Saturday, June 30, 2007

Innovation

Guy Kawasaki posts a great Q&A with Scott Berkun, author of The Myths of Innovation.
I teach a creative thinking course at the University of Washington, and the foundation is that ideas are combinations of other ideas. People who earn the label “creative” are really just people who come up with more combinations of ideas, find interesting ones faster, and are willing to try them out. The problem is most schools and organizations train us out of the habits.
Not only is this a problem with schools that train us out of these habits, but also Corporate engineering cultures that smother it to death. How many engineering organizations have a procedure for "trying out a new idea" or "doing something innovative"? Is there a form for that?

In a company with a primarily manufacturing focus, innovation is discouraged because change is seen as a threat to the consistency and stability of production. The objective of a manufacturing centric culture is to produce exactly the same thing in exactly the same way, every time. Change is dangerous, and thus only facilitated through bureaucracy that purposefully makes it difficult, and slows down innovation.

In an earlier post, Joel Spolsky pointed out something I found interesting:
Don't be smug because you think that conglomerates went the way of the dodo. "Conglomerate" is just an old word for what you call "Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google."
It's true. Google and Microsoft really are the modern day multinational conglomerate. But what's different about Google that is providing it the opportunity to kick ass right now? It's culture encourages innovation, rather than stifling it.

A manufacturing culture puts up a barrier to getting new products out the door--resistance to change in production. Even a software culture like Microsoft can smother innovation with bureaucratic project initiation and product management practices.

Google takes a shotgun approach to innovation--try everything and see what wins. Whereas a culture like Apples is probably much more selective, yet seems to strike a balance that allows it to innovate on a few products and focus well.

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