Innovation by design

Demian Entrekin · November 13, 2008 · Short URL:

We don't do magic

 In an interview article with Tim Brown, CEO at Ideo, I came across a statement that caused me to stop reading and sit back in my chair. The interview question was about the process of innovation within an organization:

"Tim Brown: Even though companies want everyone to be thinking about innovation all the time, the reality is that everybody’s got other roles to play. So innovation is not a continuous activity; it’s a project-based activity. If you don’t have a process for choosing projects, starting projects, doing projects, and ending projects, you will never get very good at innovation. Projects need some form—you call them something; you run them in a certain way; you fund them in a certain way. That sounds simple, but, actually, a good process for getting projects going and done is often not obvious to companies."

Let me just spend a few more characters here and repeat one phrase: "innovation is not a continuous activity; it’s a project-based activity."

The quick background on Ideo is that they do new ideas. These guys noodle on everything from medicine delivery techniques to consumer products to childhood education. They are an idea laboratory. Their product is the new idea. They "create impact through design."

One might be tempted to look at this kind of innovation as a mysterious creative process, a process that cannot be clearly identified and that it is imbued with inscrutable shades of genius and black magic. Perhaps even a toad leg or two.

A confession: reading this statement felt like victory. When I started working on ways to create transparency in the project life cycle, I knew that one of the biggest objections would be the fear of stifling innovation. My response was always that we only stifle innovation in a transparent environment if we are not committed to invest in innovation in the first place. If innovation has to happen via secrecy and subterfuge, then what kind of organizations are we running?

As I have said "The future state of an organization is controlled by the people who lead it, and that future state is orchestrated via projects."

I'll let Tim Brown have the last word on why this stuff matters: "In the end, all businesses exist to serve some kind of human purpose. If you can’t somehow frame what you do in terms of having an impact on the world, I don’t see how you can have a very effective business."

(Image source: itorganization)

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