De-Cloaking Innovation

By Chris Grivas, special to Overdrive

The “mystery” of innovation often seems like a cloud-covered grail always just out of reach of people looking to make their business stand out. We look at great innovations like the iPhone, Twitter or microwave oven, and wonder how we can do that. 

We search for that breakthrough idea as if it were a lottery ticket; all we have to do is pick the numbers and we are set for life. The thing is that the odds of finding that idea though just sitting down and generating ideas with your team are about the same as winning the lottery. Generating ideas does not equal innovation … it’s only one step to getting there. The key to deliberate creativity is to understand and apply the whole process and not be bogged down or enamored by just one part of it.

The universal creative process can happen quickly, slowly, in groups or on one’s own. We all do it naturally, whether we know it or not. What researchers have been able to do is put names to that process – an act that helps us be more aware of what we do as well as how we do it. Here it is in a nutshell:

  • Clarify: We explore the problem, opportunity or issue at hand, find all relevant data that will help us make sense of it and figure out the most effective path to take to resolve the situation. Here we are deciding the best avenue(s) to explore.
  • Ideate: We come up with and select ideas for making a change that best addresses the situation. Here we are stretching our minds for all possible (or even seemingly impossible) solutions and then applying critical thinking to identifying those ideas with the most potential – often finding the diamond in the rough.
  • Develop: We tinker with those ideas until they are as perfect as they can be. We break them and rebuild them. We polish them until they shine. Here we are taking that rough idea and making it strong through trial and error, testing and adjusting until we have something that will hit the mark.
  • Implement: We put the idea into action by organizing a solid plan that sets the change up for success. Here we are making change happen by gaining acceptance of the solution, mindfully communicating about the change and adapting the solution as necessary to make it work. 

What the research also tells us is that we all may use this process differently. Some of us may prefer one stage to another, and thus, we may skip stages we don’t like to do or stay in the stages we like for too long. How we engage in the process will either keep that grail in the clouds or place it right in our hands. 

The temptation to focus on the “A-ha” or “light bulb” moment is strong, as that seems to be where the money is. But keep in mind that Edison’s “A-ha!” was preceded by 1,000 failed light-bulb filaments. His success was the result of focused time he and his team spent in the “Developing” stage.

In addition to that inspirational apple falling on Newton’s head, he also had the collective knowledge of previous scientists’ work – the fruit of time given to the “Clarifying” stage. Since the process is something we all do anyway, why not deliberately apply it? It can only turn the odds of winning to our favor.

Chris Grivas is principal of Chris Grivas Consulting, an organizational and leadership development consultancy, and co-author of THE INNOVATIVE TEAM:  Unleashing Creative Potential For Breakthrough Results.

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