The ingredients of innovation: Process, people, culture, courage

Written by Rob Hubbard on 13 March 2019 in Opinion
Opinion

Innovation has just four ingredients, according to Rob Hubbard.

Reading time: 4 minutes.

In this second article in our series on innovation we’re going to look at the main ingredients that make a supportive environment in which innovation in learning can flourish: These are Process, People, Culture and Courage – or 

P2C2 = Innovation

We’ll also look at some of the attitudes and behaviours that kill innovation dead and how sometimes we can see the words and actions of senior people at odds with our ambitions to be more innovative.

Process

Innovation doesn’t just happen. It’s achieved through a careful, considered design process. You may think this sounds counter-intuitive, we are conditioned to think that transformational ideas appear like a bolt from the blue, a flash of inspiration, the famous eureka moment.

As an innovator you are breaking new ground, discovering new questions and finding new answers to old questions. You are generating solutions to the problems we face in the world of today.

In fact solutions come because your brain has been working on the problem without you knowing. Which problems does your helpful unconscious mind work on? The ones you give your attention to. 

An innovation process allows you to: 

  1. Understand the user at depth and empathise with them
  2. Explore the problem or opportunity from their perspective
  3. Define precisely the problem or opportunity
  4. Generate possible solutions
  5. Sort, prioritise, test and discard solutions
  6. Prototype and pilot possible solutions
  7. Analyse the outcomes, iterate the solution
  8. Rinse and repeat

The innovation process says to your brain ‘HEY BRAIN – THIS IS IMPORTANT STUFF’ and this will engage your unconscious mind in solving the problem. Between stages 3 and 4 it’s important to back off from the problem and occupy yourself with something else. Allow your brain to gently rest against the problem and ideas will come – be ready to capture them.

 

Process sounds rigid but in this case it isn’t, you can loop within this process as you progress. It’s more of a workflow, guiding you towards a solution.

People

The process, however, will only get you so far. There is no magic innovation model / approach / pixie dust here. You need the right people asking the right questions and really listening and observing for answers. This takes a certain sort of person. The key attributes for people who are able to consistently innovate include being:

  • Naturally curious 
  • Open to new approaches
  • Comfortable with ambiguity
  • As ego-free as possible 
  • Comfortable getting things wrong
  • Resilient, so they can keep plugging away in the face of failure
  • Insightful, so they are able to glean meaning from data and observations
  • Positive in their mindset

They also need a keen interest in human behaviour in general and also of the humans they are designing a solution for in particular. It’s also good to have a mix of people from different roles – a cross-functional team.

Many of the greatest innovations of our time didn’t come from the experts in that field, but from people in related fields. These ‘outsiders’ have enough knowledge to fully appreciate the problem or opportunity, but they are not immersed to such an extent that they have established paradigms and beliefs about what will and won’t work.

Culture

The term 'Agile' gets used a lot these days. 'Minimum Viable Product' and 'Design Thinking' too. These are all approaches that involve a large amount of failure, but how culturally acceptable is it to fail in your organisation? The senior leaders may say ‘It’s OK to fail’ and ‘Fail fast’, when what everyone else is thinking is ‘PLEASE DON’T LET ME FAIL. PLEASE DON’T LET ME FAIL.’ 

The only true failure is one that you learn nothing from, because you are doomed to repeat that action again and again. Doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result is madness. But how many in business are guilty of this because ‘It’s the way we do it here’ – elearning modules anyone?



Having a culture where new ways of thinking are encouraged takes time to develop, particularly if your company culture has traditionally been one of command-and-control.

It is helpful having senior leaders talking about innovation and agility, but they need to walk-the-talk too. They could do this by recording videos on ‘The three biggest mistakes I made in my career and what I learnt’.

When there has been a notable failure within the organisation, have senior leaders approach it positively and publicly, looking for and sharing the learning from it. Designing in continuous improvement thinking to business processes is a way to encourage an innovation mindset from the ground up.

Courage

Yes, innovation takes courage. You are taking a risk, albeit a calculated one. It is difficult to teach courage, but you can inspire it. Having an innovation process in place and working with the right people within a supportive culture will inspire courage and risk-taking. 

As a lifelong designer in both physical and digital realms, innovation for me is the pinnacle of design. As an innovator you are breaking new ground, discovering new questions and finding new answers to old questions. You are generating solutions to the problems we face in the world of today.

So remember P2C2 = Innovation.

 

About the author

Rob is the founder and creative lead at LAS.

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