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Solved: 7 Fatal Flaws of Innovation

- February 16, 2017 - 1 Comment

As promised in my last blog post, here are some solutions to tackle the 7 fatal flaws of innovation. (Inspired by the book Winning the Brain Game: Fixing the 7 Flaws of Thinking.)

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

– Albert Einstein

Solution 1: ‘Framestorming’ (for Leaping)

We’re quite familiar with the word brainstorming, where we try to generate as many ideas as quickly as possible without judgment. “Framestorming” adds a “frame” element to the brainstorming activity and is intended to address the flaw of leaping.

The concept behind framestorming is not to find answers right away, but to ask right questions and discover more about the real underlying challenges in any innovation activity. Generate as many questions as you can by asking a series of “why,” “what if,” and “how” questions. Then you take the top two or three questions from that list and focus on getting more meaningful answers. This is better process for kick starting and sustaining an innovative venture.

Solution 2: Inversion (for Fixation)

Inversion is the cure for fixation flaw. It involves flipping our thinking and assuming opposite of what is out there. This “outside in” or “from the other side” approach helps us overcome many preconceived notions and situational constraints.

Innovation is a journey full of navigating around obstacles. Creative thought processes that include probing questions like “what if X happens” or “what if Y didn’t happen” could open many doors otherwise assumed closed forever. A proven example of inversion is the genesis of Cirque du Soleil shows from traditional circus.

 Solution 3: Prototesting (for Overthinking)

Many times, instead of lengthy thought exercises, it’s better to let experimental data provide the guidance for what to do next. In the startup world, Lean Startup methodology promotes hypothesis testing and validating. Most of the companies supporting internal and external innovation have this under control. Validating your innovation thought process from real or potential customers and building what they really need (and willing to pay for) is an unbeatable endorsement for any experiment.

Solution 4: Synthesis (for ‘Satisficing’)

 While searching for an optimal solution, sometimes we arrive at an odd juncture where we’re forced to choose one path. Synthesis helps alleviate the impact of the flaw of satisficing by encouraging a “both-and” thinking instead of “either-or” thinking.

There are two ways we can leverage synthesis technique in innovation:

  1. Double Down

Blackjack players often use a strategy of double down to increase their chances of higher returns, at higher risk levels. The same method can be used by companies facing threats of irrelevance, or stagnation, and are under pressure to deliver quick results.

  1. Decomposition

Decomposition, as the name suggests, refers to breaking down a segment to make it easier to choose multiple options as part of “both-and” philosophy. Retailer Target successfully adopted this strategy, while competing with discount retailers like Walmart on one end and high-end brands like Macy’s on the other.

If you think you can or can’t, you’re right.

– Henry Ford

Solution 5: Jumpstarting (for Downgrading)

Sometimes our innovation efforts go deep into a death spiral, because of the belief that a “fresh start” is required to bring an idea to life again. Focusing on optimistic “can-if” statements instead of pessimistic “can’t-because” constructs might be one way to address the flaw of downgrading. A famous anecdote explains this transformation very well: “We can’t use traditional ball point pen in space because of lack of gravity” to “we can have a writing tool in space if we use a pencil, may be.”

Other useful techniques include Why-How Laddering and Temporal Windows. Our brains think in terms of process-driven “how” questions while our hearts think in terms of purpose-driven “why” questions. Balancing and leveraging the two complimentary thought processes can do wonders for any stalled innovation project.

Temporal windows are self-evident when many of us make New Year’s resolutions. Human minds occasionally need a fresh start of some kind and new year, new quarter, new leadership, new funding, new organizational structure, new charter, and many such “new” entities could provide that much needed fresh start.

 Solution 6: Proudly Found Elsewhere (for Not Invented Here)

Although breeding a culture of Proudly Found Elsewhere (PFE) in place of Not Invented Here (NIH) takes lot of time and energy, it’s essential for concepts of co-creation, co-innovation, and co-economy to thrive. As I had described in my previous post about the Open Source Software movement, there’s an increasing level of awareness about not reinventing the wheel in the computer software industry. However, incremental innovation improvements (i3) need to spread homogeneously throughout other industries to create a movement around innovation.

Solution 7: Self-Distancing (for Self-Censoring)

Many times, we make bad decisions in the heat of the moment and seek guidance from a trusted counselor. Self-distancing can help us all become that trusted observer. The concept of “The Impartial Spectator” was mentioned by Scottish philosopher Adam Smith in his 1759 book The Theory of Modern Sentiments. In Eastern philosophies, the notion of Sakshi or Witness is at least a few millennia old. The essence of this solution is to emotionally detach yourself from the heat of the situation and have an objective, fact-based look at it as an outsider. As a foundational element of mindfulness philosophy, self-distancing can eliminate troubles associated with self-censoring and many other flaws of innovation.

What are some of the techniques you implement to overcome these deadly flaws of innovation?


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    some very good points you make Biren. Not sure if is true or not but i recall reading that NASA spent big on creating a pen that would work in space whereas the Russians (perhaps due to funding shortages) just used a pencil. Can if thinking at its best.