The evidence suggests innovation has not been treated as a skill that anyone, from students to senior executives, across any field, can learn and I’m not advocating a universal recipe for becoming innovator. That would be a fool’s errand. I’m asserting that certain basic elements of innovation can be learned, taught and mastered, making innovation a discipline.
Applied Innovation: A Handbook
By Stephen Di Biase, Ph.D.
The topic of innovation is daunting, if you let it be, but my book is not. It's geared to be like the Boy Scout Handbook: Useful in the real world on many levels.
After 40 years in business, where innovation was the key to success, I believe I have acquired an educated point of share with others.
Much has been written about innovation, often by very intelligent people, who frame the topic for like-minded readers. What this means is that a common sense approach to innovation that anyone can improved their life with is perhaps needed.
My treatise on innovation is fun to read, easy to understand and most importantly intuitive to use.
My objective was simple: Convey how anyone can become more innovative thereby learning how to solve problems more effectively, leading to a better life.
Size: 7" x 10"
Innovation is like the weather: It’s widely discussed, poorly understood while being critically important. Much has been written about how innovation drives competitiveness be it as a person, community, business or country and is critical to increasing our quality of life
So how does one approach innovation, when it's such an important impact on our lives? Perhaps an old adage is useful: “how does one eat an elephant?” The obvious answer is: one bite at a time. What I'm suggesting, is innovation can be broken down into the simplest elements, which can be recombined providing a road-map for becoming an innovator. This is what I've attempted to do with "Applied Innovation: A Handbook."
The first question, one should raise is, where to begin? It’s clear that only humans can innovate and that innovation can be taught, learned and mastered like any discipline. However, it’s clear that our educational system is perfectly designed to destroy a person’s natural innovative tendencies.
My approach in writing this book is teaching innovative behaviors with my simple hypothesis that:
- Everyone is capable of and desires to be innovative.
- Innovative behaviors can be mastered over a lifetime.
- Once mastered innovative behaviors become a discipline never forgotten.
- Innovators and problem solvers are synonymous so learning to be innovative empowers a person to solve their own problems leading to a more fulfilling life.
- Finally, it's fun being innovative.
It’s very difficult to argue that innovation is a bad thing. A simple Google search of the term innovation yields more than 420 million citations in less than 1 second most of them positive.
Companies depend on innovation for their long-term survival, yet the innovation process is plagued with uncertainty, risk, surprise and failure. In US-based companies, more than 90% of all innovation initiatives are either abandoned or fail, costing Fortune 1,000 firms alone nearly
$80 billion per year. Fortunately, innovation doesn't have to be a chance occurrence or a random event that is contingent on serendipity or luck.
There is a better way, but it requires managers to think differently about innovation. They must recognize that innovation is not an art form and not random event, but rather a critical business process; a process with specific steps that if managed and controlled would yield desired and predictable results.
If you made it this far you may be asking yourself, “Does the world need another book on innovation”? If you Google the term innovation you’ll obtain 120 million hits in seconds, suggesting there’s a lot of information available on the topic. Some of the greatest minds in the field like Peter Drucker, Clayton Christianson, James Utterback, Steven Johnson and many others, have written brilliantly and extensively describing innovations from many points of view. So why should anyone else bother adding another book to this already substantial library?
The evidence suggests innovation has not been treated as a skill that anyone, from students to senior executives, across any field, can learn in order to become more innovative. I’m not advocating a universal recipe for becoming innovator. That would be a fool’s errand. I’m asserting that certain basic elements of innovation can be learned, taught and mastered, making innovation a discipline. The premise is that a person can become innovative in the same way they learn to ride a bicycle. The analogy is that innovation is natural to human beings, something they can learn at an early age and master to a significant degree and never forget how to do. In fact, learning how to become innovative should be as easy as learning how to ride a bicycle, and is a skill that can be developed at a very early age. So the question becomes, “How does one synthesize what has been published about innovation allowing an individual to acquire the required educated point of view useful in developing innovative behaviors?”
Accepting the definition of innovation as being a human response to, and exploitation of, a change creating wealth in the present, then it seems reasonable that a process can be delineated enabling individuals to become more innovative by first recognizing change, defining itsmeaning to the individual’s circumstances, assessing what responses to make and why, combined with a starting point of how to exploit the change force, creating wealth in the present and then preserving the wealth created. A precondition for such a process to work is that innovation must have common features that are independent of the context in which the innovation will occur.
These common features suggest that innovation is "Fractal", or looks the same independent of your vantage point. My educated point of view comes from combining the thinking of thought leaders in the field of innovation, with the experiences of actual practitioners, into a holistic framework. This framework begins with a strategic view defining what change forces should be responded to, why they're valuable to the endeavor, which specific choices will be made as to where to invest time and money and measurable, desirable results.
This text is divided into six parts beginning with strategy and tactics – what to do and how to do it, followed by very specific approaches to leadership, processes, managing relationships and data in the information age. People do not innovate alone, so how people interact with each other when swimming in an ocean of data is a critical component of being more innovative today.
This is followed by a treatise for converting the innovation into something a customer will value and pay for creating wealth. This part deals with business models, financing, delivery, protection and propagating the success. Finally, I’ll close with some case studies of successful innovations leading to well-known enterprises spanning the globe over the past 300 years in several unrelated industries. The critical objective of these case studies will be to identify the common themes that reoccur when innovation takes place.
The first part will consider the imperative of doing the right things, strategic elements of innovation requiring the enterprise to know what its objectives are, and what they are not and why, allowing resources to be deployed in an effective manner. The second part focuses on the tactical elements of innovation and considers the handful of basic approaches enabling people to interact with their environments in more innovative ways and is underpinned by how people make choices.
The third part deals with conducting innovations in the correct way by defining the cultural norms facilitating innovation to adapting innovative behaviors to the information age. While many innovative techniques withstand the test of time, the tools used to execute these techniques evolve with the advent of new knowledge as represented by social media tools. Given the tools available to innovators, they are ever improving many age-old concepts such as the role of leadership, ability to inquire effectively and managing conflict, among others, are still critical success factors.
Especially critical, given that only people can innovate, and that data, information, and knowledge are expanding at an unmanageable rate, is a strategy for deploying “knowledge workers” in organizational designs that facilitate, rather than disable, innovative outcomes. The worker of the present and future, being far more knowledgeable than in the past, will need to be educated in dealing with ever increasing levels of complexity and ambiguity combined with time constraints.
The fourth part deals with processes providing the framework within which work is actually done and measured, focusing on such processes as road mapping, open innovation, stage-gates, and so on. The concept of Big Data is a euphemism for undecipherable data sets that must be used in decision-making, without relying on deep analysis. This requires a person to exercise excellent judgment in making effective decisions in a timely manner. This circumstance demands methodologies for effective decision making in the absence complete understanding.
The fifth part considers the conduct required when investing resources for serving customers with valuable offerings thereby creating the virtuous cycle of the enterprise making profits available for future investments responding to new change forces. The most important employee in this cycle is the Chief Executive Officer whose leadership skills will define the return on invested resources. Finally, this cycle is embodied in various forms of intellectual property which must be protected by patents, trade secrets, know-how, relationships and other forms of security.
The sixth and final part will explore how crises drive innovation with unexpected consequences. Specifically, conflict, or threat thereof, is a powerful catalyst for innovation that often impacts society long after the military justification has passed. This is the paradox of innovation destroying wealth before creating it. These generic examples will be followed by specific case studies of well-known innovations occurring between 1700 and 2010 where critical common features can be identified in the circumstances, and innovators themselves, proving instructive to present and future innovators.
Given the breadth of the topic I've carefully narrowed this treatise focusing on what anyone can do immediately to become more innovative and delivering their innovations to customers. The action of the innovator, serving a customer, is what makes them an entrepreneur driving wealth creation. The innovator does this by interacting with other people in the correct way and context, combined with enough business acumen, to generate value. In the end innovation and entrepreneurship is all about people. So what do people need to do to become more innovative and using their innovative ability in making the world a better place? What follows is my attempt to answer this question in a way that the average person can learn.
Most people learn from their own experiences, an expected outcome, but then there is a smaller population who can learn from the experiences of others, by witnessing or by reading about, events. These people are wise and the audience I’m reaching out to.
My contribution is to synthesize an educated point of view, from the great minds in the field, such that anyone can become more innovative by just reading the work and pondering how it impacts the way they respond to change.
During my 40-year career in industry and academics I've often learned the “hard way” by trial and error or the “Edisonan Method” which, while effective at times, is very inefficient and physically hazardous for some professions. However, I learned those lessons well and now endeavor to share my learning with those who are “wiser” than me and can learn by reading and visualizing these experiences.x
Often, innovation is thought of as the domain of scientist, engineers and the like, but nothing could be further from the truth. Innovation is “hard-wired” into everyone’s DNA and is how we all adapt to change. Therefore everyone can be an innovator in the correct circumstances.
My target audiences are those passionate and ambitious individuals who want to make the world a better place through their pursuit of innovative activities independent of their background or education. Innovation is the providence of anyone, regardless of their journey in life, educational level, or socioeconomic position. Being innovative is a uniquely human phenomenon and one that is concurrently challenging and pleasurable
If this hypothesis is correct, that everyone can innovate, why is it so uncommon? As a starting point, a simple and actionable framework doesn’t readily exist that communicates how innovation comes from a person’s imagination, curiosity and inquiry. My intent is for the thoughts I share on the following pages to provide a starting point anyone can build upon.
Disciplines are skills that, once taught, learned, and mastered, enter our toolkit as strengths that can be further developed and exploited. The discipline of innovation requires identifying a set of skills that can be mastered, like riding a bicycle, and once learned never forgotten. Becoming a disciplined innovator involves one caveat: This treatise merely provides a road-map someone can use to embark on the journey leading to becoming an innovator. It is not a destination in and of itself. If being innovative is part of our basic genetic makeup, then what diminishes the innovative capacity of so many people and how can this be reacquired?
Humans are their most curious at the age of five. Why age five? Why not ages three or seven? Age five is the age a person is smart enough to ask a genuine question but not smart enough, or educated enough, to have an answer. What happens after age five is the person goes to school and it taught to give answers rather than ask questions, and curiosity is extracted from the student for the next twenty years by the process known as their formal education. Given that curiosity is the root of innovation, does our educational system deprive students of their most valuable trait, which is the willingness to ask a genuine questions driven by their innate curiosity? I’m afraid so.
Innovation is like the weather: Widely discussed, poorly understood and always of interest. CEOs want innovation to be predictable, systematic and even prescriptive so they can factor it into their firm’s ability to create shareholder wealth. People agree innovation is critical for improving quality of life, yet finding an actionable definition is difficult. Innovation is clearly situational, but there are common attributes that can be defined, and when combined with our own experiences, offer a useful template by which anyone can become more innovative. So what are these secrets?
Assuming that the basic principles of innovation are fractal, meaning no matter how one looks at innovation it appears the same regardless of the context, then anyone can apply these principles, independent of their situation, becoming more innovative. Further, these basic principles allow the innovator to learn, teach, and master it as a discipline. These principles become highly enriched when they’re considered in varying contexts.
Innovation has been studied by many great minds over the years, leading to almost innumerable texts on the topic, ranging from the theoretical to the very applied. Despite this vast domain of knowledge, transferring innovative behaviors from one organization to another, or one person to another, is confounded. What works for General Electric or IBM Drucker’s work outside of their environments.
If you ask someone for their definition of innovation, you’ll get many descriptions, most of which are not actionable. Webster says that innovation is a new idea, device, or method.
Alternatively, it can be the active process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods. Wikipedia says that innovation is the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs or existing market needs. These definitions, and many others, are clearly not actionable.
Peter Drucker, arguably one of the greatest minds in business management in the 20th century, said, “Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship: The act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth.”
Building on Drucker’s insight, my own actionable definition of innovation is the following: Innovation is the human response to, and exploitation of, a change creating wealth in the present.
This definition focuses on actions:
Who: Only people are capable of being innovative.
What: Those individuals will exploit the change,
Why: To create wealth,
When: In the present.
Leaving only the context in which innovation will occur: “The How.”
Combining this view of innovation with a complementary definition of leadership, one begins to frame conditions where an average person can develop their skills to be a leader of innovation. Again, there are many definitions of leadership but the one that I believe fits the context of innovation is the following: A leader is an individual who has a continuous stream of insights that are so compelling that followers will subordinate their self-interest for the leader’s objectives.
Critically, these insights must be differentiated, recognizing relationships between observations that are not intuitively obvious to others. These insights, combined with the ability to connect unrelated dots, are what make leaders innovative. Leaders use their insights to frame change as an opportunity that empowers their followers and themselves to create significant value. Leaders accomplish this by cultivating curiosity in their followers, encouraging them to experiment, learn and exploit the change. Exceptional leaders, use this process to garner even more powerful insights perpetuating innovation as a “living laboratory” where their team learns to innovate by being innovative.
As such, making innovation a discipline is an apprenticeship process where innovative people teach others to innovate in a specific context. My intention is to catalyze people’s desires to become more innovative, thereby sponsoring their own continuing development. Once a person becomes an innovator, where these skills are second nature, they are empowered to change the world around them and beyond.
My work is designed to be easily applicable in the real world of very busy people. The text provides the reader with a roadmap for using innovation to build a sustainable business. It should be required reading for any new CEO of a start-up company before they make a "fatal error" that kills they business.
 See Eric D. Beinhocker, The Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics, Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2006; andNick Hanauer and Eric Liu, The Gardens of Democracy: A New American Story of Citizenship, the Economy, and the Role of Government, Seattle, WA: Sasquatch Books, 2011.
 See Tony Wagner, Creating Innovators, The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, Scribner, April, 2012.