Innovation: The Process

March 1st, 2011 by Rob Berman Leave a reply »

Managing Business Modelsphoto © 2009 Alexander Osterwalder | more info (via: Wylio)
The introduction to a Peter Drucker article from over 25 years ago said about the innovation process, “As managers recognize the heightened importance of innovation to competitive success, they face an apparent paradox: the orderly and predictable decisions on which a business rests depend increasingly on the disorderly and unpredictable process of innovation.  How can managers expect to plan for – or count on – a process that is itself so utterly dependent on creativity, inspiration and old-fashioned luck!”

To find the answers to those questions I spoke to Jatin DeSai, CEO of The DeSai Group. He defined innovation as “Harvesting the deep insights of an organization’s human spirit and knowledge, generating a pipeline of ideas that are evaluated, selected and ventured using disciplined tools, methods and processes that advance the growth objectives for an organization.” in a prior interview named, “Innovation: An Introduction.”   In my continuing interview with him we explore the process of innovation.

1. How does company culture impact their ability to innovate?

It is not really possible to create a culture of innovation without having climates of innovation first.  Climate is something a leader controls in his own area.  An innovative manager by his or her own nature will allow quicker innovation with the correct leader within the culture.

We utilize a tool called Innovation Readiness Assessment TM (IRA) that allows us to look at 15 factors across 45 components that can be measured for a company.  That allows us to know what the climates and cultures are. This allows us to recommend how to strategically start transforming their culture to be more innovative.

2. What are the key steps to keep in mind about the innovation process?

There are two strategic processes one needs to implement – one for projects, individuals and teams, and the other is the management process for all innovation projects across the company. For daily projects, we teach individuals, teams and business areas our model called Challenge Development Process.  We take everyone through a five-step process.  The steps are Discontent (objective finding), Target (fact finding), Lens (problem finding), Ideate (idea finding) and Venture (solution finding).  If the steps are repeated, then innovation can occur.

3. What are the major innovation processes?

I see four basic approaches.

A: Go to your R&D Department or set one up if you don’t have one.  Otherwise, you can set up the D (Development) and buy R (Research) from the outside.

B: Start with a business unit that is ready with a good business leader who has a good business challenge.

C: Train all key managers and provide sets of tools.  Then, let them innovate on an ad hoc basis.  You will want an Innovation Program Office to function as a central resource.

D: Utilize a venture capital method.  Find and grow intrapreneurship within the company.  Set up a venture fund that individuals apply to for funding their ideas.  A Venture Council composed of inside and outside staff determine how to disburse the money.  I suggest running the process four times per year.  We find that a 10,000-person firm will create 45-50 intrapreneurs within one year.

4. Do you have a special place that helps you think differently? If yes, where is it?

During early morning hours after the morning mediation – after 5:30 AM.  I also try to take 2-3 retreats per year without my family.  Being in a spiritual environment away from everything frees my mind.

5. What examples of innovation do you share with your clients?

We have 140 practical stories and cases written up from our work over the years.  We try to match up a case study that is of a similar client type, stage of innovation and industry.

We look at types of innovation over four categories and 10 types.  Most companies spend money on process and offerings only.  We try to show that the highest leverage is with strategic innovations in the areas of Business Model and Partnerships/Alliances.

6. Please share an example of innovation gone awry.

Xerox –80%+ of what we would call  modern office was developed in their Palo Alto, Research Center (PARC) in California.  This  R&D office, in the early 1970’s, created ethernet, internet protocol, graphical user interface, the mouse and keyboard.

The copier executives at Xerox New York headquarters, could not figure out what to do with these inventions.  They did not fit the copier model.  Bottom line:  Steve Jobs got a tour and saw the potential.  He created the Mac. Sun Microsystems, 3M, Microsoft, and many other companies all started because Xerox did not know how to bring these technologies into real world innovation and instead sold off their research to others.

Innovation is about challenging assumptions, breaking down orthodoxies, experimenting and learning from failure as much as benefiting from success.  .  Reward people for trials, not results.  Companies do not know how to promote creative-destruction.. How can one create something remarkable without asking questions no one else is asking?  It is finding solutions no one else will find. Most want to innovate starting from the same position every day. That does not work.

When starting on the innovation journey, it requires commitment to failure, long-term perspective, and smaller profits for the short term. Who is ready to do that these days?

The Takeaway:

The process is critical in innovation.  Innovation is not lightening in a bottle but rather a concerted effort and process. You must work at innovation.

That is the interview.  Over to you.  Please comment below.

1.      What processes does your organization use to encourage innovation?

2.      Do you have an example of innovation gone awry?

3.      How committed is your leadership team for long-term success not just short-term?

If you would like to contact me, you may do so by visiting myLinkedIn page, following me on Twitter,  or e-mailing me at rcberman2 (at) yahoo (dot) com.

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  1. Aletta says:

    Mind mapping also knows as brainstorming in the work of design…..all you need is ton make a collection of ideas,not pausing to think.think anythuing,no need to put preassure on your mind because you”ll run outof ideas…..then identify your problem and come up with a soluion.produce somethng worth hyigh price and consumers will prio over exsisting others.

  2. Jack Hipple says:

    I am amazed in all this content to see no mention of the importance of not just the culture of innvoation (supporting and measuring via various assessments–need to include Kirton KAI!), but nothing about the TRIZ process which uses the documented inventive patent principles to allow people in one area of business or technology to easily use the brains of others. We simply can’t afford to continue to reinvent wheels. DeBono’s work was pioneering 30 years ago, but psychology is not where it’s at today!

    • Rob Berman says:


      Thanks for adding to the conversation. I will share your thoughts with Jatin DeSai who answered the questions. Let’s see what his response will be.


    • Jatin Desai says:

      Hi Jack. Thanks for the comment.
      I did not mention any specific tool because the focus of the interview (in this post) was on the ‘organizational innovation process’. To me, ‘Process’ by definition needs mastering set of tools and methods relevant to the steps in that process. In my experience, any tool is ineffective without a clearly articulated problem/need/job to do. I am suggesting work on the Innovation Process first, then the tools. TRIZ tools, in my opinion, are some of the best tools on the planet – for right type of problems; especially scientific, engineering, etc. We use TRIZ in our work. It is not for everyone and not the easiest tools to master for a daily manager or a staff member. TRIZ tools require very high level of expertise to be effective. Used the wrong way, they can create chaos and give innovation program a bad name. I strongly propose that a company first clearly commits to an Innovation Process for their business context (to increase top line, to access new R&D knowledge, to build new brand, to outcompete in certain markets, etc.) that helps them ultimately build a climate and culture of innovation. I cannot support the argument that without a climate and culture of innovation company will deliver on its value proposition year after year. Once they have a strong sponsorship for innovation, they must pick an innovation process (one of 4 types I describe above). Then it is prudent to create a ‘custom bag of tools’ for that process. TRIZ may be one of the tools in that bag. Once the company matures in innovation (our Innovation Readiness Assessment can measure this readiness), then they can enhance the process and the related tools.

      I hope this helps.


  3. Rob,

    I work in education when I am not flitting around the net looking for quality posts to comment on 🙂

    I love what I do and enjoy the challenge to bring innovation to the workplace. It truly is a challenge because education at present is just keeping pace one step ahead of the data mining crowd.

    Politicians have discovered that it is relatively easy to compile somewhat meaningless statistics that are used to initiate unnecessary educational reform. They do it by comparing apples with oranges and then reporting on the “state of the onion(sic)”.

    Most innovation is very quickly extinguished in favor of dancing to the tune of those who hold the purse strings and staying, as I said, one step ahead of their sometimes self-serving directives.

    Many good things do happen but there is a lot of opposition from tired executives who are struggling to keep their educational institutions compliant, under budget and on track with the latest and often meaningless data target.

    It takes a lot to quell innovation and I am pleased to say that even in such a hostile environment, it survives.


  4. Jill Tooley says:

    Nice interview! As you mentioned, you have to WORK for innovation. Even Steve Jobs had to work for his innovations. For me, innovation is more about the entire journey than it is about the final destination. Seeing an idea (or a product), recognizing a way to improve or expand upon it, and making that way happen is such an invaluable learning experience. Even if the innovation is a flop, I still would have learned something from my failure and noted it for next time. It’s rewarding to look back and feel proud about what you’ve accomplished – whether it ends up being a successful endeavor or not!

  5. Good article Rob that looks into the process of how you go about innovating.

    Nowadays when the market is changing much faster than in the time of Peter Drucker to have a culture of innovation has become a must.

    Just published an article about that “Are you innovating on a continouos basis?” that you may find interesting

  6. Susan Oakes says:

    Another good interview Rob. One company I worked for created groups with representatives of all departments to start the process. I would not called the outputs true innovation but they were regarded as such by the company and did help grow the business. The Managing Director and all of us who were on the management board gave a commitment to support the initiative and t seemed to work.

    • Rob Berman says:


      The key to the story is that there was a process and the management board all signed on to the process. In some ways innovation is in the eye of the beholder. Your firm made progress and that was good.


  7. Having worked in both the corporate and non-profit worlds, I’ve seen the gamut of R&D departments and team approaches to searching for innovative ideas.

    As this interview supports, the foundation for a successful innovation process lies in the environment. The powers-that-be in upper management must be supportive and a respected leader needs to be responsible. True change comes from the people who are closest to the issue.

  8. The Xerox story is well-known — how their many innovations were developed by other companies. It’s really quite sad. The culture of innovation was obviously in the company — where was the leadership? Steve Jobs is not only a leader but a visionary. Perhaps you need to be both.

    • Rob Berman says:


      Sometimes the not invented here syndrome hurts folks. Sometimes you need to see the trees and the forest. Jobs certainly sees it all.


  9. I hope you don’t mind comments from people who aren’t in businesses. =) I find it interesting and kind of funny how businesses can use processes to nurture innovation when the whole idea of creativity seems more like a natural phenomenon to me! However, I do understand how creating the right environment can encourage innovation.

    I completely identify with DeSai’s personal technique to “free the mind” with meditation and retreats. I’m not really a spiritual person, but I find that I’m most creative when I let myself be silent. How about you, Adam? When are you most innovative?

    P.S. Thank you again for visiting my blog! I’ve subscribed to yours and promise I’ll be in more regular touch when I get back from Chile! =)

    • Rob Berman says:


      I welcome comments from folks who are not in business. You bring a different perspective. The right environment does help the innovation process.

      Enjoy the trip to Chile.


  10. I think about Pixar at times like these and I like what Adam said about ideas still evolving. Pixar does what every other studios does, tell stories, but they bring creative nuggets to their story sessions and make it a viable part of the goal as opposed to just brainstorming. Great article.

  11. Adam Kumpf says:

    At Teague, we’ve been experimenting with some alternatives to the brainstorming process typically used for innovation. We’ve created so many walls full of sticky notes; our problem is not a shortage of interesting ideas, but has become one of time and focus.

    Creationstorming is about making concrete decisions. Ideas are critically debated in the moment, balancing feasibility and impact with respect to the project’s timeframe and goals.

    It’s still evolving, and we’d love to hear your feedback. More info about Creationstorming can be found here:

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