Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Innovators, innovation teams and the innovation process 2 – identifying, developing and supporting the individual innovator 1

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on May 5, 2013

This is my second installment in a series on innovators and the process of innovation (see Part 1: an organizational and functional story.) I began this series with a basic orienting discussion as to how the issues I will discuss here connect with and follow from other postings and series that I have been adding to this blog. And in that regard I particularly note the series: Keeping Innovation Fresh (see Business Strategy and Operations – 2, postings 241 and loosely following for Parts 1-16.)

My primary goal in that series was to discuss and analyze how innovation can be built into an organization as a source of sustaining value for it, in return for investments made and with a focus on the organization itself. My goal here is to focus on innovation as a process and hands-on innovators themselves, rather than on the organizations that they work for.

• I stated at the end of Part 1 that I would focus on the issues of identifying innovative potential and fostering and developing it here, and with an emphasis on working with the individual innovator, and
• I begin that by noting that all innovation ultimately comes from the creative insights and efforts of individuals who are able and willing to look and to work outside of the standard and conventional.
• And all of what I would write in this posting and in installments to follow, stems from that basic fact. Some businesses see innovation as a cookie-cutter process and as a pattern that can simply be pursued by standardized procedures and on a set timetable, and with little if any risk of failure from any “legitimate” innovative effort. None of that is valid.
• Many if not most organizations downplay the value of creativity and foresight, and of innovative potential in favor of a rigid adherence to here and now standards, visions, understandings and above all – procedure.
• Innovation breaks new ground and supporting innovation and efforts to creatively break new ground always carries risks. And it always carries with it a measure of disruption and of challenge to the status quo.
• Even the most successful innovation development efforts can and do run into and have to overcome unexpected challenges that can skew timetables and bring delays and cost increases. The operational and strategic goal of the innovative organization should be to find and pursue a working balance between tried and true and business as usual, and new and experimental and yes, even disruptively so.
• And in that, and addressing the venture towards innovation and change that takes place within a business that seeks to stay competitive, their goal there should be to skew the risk and benefits balance in their favor so prospective risk overall, is less than potential benefits as developable overall from the ongoing innovation effort – while supporting this effort and the innovators who create it, in the face of possible setbacks.
• In keeping with that, I note that Thomas Alva Edison is commonly thought of as being among the most prolific and profitable inventors in history and his invention of a practical light bulb is often cited as being among his best known, most influential and most important innovations. Yet he had to test out some 700 or more possible light bulb filaments before he found one that would produce light of a sufficient quality and intensity and with sufficiently low power requirements and that would last long enough for these new devices to be useful and marketable – and they had to be producible and marketable at a good, competitive price on top of all of that. (The number of tries here is arbitrary as you can readily find numbers quoted from the 700 that I cite here, well up well into the thousands. I decided to cite the most modest end of the scale offered, which is still more than enough to prove my point.)

So innovation and invention are important as their fruits create the competitive business’ future. The innovative process can be messy, and certainly as it can and does violate simple rote organizational planning and processes. And the innovative business has to find ways to be agile and lean and to keep things simple and focused while allowing for and supporting this.

This sounds simple and straightforward in the abstract and as a matter of general principle, but can become more complicated in practice and when dealing with individual employees in the context of actual day to day work flows and work priorities. And I add that even the most creatively valuable and innovative employees that a business has, start out as unknowns – and the more standard revenue generating here and now business practices and processes still have to go on, and with everyone contributing to the business and its ongoing competitive strength.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will discuss talent searching for innovative potential and excellence, and both from outside of the organization and from inside it and from among its current employees. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at HR and Personnel and also at Business Strategy and Operations and at its continuation page: Business Strategy and Operations – 2.

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