Four Steps to Innovation


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Four Steps to Innovation

  1. 1. “... the vast majority of inventions, novel concepts, and new ideas were not imagined by lone, isolated geniuses. For example, Thomas Edison led a fourteen-man team of scientists, chemists, and engineers that generated over 1,000 patents for inventions, including the telephone, light bulb, and telegraph...” Four Steps to Innovation Lessons Learned from the Intelligence Community By Stephen Pick I am an organizational psychologist working with the intelligence community (IC) and teaching critical thinking to intelligence analysts. Many of my students believe that the concepts of critical thinking and innovative thinking are unrelated. Research shows the opposite—that critical thinking and innovative thinking are closely interrelated. Many students also think that innovation is something companies, but not large bureaucracies, can do. This article presents a four-phase model of innovation that professionals inside or outside the intelligence community can employ at their workplaces without a budget, supervisory authority, or compromising security requirements. Applying innovation concepts and techniques will lead to more thorough, effective analysis and decision making. A Structure for Innovation Creations happen when regular, thoughtful people work with other regular, thoughtful people and combine ideas in original ways. In studying how these creations arise, researchers and practitioners have discovered some “method to the madness.” There is actually a systematic practice to innovation that deals with methodologies, work practices, culture, and infrastructure (Drucker, 2002). That is welcome news because it means that innovation is possible at any level in an organization. Modified from existing models, this four-phase iterative model of innovation brings structure to what many regard as a mysterious process (Hargadon & Sutton, 2000; Morris, 2007). The four phases (forming the acronym G.I.F.T.) are as follows: »» Generate ideas »» Imagine new uses for existing ideas »» Frame non-industry ideas to your field »» Test ideas A popular, romanticized image exists of a solitary novelist, inventor, or screenwriter working in the seclusion of a cottage Innovation is an evolving, iterative process. nestled in a bucolic setting. However, the Although we can break the process down vast majority of inventions, into four phases, it is diffinovel concepts, and new cult to pinpoint exactly where DEFINITION OF ideas were not imagined by an idea begins. In truth, INNOVATION lone, isolated geniuses. For that may not be necessary. Innovation can be example, Thomas Edison Once an idea is generated defined as “…the led a fourteen-man team or imagined, a transformainitiation, adoption, of scientists, chemists, and tion happens when it is and implementation of engineers that generated over framed for use in your field. new ideas or activity 1,000 patents for inventions, To complete an initial cycle, in an organizational including the telephone, light the idea or concept needs setting” (Pierce, Delbecq, 1977, p.28). bulb, and telegraph (Edison to be tested. Even the most website). brilliant idea is of limited Four Steps to Innovation: Lessons Learned from the Intelligence Community 37
  2. 2. value if it is not tested (Morris, 2006). Once testing occurs, a process of refining and adapting begins—and the idea cycles back through imagination, framing, and generation. FOUR-PHASE G.I.F.T. MODEL FOR INNOVATION These examples demonstrate how novices (Jane Goodall and IDEO’s team), as well as experts in other fields (Prater), can hold an advantage over seasoned veterans in thinking about an idea in a novel way simply because they have not “seen it all before.” Dr. Robert Sutton, a Stanford professor who writes and teaches about innovation, advises, “The rule of thumb is that if you know a lot about a subject, seek advice from people who are naïve, either because they lack bias or because they are experts with biases that are drastically different from people in your industry or company” (Sutton, 2002, January-February, p.12). Second, as hard as it sounds, ask people with whom you disagree to read and critique your work. We usually dislike people who don’t share our ideas. Seek out people who don’t share your ideas and you will get new ideas (Heuer, 1999). Phase 1: Generate Multiple, Fresh Ideas Numerous theories speculate about what makes people and organizations innovative leaders in their fields. One concept nearly every researcher and practitioner studying innovation agrees on is the need for ideas—lots of ideas (LaBarre, 2002). In fact, the more ideas, the greater the chances for innovation. Dr. Linus Pauling, Nobel prize winner in both chemistry and peace, said, “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas” (Johansson, 2006, p.103). If you want fresh ideas, talk to people who are not experts in your field. Because of their “ignorance” in a particular field, novices and colleagues in other fields are less likely to make assumptions and dismiss ideas as too far-fetched (Sutton, 2002, January-February). W. Edwards Deming, the quality control and process guru, wrote, “Competent people, doing their best on jobs, know all there is to know about their work except how to improve it. Knowledge necessary for improvement comes from outside” (2000, p.2). Three examples illustrate how forward-thinking leaders and organizations recruited teams of unlikely candidates to solve problems: »» Jane Goodall, the pioneering chimpanzee researcher, was hired to conduct two years of intensive observations in African jungles, not despite her lack of scientific training but because of her lack of university training (Sutton, 2001). Goodall wrote in her book, In the Shadow of Man, that her boss, Louis Leakey, thought that university training would be unnecessary, potentially even a drawback because he “…wanted someone with a mind uncluttered and unbiased by theory who would make the study for no other reason than a real desire for knowledge” (1988, p.6). 38 OD PRACTITIONER  Vol. 41 No. 3  2009 explore ideas about sandals (Nussbaum, 2004). Phase 2: Imagine New Uses for Existing Ideas Later in her career, Goodall agreed with Leakey’s theory, noting that had she known existing theories she “would not have been able to observe and explain so many new chimp behaviors” (1988, p.6). »» Geoffey Ballard, CEO of Ballard Power, hired Keith Prater to work on fuel cell batteries. A chemistry professor, Prater warned Ballard that he had no experience working with batteries. Ballard did not care. “I don’t want someone who knows batteries. They know what won’t work. I want someone who is bright and creative and willing to try things that others might not try. That’s where the breakthroughs come from” (Koppel, 1999, p.15). Prater’s work helped adapt fuel cell technology to buses and cars. »» IDEO, a California-based design firm, interviewed an artist, a bodybuilder, a podiatrist, and a shoe fetishist to While revolutionary inventions do occur, they are extremely rare. Innovation instead deals with small, consistent incremental changes. Consider that the idea you are searching for probably already exists; you just need to find it. The missing link is imagining a new use for an existing idea. While the four GIFT phases are interconnected, Phase 2 (Imagine new uses for existing ideas) and Phase 3 (Frame nonindustry ideas for your field) intersect. Thinking about how an existing idea can be used in a novel way is an important prerequisite but is not necessarily innovative. However, combining these concepts of imagining new uses for existing ideas and combining them for your field can lead to significant innovations. Albert Einstein referred to innovation as “combinatorial play,” which he defined as making associations between rarely combined concepts to enhance a solution’s originality (Amabile, 2002). Consider the following examples of the power of imagining new uses for existing ideas:
  3. 3. »» Creating a medical product that uses saline from the electric pump of a battery-powered squirt gun to clean wounds (Hargadon & Sutton, 2000). »» Using a termite mound’s internal air flow design of maintaining a constant temperature to protect the queen’s eggs as the model for an African office building’s ventilation system, which does not require air conditioning and which saves over 90 percent of energy costs (Johnston, date unknown). »» Sculpting a bullet-train’s aerodynamic design based on how a shark’s head disperses water with minimal drag (Johansson, 2006). »» Explaining the evolution of economists’ and stock market analysts’ financial strategies by using modeling equations that were mathematically similar to those biologists use to understand predator-prey and symbiotic systems (Johansson, 2006). »» Replicating the brick-layered designs of abalone and conch shells to build stronger tank armor bodies (Spotts, 1997). »» Al-Qaeda, an innovative organization, imagined a low-cost way to apply wartime technology against soldiers to civilians during peace time. Phase 3: Frame Non-Industry Ideas to your Field History is replete with examples of how innovative entrepreneurs brought ideas, concepts, inventions, news, successes, and failures from one field to another. Henry Miller said, WORDS TO “All geniuses REMEMBER are leeches” “You can’t quantify (Miller, 1964, the value of letting p.22). Robert people’s minds Fulton did run wild” not invent the (Kelley, 2001, p.63) steam engine; steam technology had been invented 75 years earlier and was used in coal mines. Similarly, Henry Ford did not invent the assembly line; he studied Chicago’s meat packing plants where workers stood in one place and products (cows and pigs) moved past them and were disassembled. Fulton and Ford’s innovative contributions were imagining how existing technologies and ideas could be adapted to new fields. Below are two examples of how organizations imagined new uses for existing ideas and made them fit their field. »» The Washington Post reported that the Department of Homeland Security’s Analytic Red Cell office convened Everyone has heard of brainstorming and meetings with futurists, philosophers, most of us have done it. IDEO colleagues software programmers, musicians, and treat brainstorming as an art form. IDEO a fiction writer for day-long exercises consultants strive to generate 100 ideas in a to examine critical infrastructure typical brainstorming session (Kelly, 2001). vulnerabilities for natural or manNext time you are in a brainstorming sesmade disasters and terrorist attacks. sion, don’t give IDEO’S Seemingly disparate group members up after the BRAINSTORMING were asked questions such as: “If you initial flurry of RULES were a terrorist, how would you target ideas. Sit with 1. efer judgment D the G-8 economic summit?” and “Why the silence and 2. ncourage wild E haven’t terrorists hit the United States be confident ideas since Sept. 11, 2001?” The goal was to that more ideas 3. uild on the ideas B “provoke thought and stimulate discuswill bubble up. of others sion.” Their results were compared While there is 4. tay focused on the S with those of other intelligence profesalways the postopic 5. ne conversation O sionals and disseminated throughout sibility that no at a time the IC (Mintz, 2004, A.27). other ideas will 6. e visual B »» The FBI recruited middle-school girls come to mind, 7. o for quantity G to teach agents how to believably comit is more likely municate like teenagers to catch interthat brainstormnet child pornographers and pedophiles ing groups cut short their idea generation (Phuong, 2003). process. Author George J. Seidel sums up the intersection between Phases 2 and 3: “The ability to relate and to connect, sometimes in an odd and yet striking fashion, lies at the very heart of any creative use of the mind, no matter in what field or discipline” (Hutchinson, date unknown). To increase your odds of related and connecting ideas, you need to broaden your horizons. Expand your mind by reading books from outside your field of expertise. Browse bookstores, magazine racks, libraries, and best-sellers lists for topics you might not normally read. Read sections of the newspaper that you would otherwise ignore. Listen and read political commentaries that you don’t agree with. Study leaders and innovative organizations in all sectors. Find local leaders you admire (and even those you don’t) and interview them. People like to talk about themselves, and you will be surprised at the caliber of people you may be able to meet simply by picking up the phone and asking politely. Find a hobby, learn to play a musical instrument, audit a course, visit a museum, do something different, share it with others, and always ask: »» How can I use, adapt, modify, conform, transform, revise, remold, or rework what I am learning to my work as an intelligence professional? Phases 2 and 3 are an idea numbers game. The more you learn, the greater your interests and diversity of knowledge, and the greater your chances for generating ideas. Idea generation will help you imagine how ideas, concepts, and theories from all fields can be framed and applied to your discipline. As Dr. Sutton wrote, “Artistic geniuses don’t necessarily have a higher success rate than other creators; they simply do more—and they do a range of different things” (LaBarre, 2002, p.69). Phase 4: Test and Share Your ideas Phases 1–3, Generating ideas, Imagining new uses for existing ideas, and Framing non-industry ideas to your field are necessary prerequisites for Phase 4, Testing ideas. This is the rubber-meets-the-road Four Steps to Innovation: Lessons Learned from the Intelligence Community 39
  4. 4. previously exist in its current form—is your prototype will need to be refined, a fluid, not formulaic process. There is usually many times. Take the risk to allow no exact recipe or single path to achievothers to see your work. This is easier said ing innovation. Often, as one researcher than done, especially with a fragile, new designs and tests a theory, another idea. Still, the only way a new concept researcher designs a study or finds eviwill survive is by others seeing, reviewdence to prove the exact opposite. ing, and poking holes in it, hopefully with If you agree with the goal of improving APPLICATION the principles outit. Richards Heuer, a lined in this article, 45-year CIA veteran, In addition to course lectures, study the references wrote about the usefulstudents in the critical thinking class work in groups and practice section and track ness of a Directorate applying these four concepts as down original sources, of Intelligence peer they analyze realistic, but fictitious, experiment, adapt review process that intelligence traffic. Their task is some of the concepts, used reviewers from to read a wide-range of traffic and and give the article branches outside of develop hypotheses about the to colleagues to get where a document different potential threats to the their comments. If was produced (Heuer, homeland. The student groups you disagree with the 1999). are given new traffic, that builds principles outlined, There can even be on each previous day. Students do the same thing. value in seeking advice structure their daily brief-outs In addition, explain and collaboration from in two parts. The first part are their hypotheses about what is why you disagree with colleagues with whom developing. In the second part of the concepts, digging you disagree. After the brief-out, students explain how deeper than “because all, a main reason you they applied each of the four GIFT this is how we do it.” disagree with someone phases to their work. If these ideas do not is likely the different work for you, think of ways you each think. others. Being innovaWhile seeking out your tive is a skill, not an innate trait. The more less-than-favorite colleagues for help may Prototyping starts by sketching an idea in you practice, the more innovative you seem like a sure recipe for conflict, many your notebook. The discipline of writwill become. Everyone has the potential, respected innovators agree that conflict ing ideas down keeps them alive. Carry a even the responsibility, to be innovative around a product (not personal attacks) notebook with you and leave one by your (Kirkpatrick Rezvani, 2008). The stakes increases the value of your end result—a bed stand. Your sketches do not need to are simply too high not to be. more innovative idea, solution, or concept be complex. IDEO CEO David Kelley used may develop (Sutton, 2002, Novemberto give his Stanford University students References December). The potential results from cocktail napkins with the assignment to working with colleagues who hold differwrite their “big ideas” on them (Kelley, Amabile, T. A., Constance N. H., Kramer, ent viewpoints can create a better, stron2001, p.181). Of course, intelligence analyS. J. (2002, August). Creativity under ger, more innovative idea and product sis is complicated and cocktail napkins, the gun. Harvard Business Review, 52-61. (Eisenhardt, Kahwajy Bourgeois III, even with all the squares unfolded, will Deming, W. E. (2002). The new econom1997). ultimately be inadequate to capture the ics for industry, government, education complexity of many issues. (2nd ed.). MA: MIT Press, Center for Conclusion This reinforces the need to CONSIDER THIS Advanced Educational Services. test your idea quickly and After you sketch out Drucker, P. (2002, August). The discipline The four-phase GIFT model inexpensively. The more ideas, let your mind of innovation. Harvard Business Review, is a “start where you are–use complex a project or an mull them over. It may 95-103. what you have guide” to idea, the greater the need to be helpful to forget Edison’s patent information. Retrieved about a specific idea promote conversation (Wye, prototype it. “Prototyping is for awhile and come January 24, 2008 from http://edison. 2004). These concepts are a way of making progress back to it. Give ideas suggestions, ideas to be when the challenges seem time to incubate Eisenhardt, K. M., Kahwajy, J. L. used, modified, and shared. insurmountable” (Kelley, and grow. Bourgeois III, L.J. (1997, July-August). Discussing innovation—creat2001, p.106). How management teams can have a ing something that did not Innovation is iterative; phase where a problem moves closer to a solution. Without testing, all you have is a clever idea. Testing ideas does not need to be an elaborate or expensive process. Most innovative researchers and practitioners use the term “rapid prototyping” (Kelley, 2001). People who create new ideas and novel processes and products understand that the first try will rarely, if ever, be the one that ultimately works or is used. Accordingly, spend only the bare minimum of resources testing something that will be modified, adapted, and improved upon. IDEO has a proven methodology for rapid prototyping (Nussbaum, 2004): »» Create mock-ups for everything, both products and services »» Build prototypes quickly and cheaply. Never waste time on complicated concepts. »» Make prototypes that demonstrate a design idea without initially worrying about details. »» Design scenarios showing how a variety of consumers can use the service in different ways and how various designs can meet their individual needs. 40 OD PRACTITIONER  Vol. 41 No. 3  2009
  5. 5. good fight. Harvard Business Review, 77-85. Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. 9/11 Commission Report. Goodall, J. (1988). In the shadow of man. NY: Houghton-Mifflin. Hargadon, A. Sutton, R. I. (2000, MayJune). Building an innovation factory. Harvard Business Review, 157-166. Heuer, R. J. (1999). Psychology of intelligence analysis. CIA: Center for the Study of Intelligence. Hutchinson, M. Good ideas, lots of ideas: quantity delivers quality when talking ideas. Unlimited Magazine, Issue 79. Retrieved January 18, 2008 from http:// D60976810F580C4CC2570F50001807F. Johansson, F. (2006). The Medici effect: what elephants and epidemics can teach us about innovation. MA: Harvard Business School Publishing. Johnston, L. Ant hill. Retrieved January 23, 2008 from lindsay/ar_articles/ar_74.pdf. Kelley, Tom. (2001). The art of innovation: lessons in creativity from IDEO, America’s leading design team. NY: Double-dayRandom House. Kirkpatrick, S. A. Rezvani, S. (2008, April 3-6). Innovative idea generation techniques. Paper presented at the 2008 Society for Advancement of Management Conference, Arlington, VA. Koppel, T. (1999). Powering the future: The Ballard Fuel Cell and the race to change the world. Canada: John Wiley Sons. LaBarre, P. (2002, January). Weird ideas that work. Fast Company, 54. Miller, H. (1964). Henry Miller on writing. NY: New Directions Publishing Corporation. Mintz, J. (2004, June 18). Homeland Security employs imagination. The Washington Post, A27. Morris, L. (2007). Creating the innovation culture: geniuses, champions, and leaders. An InnovationLabs White Paper. Morris, L. (2006). Permanent innovation. CA: Innovation Academy. Nussbaum, B. (2004, May 17). The power of design. Business Week. Retrieved January 16, 2008 from Pierce, J. L. Delbecq, A. L. (1977, January). Organization structure, individual attitudes and innovation. Academy of Management Review, 28. Stephen Pick, PsyD, is a Senior OD Consultant for SENSA Solutions in McLean, VA. From 19992004 he worked in the Federal government. Since 2004, he has worked in the private sector as a consultant to Federal agencies. He can be reached at s ­ Phuong, L. (2003, June 4). Girls teach teen cyber gab to FBI agents; Md. students help catch pedophiles on the internet. Washington Post, A1. Spotts, P. N. (1997, August 19). Seashells yield tough secrets: scientists tap them for hints on building stronger cars, tanks. The Christian Science Monitor, 12. Sutton, R. I. (2001, September). The weird rules of creativity. Harvard Business Review, 94-103. Sutton, R. I. (2002, January-February). When ignorance is bliss. Industrial Management, l 44(1), 8-12. Sutton, R. I. (2002, November-December). Why innovation happens when happy people fight. Ivey Business Journal, 1-6. Wye, C. G. (2004, October). Performance management for political executives: a ‘start where you are, use what you have’ guide. IBM Center for the Business of Government. Retrieved January 21, 2008 at pdfs/WyeReport2.pdf. Connect • Engage • Co-create CoVision provides the “Meetings 2.0” experience, groupware tools, and agenda consultation for realtime connectivity and co-creating solutions that work for everyone. +1 415 563 2020 Copyright © 2009 by the Organization Development Network, Inc. All rights reserved. Four Steps to Innovation: Lessons Learned from the Intelligence Community 41