not sure where I naturally fall. Usually I find inspiration for innovative ideas and resolutions to problems in everyday life and in other industries from my own. How do worms re-create….What is the idea behind images passing through camera lenses….Can these apply to computer problems? Of course they can!! It is not hard to come up with creative ideas, but the place to foster them into real inventions or innovations is hard to find. I guess I’ll have to thoroughly try each at some point to find the answer, until then though, I am happy to think through change where I’m at….and hopefully a couple of my ideas make your life easier someday.
Another interesting aspect of innovation that everyone eventually deals with is value, how valuable is the innovation you created? Will it be profitable? Will your corporation’s business model support the profits you intended? These are serious questions that come up towards the end of the innovation process and usually relate to the corporate culture discussed above. Most larger companies have a difficult time turning small but important innovations into a value proposition for customers, instead they are often put into products and not mentioned again. We have all seen this, when we hear about a new feature in a product that solves a huge problem then find out it’s been hiding under the covers for a couple of generations of the product. Alternatively a larger company may try to turn more of a profit from a small but important innovation then is really possible. We have all seen these too, when some feature is listed on the package that is cool, but doesn’t really matter, or you find you are paying a license for something you would expect the product to do inherently. These are very important things that large companies struggle with. On the other side of the fence though are those smaller companies who either can’t afford to waste their time on these innovations or the have to spend their time on these innovations and away from their primary goal as a means of survival.
Either way, moving your innovation from a great idea or thought into a product innovation is hard enough. Then to make sure the innovation actually generates value for someone in some way (regardless of what you intended) is something that is difficult to manage.
What do you think? How do you innovate?