Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Mantras for Innovation

In uncertain times, when we are struggling to find our way, a compass is often considerably more effective than are strict directions. When innovation is the objective (particularly under the threat of disruptive innovation), the need for such a compass can be compelling. Since innovation is all about doing something that we've never done before, "rules & regulations" are not going to get us very far; what we need is a form of compass that provides confidence that no matter what the disruption, we are operating in a way that is likely to raise (not lower) the probability of our success.

With the uncertainty of disruptive innovation threatening nearly every industry, I offer three "compass-like mantras" that have come out of our recent work on Innovation at IMD:

  1. More ideas are always better than fewer;

  2. More minds are always better than fewer; and

  3. More different minds are always better than the same minds.
I have used the term mantra to describe these because I feel as if they are "incantations" to be repeated over again in the face of great uncertainty and risk -- in much the same way that in some Asian religions' mantras are used as an incantation repeated in the hopes of creating transformation. According to Wikipedia, the actual etymology of the Indo-Iranian origins of the word suggests that repeating the words brings out the inherent truth in them. In fact, I find them a reassuring test of the essential question that, in times of stress, we so quickly dispense of, namely: "are we following the right path towards getting the sorts of ideas that we need to avoid falling hostage to our many organizational and professional clich├ęs and assumptions?"

Lest anyone think that I have lost my mind in my advocation of "more rather than less" ideas, I want to argue that over the course of my career in innovation I have met few [none?] organizations that suffer from having too many good ideas. Admittedly, there are times and places where making a choice and moving-on is necessary; but all too often what I see is a discomfort for new ideas in the face of enthusiasm for -- action: "Ready, Fire, Aim" as the metaphor for organizational decision making around innovation; and that's what these mantras may, in fact, be most helpful in resisting.

The image of the dancing Shiva that accompanies this post was taken in my home and is used in recollection of J. Robert Oppenheimer's recital of words from the Bhagavad-Gita on the occasion of the detonation of the first Atomic bomb: July 16. 1945.

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