Innovation by Surprise

Join the supply chain conversation at Think Supply ChainI am about to embark into dangerous territory – at least for me – and make a sports analogy. Innovation is about field goals and touchdowns. Both can add up to victory. At least that is how I am summarizing comments to my last post. Bob Trent, Paul Pittman, and Chet Frame write about the process of continuous improvement creating a culture of innovation. It’s about the discipline and, as Chet says, “the daily commitment to working better.” Field goals.

But Kevin Wurtz reminds us that touchdowns can lead to big victories. The concept of inward- and outward-facing innovation really is interesting. Kevin states, “inward-facing innovation is expected, it is why we do what we do. Outward-facing innovation is a surprise we didn’t anticipate.”

Continuous improvement obviously is not easy to achieve. It requires a sustained effort, a supportive culture, and absolute belief in the fact that no matter how well we are doing, we can do better. Although it takes a highly coordinated and dedicated effort on the part of employees at all levels in the company, it is in management’s control.

Outward-facing innovation, the big idea that emerges in part from the arrogance of knowing what people want before they do, comes as a surprise. But if it is not planned, can it be cultivated?

I wonder how many companies we can name that, year after year, create demand for products we didn’t know we needed? At the same time, companies continue to make those products better. How do they do that? What is their secret?

26 thoughts on “Innovation by Surprise

  1. The secret is Focus. Not much of a secret though. I think of TOC’s 5 focusing steps and how they apply to process innovation and could be extended somewhat into product innovation, but reality trees are probably a better tool for products, especially if determining which of several products to release. And for Lean we would be reviewing Value Stream Mappings (current and future state), with Kaizen Events and other tools to help innovate

    So, there is process innovation and product innovation. Could process innovation lead to product innovation, perhaps, but I do not think either is a necessary condition for the other. There are companies or perhaps visionaries who build products we do not know what we want. But it is not just the vision that matters. I think about the original developer of digital
    cameras, Kodak and how a lack of vision has caused it to become a shadow of its former self. I mean even digital cameras are though not that everyone has a decent one on there mobile device.

    So what does it take for Product Innovation?

    Ideas, Focus, Hard Work and the right Environmental Variables (think timing) and a little bit of luck.

  2. Perhaps part of the secret is attributed to human talent? Some people are naturally inclined to be analyzers. Others are great at selling and socializing. Still others are wired to be creative innovators. In my view the challenge for any enterprise is to hire the delicate mix of people with different strengths to support a creative culture.

  3. I would add the ability to see patterns emerging. Using social media to see what is being repeatedly talked about can help trigger ideas. Another would be reading about a concept completely from a different field and pondering what new metaphors can be created from it

  4. Sharon

    Good fodder for thought and bringing it into sports terms! [Of course, it IS baseball season!]

    Over the years we have all been on both sides of making changes: the ones making the change, the ones being changed. After you get by the territorial nature and self preservation instincts within each of us, I’ve found the next hurdle is inertia. We have to overcome the natural tendency to stay at rest when we think we’ve gotten to a good place in our products or processes. Continuous improvement is all about getting the ball rolling and using inertia to keep it from coming to a rest.

    Bill menitons focus in his comment; Anne mentions the human element and Chuck talks vision. These are all factors that come directly from and support the strategic decision from the top leadership in a company that the culture will be to keep moving and never be satisfied with where you are in any aspect of the business.

    Remember a song from the late 60′s or early 70′s: … love you more today than yesterday but not as much as tomorrow …


  5. Interesting thoughts – They took me to a question from our own history.

    Who was more innovative – Orlicky, Plossl, or Wight? (Baseball? – Z)

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