Houston, We Have a Problem Innovation Series, Part #3

This is the third post in a series on innovation. The series starts here: A Valuation of Innovation.

Innovation requires taking smart risks.

The natural tendency is to select viable, or profitable, ideas early on in a process, but these are not always the ideas that will have the most impact. A team with an open, creative mindset will be able to take some remarkable ideas and make them feasible, but limiting the pool of ideas to the ones that are immediately feasible often removes the ideas that could be the most remarkable.

Unquestionably, we must analytically assess ideas and identify potential constraints, but only after focusing on the possibilities and considering ways to overcome any issues. This process will often include some ideas that don’t work out.

Therefore, the next habit I will discuss in this series is to cultivate a mindset that allows a willingness to fail. Edison is known for attempting to invent the lightbulb 10,000 times before succeeding. James Dyson made more than 5,000 prototypes before launching the Dyson vacuum. Innovation is built upon actively trying new things, but we must be comfortable knowing that not every idea will be a home run at the first swing of the bat.

Iterate. Iterate. Iterate.

Another principle of human-centered design which goes hand-in-hand with a willingness to fail is iteration. Iteration is the act of repeating a process with the aim of approaching a desired goal.

My most recent experience with iteration involved trying to shoot homemade bottle rockets with my kids in the backyard. We had multiple iterations. In our first attempt, our baking soda packet was too fat to slip into the bottle. In our second attempt, we realized the cork was too small to seal the opening. The third time, the bottle fell over so we decided to create feet for the bottom of the rocket. Eventually, I was satisfied that our prototype was nearly perfect. (Of course, by that time, the whole thing had devolved into the kids having a squirt gun battle.) But the point was, each failure taught something new and brought us closer to a successful launch.

The Process

Whether you are currently working on the development of a product, the improvement of a service or the design of a process, consider implementing the following steps.

  • Be curious and open-minded at the beginning of a project and select ideas based on their desirability first, and then determine if there are ways to address issues of viability.
  • Urge constructive feedback. Seek out people with different perspectives and different backgrounds that might add a new dimension to a problem.
  • Prioritize and select potential projects based on a consideration of both significance and difficulty. (Consider familiarizing yourself with the human-centered design tool called an Importance/Difficulty Matrix.)
  • Engage in disciplined experimentation. Test ideas early when it is quicker and cheaper.
  • Iterate. Learn from each attempt and adjust the game plan.

In conclusion, an expectation that failures are learning opportunities and iterations are valuable stepping stones are foundational practices for innovation.

Jennifer Doering provides management advisory services, such as business valuation and compensation consulting, and would be happy to discuss any future needs or questions you have in these areas.

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