Co.Design

The Seven Deadly Sins That Choke Out Innovation

Even companies serious about innovation can fall victim to their own, well-meaning creative process.

In most companies, there's a profound tension between the right-brainers (for lack of a better term) espousing design, design thinking and user-centered approaches to innovation and the left-brained, more spreadsheet-minded among us. Most C-suites are dominated by the latter, all of whom are big fans of nice neat processes and who pay good money to get them implemented rigorously. So often, the innovation process is treated as a simple, neat little machine. Put in a little cash and install the right process, and six months later, out pops your new game-changing innovation -- just like toast, right from the toaster. But that, of course, is wrong.

Last night, Ryan Jacoby, the heads of IDEO's New York practice, gave a talk at NYU/Poly with just that tension in mind, titled Leading Innovation: Process Is No Substitute. Jacoby's point: processes are all well and good, but they don't guarantee innovation, and in some cases they might even provide a false sense of security. Ryan outlined what he described as the Seven Deadly Sins of innovation, which I?m sure will ring true for most people who've worked on such projects. They are:

1: Thinking the answer is in here, rather than out there

"We all get chained to our desks and caught up in email," he said. "But the last time I looked, no innovation answers were coming over my Blackberry." You have to get outside of the office, outside of the conference room and be open to innovation answers from unexpected places. Ryan makes himself take a photograph every day on the way to work, as a challenge to remember to look around him.

2: Talking about it rather than building it

This one related to the last. At least here in the U.S., we live in a land of meetings and memos and lots and lots of discussion. Sometimes it's more than possible that all this talk might prevent us from, well, actually doing anything. He gave a great example of an idea to bring "fun into finance?, and showed a mocked up scenario of a guy buying a pair of sneakers, at which point a virtual avatar danced on his credit card. Practical" Not the point. The unpolished prototype motivated the team and got them thinking differently.

3: Executing when we should be exploring

"This is huge for management types," he said, going on to warn of the problem of trying to nail down a project way too early in the timeframe. "Who's exploring" Who's executing? Where is everyone in process??

4: Being smart

"If you're scared to be wrong, you won't be able to lead innovation or lead the innovation process," he said. This is huge. Innovation is all about discussing new ideas that currently have no place in the real world. If you're only comfortable talking about things that *don't* strike you as alien, chances are you're not talking about real innovation.

5: Being impatient for the wrong things

Innovation takes time, but too often executives expect unrealistic results at an unrealistic clip. Be explicit about the impact that you expect.

6: Confusing cross-functionality with diverse viewpoints

IDEO is an inter-disciplinary firm, mixing up employees with a whole host of backgrounds. That's critical to ensuring a better chance at innovation -- and it's far different from teams that simply mix up functions. "Diversity is key for innovation," said Mr J.

7: Believing process will save you

Here, Ryan showed a great image of vendors touting their wares at the Front End of Innovation conference in Boston. His point: you can't simply buy your way to a soaring innovation strategy. Some of these products might be useful, sure, but they're no substitute for real thought leadership. Having an innovation process is fine, but it's not a guarantee of success even if it does produce some tangible product at the end. Or, as he put it, "learn the process, execute the process, and then lead within it."

[Image by Bob Jagendorf]

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2 Comments

  • Chris Taylor

    Great write up. There is no amount of creativity and no amount of process that by itself will generate success. At every successful customer, I see the combination of discipline around best practices and a willingness to change the way business is done as soon as a better way appears. "Best practices" are an elusive target that sometimes requires trial and error, sometimes luck, and sometimes pure creativity.

  • Philip Wattis

    Nice article, however balancing points 2 and 3 can be difficult as they can be contradictory.