It’s been said that strokes of genius are frequently obvious — but only in hindsight. Today’s Business and Technology section in the Wall Street Journal contains an article that reminds us once again that linking old needs with new solutions can result in intriguing ideas for products and services that can lead one to say “now why didn’t I think of that?”
In this case, the service is “MedWaitTime,” an Internet application developed by a surgeon who wanted to give patients a better way of controlling their schedules by providing real-time information on wait times in doctor’s offices and emergency rooms. This innovative subscription service addresses the decades-old irritation with having to be on time to the doctor’s office then having to wait with a new ability to access real-time information through the Internet or cell phone applications.
Like many clever ideas, this service seems obvious once described, but it took a non-obvious combination of insight and capability to bring it into existence. So here is the question: how can we as leaders help our organizations move from waiting for random inspiration to developing a more predictable process for generating clever new ideas for products and services? Here are three principles — what we like to call “The Three C’s of innovation”:
Context: While the core objective of innovation is to produce different results in new ways, the more leaders can provide a strategic context for the new results they wish to see, the more likely it is that members of the organization will be able to understand and create solutions that result in desired outcomes. Communicating well and frequently about the intersection between market needs and company needs ensures that the best ideas are actually commercialized.
Collaboration: Time and time again, we’ve found that effective collaboration almost always yields improved quality and speed of desired outcomes. Over the years, Pam has found that identifying the many ways that leaders encourage and reinforce collaboration among different groups in the organization can significantly increase the chance that people will view collaboration as beneficial to them and engage in this behavior as a natural part of working together.
Cross-fertilization: When people are concentrating on addressing problems or opportunities with which they’re familiar, it’s easy for them to unconsciously rely on habits of thought that brought them success the past but may not be suited to the current issues, When one of Scott’s professors used to say “I am always three times smarter in somebody else’s office,” he was commenting on the power of outside perspective to stimulate new thinking. When departments and groups are given opportunities to discuss the projects they’re working on with groups in other areas of the company (e.g., R&D with Marketing and Sales or even Human Resources and Finance!) they can share information and insights that can frequently lead to exciting new solutions that seem obvious in hindsight but might otherwise not have come to pass.
As with other aspects of leadership, investing in balancing the three C’s of innovation is as much an art as it is a science. However, the outcome of this effort can provide a substantial return on investment and go a long way to unlocking your company’s potential for sustainable innovation. When we as leaders provide organizations with a strategic context describing desired outcomes along with opportunities to collaborate and exchange ideas with people who have different viewpoints and experience, we dramatically increase the likelihood that they will uncover hidden opportunities for new products or services that are truly innovative.