Worlds apart, yet so similar: Breakthrough Innovation in two organizations

In the last couple of months we’ve had the opportunity to work with two very different organizations; both want to improve their innovation capability. These contrasts help point out that the principles of breakthrough innovation are similar across a wide variety of organizations. The first was a very large oil and gas company, concerned with technological innovations that could dramatically alter their business. They wanted to understand how to improve their breakthrough innovation capability, and so they paid us a visit back in May. What a great day, and ongoing relationship with them since. They are experiencing one very typical challenge to Breakthrough innovation: they view the issue as one of technology only. How do we find the most radical technology possible to commercialize in our current businesses? While this is a great question, it’s overly constraining. Unless companies realize that technology is just one aspect of Grabbing Lightning, they’ll never be able to commercialize the new opportunities that breakthroughs present.Business models, customer markets, organizational business unit structures will all have to be reconsidered if a company wants to properly innovate via breakthroughs.

The second organization is a Credit Union. Amazing to see a senior leader of a not-for-profit cooperative so proactive about step-change innovation. But he is. He’s designated an innovation team to find new ideas. They are experiencing another very typical challenge, though different from the one our oil and gas company exhibited. In the case of the Credit Union, all innovation is being managed the same. Incremental, evolutionary and breakthrough are all handled by the innovation team, and are all evaluated via the same criteria, and are all managed using the same processes. Secondly, while the innovation team is great at receiving and developing innovation ideas, there’s no one in the organization tasked with conducting mine experiments to see how viable they are. No incubation capability. ..until now, we hope! Distinguishing types of innovation on the spectrum of uncertainty really can make a difference. Manage them differently, and start to see the outcomes.

One Comment

  1. Two interesting and insightful observations, Dr. O’Connor. The first is particularly familiar to us in our work. So often when tackling a familiar challenge, the team believes they already know the nature of the solution, if not the specifics. This limits their ideas to a very narrow range of possibilities.

    The analogy we often make is that when everyone “knew” the world was flat, very few “round world” solutions were offered up for consideration.

    By providing teams with the skills necessary to break free of their preconceived (and all-too-often, limiting) beliefs, they are free to search for less expected, more innovative solutions.

    I look forward to reading more of your posts and learning more about your work.

    Keith Harmeyer
    SmartStorming LLC


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