The Essence of Innovation: Overview of Prerequisites, Components and Process

by Sandy Nelson on June 28, 2010

There is excitement in the air!

In the midst of environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, extended war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and economic and political upheaval at home and abroad, the introduction of yet another innovation from Apple commands extensive media attention and engages millions in animated discussion.

Apple reminds us that human creativity almost always finds a way to surprise and delight.

How is it that one group of people can so consistently raise the level of the play for all?

Like all the best innovators, our friends at Apple hold themselves to high standards. And, while I have no specific knowledge of their inner workings, I have, for years, led and worked, hand-in-glove, with many teams of highly talented innovators.

In my early career as a design director for a respected architectural firm and through my current focus on catalyzing full potential performance in dynamic organizations, I am privileged to routinely and closely observe the practices and methodologies of successful innovators.

Learn by diving in

Many moons ago, having found what I then believed to be my calling in life — architecture — I entered my first design studio. A truly exhilarating moment!

Yet, when I received my first design assignment, exhilaration quickly gave way to intimidation. How was I to translate my first project brief into a viable and compelling solution? Was my dream of building a life around and making a living through design sheer fantasy, or would I be able to pull off a credible product?

I discovered the answer, of course, by overcoming uncertainty and diving into opportunity. Once the project was complete, I was able to enthusiastically move on to my next assignment — describing the process I had used to arrive at my design.

Articulating the process of innovation

Thus began a lifelong discipline: do, observe, reflect, analyze, crystallize and articulate the process of innovation. As a result, we now have a simple, straightforward, replicable, and scalable approach to innovation that Aperio’s clients consistently find to generate remarkable value.

Recurrent and reliable innovation requires the presence of a set of key Prerequisites, is dependent upon leveraging a few essential Components, and revolves around a consistent Process.

Prerequisites to innovation — tickets to the playing field:

  • Mindset:  Innovators are open to possibility — they are committed learners.
  • Engagement:  Innovation is an outcome of immersion in a particular field of interest. Through engagement comes insight.
  • Discipline:  Focus on what matters. Decline distraction.
  • Trust:  In self, process and team.
  • Perseverance:  Steadfastness in the face of frustration, uncertainty and ambiguity.
  • Pragmatism:  A commitment to what works.

Components — essential elements of successful innovation:

  • Creative Leadership:  Inspire, mobilize, focus and reward engagement, creativity and risk.
  • Creative Flow:  Alternating periods of intensity, distraction and play, and reflection.
  • Creative Methodology:  Read the world, see what’s there and what’s missing, identify and define opportunities, launch and complete innovation cycles. Repeat.
  • Creative States:  Appreciative inquiry, cognitive, sensate and combined.
  • Creative Collaboration:  Synergistic creativity.

Process — how creative people and teams work:

I take the risk of putting forth my thoughts and ideas. You respond with honest assessments in the form of critiques that suggest alternative possibilities. I build upon your thoughts to develop and offer more of my own. Through this back-and-forth dynamic we collaboratively arrive at solutions.

Along the way, the experience of generating and testing options and alternatives leads us to new insights and possibilities. We learn from the process, adapt, and transform learning and adaptations into innovation. By doing so — through practice over time — we increase our speed of creativity, build collaborative rapport, reduce idea-to-market timelines and move ideas from nascent thoughts to tangible outcomes.

Adding value now

What do you notice about innovation? How can you imagine adding value through your creativity in way that can have positive impact during a time of extreme social and political complexity? How might you envision putting the prerequisites and components of innovation that I have outlined to work for you? What is missing in my overview?

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: