Friday, June 24, 2005

3 Books on Innovation

By Moje Ramos-Aquino, FPM
Paradigms & Paradoxes Corporation

EXPERIMENTATION MATTERS: Unlocking the potential of new technologies for innovation
By Stephan H. Thomke
Harvard Business School Press

THE MEDICI EFFECT: Breakthrough insights at the intersection of ideas, concepts & cultures
By Frans Johansson
Harvard Business School Press

THE SEEDS OF INNOVATION: Cultivating the synergy that fosters new ideas
By Elaine Dundon
American Management Association

Edited by Carolyn Barker
Australian Institute of Management

THE POWER OF STRATEGY INNOVATION: a new way of linking creativity and strategic planning to discover great business opportunities
By Robert E. Johnston, Jr. & J. Douglas Bate
American Management association

My friend Ben Liboro of First Philippine Holdings Corporation just came back from a tour of Europe and the USA and was excited to announce that graduate schools of arts and cultures in both continents are filled to capacity with a long queue for the next terms. The enrollees are all coming from the business sector. Companies are sending their top people to these schools rather than to MBAs. Why combine arts and business?

Excellent business leaders nowadays are looking into the Medici Effect. Author Frans Johansson writes: When you step into an intersection of fields, disciplines, or cultures, you combine existing concepts into a large number of extraordinary new ideas. This is the Medici Effect, a remarkable burst of creativity in fifteenth-century Italy.

The Medicis were a banking family in Florence who funded creators from a wide range of disciplines. Thanks to this family and a few others like it, sculptors, poets, philosophers, financiers, painters, and architects converged upon the city of Florence. There they found each other, learned from one another, and broke down barriers between disciplines and cultures. They forged a new world based on new ideas—what became known as the Renaissance. As a result, the city became the epicenter of aa creative explosion, one of the most innovative eras in history. The effects of the Medici family can be felt even to this day.

Johansson details how to create the Medici Effect: break down the barriers between fields, randomly combine concepts, ignite and capture the explosion of ideas, execute past your failures and take risks and overcome fear.

Author Elaine Dundon drives home the point and wrote about managing innovation. She emphasizes that innovation is a combination of four key components: creativity (the discovery of new ideas), strategy (determining whether it is a new and useful idea), implementation (putting useful idea into action, and profitability (maximizing the added value from the implementation of this new and useful idea).

Dundon cautions that innovation is not just “new technology;” not sector-specific, not just for the research and development department, special teams or “skunkworks;” not a creative playroom or just a creative training; not a one-off event; and not just applicable to new products.

And, if I may, innovation is definitely for HR leaders, professionals, practioners and enthusiasts.

Similarly, author Stefan Thomke asserts the need for experimentation. Louis Pasteur’s discovery of artificial vaccines is one example. 3M chemist Spencer Silver started a series of experiments aimed at developing polymer-based adhesives. His idea was found hopeless because 3M was focused on finding a stronger glue that formed an unbreakable bond, not a weaker glue that supported only apiece of paper. Until he met choir director and chemist Arthur Fry. Silver recalled: The key to the Post-it adhesive was doing the experiment. If I had sat down and factored it out beforehand, and thought about it, I wouldn’t have done the experiment. If I had limited my thinking only to what the literature said, I would have stopped. The literature was full of examples that said that you can’t do this.

As Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

Authors Johnston and Bate relate the story of Moen, makers of faucets: To see things differently, Moen enlisted the assistance of someone whose profession was seeing human behavior in a deeper, more insightful way—a cultural anthropologist. He visited homes and business across the country to observe how people use water and what role it played in their lives. He watched people use water and tracked their moods, happiness levels, and feelings of satisfaction while carrying out such activities. He wrote down how long each action took, and documented how people moved and adjuster their faucet for the needs of particular activities. He rated the importance people placed on water safety, flow and efficiency, as well as the effectiveness and aesthetics of each feature. The fun factor of each activity was rated too. He observed the differences between the habits of men and women in their handling of fixtures.

Director of marketing services Maureen Wenmoth noted:: The results of this insight safari was that people wanted more than just functioning faucets. We thought we knew all about water and faucet needs, and why not? Moen had been in the water business for many decades. But, by never before conducting observational research, we really were missing out on a lot. We were also limiting ourselves by working in self-created boundaries. We were working under the pretense that water is a commodity element—something people want and need. But the reality is that it’s not so cut-and-dried. Water is many different things to different people. Yes, it is something people need. But it’s also something they want to enjoy using and receiving. The information confirmed that we needed to be consumer-driven and think not just about faucets, but how they related to a room, use, or surrounding space. Our future demanded it.

What about you, my HR colleagues? What are ways you can do things differently? Another favorite Einstein wit goes: Insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.

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