Friday, June 28, 2013

The multi disciplinary approach for Innovation



I think we’ve all learned our college majors do not predetermine our life’s work.  I remember shopping for film schools with my oldest.  She called the first week of school to tell us she switched to pursuing nutrition.  After graduation she went back to be a nurse.  You never know.

So many feel a college education in humanities is a waste, with today’s emphasis on data and numbers and the like.  When you think about crowd sourcing; bringing many people from diverse backgrounds together, the advantages are certainly discovered from diversity.  Everyone looks at a problem differently.

Our experiences, and our memories, contribute to who we are, how we see the world, how we think through problems and what we bring to the table.  The front end of innovation is influenced by its participants and the quality of the participants clearly influences the outcome of our innovation efforts.


There are many approaches to the front end of innovation.  I talk to Chief Innovation Officers from big companies all day, every day.   I’ve seen all these different approaches:


  • Departments generate ideas and the winner, selected by the department head, gets put into a pool.  The next step is usually a spreadsheet bandied about amongst managers.  They rank them and some arbiter selects the best ones.
  • Electronic suggestion boxes are made available to the populace of an organization.  Employees submit ideas as they occur.  Someone is tasked with sorting through the ideas and cull the winners.  This almost always produces two kinds of ideas:  Incremental innovation (how to do things a bit better) and ideas no one is interested in but the ideators.
  • Crowdsourcing via 30 day challenges where ideas are submitted and others vote and comment. The winner goes into production and the winning inventor gets a prize.  This can yield a hold back by clever people until the last day of the campaign so no one “steals” their idea.  Not conducive to collaboration.
  • Early stage front end teams (usually multiple teams) researching new technology and markets.  They foster and shepherd good ideas until they’re presentable to an arbiter (boss).  This works best when there is a business person and a scientist/technical person.  Sort of a mini multi-disciplinary crowdsource. 
  • Periodic brainstorming sessions.  This can work.  But obviously would benefit from an ongoing effort instead of a single event.  Sometimes the winning idea is from the HPPITR (Highest Paid Person In The Room).  If the boss picks it, who has the guts to argue?  Or worse the founder’s kid.

The benefits of diversity pay off because we all tend to get narrow in our thinking.  If I’m a hammer everything looks like a nail.  Same thing holds true for chemists, computer technologists, buyers, marketing people etc.  We frame the world and our ideas from our own perspective.  Breakthrough innovation is much more likely to pop up when a variety of disciplines (and other demographic diversity) bring fresh thinking to the discussion.

This diversity extends to multiple disciplines, genders, age groups, geography and every other demographic you can think of.

So the question you have to ask yourself is:  Who’s on my team to help us come up with new ideas?

Notes:  The social life of memory, Harvard Business Review, Daniel Schacter, 6/2013

Ron Shulkin blogs researches and writes about enterprise technology focused on social media, innovation, voice of the customer, marketing automation and enterprise feedback management.  You can learn more about Ron at his biography web site:www.shulkin.net. You can follow him Twitter. You can follow his blogs at this Facebook group.  You can connect with Ron on LinkedInRon Shulkin is Vice President of the Americas for CogniStreamer®, an innovation ecosystem.  CogniStreamer serves as a Knowledge Management System, Idea Management System and Social Network for Innovation.  You can learn more about CogniStreamer here http://bit.ly/ac3x60 .  Ron manages The Idea Management Group on LinkedIn (JoinHere).


1 comment:

James L. Farrell said...

If I can name one narrow slice of that massive collection called knowledge, where change is (1)long overdue and (2)able to offer dramatic benefits, allow me to cite http://jameslfarrell.com/gps-gnss/1223 describing a recent flight validation of numerous departures from custom that have been advocated for decades.

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