How many times have you told yourself . . . why didn’t I think of that? Or, how many people have gotten rich off an idea you already thought of 10 years ago?
We all are more creative than we think. The difference is in knowing how to turn a good idea into an innovation.What’s the difference? A good idea is just that – an idea. An innovation solves several problems at once and brings value to customers by helping then solve a problem they didn’t even know they had.
Innovations Aren’t Always Planned
When biologist Alexander Fleming came back from vacation and found the bacteria in one of his petri dishes had died, he didn’t view it as a failure, instead he recognized that something extraordinary had happened. From this ‘unplanned accident’, came the discovery of penicillin.
Fleming’s discovery illustrates what Yale psychologist Robert Sternberg calls ‘selective coding’. Selective Coding is the ability to distinguish important information from irrelevancies. The key is being able to detect the relevant ‘signal’ amid irrelevant ‘noise’ which is accomplished by determining critical information components that bring value to the situation. For example, is it necessary to be given instructions on how to build a watch, if all that’s needed is the time?
Possessing a unique eye to detect patterns among unlike combinations, and separating noise form news, has the capability of solving perplexing problems. This capability is what catapults an idea into an innovation.
Metaphors Make the Impossible, Possible
Turning an idea into an innovation is the ability to draw comparisons and analogies from juxtaposing elements or ideas that ordinarily don’t go together, and recognizing the hidden pattern of connections between them. It’s not enough to be able to pick out all the right or new pieces, but being ableto put them together in a new way is what is crucial.
The best tool to assist in combining unfamiliar concepts, is the metaphor . . . thinking in terms of something is ‘like’ something else. For example, who do burrs and socks have in common? Velcro. The concept of interlocking ‘hooks’ gave way to a new fastening system. A new fastener had not been invented since the mid 1800s.
Developing ideas form metaphors involves changing the way a question is worded, or brainstorming on ‘What if’ scenarios. What would happen if a coin punch and a wine press were combined? The Printing Press. What would happen if customers could order products whenever they wanted? Electronic Commerce.
Metaphors draw a mental picture. This picture is especially useful when communicating a concept that is ‘un-like’ any other product or service. Referencing something that is similar in concept, makes the unfamiliar, familiar.
Every Innovation Needs to Be Needed
Important to any innovation, is the timeliness of its purpose – a context in a relevant time. The purpose could be in response to competition, to demand or need, or in response to new regulation.
A national retail pharmacy chain responded to legislation, that requires Pharmacists, not the Technician, to dispense pharmaceuticals to customers. Without hiring additional pharmacists to support the additional tasks, the innovation came by redesigning the physical store layout and the way tasks were performed.
Once the idea of how to comply with legislation was developed, it was presented to the audience in a context that had meaning to them. Meaning for a customer may mean validating the idea against a list of criteria (relevant information) such as budget, time, and resources.
Validating the idea meant gathering information with regard to technical requirements, safety issues, production capabilities, etc. The idea at this stage of development, answered more questions than it generated. At this stage, the idea became an innovation.
In redesigning, the pharmacy layout and tasks between people, several problems were solved at once. Not only was the retail pharmacy chain able to comply with the new legislation, but as a result, an unplanned benefit occurred – prescription renewals escalated by over $200,000 per store.
The Impossible is Possible
Ken Olsen, president Digital Corporation, state in 1977 that “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.” We all learn from our mistakes and missed opportunity, however the value of innovation versus an idea, is bridging for the customer, the gap between ‘ I think it will work’ and ‘I know it will work’. It means recognizing patterns and separating necessary information from the irrelevant to create solutions that were never imaginable.
It is providing that level of detail and ingenuity that turns an ordinary idea into an extraordinary innovation.
Original Source: Susan Thomas, LUCRUM, Inc. October 28, 2011