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Old tools can’t create new innovations

Let’s face it – if you want to do the same things over and over again and get the same results, the tools and methods you are using will do just fine.  In fact, since you’ve used the same tools over and over again, your comfort level and knowledge of the tools is very high, so there’s a familiarity with the tools, and little or no learning curve.

But what if you need to do something different?  What if the typical outcomes aren’t enough?  Can you extend the existing tools to achieve new and different goals?  What if you need new tools to reach for the new goals?  This is a real concern for innovators, who realize that the existing tools won’t help a team achieve new ideas, and that the comfort level with existing tools is awfully strong.

So, what many teams will argue is that the tools for innovation are publicly available, and, in fact, many on the team are familiar with the tools – scenario planning, gathering customer insights, brainstorming and so forth.  That kind of thinking is dangerous.  Simply because I have a set of tools – a hammer, a saw and a level – doesn’t make me a carpenter.  There’s a significant gap between owning the tools and having an understanding and appreciation for their effective use.

Many corporate attempts at innovation are similar to people who have a tool box but aren’t competent carpenters.  They are aware of the tools, have some basic understanding of their use, but lack familiarity, context and competence.  A deeper understanding of how and when to use the tools is necessary for success.

So there are two possible failure points when innovating, at least in regards to tools and methods.  The first is the reasonable assumption that we can extend our existing tools and competencies into generating new ideas.  What typically happens in this case is that the ideas are incremental, because that’s all the existing tools can comprehend.  The second failure point is that we assume that since an innovation team has an introduction to new tools, that the team is fully competent in the use of those tools.  Clearly, owning a saw and a hammer does not make a person a competent carpenter, and reading about innovation tools but never using them doesn’t mean a person is a competent innovator.

For really interesting new ideas, your team will need to embrace new tools that are different in nature, scope and use from existing tools and methods.  You can’t create radical innovations relying on existing tools and methods.  Then, once the realization sets in that new tools are needed, you’ll need to gain experience and competence in the use of those tools.  That means you’ll need training and assistance in the beginning, and the opportunity to use the tools consistently in order to gain experience and knowledge.


About ovoinnovation

Jeffrey Phillips is a senior consultant with RTI Innovation Advisors and the author of Relentless Innovation, OutManeuver and Make us more Innovative.


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