Innovation building blocks

How we collaborate dictates how we innovate. How we build teams predicts how they will perform. Research in the field of creativity demonstrates the explicit use of a creative process yields higher predictive team effectiveness (number and quality of ideas, team morale and enjoyment). So it is crucial for leaders to understand how their teams are best structured to creatively solve problems. But how to measure effective collaboration? How do we tune talent to tools and technology in a sustainable way?

Chances are the foundation of whatever process or framework you employ looks like Breakthrough Thinking, an applied innovation methodology based on 60 years of study in the field of creativity.

Deconstructing the building blocks of innovation, we find a common set of elements:

1 – Explore your Challenge – Clarify the problem, challenge or opportunity. Sift through the relevant data and context of a problem to highlight the essence. This is the time to get all your assumptions out on the table. It is also the optimal time for root cause analysis.

One effective means of understanding your challenge, goal or problem is to perform a gap analysis:

  • Where are we now? (current reality)
  • Where do we want to be? (desired future state)
  • What are all the things standing between our current reality and our desired future state?

Design Thinking offers exceptional input here as well in the form of empathy maps. The more intimately connected you are to your end user, consumer or stakeholder, the greater the likelihood you will uncover  a meaningful insight.

2 – Imagine the Possibilities – Consider all the possible ideas related to answering the challenge. How do we bridge the gap from current reality to our desired future state?

Brainstorming is a technique most often used here, though there are numerous divergent thinking tools to help bring out the best novelty.

However you generate ideas, deferring judgment during ideation is key. That means get your ideas out on the table (or wall), and determine their value later. Studies show the best (most novel) ideas are in the last third of ideas generated, so don’t be afraid to push for more.

3 – Shape your Future – This step in Breakthrough Thinking helps you answer the question, “What do we need to do to achieve our to-be?” Select and strengthen the best ideas, assess them for impact and feasibility, develop them into a workable solution.

  • Filter: which ones stand out?
  • Evaluate: what do you like about the ideas you selected? What could you improve?
  • Prioritize: what do you see yourself doing now? What next? Who are the key stakeholders who must be on board?

4 – Act! – Plan for action and implement. Set up an action plan and assign concrete tasks. Then execute on those tasks. Learn from your mistakes, but keep the ball in play. The goal is to learn by doing; experimentation helps challenge your assumptions and validate your level of clarity.

Contingency planning is key. What could go wrong? What should we do if it does go wrong? Whose support do we need? How do we get it?

5 – Iterate – It’s not over yet. Breakthrough Thinking is a re-entrant process, in which you revisit previous steps along the way to verify you’re on the path to breakthrough.

Immediate takeways for any team
  • The process of applied innovation is not linear. Every step of the process can and should repeat, especially where there needs to be more clarity or re-calibration.
  • None of the elements of breakthrough thinking are novel. Most likely you recognize the intuitive part each element plays in collaborative problem solving. The question is: how deliberate is your team’s approach to collaboration?

If your method of innovation is not intentionally reinforced, it is likely your team has biases (both strengths and blindspots) that will hamper your innovation potential. The more you experiment with these steps, the more likely you will uncover both.

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