Innovation Strategies

by Edward Henkler on May 21, 2013

Innovation is on my mind this week as I’m spending several days in Washington, DC in support of an innovative startup company.  I’m here as part of the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps program.  This is a wonderful example of a government program which attaches some strings to the money which is distributed.  To qualify for the grant, a team of three individuals must be formed: entrepreneurial lead, principal investigator, and business mentor.  The team must attend two onsite sessions, featuring lectures by experienced entrepreneurs and daily Shark Tank sessions.  The most challenging requirement is the guidance to interview at least 100 potential customers before you begin to develop your prototype.  The goal is for you to uncover unmet needs rather than create clever technology which no one wants.

NSF i-Corps

Interview 100 customers to uncover unmet needs

Let me suggest at least three ways to drive innovation:

  1. It will probably come as no surprise that the US is the most innovative nation.  You might be more surprised to learn that Israel is the second most innovative nation.  Tension with neighboring countries, bombings, and ongoing uncertainty re the country’s borders have created an environment where taking risks with your business seems trivial.  While you probably can’t and don’t want to create that level of tension, remember that business pressures can create an innovative environment.
  2. Build a cognitively diverse team, which will be innovative by its very nature.  The Gabriel Institute’s “teamability” approach is one way to build diversity into your team.
  3. Follow the advice of W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne in “Blue Ocean Strategy” (available via my sidebar widget).  Rather than battling your competitors, find an area where no one is competing by examining the extremes of your industry (pricing, customer focus, technology, etc) and see if you can find a combination that might be valued but where no other companies currently play.

How do you drive innovation in your organization?  Please leave me a comment.

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