There is one striking insight common to the business quest for innovation, to solving intractable community problems and for turning around public disquiet with the poor state of current political debate. It is this:
Truly original and powerful ideas successfully put into action require unconventional thinkers and perspectives, unorthodox combinations of activities and partners, and an uncommon ability to anticipate and defuse forces hostile to these endeavours.
It is well-known that innovation is more than simply creativity, or new technologies, or commercialising inventions or discoveries. Innovations that transform and endure provide unexpected value to people—customers, users, or stakeholders—and pay more attention to the business model that delivers the benefit and profit from novel ideas, than to the creation of these ideas alone.
We need to understand more about how this kind of innovation works.
An illuminating summary of latest research from the independent business school IMD Professors Cyril Bouquet, Jean-Louis Barsoux and Michael Wade appears in a Harvard Business Review article titled ‘Bring Your Breakthrough Ideas to Life’. This article makes the case for divergent thinking, the role of outsiders, pausing for reflection, imagining the unexpected and a focus on manoeuvring around the often tacit obstacles to original and unconventional offerings.
These researchers have distilled five practices to bring innovation to life:
1. Attention: look closely and through a fresh lens
Be aware of unconscious bias from your profession or training. Consider niche populations, observe and find ways of detecting unmet needs or unserved customers.
2. Perspective: step back to expand understanding
Reflect and learn. Avoid the rush to problem-solving, try “strategic procrastination”. Pause and make sense of weak signals.
3. Imagination: look for unexpected combinations
Challenge orthodoxy and envision what is not. Make connections between existing strengths and new opportunities. Bring in outsiders with different subject matter knowledge, e.g. the McLaren Formula 1 racing team applying their capabilities to emergency health care systems and air traffic control services.
4. Experimentation: test smarter to learn faster
Test to improve, rather than to prove concepts and prototypes. Be open to sharp changes in direction, be prepared not just to pivot but to reboot.
5. Navigation: manoeuvre to avoid being shot down
Read potentially hostile environments both inside and outside the organisation. Mobilise supporters, especially unconventional allies.
This research, while focused on business innovation, could equally apply to solving persistent and complex social and economic challenges in the community, and to lifting the tone and quality of politics and public debate which is often criticised as being overly partisan and adversarial.
Australia has a case study that demonstrates innovative action on difficult problems by tapping into ideas from diverse and unconventional perspectives and by taking practical steps to implement emerging solutions.
The Eidos Institute (Eidos), a not for profit social enterprise, is a network of partners seeking to change the way Australia’s important social and economic issues are solved, beyond simplistic answers and quick fixes. With the support of philanthropists, Eidos aims to be a place for informed, intelligent and collaborative problem-solving in the public interest.
Eidos operates by conducting a tested process of Challenges with systematic steps to clearly define the problem, stimulate wide-ranging engagement and actively seek out and test solutions. Eidos’ approach draws on the knowledge and expertise of diverse people and organisations that are rarely connected together, and finds a way to open up new ideas and action for solutions in a timely manner and with an unusual depth of evidence and insights.
Eidos models a better pathway for public policymaking and debate by being an incubator of fresh ideas for action and change on problems that matter.
So, the current research from the IMD professors on business innovation and the Eidos case example on better problem-solving reach the same conclusion.
The development and survival of truly original breakthrough ideas – whether in business, the community or politics – relies on exposure to diversity and the unorthodox, plus the adaptability to learn and to successfully turn ideas into action.
Cyril Bouquet, Jean-Louis Barsoux and Michael Wade, Bring Your Breakthrough Ideas to Life, Harvard Business Review, November-December, 2018.
Narelle Kennedy serves as the Chair of the Eidos Institute Ltd – see website at www.eidos.org.au