My Innovation Journey (Week 1): Questions on innovation

Posted on March 10, 2013

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Despite a heavy workload from campaign duties, I decided to take a Coursera class on “Leading Strategic Innovation for Organizations,” partly to give myself something to think about aside from politics and partly to prepare myself for post-political work. I’ve always been interested in idea-generation, innovation, and creativity, and I’ve always felt that I’d already be a millionaire if people paid me for every idea that I generated. (Ask my brother or husband; they get dizzy with all the “Eureka moments” that I declare on a daily or weekly basis! Then again, don’t we all have that feeling at one point or another? :))

However, a friend (to whom I pitched a potential business project) once reminded me that “an idea is NOT a business plan.”  That got me thinking: How ARE ideas transformed from simply ‘great ideas’ into innovative (and potentially lucrative) solutions? What turns a dreamer into an entrepreneur? What turns dreams into profitable realities? 

The Strategic Innovation class takes a practical approach because it studies innovation according to the six constraints that “kill innovation” and creativity. It identifies the factors that cause ideas to fail so that potential innovators could spot them and plan around them before they happen. It also points out the reality that, for many of these great ideas to be marketable innovations, they need to fulfill certain requirements and fall within certain parameters–be it a certain size or shape, a certain price point, certain raw materials or ingredients. Even if you watch shows such as Iron Chef or Project Runway, some of the more interesting challenges have to do with creating innovative products out of pre-determined themes or “secret ingredients.”

Prof. David Owens of Vanderbilt University, our class professor and also the author of the book Creative People Must Be Stoppedlit a bulb in my head when he pointed out that one of our problems is that we have been taught to”think out of the box” when the answers to innovative solutions actually lie deep in the intersection of all of these innovation constraints, at the point where all parameters are fulfilled. (Prof. Owens likes to illustrate his point with Venn diagrams, and they do make it easy to see how innovation happens deep within, not far outside, certain parameters or constraints.)

Does the product fit into one’s jeans pocket? Check. Does it cost less than $299? Check. Is it easy to navigate for 12-year-olds or 82-year-olds? Check. And so on.

Given this new insight, how should we then approach innovation? And what do we then say when someone challenges us to “think outside the box”? (And in my case, think “out of the universe!”)

I’ll be tackling that as the days and weeks go by, and as I share information and readings from my class. In the meantime, here’s a cool overview video of Prof. Owens’ class and book.

What are YOUR own questions and ideas about innovation? Let’s talk here! :)

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