In their fascinating book, INsourcing Innovation, authors David Silverstein, Neil DeCarlo and Michael Slocum point out that innovation is practiced in many companies today by a small, select group of highly educated people. For innovation to become more structured and repeatable, more people need to be trained in the processes and methodologies of innovation (their particular bias is towards TRIZ). In this respect, the authors believe that the state of innovation today is following the same evolutionary path that quality did throughout the 20th century:
“In the early days of mass production, companies approached quality improvement the way business approaches innovation today: as a special task for special people. At that time (early 1900s), the big differentiating factor was volume, and almost everyone in company operations was focused on productivity, or the number of units produced over time… When quality issues arose, highly skilled and educated people would solve them if they could. Only very few people knew how to plan for quality, improve quality, and solve quality problems.
As the mass economy grew, however, more variation and defects… spawned the need for more and better quality control… Quality, not volume, became the new differentiator, so companies went quality crazy… By necessity, quality became everyone’s job, not just the job of the few.
As it tends to do, the proverbial wave of change took what was once uncommon knowledge and made it common to all. More organizational force was exerted to improve quality in every operation, every process, every job – because the competitive imperative to do so demanded this, and because the cost of poor quality was too high. In the same way, today the cost of poor innovation is too high, and the innovation imperative is eclipsing the quality imperative.”
The authors point out that large companies today like to hire innovation gurus and authors to help guide them in their innovation efforts. They don’t have anything against these highly educated experts, but they believe that this doesn’t help these companies to democratize innovation. In addition, some of these thought leaders have built a body of knowledge around the idea of destructive, divergent thinking – which tends to have a low percentage of success. After they get burned a few times trying to implement divergent ideas, organizations often retreat from innovation to the relative comfort of incremental improvement.
“The strategic innovation thought leaders have made everyone believe that innovation is a product of great minds thinking analogously, openly, creatively and compellingly. Yet the fact is that all strategic and technical innovations fall in line with various patterns, parameters and principles – all of which are contained in the body of TRIZ knowledge. The… truth is that there’s a place for both types of creativity in the drive for innovation. A company needs the divergent methods of creativity and the convergent methods of TRIZ, depending upon the specific strategic or tactical tasks at hand.”
I’ve only made it through one chapter of INsourcing Innovation so far, but it’s already obvious to me that the authors are on to something. In the search for a systematic process for innovation, there’s no question in my mind that TRIZ ought to be a key element.