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Taylor Halverson, November 29, 2016

Do you want to be more creative? Do you want to see more of your innovative ideas take flight? Do you see an opportunity to solve a significant problem or tackle an issue that has not been resolved satisfactorily? Do you find your imagination sparked and you want that fanned into a lively flame? Are you one who wants to solve pressing social problems, build something that matters to other people, accomplish a wildly audacious goal, inspire others, or make the world a better place?

What do innovation experts say?

According to Tina Seelig, Professor of Management Science & Engineering at Stanford University “The Invention Cycle” (as detailed in her book InsightOut) is composed of four elements that build upon each other in order:

  1. Imagination requires active engagement and the ability to envision alternatives.
  2. Creativity requires motivation and experimentation to address challenges.
  3. Innovation requires focusing and reframing to generate unique solutions.
  4. Entrepreneurship requires persistence and the ability to inspire others.

One must begin with imagination, with conceiving possibilities, then creatively experiment to discover potential solutions. However, the first answer is not usually the right answer. So in the innovation stage one seeks to reframe the problem in order to unlock new possible solutions. Finally, when one has determined viable solutions, an entrepreneurial venture can launch the solution.

Entrepreneurship is not simply about creating a money-making venture, but rather about using rigorous processes to scale up the delivery of a viable solution to a real need. The process of entrepreneurship can be applied to non-profit, government, health-care, education, or any human endeavor that has the potential to be improved, such as family relationships and personal improvement.

Other innovation experts, Jeff Dyer (BYU Business Professor) and Nathan Furr (INSEAD Business Professor), suggest the following four steps to be more innovative.

  1. “Step 1: Insight: Savor Surprises. Leverage questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting—to search broadly for insights about problems worth solving.”
  2. “Step 2: Problem: Discover the Job to be Done. Rather than starting with solutions, start by deeply exploring the customers’ need or problem—the functional, social, and emotional job to be done—to be sure you’re going after a problem worth solving.”
  3. “Step 3: Solution: Prototype the Minimum Awesome Product. Instead of developing full scale products, leverage multiple virtual prototypes to explore many solution dimensions, then iterate on each solution to develop a minimum viable prototype and eventually a minimum awesome product—one that truly delights on a particular dimension.”
  4. “Step 4: Business Model: Validate the Go-to-Market Strategy. Once you’ve nailed the solution, you’re ready to validate the other components of the business model, including the pricing strategy, the customer acquisition strategy, and the cost structure strategy.”

(The quotes above are drawn from this Forbes article).

More insights can be found in Dyer’s and Furr’s book The Innovator’s Method, which builds on Dr. Dyer’s previous book, The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators (co-authored with Hal Gregerson and Clayton Christensen). Through many interviews with CEOs of some of the most successfully innovative companies, the authors of The Innovator’s DNA discovered that innovators practice the following five skills:

  1. Questioning (asking questions that challenge common wisdom).
  2. Observing (scrutinizing behaviors to identify new ways of doing things).
  3. Networking (meeting people with different ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives).
  4. Experimenting (constructing interactive experiences that provoke unorthodox responses to see what insights emerge).
  5. Associating (connecting the unconnected across questions, problems, or ideas from unrelated fields).

The Innovator’s DNA is an excellent resource to guide the practice of generating innovative ideas. However, The Innovator’s DNA does not explain the process of taking innovative ideas through the various stages of validation whereby a great idea is launched successfully into the marketplace through a sustainable business model. Thus, Professors Furr and Dyer authored The Innovator’s Method to fill that gap.

Happy innovating!