Friday, December 6, 2013

The Core Algorithm of Innovation

(image credit)
We are not at a loss for ideas, methods or concepts on innovation, and yet many top leaders still seem to struggle to make it work for their companies.  The following are recent examples of sound, thoughtful advice:

In this interview, Matt Kingdon suggests:
  • Reverse course, and do something different
  • Ask questions that others aren't asking
  • Make your ideas real and practical
  • Battle the corporate machine

Brainstorming vs. Braincalming
In what he describes as braincalming, Mitch Ditkoff suggests that innovative ideas come best during down time: for example, when we're about to sleep or wake up, or when we drive or shower.

Hacking Creativity: Four Ways to Stay Innovative On Your Day-to-Day Grind
Charles Best offers these up:
  • Find a catcher's mitt for great ideas across the organization
  • Study other companies with great ideas
  • Empower the Nerds
  • Expose your team to great thinkers

Which of these, or other ideas, will actually work best for you and your organization?

It's trite to say, but only you and your organization can decide that:  No writer, adviser or guru can do so for you.  So what I offer here is not more innovative ideas, but rather a process for determining and deciding what will actually work for you and your organization.  

Some CEOs may ask a consultant for successful case studies or proof that his or her method works.  I argue that this is the wrong question to ask:  That case or method may have been wildly successful in 10/10 situations, but there is no telling ahead of time that that track record will advance into 11/11 for your particular situation.  Consultants exploit the wrong question by marketing their stuff as:  proven method, scientifically tested, or doctor recommended.  These do not answer the question of:  Will it work for you and your organization?   

So what to do?

Step 1. Begin with the end in mind, and clarify your purpose.

What are you trying to accomplish in your organization?  What are your priorities and objectives, strategies and plans, along with your vision and mission?  Innovation is not an end in itself, but a means to an end.  Be sure to keep this distinction clear.  Call it mindset, culture or concept, innovation is simply a way to fulfill your purpose as an organization.  That purpose may be as critical and practical as gaining a competitive edge, or as lofty and ambitious as that of Steve Jobs: Make a dent in the universe.  

Step 2. Walk backwards from there and then, and map the pathways to where you are here and now.

In what I call a complete sweep, What are all the things that you and your organization need to do to realize that end in mind?  In the best possible effort, you must leave no stone unturned.  These factors fall in the following broad categories:
  1. Individual (i.e., you yourself as the CEO)
  2. Organizational (i.e., everything and everyone within your company)
  3. External (i.e., all that is outside your company)
This step is about being honest, true and realistic with yourself and others, particularly in determining what will actually work.  It can be a very difficult step indeed.  If it suits you, by all means read, and watch, and learn from what others have to say, such as those whom I mentioned earlier.  But such reading, watching and learning are not about drawing their lessons learned or even adopting their best practices.  Rather, it's more about considering, weighing, and teasing out what will actually work for your and your organization vis-a-vis your end in mind.

It's possible you will have to modify whatever you learn, that is, to a smaller or a larger extent.  Alternatively, you may decide to dismiss others' ideas, methods or concepts, because, let's say, to your benefit, these things prompted you to come up with your own ideas, methods or concepts.  Moreover, your walk backwards, complete sweep may tell you that tried-and-true, more conventional solutions work perfectly to reach your aims.  In this case, you can keep your thinking mainly inside the box.   

In short, then, any, or all, or none of the above, may work for you.  You arrive at this determination, again, by thinking about and reflecting on these things, in relation to your purpose.  

Step 3. Walk these pathways, and do what you have to do to realize your end in mind.

This final step is obviously about execution, which for many organizations is easier said than done.  So many things have to happen, in order for goals to be achieved, results to be produced, and problems to be solved.  But the success of such an effort hinges, I argue, on well-conducted first and second steps above.  (1) To the extent that you and your organization are crystal clear on what you're all trying to accomplish, and you're on the same page in such clarity; and (2) to the extent you've effectively done the good, hard work of laying the pathways between where you are trying to be and where you are now; (3) then, relatively speaking, you are on easier road with your execution efforts.

Your ability, motivation and energy as a CEO figure prominently, of course, in leading this execution.  In parallel to these, people in your organization  must possess the requisite capabilities and engagement, structure and resources, belief and mission to undertake all the necessary walk-these-pathways efforts.  

The foregoing three steps are that of The Core Algorithm, and Part 4: Achieving Organizational Aims (video narration) offers more details.  I invite you to contact me at, if you'd like to talk about this model vis-a-vis your particular situation.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

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