There is No GPS for Innovation

April 26, 2010  

OK, after 2 weeks of sleep deprivation due to manuscript deadlines, I am now back in action here.  The final version of the manuscript went to the publisher on Saturday.  I then played Personality Poker in Memphis with nearly 100 representatives from Penguin’s gift sales on Sunday.   These individuals sell books into non-traditional bookstores, gift stores, hospital gift shops, department stores, casino, and similar places.

Last weekend, I played Personality Poker with a couple hundred people at a conference in Canada.

After the event,  over a dozen of us decided to go to dinner together.  Half the people fit into taxis.   After the taxis departed from the hotel, the remaining individuals went in two cars, one of which I drove.  We had the address and a map. I, being Mr. Technology, plugged the address into the GPS.  The other individual had the map, but also relied on directions he received from the front desk.  I didn’t bother getting directions since I had the navigation system.

I was the first car out of the parking lot. After exiting the hotel, I turned left, just as the GPS told me to do.  The other car followed, but not for long.  David, the other driver flashed his lights.  I kept driving.  After a minute I realized David was no longer behind me.  Instead of believing that I might be going in the wrong direction, I just assumed that the GPS was taking me there via a shortcut.

After taking a series of turns – left, right, left, right, left, right – the final turn led us to a dead end.  In fact, this road was nothing more than a large pile of dirt.  So much for taking a shortcut.

Since my technology was not going to get us there, we needed to rely on the map.  Unfortunately, the map provided by the hotel only had the restaurant marked off.  The hotel was not to be found.  The reason we could not find the hotel on the map was because the map did not extend far enough to include it.

There we were, in the middle of nowhere, with a map that told us nothing – and a GPS that told us even less.

This got me thinking. 

How often do we drive our innovation programs the same way I drove to the restaurant that night?

We create our plans for innovation and we start driving.  There might be signals along the way (like the flashing lights of the car behind us) that something is not right.  In the case of innovation, it might be signals from the customers, buyers, or vendors telling us we are going the wrong way.  But all too often, we continue to drive forward, arrogantly believing we are right and that those signs are all wrong.

No matter how great your plans are, you need to keep your eyes open.  Look for signs. Don’t assume others are wrong.  Maybe your blueprint/map is incorrect.

Or, as Scott Cook from Intuit so eloquently said, “For every one of our failures, we had spreadsheets that looked awesome.”

There are no accurate GPS systems in the world of innovation.  Your ability – and willingness – to adapt, evolve, and change your plans is critical to a successful innovation program.

If you don’t watch out for the signs and you blindly follow your plans, your innovation program will probably lead you to a huge pile of, um, dirt.

P.S. We did eventually get to the hotel.  We did what any sane person would do…we asked for directions.

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6 Responses to “There is No GPS for Innovation”

  1. Al Henderson on April 26th, 2010 3:50 pm

    As is often the case with any other “plans”…

    Ours were hampered by not having a clear perspective on our STARTING point.

    We knew where we were going (or rather, where we wanted to get to) … but, without knowing where we WERE (relative to the end point), we had no idea in what direction to head off.

    That, too, is a common error in innovation.

    The big difference here, though … was the fact we had no money riding on the outcome. So we were quite happy to just drive all over the place. “Getting lost” was FUN.

    In business … it ain’t.

    Happy to have been part of your “inspiration”, Steve!

    Cheers -

  2. Stephen Shapiro on April 26th, 2010 4:08 pm

    Al, you are so right. From my perspective, getting “lost” was a bonus. It meant that I got to spend extra one-on-one time with you. It was a good laugh!

  3. Al Henderson on April 26th, 2010 4:16 pm

    The feeling is oh-so-mutual, my friend!

    So … do I need to “register”, or something, to have my handsome mug appear with my comment?

    (ha, ha, ha – no, that’s not REALLY what I want. Just wondering if there’s any way to always see these. Is that what the RSS does?)

  4. Fred E. Miller on May 4th, 2010 7:37 am

    Got points here, Stephen.

    It relates to always ‘taking the temperature’ of your audience during presentations.

    We should do this to see if they are ‘Getting It!’

    Checking facial expressions and body language are two ways to check the temperature of their interest and understanding of your talk. (Drooling, snoring and running for the exits are not good signs!)

    It’s also worth pausing every once in a while, after finishing a thought, and asking “Does that make sense?”

    If you get blank stares and people shaking their heads’ No’, repeat your point with different verbiage, and ‘take their temperature, again.

    The GPS won’t do this for you!

  5. Mark Alan Effinger on May 4th, 2010 11:53 pm

    Very insightful post, Stephen. And you didn’t have to reach too far to connect the dots between innovation roadmaps/GPS and your real experience.

    It’s not unusual for me to meet with a firm who is instigating an “Innovation Group” or “Innovation Policy”.

    And more than once it’s been a way to talk about innovation — in a vacuum. It’s safe there. And there are few potholes when you don’t have to address real life and real customers.

    As you mentioned, innovation, real innovation, has few maps. That the real deal. Real innovation is part driving blind. Part making it up. Part synergy. And a lot of “making &^%$ up”.

    But add a real, grounded feedback loop between you, your innovation people and your customer, and suddenly innovation makes a lot more sense.

    Remove the blinders. Add a feedback loop. Then rock the results.

    Nice post. And good to connect again.

  6. Chad on May 25th, 2010 11:04 am

    That’s really funny (and it’s happened to me too!). Good point, though. We can’t rely on others to tell us how to be successful. There is no magic roadmap to tell us where to go. We need to do our homework, talk to people, and figure it out for ourselves.