Innovation Howto

I attended the seminar Do Many Hands Make Innovation Work? around two weeks at the Irish Computer Society (ICS) and meant to write up some notes before the next event (Capturing The Spark of Creativity) this Friday, April 30th. I am only getting around to it now, of course.

The seminar was given by Michael O’Duffy of DCU’s Centre for Software Engineering and David Trevitt of Business Knowledge Innovation. This is not meant to be a report of the talk, but rather my recollection of the points I found most important or interesting.

As I mentioned in a previous post, innovation needs to be a conscious process. “If not, it probably won’t happen,” Trevitt said. The speakers spoke of how James Dyson went through 5,000 iterations over five years to get his vacuum cleaner right.

Innovation is not all big ideas and inventions. It can come as process improvements, business offerings, product delivery or as a financial change.

Simple concepts count as innovation, too. O’Duffy cited the example of the Irish company, Moffet Engineering, which pioneered the truck-mounted forklift.

In terms of company dynamics, Trevitt said it is up to senior management to set the boundaries for risk and to “openly tolerate failure.” A firm will not be innovative “if there is a culture of fear and blame,” he said. Trevitt said people will gladly volunteer ideas if they see a benefit to themselves or the company. O’Duffy acknowledged that ideas come from people but they emerge most often in group situations. He suggested starting with the end in mind — even if you have no idea how to get there. Another approach is taken by IBM, who file over 1,000 patents a year. Unsure how to handle that volume of material, they opened up their patents to outsiders to see if they could partner with them to commercialise the inventions.

Trevitt advised on how to handle company politics. If making a pitch to senior management, he suggested making the sponsor look good. “Deliver early wins,” he said. Other parts of the organisation have important supporting roles to play. Those include HR, which will set a hiring and rewards system, financial and administrative controllers, project and programme management, and IT.

Some surveys were mentioned. The first was scientific when O’Duffy told of how they contacted Irish CEOs to determine if innovation was part of their corporate culture. Nearly all of them put it in their top-three list of what was most important. They were then asked how this was put in to action. “This was where the fudgy stuff came in,” he said, noting it is important that innovation be more than lip service.

There was also a less unscientific survey.  O’Duffy asked the two dozen or so participants whose organisation was innovative. Around three put up their hands. Then he asked who would like to be part of an innovative organisation: Everyone. He said we are recognised as creative in Ireland. The question is, “Do we turn it in to anything?”