Can you teach innovation ?

Is it possible to teach innovation? Can you really change the way people think and unlock their hidden creativity for commercial results? Can you really develop an entrepreneurial mind-set?

In this paper we suggest that teaching innovation is about affecting change in a number of ways. It is about changing the way people think, how they deliver to market and ensuring a supportive innovative culture. This can be done through leadership, creative tools and techniques and adopting an agile approach. In essence it is supporting an organisation to think and act like an entrepreneur.

We will define Innovation as the commercialisation of new ideas (Isakssen et al, 2011). The process of innovating is discovering a great idea (new product, service, process or experience), matching it to a viable business model and getting it adopted by customers. The process starts with creative thinking and finishes with successful commercial success in the market.

Lead innovation

To enable the organisation to think differently and to embrace the agile approach requires innovation leadership. The leadership team need to set-up the organisation so that it can be entrepreneurial and innovation can thrive. An organisation without a strategy for innovation, a structure to allow free movement of ideas or the resources is unlikely to nurture innovation. Innovation leadership is required to role model, encourage and empower employees to deliver innovation which will develop a culture of innovation.

Think different

Often the way we think is built up from our experience and education and so it can be difficult to think freely. The research on creativity identifies that the individual, the environment and the process will all have an influence. The objective is to delay critical thinking and allow creative thinking to happen.

Creative problem solving tools and techniques deliberately take away perceived constraints and change perspectives to encourage free thinking. A supportive environment of suspending judgment and welcoming all ideas is required together with the discipline of initially generating ideas followed by focussing options.

A radical technique for example is to reverse a problem to explore how to make the situation considerably worse before flipping it back to uncover a new innovative idea. These techniques are typically facilitated in a group setting to get the benefit from multiple perspectives which also builds engagement for the selected ideas.

Teaching tools & techniques will result in more creative thinking.

Learn fast

The best way to stop an innovation is to prevent it from getting to the market. Once an idea has been chosen and matched to a viable business model it needs to be tested in the market as soon as possible to gain valuable learnings and understand what is required to make it a market success.

Teaching the agile approach using MVP (minimum viable product) and prototyping to learn fast in the market to inform and iterate until successful will result in more successful innovations.