An Innovation Dilemma and Question from Michael Dell
How do you complete a jigsaw puzzle? It’s a fair bet that when you were little you were taught to start with the corner pieces, then fill in the straight sides and only after that move on to filling in the centre. And there’s nothing wrong with that approach per se. It can make logical sense to start with the easily identified, to define the scope and then use that information to complete the puzzle.
What happens when…
But what happens when it’s a 3D puzzle or there are no straight sides or some of the internal joins are also straight or the puzzle is jumbled up with others? Life doesn’t always follow the same straight logical pattern and when it doesn’t you need to be able to look at the challenge afresh. And it is that very challenge which is relished by those seeking to innovate.
“If I have ‘favorite’ questions, everybody would know the answers. Instead, when I’m wandering the world, I try to construct a question for every conversation that might generate information that I never had before” – Michael Dell
A six-year research study, The Innovator’s DNA, by Hal Gregerson, Jeffrey Dyer and Clayton Christensen has identified five discovery skills, which characterise leading innovators. By using these skills in varying degrees the world’s best entrepreneurs and innovators are able to unearth ‘stuff’ which we don’t ordinarily see and to create new masterpieces from incomplete information. The five discovery skills are:
Just because two pieces are blue doesn’t mean they are adjacent bits of sky. Associating means being able to connect the dots, to combine pieces of disparate information until they join in new and innovative ways.
Open your eyes and look for the patterns. When you observe properly you unearth deeper, more meaningful insight because you see different things. You can then resolve the real problems you see with solutions which have more substance and resonate with people rather than papering over superficial niggles.
Entrepreneurs and innovators rarely take the easy, find the corners first option, to solving problems. Rather they favour a more “how else can we solve it and what are the options” approach. This requires an ability to accept that things may fail and that the solution may not be the best first time but the process will result in a learning curve and experimentation prevents the solution becoming bogged down in a ‘logical’ process which may never result in a satisfactory answer.
From questioning grows a deep appreciation of the problem and the insight to produce a solution. Instead of assuming we know the answer to a problem or area of tension and in the process potentially making the problem worse; taking time to question, to create an innovative solution results in a long term improvement. A questioning mind never accepts the first or apparently easiest answer but always goes deeper asking what next?” or “how else could we do it?”
The world’s leading innovators take networking in a different context to the traditional definition. They use their constant inquisitiveness to gather people together who are fundamentally different from themselves in order to gain multiple perspectives on problems. This also means they use this to find challenging and opposing views to their own which will engender that spark of creativity.
An innovation dilemma
So individuals with these five discovery characteristics can take the mundane and seemingly unsolvable and transform it into the extraordinary. But on a note of caution before you rush off and hire lots of people who score highly for the required characteristics on the Myers-Briggs indicator, take a moment to reflect. People may score highly in these five discovery skills but if the organisation is not aligned then you might as well try and complete your jigsaw at night, at sea, in the middle of a gale, when the dog has eaten half of the pieces. It just won’t work!
The truth is that in order for individuals and teams to drive innovation the organisation must mirror their behaviour. The environment and ecosystem must be the same, must be aligned with innovation sitting at the heart of the organisational DNA. Anything else is just a waste of talented individuals and promise. The innovation dilemma is that most organisations are not set up to innovate, to make the decisions or to promote the behaviours, which an innovation ecosystem requires.
Everyone says they want or even need to innovate but few actually do.
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Cris Beswick is a strategic advisor on innovation and author. He is also the author of The Road to Innovation, and featured on BBC radio and TV. He is also a contributor for The Times, Financial Times, The Independent, CEO Magazine, Director Magazine, HR Magazine and The Sunday Telegraph. @CrisBeswick
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