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Articles - Inspiring Innovation

Inspiring Innovation

Harvard Business Review – August 2002

How do you boost an organization’s creative potential?  We asked some of today’s most innovative leaders.

It’s one of the toughest challenges an executive faces:  How do you get your people to think creatively – to challenge the status quo – while still keeping your everyday operations running smoothly? Innovation is not like most other business functions and activities.  There are no reliable templates, rules, processes, or even measures of success.  In a sense, each act of innovation is a unique feat, a leaf of the individual - or the collective – imagination that can be neither predicted nor replicated.

And yet certain organizations are somehow able to come up with great ideas of and over again.  Some of the ideas are for new products, some for new ways of working, others are for new strategies, still others for entirely new lines of business.  Is there a secret to these companies’ successes?  Can other organizations learn from their examples?  To find out, we turned to the people most qualified to answer – not necessarily inventors (although you’ll find a few of them in the group) but those who’ve been able to inspire others to creative genius.  We asked them a single question: “What’s the one thing you’ve done that most inspired innovation in your organization?”  Here’s what they had to say.


Make it the Norm

By Craig Wynett

Craig Wynett is the general manager of future growth initiatives at Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati.


What we’ve done to encourage innovation is make it ordinary.  By that I mean we don’t separate it from the rest of our business.  Many companies make innovation front-page news, and all that special attention has a paradoxical effect.  By serving it up as something exotic, you isolate it from what’s normal.  Companies don’t trumpet their quality assurance process or their packaging as special practices because they’re part of the fiber of what they do – they’re ordinary business.  The same has to be true of innovation.  Too many times we’ve seen corporation innovation programs that are the business equivalent of football’s Hail Mary pass – They start with all kinds of hope and excitement, but in the end they rarely produce results.  And why would they?  For innovation to be reliable, it needs to be addressed systematically, like any business issue in which you define the problem and then solve it:  What do we want to accomplish, and how?  What recourses will we need?  Who will be on the team?  How do we motivate and reward them? And how will we measure success?

Today’s most sought-after talent is the ability to originate.  But the perception of the creative process is still based on self-limiting assumptions about eureka lightbulbs flashing over the head of some inspired genius rather than the well-managed diligence of ordinary people.  At P&G, we think of creativity not as a mysterious gift of the talented few but as the everyday task of making nonobvious connections – bring together things that don’t normally go together.  One way to do this is to look at contradictions in the marketplace. 

Other features of this article include:

Put Aside Ego

By Thomas Fogarty

Mix People Up

By Lieutenant General Ronald T. Kadish

Don’t Fear Failure

By Michael Dell

Hire Outsiders

By Hal Tovin

Abandon the Crowd

Larry Keeley

Let Go of Your Ideas

By Nolan Bushnell

Don’t Underestimate Science

By Luciano Maiani

Fight Negativity

By Mike Lazaridis

Ask “What if?”

By Mark Dean

Merge Patience and Passion

By John Talley

Outsmart Your Customers

By Marcian E. “Ted” Hoff

Experiment Like Crazy

By Betty Cohen

Make It Meaningful

By Daniel Vasella

Stop the Bickering

By David Falvey

Don’t Innovate, Solve Problems

By Esther Dyson


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