Fashion isn’t just about clothes—music, cinema, food, and yes, even business activities go in and out of fashion. So it should come as no surprise that people working in innovation are attuned to the novel—in fact many of us working in innovation are here specifically because we love novelty. We’re likely to side with avant-garde composer John Cage on this: “I don’t know why people are afraid of new ideas; I’m afraid of old ones.”
But when it comes to new and classic innovation approaches, there's no need to be afraid of either of them—they both have their place. Fashionable new innovation approaches are simply new tools we add to the classic approaches in our innovation practice toolkit.
Innovation Intelligence is knowing the various approaches, both classic and new tools currently in fashion; Innovation Wisdom is knowing how to make the most of them—no matter what's in, or out, of fashion.
The key is in practicing each method, to determine how they best address our particular needs. Continuing the toolkit metaphor, we don’t require a hammer to crosscut a plank—we reach for a saw to do that. With sufficient practice with the saw, and getting to know—to the level of muscle memory—how it functions, we’ll get the results we want. The tool, whether it's a saw or an innovation practice, becomes increasingly valuable as we learn in specific its true capabilities and limitations. And, the combination of our skill and complementary tools will fill in for any limitations.
Any innovation tool—Sprint Methodology, Design Thinking, Lean, MVP, etc.—has to be adaptable to the specific needs of a given use occasion. The company’s culture, the level of sophistication of the team engaging the approach, the particular project in focus, etc., all demand some ingenuity in tweaking the details. And even Sprint applied to Project A will be different from Sprint as used in Project B within the same company. The internal champions of the approach will have to have enough Innovation Wisdom to know what to keep as-is, what to dial up or down, what to ditch from the approach, and what other tools to bring in to accomplish what one particular approach was never designed to address.
The formula for Innovation Wisdom = the context of the need + the selected tool + the skill with which we choose and use the tool (and any accompanying tools).
But you need not spend decades in the innovation trenches to gain Innovation Wisdom. Here are some simple steps to take to inject a little more Innovation Wisdom into your work when considering new approaches.
Use at least half the Journalists’ Questions of Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.
- Why are we interested in Design Thinking/Sprint/Lean/MVP?
- Where might it make more of a difference in our various projects as we pilot it?
- What might strengthen Assistors in adopting and tweaking it wisely? What might weaken the Resistors to that?
- Who should lead the charge in getting going?
- How did we do on the last adoption of a new approach? Any post mortem of that which we might learn from?
Stay in Student Mode. Humility is such a powerful home base. Given our penchant for Naive Realism (the misperception that “How I See The World Is The Sum Total of How It Actually Is”) and Confirmation Bias (we will nonconsciously favor anything that supports what we already believe to be true, and will figure out how to discount any evidence that doesn't support that position...again, all nonconsciously), we should regularly remind ourselves that we’ll skew our decision making if we’re not vigilant.
We should deliberately seek out disconfirmatory evidence and see if we can trade up on those ideas that guide us. Ideas aren’t limbs—losing some, particularly if in order to accommodate better ones, is fantastic! We need to be focused on being effective, not right/justified. Any feelings of defensiveness should be considered as red flags. In a recent article in The New Yorker, Atul Gawande, the newly named CEO of the Amazon-Berkshire-JPMorgan Chase healthcare partnership, quoting physicist Edwin Hubble said, “a scientist has ‘a healthy skepticism, suspended judgment, and disciplined imagination’—not only about other people’s ideas but also about his or her own. The scientist has an experimental mind, not a litigious one.”
Stay Curious and Playful. Picking up on the imagination just mentioned...yeah! Don’t be satisfied too quickly with what might be superficial cause-effect relationships you think you’re seeing. Be curious. Play with it. Try stuff! Try more stuff! Problems and the questions they should generate are jobs! Get on it. Innovation Wisdom is pushing a little more, looking at things from a few different perspectives, being helpfully paranoid about whether you really understand that you think you do as deeply as you should. Have some fun with it!
So it’s not Innovation Fashion vs. Innovation Classics. The wise innovator is aware of new tools, and actually gets more from them because he/she cares about the craft—and can situate these new tools in the right spots alongside everything else in the toolkit. The wise innovator isn’t unduly concerned about misplaced concerns about “doing it right.” The wise innovator knows what “right” really means—effectiveness stemming from a good fit within a particular context.
Adam Hansen is co-author of the book, Outsmart Your Instincts, How the Behavioral Innovation Approach Drives Your Company Forward, and Innovation Process Facilitator at Ideas To Go, an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.