When Is Innovation

What I have learned from observations.

Over the years I have graphic-recorded and facilitated many meetings and strategic ideation session where the topic of innovation arises. Recently, possibly due to the popularity of the idea, innovation constantly emerges as an answer to a problem.

‘In order for us to achieve (X Y Z) we must innovate, be innovative, or become innovative thinkers.’ 

The real challenge is not achieving innovation but what leads up to the innovation for, in my view, an innovation is not ever-present. I believe it does not happen throughout, but at as end moment proof of an endeavor. Innovation is the tangible outcome, not the intangible process.

A colleague far across the big pond, discussed this idea with me on many occasions. We both agree that innovation is originated from discontinuous thinking. It is an outgrowth of difference and not of continued progress. We do slightly divert from the definition however as I feel strongly that part of the misconception in public is the word use outside of its true definition and he sees that it is a bit more about being word semantics. In either case that you may lean-to, it still is an over-used term for everything new or different.

So much distortion has been created that “Innovation” has become a catch-all buzzword and has diluted its value and tense of the action. As I stated, innovation is a past tense word and here is why I think this. Please indulge my thinking for a moment. I will arrive at the importance of this statement shortly. Take a look below at a diagram (The Path To Innovation) I created for an online chat about innovation over a year ago.

Path of innovation

Notice the Path of Innovation flows along the process, but is not truly part of the process. It flows in the background. Above the Path of Innovation is the Path of Thinking. This path runs parallel yet changes slightly once through each node only diverted by an outside resource. The path is not continuous, yet the direction is. Only until both paths pass through “Measure” do we know if the idea is an innovation or that your idea has been proven innovative.

It is not until you measure and prove that the “Idea” is a valued concept can you initiate it into action. This action then has created an innovation or innovative method that changes an old process or product indicating the point of application or implementation is after the innovation has been proven valuable and is adopted. Innovation is then a historic action making an innovation a past tense thing.

Okay, so why all the nonsense of past and present tense of innovation? Simple, for the reason of clarity. Innovation is a thing proven not of an idea conceived. If no proof in action or value is present, something, be object, process or thinking can not be deemed an innovation. If proof dictates innovation, then innovative thinking is then merely creative thinking improperly categorized or misquoted. In essence, creative thinking is an intangible concept, and innovation, which is a proven (past tense), is the tangible product.

So, let’s use the proper words around innovation for the proper application, Creative Thinking, Systems Thinking and/or Happenstance can all lead to Innovation, but are not innovative or innovation of themselves, only something that is proven valuable can be stated as innovative or an innovation.

 

 

 

Midwest Businesses and GraphicRecording

In the past few months I have seen a dramatic rise in the request in information for graphic recording and visual translations. Is it because of some super clever marketing campaign or some incredibly smart social media gorilla stunt that has gone viral?  Not really. The increase appears to be sourced through the an increase in activities of both sketchnoters and graphic recorders pushing their work into main stream culture through social media channels and gaining local and national press.

Take a look at this news piece on CBS News about Sunni Brown and the business of doodling or this article in a local Business Journal which introduces the idea of graphic recording as a tool to improve daily work and general thinking. (Yes, it’s about me and graphic recording. A selfish plug, but then again, you’re already here.)

Yes, graphic recording is on the rise. Be it personal sketchnotes posted on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, or more graphic recorders sharing on LinkedIn and Twitter, the business world is taking notice and responding accordingly by Following, Liking, Pinning and Adding to professional networks. Graphic recording is becoming a business acceptable practice.

Even for myself, my various applications have become a point of conversation with prospects and clients within the financial community, healthcare and business consultants. Corporate strategic planning sessions are incorporating more visual recorders to meetings to add greater value and deeper retention of plans, conversations and general gatherings.

Why?

I can’t answer for the general population, but from my personal experience and conversations with those inquiring what it is that I do, a realization of the power of graphic recordings and conversation maps is becoming clearer. And with this clarity comes greater curiosity. Businesses are looking for stronger advantages in the market place and graphic recorders are helping them to see opportunities that once were unseen and intangible. They are beginning to see!

So, if you’re a business, organization or a start-up, connect with a graphic recorder and get your ideas, plans and thoughts drawn out and seen so you can move forward with a clear plan and a map to your future.

 

Were Neanderthals Better Strategist

In today’s world of high-tech, multiple channel communications and the sense of instant response are we doing ourselves an injustice by practicing poor strategic planning or at least the techniques we use because of shorter attention spans? I feel people are forsaking the potential of strong strategic planning skills because of the high pace electronic life we live in. Somehow we need to stop, take a breath, and reflect. Reflection is one pivotal aspect of strategic planning critical to success.

So, Neanderthals were better strategist, why do I think this, sort of? It’s simple; they used a tool to stay focused on their tasks and goals. They drew out their stories and strategies for the tribe to see and survive on the very walls were they lived. These cave wall drawings offered a focal point for reflection and refocusing. Everyone involved saw the story/plan and it allowed the tribe to work as one unified team. The history and goal were always in view and that’s the key to a strong strategic vision, keep it in sight.

Cave Walling

As a visual translator, I have illustrated many business, strategy and development plans for organizations and individuals. I’ve heard and seen a variety of ideas and approaches as different as the groups involved. In my experience, those who utilized a visual map or graphic recording from a strategy session have better alignment of their team and to the vision or strategy that was created. These types of visual translations or visual maps are very powerful tools for focus, alignment and guidance.

My suggestion to help refocus, maintain alignment or reflect on your strategy is to go Neanderthal with your plan. Draw it out and nail it to your cave wall (Boardroom) for all to see. By showcasing your strategic vision you and your team always have it in sight. Like a road map, everyone knows where you’ve been, where you are and where you’re going.

With over 20 years working with businesses, I’ve come to realize the importance of this singular idea; when everyone is seeing the same vision, everyone begins moving in the same direction and eventually achieving success together. This idea inspired my motto, “The best plan is one seen by all.” So, my advice, step back and go Neanderthal with your vision.

 

An Occurrence of Innovation

I have written and drawn on this topic before and from my earlier post, it has driven some very interesting conversations with groups who focus on conditions and mechanics of creating an innovation and action of being innovative. This subject of innovation and being innovative is a very complex and multifaceted issue. It has created a major divide in the thinking by those misinformed, highly involved and extremely learned.

In my earlier post on this subject “A Path To Innovate”, I focused on a methodology or the thinking process and avoided any mechanical technique. I have no wish to add fuel to an already heated, blazing topic, yet I do want to add something to the topic. I would like to add a bit broader visual about the occurrence of innovation. In my earlier diagram, I focused on the change to the thinking process as part of achieving an innovation.

I realized, by taking a step back further, I could see how an occurrence of innovation evolves and comes into existence. This not a change to my previous post or the visual I created, rather an expansion or companion piece. If you had read the earlier post you will notice that there are similar elements in both, however the key additions are “Status Quo” and “Communicate.”

InnoOccurs

I challenged myself to understand why there is a need to drive an innovation. I realized that the “Status Quo” is only remains as affective as the environment allows. When change occurs around the set item, its “Status Quo”, a need grows from that environmental change. This stimulates the process that can promote the path to innovation, but does not guarantee that it will occur only that it should.

In the second stage which I have labelled “Ideate”, the need has grown to somewhat of a pain issue. The item no longer fulfills the function due to the changes around it. This creates an opportunity for some enhancement or the creation of something new to fulfill the growing need. It is this need that generates new ideas, solutions to resolve where the status quo no longer applies. Yet, this phase also does not ensure that an innovation will come to exist. only the idea that it could.

The last phase begins to bring the innovation to life. To “be” an innovation, it must have two parts to exist. First, it must be constructed and brought into existence, not merely an idea that could be, but an idea that is. The second part of this is that the idea must be communicated. For an innovation to take hold it must be constructed and allowed to be shared so others are aware of its existence.

When it comes to innovation, the easy part is identifying a need and having an idea to solve it. The hard part is actually making it happen and have others apply it. An innovative idea can not live inside a vacuum, it must be constructed and shared to truly become an innovation. So take that idea and make it the next innovation.

Have a great day, and an innovative future.

You Are Here

I love the malls. My biggest enjoyment in these massive places is people watching. You can learn so much about how we humans interact and react. Also, there is great inspiration in these shopping meccas. One inspiration I use came from a sign that almost all shoppers have see, read and referred. It’s a sign predominately display for all to see.. I am referring to the mall map. The sign that plots out all the shops by place and group of services or goods.

The mall map tells us so much about our environment. However, this sign in its entirety was not the source of my inspiration, rather the simple red dot icon and three words accompanying it. “You Are Here.” As a statement to anyone planning strategy, this hits home quickly and strongly. In order to plan, we need to know where we are on this very spot and in this current time. We need to know where “You Are Here” is.

Here is a visual exercise that I challenge anyone who is planning to move forward to answer ‘Who’ and ‘What’ holds you bank and drives you forward.

Hold Back Move Forward

 

Before you can move forward you need to know your “You Are Here.”

 

Focusing The Conversation

Part of the role I am tasked with in my field is helping to uncover the underlining issues that most groups or individuals are overlooking or are unaware that exist. I traditionally do this through the use of visual translations and interactive visual thinking. It is important initially to make sure the goal is clear for the outcome of any meeting. As the role of facilitator, setting the path direction is key.

There are various methods used . All have their place and purpose. One idea I enjoy is starting any conversation with a question, but not your typical question. A question that becomes the focus lens to issues that may need to be uncovered. A question that is approachable, yet has very telling feedback. I call this a focusing question.

Focus Question

After introductions and everyone is comfortable and before the real work begins, introduce a index card with the question visualized above.

“____________ need(s) a way to _______________, because_________________________.”

Share with them that the first space, I’ll call the “Who”, should be filled with a person or persons that you feel are key to your group. It can be anyone from a customer, staff, executive or even family or friends. The second space, which I’ll call the “What”, is the key process or action that can not be achieved currently. And last is the “Why”. This is the reason or purpose for the need by a person or persons.

It is important to note that, by not directing them to a specific person, action or purpose, you begin the process of unlocking each person’s more urgent concern. Once completed, collect the responses and during the course of the event. Combine and tally all the participants responses on a grid. Now you can begin to see an insight into the underlining issues that maybe present, but not discussed.

Start the Conv

By initiating the conversation in this way, you have a guiding tool throughout the conversation/session that also allows to keep the conversation on track as well as providing content for deeper reflection after the event.

Taking Action

An associate of mine and I were discussing a project he was undertaking over drinks. He explained to me some of the most complex issues and connections associated with a single project I have ever heard. So many moving parts that even the flow chart he created to “simplify” the decision-making process was overwhelming. I was constantly getting lost in the “What if’s” that I even couldn’t keep track of where I was along the plan. The worst part was neither could he as he tried to explain all the paths, conditions and consequences.

Time for a simpler view…

actions

I sketch this to explain a simple process. We make three possible decisions when presented with an issue. Either we agree and move forward, block and reject the idea or wait for something else to make that decision. In my experience, option three means giving up any power over the outcome unless the condition is in flux and you are waiting to take the first or second action.

After the sketch and a bit of conversation, I asked if he could highlight at each major point in the process where this image would come into play for him. After a bit of review, he realized that his need for making critical decisions was not as many as he anticipated, nor would the smaller decisions, which he could delegate, greatly alter the course of the project. He also added an extension to the first decision of holding a torch or passing it on representing self-ownership or delegation.

I truly believe we live in a self-created world of over complexity and confusion due to lack of focus, vision and prioritization. We all need to simplify the process in order for us to live, work and play efficiently and affectively. Using visual thinking and design thinking processes can help us create focus and clarity even to the most complex problems.

Here is my advice, if you’re confronted with a dilemma that appears more than a simple ‘Yes or No’ decision, stop, take a breath and do a quick sketch like the one above. Now add the effect/answer alongside each of these decisions to get better clarity and focus. See how your response will play out before you take action. Then, determine the best course of action before sharing your decision. The power of visual thinking is seeing a solution before acting on it and not the reverse.

Difficulties of Challenges

Every challenge we face has some level of difficulty. Some are gradual and modestly challenging, while others take us to the brink of self-destruction. So ask yourself ‘how was my day, week or project?’ What did it look like? Now, here comes the tool of visual thinking. Rate them by using simple images like the ones below.  Record these little images on a calendar, small corner of the project notes or on anywhere that will help you to remember and possibly prepare for the next challenge.

The simple images below which reflect the levels of difficulties in challenges were inspired by a fellow sketchnotes enthusiast Patricia Kambitsch of Playthink and Redesign. Feel free to use them as needed. You may even want to print the image out and attach them to your project notes, then circle the related image.

Uphill BattleBy using such images as indicators, we are visually connecting the image to the event and later, using the image to trigger the memories of that challenge and similar challenges with the same level of difficulty. You train your brain to create unconscious connections between challenges. The connection also create warnings as well as possible solutions to be used in new challenges.

So, look back on your day, week or challenges and use the images to make mental filings for future use. Good luck and keep (th)INKing visually.