Three Innovation Distinctions (Part 2): Process Not Events

January 18, 2010  

In the first part of this series, I wrote why you should focus on challenges, not ideas. You should read that article before proceeding. [for your convenience, all three articles have been packaged into one pdf file]

In this second entry, I will focus on “Process, not Events.”

I first shared these three distinctions with a bunch of speakers and authors.  In the speaking industry, conferences/conventions are the primary model for professional development.   That is, a bunch of people get together for a few days.  The days are comprised of presenters on the stage who share their “wisdom” with attendees.  When the event is over, the learning ends.  And for most individuals, progress ends.

People who attend these events leave with a laundry list of ideas.  Most people never implement any of the ideas.  They just sit on the shelf in a binder.

This, in a nutshell, is what happens in the innovation programs of many businesses.  They hold ad hoc brainstorming sessions. Or maybe they run a campaign using a crowdsourcing tool.   They develop new ideas.  If they are lucky, those ideas do get implemented. But quite often, the event ends and progress ends.  Regardless, innovation does not happen again until someone has another stroke of inspiration and decides to hold another event.

Innovation in most organizations is episodic.  It is unpredictable.  And it is certainly not repeatable.

But what if you had a systematic way for ensuring that innovation continued long after the event?  What if you didn’t need to wait for divine intervention for your next big idea to sprout?  What if you could make innovation repeatable?  To do this, you want to move from “innovation as an event” to “innovation as a process.”

Back to the authors and speakers…what if, instead of just events, there was a process that helped people see their ideas through to fruition?  What if everyone came to the event with some challenges?  The process could involve regular mentoring or an online community.  There could be measures in place to help monitor progress.  The point is, there is a process to help ensure progress.

In the business world, we have the opportunity to take this process-driven innovation concept a bit further.

For this “event to process” transition to be successful, the first step is to start treating innovation like you would treat any other part of the business. For example, your organization’s finance department has skilled experts, measures, supporting technology (e.g., Oracle or SAP), processes (e.g., processes for closing the books at year end), an owner (the CFO), and a strategy.

The innovation “process” requires all of these elements, and more, including skilled innovation experts (e.g., an innovation center of excellence aka innovation master blackbelts), innovation measures (e.g., return on investment for each idea), innovation management technologies (e.g., InnoCentive’s @Work solution), an innovation process, an innovation “czar” (aka advocate, Chief Innovation Officer, VP Innovation), and a clearly articulated innovation strategy (what you expect to achieve with your innovation program).

I call this level either “innovation as a process” or more accurately, “innovation as a discrete capability.”  You can read more about this in my “Innovation Philosophy” page.

With these fundamentals in place, you can begin to make innovation a repeatable and predictable process whereby creativity is encouraged throughout the organization and the best ideas are implemented.

It’s worth noting that after successfully moving through the process level of innovation, the highest level of innovation is embedded innovation (aka embedded capability or environment). With both the event- and process-driven levels, innovation tends to be reactionary and discrete. It is somewhat separate from the business. With embedded innovation, people not only innovate to deal with “problems/challenges” that are presented to them, but in everything they do. They continuously, even radically, improve their products, processes and organization.

I could write much more on this topic.  In fact I did.  I originally wrote about the three level of innovation in my 2001 book, 24/7 Innovation,” and upgraded the concepts for my “Little Book of BIG Innovation Ideas.”

Look for the third and final installment of this three part series sometime soon.

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3 Responses to “Three Innovation Distinctions (Part 2): Process Not Events”

  1. uberVU - social comments on January 18th, 2010 2:26 pm

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    [...] In the first part of this series, I wrote why you should focus on “Challenges, not Ideas.” Next, I addressed the distinction of “Process, not Events.” [...]