• Rachel Kuhr Conn

Misguided Innovation Pains and Where To Focus Instead

I recently had an enlightening conversation with Dan Ward, innovation expert, author and Productable advisor, who got me thinking about what innovation leadership actually needs versus what they think they need.


He hit the nail on the head when he said these are likely different. The disparity between real needs and perceived needs is something I see in nearly every conversation I have with innovation leaders, and it’s something I’ve struggled to address. So, hang with me while I offer up my very blunt thoughts on this topic.


Common themes that come up in conversation are prioritizing acceleration, ideation and collaboration. Undeniably, these are all critical to the innovation process, but I would argue that these are rarely THE most pressing innovation needs to address.


These conflated needs are the very reasons I started Productable. After many years of exploring innovation as a researcher, I found the root cause of any given need was invariably different than its surface. Root cause always points back to some element of process.


Leaders think they need acceleration. What they really need is simplicity.

This is the example that Dan gave during our talk. To provide some background, Dan is a former U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel turned engineer turned military innovation specialist. Like many corporations today, the military is on a mission to accelerate innovation. They know they need to go faster to keep up with competition, but how? One may think they just need to move faster, work smarter. And, in part, that’s correct. The missing piece is that they really need simplicity. Simplicity in ideation, in process and in platform.


When innovation leaders prioritize the need for simplicity, they ultimately achieve their desired outcome: acceleration. The way the Productable platform addresses simplicity is through process, one that is both repeatable and sustainable. Organizations tend to reinvent the wheel every time they set out to develop a new solution. This adds a level of complexity that slows the innovation process down. Please, please...don’t reinvent the wheel. Instead, use a sustainable innovation process that simplifies the complex and moves you through more experiments, more resources and more outcomes in a way that’s far more efficient.


Leaders think they need more ideas. What they really need is experimentation.


This one really gets to me. A few weeks ago, I wrote about When Idea Management Masquerades as Innovation, pointing out that the superfluous focus on ideation gets in the way of real innovation. So many platforms out there emphasize ideas over process: submitting ideas, commenting on ideas, voting on ideas. What they rarely emphasize on any level is testing those ideas using the right validation and experiments. Rarely have I come across an organization that doesn’t have enough ideas to work with. What I do see are those ideas stalling because innovation teams don’t have the right tools or process to move those ideas forward. The blame usually ends up squarely on the idea, which inevitably gets tossed into a bottomless bucket of ideas that get lost or fogotten. Instead of hyperfocusing on “more ideas,” innovation leaders need to focus on taking the ideas they have and running them through proper experimentation to determine whether or not they should be developed further. To quote Thomas Edison, innovation is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.


Leaders think they need collaboration. What they really need is alignment.


Mark my words: alignment will make or break your innovation success. Without true alignment, collaboration is practically useless. What I mean by alignment isn’t collaboration at all. It’s the transparency that should exist from the top all the way to the bottom. It’s the clear and concise communication of business objectives. And it’s translating those goals into expectations for success. Align now, collaborate later. You can start by defining clear goals and outlining what success would look like for your organization. Then shout it from the rooftops. Once everyone is aligned, the collaboration part will come naturally.


I encourage any innovation leader who is reading this to step back and think about exactly which needs a sustainable process may solve. As I said before, addressing the root cause of any given need will likely solve many of the innovation challenges your organization faces.


Rachel Kuhr Conn is an entrepreneur, intrapreneur, researcher, world-traveler and lifelong academic dedicated to making true transformation easier for all. She founded Productable after perfecting her own innovation process for Mark Cuban’s portfolio of startups and is on a mission to help the world’s largest organizations drive fearless experimentation.