Opinion: Build an Innovation-Driven-Culture For Lasting Success, Part Two

Photo:  Photo Credit: Courtesy Ethan Chazin

How can you and your employees become truly innovative in everything you do?

It helps to know that there are no silver bullets or magic lists to follow, only environments where innovation is more likely to occur. So by developing a culture that fosters creativity and innovation, you will be more likely to be innovative.  Sound simple…?   It will help you to always talk to and observe your customers, with a singular focus on solving their problems:

Dan Buchner who was the head of Proctor & Gamble’s product development team had his team spend time in customer homes watching them, which led to the development of the Swiffer product line.

Record all of your ideas and thoughts about problems.  You need to be diligent in tracking all of your inspirations and committing them to writing.


Most people settle on the most promising approach based on our past experiences and we tend to exclude other options as we work within a clearly defined direction towards the solution.  BREAK THIS PATTERN OF BEHAVIOR! You and your team can cultivate your collective creativity by implementing the following 2 approaches:

(a) Constantly try to improve your idea, product, service.  This is important because your early ideas are usually not true (your best) ideas as they are only partially formed “baked”; and

(b) Challenge your assumptions – To test an assumption, reverse it and try to make the reverse work.

1.     Sketch your ideas: 99U talk from Twitter creator Jack Dorsey.

2.     Use “lateral thinking skills.” As Paul Sloane, visionary creativity problem-solver notes, this entails looking at things in an entirely NEW way.

3.     Employ “wrong thinking.”

4.     Mix different ideas together to see what new and interesting combinations arise as outcomes.

5.     Follow Einstein’s EIGHT-step SCAMPER process to improve a system, process, product, or idea:

You can and should re-frame the challenge you face by looking at it in another way.  Here’s how:

1. Ask powerful questions.

2. Challenge your assumptions.

3. Foster multiple perspectives.

4.  Change the parameters you are faced with:

Think of a parameter in your market as being different then it currently is today. Next, imagine the products/services that would best serve that different reality.  This gets you thinking down a different path. Some examples how to change your parameters to change your reality:

(a)  Ex. A vehicle currently requires a driver to navigate it.  Imagine removing that requirement altogether, and you are left with a vehicle that DRIVES ITSELF. (Hello, Google!)

(b) Ex. How might you design a store IF…you were able to identify exactly who each visitor/patron was and all of their past purchase behavior as soon as they entered?

  • Solve a PARADOX: Ex. Apple set out to get a bigger screen for its iPhone by reducing the size of the device.
  • Find CONNECTIONS: Orville and Wilbur Wright watched birds in flight, in order to better understand and ultimately solve manned flight.
  • Elevate “ASKING QUESTIONS” to an art form.
  • Experiment: Gain invaluable experience by watching, and/or making something yourself.  This entails “tinkering.” Follow your natural curiosity as far as you possibly can.
  • Instead of taking a PROBLEM –SOLUTION approach, use a SOLUTION-PROBLEM approach.  This means you find a solution first, then go in search of problems the new solution addresses.

Use the following five step process:

  • Define your problem clearly.
  •  Throw out any constraints.
  •  Ensure that those people working with you to solve a problem are passionate.
  •  Ideate in small teams. Jeff Bezos at Amazon feels it should only take 2 pizzas to feed a team. Keep the team SMALL to maximize the likelihood of a successful team working experience.
  •  Have competitions and give prizes for the best innovation.


1.     Measure your learning and NOT outcomes. Ex. You want to keep track of the number of customers that you interviewed, NOT your results.

2.     Ask powerfully enlightening questions such as:

  •  What did you/we learn?
  •  What don’t we still know?
  • What are the limits to the metrics that we are using?

You get what you measure!

Follow the Three Horizons Model outlined in: “The Alchemy of Growth” by Mehrdad Baghai, Stephen Coley.  

Horizon 1: Sustaining innovation entails investing in established products and services to maximize sales and revenue streams from your existing business. Examples include adding new products to your menu, rolling out new product features, additional service offerings, store expansions, etc.

Horizon 2: Adjacent innovation: Ex. Mercedes develops electric fuel vehicles. The market is experiencing rapid growth, and Mercedes does NOT want to get “left behind.” and;

Horizon 3: Disruptive innovation: Mercedes Benz invests in Car2Go, allowing customers to “rent” a Mercedes Benz where ever they are to travel very short distances, ideal for major metropolitan areas for target segments with extremely high disposable income.

[The author is Ethan L. Chazin, MBA, President & Founder, The Chazin Group, LLC. You can reach Ethan at 201.683.3399 or Ethan@TheChazinGroup.com.]

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