By John Malnor, Vice President, Growth Initiatives, Steelcase, Inc.
Innovation is simply doing something new—a new way to add value, to complete a task, or solve a problem. The word is used almost as frequently as ‘design,’ and is often paired to create design innovation, experience innovation, or new product innovation.
In his book, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Peter Drucker identified seven sources of new ideas or new ways of adding value. The top catalyst for new ideas came from the unexpected event—a success or failure that was surprising. This requires a team to keep a vigilant focus to make sure we recognize and respond quickly to learn more when an incongruous event happens.
String together Drucker’s work with Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Solution, and we can begin to understand which ideas have the best chance to make a big impact—even disrupt whole industries through adding value in a new way. At the core is crafting a concise problem statement with clear, tight constraints—this drives teams to get creative and also makes it clear if they have solved the puzzle successfully.
Innovation is often thought to be that moment of inspiration by a single mastermind. With a cry of eureka, a new industry is born. But reality is that it usually takes a team to recognize a market opportunity and then design an impactful solution, and that depends as much on the environment in which that team resides as it does the processes they employ or the talent on the team.
The Institute of Design in Chicago has gone so far as to create a number of frameworks and many different tools which can be applied to solving problems and designing solutions. The art is knowing which approaches to use, when to use them, and how to know when you’ve got it right. What can look like paint by numbers can be deceiving. Toyota shares their approach to manufacturing with anyone interested, and leaders in innovation such as IDEO share their philosophy and approach. They know that the practice of innovation requires the subtle balance of talent, processes, culture, and the physical environment with an intense level of hard work wrapping it all together. This implies mastery, which requires intense effort and experience over time. Don’t look for shortcuts and be honest about what you and your team can do—then get help where needed.
Using a blend of user centered research, a variety of tools for exploring new ideas, and applying a lot of experience, a team at Steelcase uncovered some valuable insights about collaboration. These insights were then applied to create solutions which were meaningfully better for the users. The project was built on contributions from Research, our Workspace Futures, IDEO, Design, Product Development, and Marketing. The team recently launched a product called media:scape, which through the integration of furniture and technology, is reshaping the way people collaborate in a networked world.
Most collaborative workspaces today support leader-led presentations where information is controlled and shared by one person at a time. media:scape removes these barriers and democratizes how people access and share information by allowing all participants to contribute their ideas—quickly and seamlessly. Watching people use media:scape and seeing their eyes light up when they realize how easily it enables them to do their work better is a pleasure.
A number of authors have worked to simplify topics such as innovation. But the concept of golf is simple—just hit a small white ball and into a small cup sunk into the ground. The reality is much more complex and requires technique, game strategy, tenacity, and lots of practice. Working to deliver a consistent flow of new ideas can be very similar to golf—amazing when everything comes together, and frustrating when it doesn’t.
It is simple to innovate. Just identify compelling opportunities that fit within your strategy, and create solutions that are immediately embraced by your target market. Simple, but not easy.
About John S. Malnor
John Malnor is vice president of Growth Initiatives for Steelcase Inc., the global leader in the office furniture industry. Steelcase delivers a better work experience to its customers by providing products, services and insights into the ways people work. Its portfolio includes architecture, furniture and technology products.
This article appeared in the February
2010 edition of the DMI News & Views.
Copyright © 2010 Design Management Institute All Rights Reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the copyright holder.
Feedback on DMI Viewpoints and article proposals
are always welcome! Please email email@example.com.
Email this page to a colleague