I wasn’t thinking about driving profitable growth.  I wasn’t thinking about how to unlock innovation.  It was Sunday morning after all.  As I settled down with my New York Times Magazine and my full body dark roast, extra strong coffee, I encountered this headline:
This is your brain on coffee.”  That got my attention and I braced myself for another lecture on the horrors of coffee and caffeine.  I read on only to find, coffee may actually be GOOD for you and GOOD for your brain.  Drink on!

unlock-innovationWhat struck me in this moment is how we all fall into traps accepting or assuming certain truths. In doing so, we shrink our imaginations and our possibilities.  Coffee is but one example.  If the researcher, Dr. Gregory G. Freund, a professor of pathology from the University of Illinois had fully accepted what has been written about the evils of caffeine, chances are he’d have never conducted his study. He would not have found a path to unlock innovation and new discoveries about how coffee can (like all things in moderation!) be good for us.  This surrendering to assumptions – or industry accepted practices – happens all the time inside businesses and it destroys their innovation mojo.
I’ve seen this numerous times and here are ways to unlock innovation inside your organization and start to drive profitable growth.
  1. Unlock innovation by letting customers serve themselves.  If you have a process that assumes you must ‘serve’ the customer, break that rule and see what happens when you allow the customers to serve themselves. You may be pleasantly surprised and find things you can stop doing which drive profitable growth.
  2. Unlock innovation by focusing on unconventional entrants.  If you and your competitors are all bench-marking performance against each other, consider throwing out the benchmarks and test some new standards based on what unconventional entrants to your marketplace are doing.  Break away from the industry that holds you in position by introducing new rules.  It could lead to profitable growth.
  3. Unlock innovation by removing assumed constraints.  If you have plenty of great ideas but they all die a death by a thousand cuts through your ‘stage gate’ process, take the idea outside the walls of your institutional process.  Let some unbound contractors demonstrate how to get the idea off the ground and find a way to drive profitable growth.
  4. Unlock innovation by changing your innovation model.  If you’re not beating competitors to the market or you’re not on time or ahead of schedule, your innovation model may be failing.  Check out my previous blog post on this topic to see if you should change your model.
  5. Unlock innovation by understanding your organization.   Get clear on how your organization operates from the moment you trigger demand until you have cash in the bank.  Check to see if that is aligned with what the customer values.   I’ve seen many innovation opportunities appear going through this exercise.
A word of caution:  I’m not suggesting total anarchy.  But for those parts of your business that are working to develop new methods for new needs to be addressed through new products and services, a little anarchy – like a cup or two of strong ‘jo’ may just be what you need to get your innovation engine roaring again.