Tag Archives: einstein

What is innovation anyway?

As mentioned in my blog last week ‘What innovation isn’t” I think innovation is an overused term.

According to Oxford Dictionaries online (does anyone own a dictionary anymore? – there’s innovation for you)

‘Innovation is ‘the action or process of innovating a new idea, method or product’

I don’t think that’s is particularly helpful in explaining innovation so I’ve attempted to put a list together to help make more sense of innovation.

Innovation is

1. A series of previously unconnected connections put together in new ways.

2. Survival. If organisations do not adapt to changing markets and customer needs they will die. Innovation is essential in order to survive.

3. Either incremental, so small changes or efficiencies to a current process or product, for example improving your data capture to ensure that you get donor details right, developing a really great newsletter… the list is endless

4. Or a radical or step change that alters things as they are, for example MP3 players changing the music market, Botton Village giving donors choices or the invention of the world wide web

5. Lead from the top. Leaders must walk the walk for innovation to succeed in a business. It needs to be part of the culture and part of everyone’s job.

6. All about you, your unique experiences and thoughts that create new ideas that are put into action. All humans have the capability to create and innovate. You just got to find your Element.

7. About gathering insight from everywhere you can in order to spot new opportunities to develop products and services. Look outside of what you know for fresh insights.

8. Working in collaboration, sharing, listening, building on each others ideas. (no group hugs)

9. Fun. Forget the pressures of everyday life and chill the hell out. That’s when you will have your best thoughts.

10. About having a go, taking action, driving change and convincing people to give the new idea a try.

11.  Failure. Innovation and failure are best mates. Fact. Their other friend is risk. If you take a risk to try something new, you may fail. The most important part is what you learn in order that you can return and succeed.

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” Sir Ken Robinson 

12. Having attitude and belief that you are going to find a way to succeed no matter what.

13. Focusing on where you will make the most difference. You can’t innovate about absolutely everything so focus on the areas that are going to make the most impact.

14. Being brave. Standing out from the crowd. To trailblaze. To lead the way.

15. About breaking patterns. Humans are creatures of habit, it’s much easier to sit it out in your comfort zone where there is little risk of failure (see point 11). To innovate you need to break your ‘normal’ patterns of thought to develop something new.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Albert Einstein

16. Being curious about the world. Asking why more.

17. A robust process combined with gut feel. Some famous innovations were designed for something entirely different. Viagra was originally developed for high blood pressure with interesting side effects….

18. Exciting. Coming up with new ideas is super exciting. Isn’t it?

19. Lasting success. An innovation strategy should balance incremental changes with longer-term objectives to survive in the long-term.

20. About making a difference. That’s why I do it.

What else is innovation? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What innovation isn’t

Innovation, in my opinion is an overused term. People often seem to bung innovation in a sentence if they want to make something sound good but are too lazy to think properly about what they actually mean. A bit of a catch-all term that is so overused it loses its’ meaning.

My best example of innovation overuse was on a cheese, ham and pickle sandwich – an innovation from National Rail catering. Apparently.

“When you innovate, you’ve got to be prepared for everyone telling you you’re nuts” Larry Ellison

Last week I was explaining innovation to some friends. Turns out it was much easier to explain what innovation isn’t than what innovation is. Here is the list.

Innovation isn’t

1. A lone genius. Einstein practically had a fail factory, with teams testing different ideas. Innovation is about a series of previously unconnected connections and collaboration.

2. A cyber city of geeks ‘doing’ techy stuff we’ve never heard of.  Technology is an enabler of innovation, but not all innovation is about new technology.

3. About lime green bean bags or slides to the coffee machine. I say no more.

4. About being crazy or wearing wacky glasses.  All humans are creative. It makes us human. You don’t have to be wacky glasses to have breakthrough ideas.

5. Group hugs. If you just want a group hug, don’t disguise it as innovation. Just check out these guys.

6. Brand new stuff. Innovation can be a new approach, adaptions or a combination of existing stuff to produce something new. Think about the invention of the printing press, combining type setting and wine pressing.

7. All glamour. The world-wide web was invented to share scientific documents. Absolutely nothing glamorous about that.

8. Just for organisations with big budgets.  It costs nothing to take a creative approach to life. Yes you need to practice and there are lots of free resources to help you.

10. Power.  It’s not battle of the egos, it’s about leadership. It’s about encouraging individuals and organisations to think and work differently.

11.  Irrelevant.  If organisations do not adapt to changing markets and customers needs they will die. Innovation is essential.

12. About stupid silly names, iteration or misspelling to be ‘cool’.

13. Google. Lets get this clear, Google are a great example of an innovation culture, fuelled by great leadership and the opportunity to develop new products in an emerging market. Innovation is not just about Google per say.

14. Instant success.  Back to point one and Einstein in his failure factory.  You got to try and fail and learn and try and fail and learn. Pack for a long journey.

15. A blueprint in a box. You can’t just follow the instructions and it will work. You have to find the best way to innovate for you and your organisation.

What else isn’t innovation? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Tune in next time for more on what innovation is…

If you are alive and breathing there is still time

On Sunday 13 March I went to a School of Life Sunday Sermon. If singing Eye of the Tiger at 11 o clock on a Sunday morning with a hall full of strangers wasn’t enough, I also got to listen to Sir Ken Robinson talk about passion.

Ken asked us to think about the sequences of past incidents – and people who have had to meet in order for us to be here on this planet. To be born at all is a miracle – so, asks Ken, “what are you going to do with your life?”

Ken Robinson believes that everyone is born with extraordinary capability. The tragedy is that most people have no idea of what they are capable of so therefore don’t think they are capable of doing anything. As a result many people spend their entire lives doing things they don’t care for, plodding along at a life that they have merely a general tolerance for.

It all begins at school. The education system is linear, in that if you are not good at a core subject, for example maths you are thought to not be good generally. Innovation and creativity are stifled and teachers struggle to promote creativity, as they are uncertain of their own creative abilities.

Human beings are imaginative, as Ken puts it “it comes with the kit” Humans are always investigating something new, we are inherently curious about the world.

According to Ken, the secret of a fulfilled life is to find that something that you have passion for as well as a natural talent for. Simply being good at something isn’t a good enough reason to do it – you have to have passion too.

“The problem human beings face is not that we aim too high and fail, but that we aim to low and succeed.” Michelangelo

Ken delighted us with stories from his book ‘The Element’ of people who have found their talent and their passion and made a leap of faith to ensure that they do live a life they love.

Ken urges us all to get inspired to follow our dreams and find our personal passion to live our life. So what you going to do? Answers please.

If you are interested in this post, you may also like to read the following books.

The Element – Ken Robinson

Now Discover your Strengths – Marcus Buckingham

From Good to Great - Jim Collins

Business Beyond the Box -  John O’Keeffe

Linchpin - Seth Godin

Look outside of what you know

Innovation isn’t about a single eureka moment; it’s about a series of thoughts and connections that combine to create something new. Einstein didn’t sit in a darkened room waiting for inspiration; he had a team of people working with him, systematically making new connections.

Not every connection will work but failing quickly and learning is crucial to any successful innovation process. However, the wider you cast your net in your search for inspiration, the more you move away from your current, tried and tested patterns of thinking, the more previously unconnected connections you are likely to make and the more chance you have of coming up with something new.

‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work’. Thomas Edison

Seeking new inspiration takes continued and deliberate effort. However, there are techniques that will help you gather connections that will lead to your breakthrough idea. One of the techniques is called ‘Where in the world?’

Where in the world?

Where else in the world is your challenge is faced?  Consider what solutions you can borrow, or in the words of business management writer Tom Peters ‘swipe with glee’.

‘Swipe from the best, then adapt’. Tom Peters

The particular challenges you are facing will have been solved elsewhere. So look outside of what you currently know, identify how others are solving your challenge, learn from them and apply it to your particular situation. It’s not about just copying like for like but finding common principles that you can adapt for your needs. The Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration is a great place to find fundraising inspiration that you can adapt, but you also need to look wider, for example the corporate sector, diverse industries, art, science, history and nature.

Look outside of what you know and remove yourself from your topic

Search for examples of ‘where in the world?’ that don’t necessarily relate to your challenge directly. It’s about making new connections. You don’t know what you don’t know – until you try.

▪  Pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson teamed up with tent makers to develop ways to bond body tissue after operations.

▪  In the early 90s when the use of aerosols was being discouraged due to the impact on the environment, deodorant companies were inspired by the roller ball pen to spread liquid over a thin area which led to the development of roll on deodorant.

▪  Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press developed from the technology of the screw-type wine presses of the Rhine Valley.

Get Inspired – ColaLife

An inspirational example of the ‘where in the world’ approach is ColaLife. In 1988 Simon Berry was a development worker in remote northeast Zambia. He was bemused that he could buy Coca-Cola everywhere, yet aid organisations struggled to get medical supplies to rural areas. ColaLife identified that part of Coca-Cola’s core business (i.e. the business they were really in), was not soft drink production but logistics and distribution networks.

The Coca-Cola company trains and provides transportation to networks of local entrepreneurs in order to get the soft drink to the far reaches of the world. Coca-Cola is delivered by a variety of carts, bikes and on foot to rural areas.

One in every five children die before their fifth birthday from simple causes such as dehydration through diarrhea. If aid agencies could tap into, or learn from Coca-Cola’s distribution networks it would make a huge difference to the lives of children in Africa.

So one solution is for aid agencies to replicate Coca-Cola’s distribution model and develop their own local networks of trained and equipped entrepreneurs. Good idea.

But Colalife have taken this a step further, they are negotiating with Coca-Cola and the local entrepreneurs who distribute the drink to see how they can use their deliveries to get life saving medicines to the children that need it. ColaLife are now piloting this model in Zambia. You can read more on the ColaLife blog or their Facebook page.

When was the last time you were inspired by a business outside your ‘normal’ remit?

If you want to read more;

Where Good Ideas Come From Stephen Johnson

SOFII – The Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration

Sticky Wisdom? What If! The Innovation Company

Innovation Matters NCVO