Happy anniversary, Creativity Un-Limited! It’s been 10 years since the column “Creativity Un-Ltd.” appeared first in the Bangkok Post, and then evolved into the Thinkergy Blog.
Over the last decade, I’ve produced 257 articles on business creativity of innovation, totalling 240,000 words or enough for six books. So when our US business partner asked me if I could write an “airport” business book that provides an overview of core innovation concepts in an easy-to-read style, I thought: “That’s easy. I already have all the contents”. However, so far, I’ve struggled to find the best structure to layout the topics of “The Executive’s Guide to Innovation”.
One evening last week, I listed the possible topics for such a book. As I drifted off to sleep, the contents shifted around in my mind until suddenly the full picture of a beautiful innovation primer emerged. I jumped out of bed at 4 a.m. to jot down everything. Here’s what I came up with.
Background: Big picture vs. small picture
My inability to spot a structure for packaging core articles from this column into an innovation book was a classical case of “Can’t see the forest for the trees”. And here, the saying also provided the solution.
In the X-IDEA thinking toolbox that complements our systematic innovation process method X-IDEA, one Xploration tool is “Big picture vs small picture”, which invites you to look at a challenge at three different scales: first you appreciate the small pictures (the parts); then, step back to look at the big picture (the whole); finally, move back even further to take in the grand big picture (the environment).
But back to my challenge: How can these scales help to package an easy-to-read, “executive summary-style guide to innovation”?
The grand big picture of innovation: the environment
I decided to start with the grand big picture of innovation: The modern business environment that constitutes the stage on which the innovation play takes place. For the novice reader, this would answer the core question: What factors drive and influence innovation and change nowadays? So in the first chapter, you’d learn about the advent of the innovation economy, the drivers and cycles of change, and why the world hates change. These environmental factors set the scene before we scale one level down.
The big pictures of innovation: The key concepts
Now the reader is ready for a big picture view on innovation. In Chapter 2, we define creativity and innovation in simple terms. We also discuss the importance of making meaning to move from invention to innovation, look at the wide spectrum of modern innovation types, and the financial premium that innovation leaders enjoy.
At this point, you would be asking why do only a few companies succeed in the innovation game. In Chapter 3, I explain how to use the full spectrum of innovation types. You also learn how to distinguish innovations based on impact, and gain an understanding of the dilemma of innovation management and the paradoxes in innovation.
Appreciating the big picture of innovation first gives you a foundational knowledge platform that allows you to scale down to the lowest level of abstraction.
The small pictures of innovation: The applications
There are four broader application areas that you need to understand when you want to do innovation as an individual or leader, as a team and as a company. It all comes down to mastering four areas of innovation — process, people, culture and leadership:
- The first small picture application that every innovation novice should know more about is how to better undertake an innovation project alone or with a team. Chapter 4 of my executive’s guide deals with innovation processes and creativity tools: How do they work? And why can a well systematic innovation method like X-IDEA reliably help would-be- innovators produce standout ideas and outputs?
- The second small picture captures another critical dimension: people. In Chapter 5, we look at who can best contribute to innovation and how? Everyone can play a role, but depending on your preferred cognitive style, you might be better suited to create or lead innovation from the front, or to work on or manage innovation from the back end. Personality profiling tools like TIPS can help you use your innovation troops according to their talents.
- Next comes the people-related element that can make or break innovation: your organizational culture. Chapter 6 outlines how you can build an innovation culture to support change, touching on issues such as how organizations respond to failure or motivate their staff.
- Finally, leadership is something I’d want every innovation novice to understand. Just talking the innovation talk doesn’t suffice. As Steve Jobs noted: “Innovation distinguishes between leader and follower.”
Companies that lead innovation in their industry not only have a creative leader at the top, but also creative people who creatively lead their teams on lower levels. Chapter 7 of my executive’s guide to innovation shows how to develop authentic creative leaders with the help of development methods such as Genius Journey that are both effective and creative.
Scaling back to the grand big picture: An innovation outlook
Let’s end by scaling back up to the grand big picture: The future of innovation.
In the eighth and final chapter of my executive’s guide to innovation, we’ll return to the environmental level. In what directions might the discipline of innovation evolve in future? What might —and might not— change in the ways we practice innovation, and why? These are informed guesses only, but I expect certain trends such as the shift to an entrepreneurial society, digitization and the work-life philosophy of Gen Y to influence the direction of innovation. At the same time, I predict the importance of other practices such as open innovation to decline over time.
Believe it or not, since I had my idea in the wee hours of Thursday last week, I have already created the first prototype of the book to share with a number of possible publishers. Maybe even the Bangkok Post would be interested in celebrating the 10th anniversary of “Creativity Un-Limited” by publishing “The Executive’s Guide to Innovation”? Are you interested in an executive-summary-style innovation primer? Would you like to preorder a copy —or maybe sponsor or even publish “The Executive’s Guide to Innovation”? Or would like to learn the know- how in form of a 1-day innovation training? Contact us and let us know more.
© Dr. Detlef Reis 2017. This article was published in parallel in the Bangkok Post under largely the same title on 11 May 2017.