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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Predicting the Next Innovation

by Stephen Shapiro

Predicting the Next InnovationRecently I returned from over two weeks on the road. I was in and out of five airports. As you go through security, the routine is always the same...
  • Take off your shoes
  • Take out your liquids
  • Take out your computer

Why are we put through these security gymnastics?

On December 22, 2001, Richard Reid was caught with plastic explosives in the soles of his shoes. That's why we now have to walk barefoot through airports.

On August 9, 2006, two dozen people were arrested in the UK because they were plotting to bring liquid explosives on planes leaving Heathrow airport. Now we have to travel with miniature shampoos, shave creams and toothpastes.

Computers are scanned because, well, that's the obvious place to look. I guess.

What do these have in common? For the most part, the security scans we now endure were due to cleverness on the part of terrorists. Rarely are we subjected to scans that are due to the cleverness of government agencies.

Are there ways to easily smuggle weapons on planes in spite of our increased security? Of course. Nearly every time I pass through a metal detector, I have metal collar stays in the dress shirt I am wearing. Although the detector never beeps, these could easily have been turned into razor sharp weapons. Does this mean that next week I will have to travel topless through the airport? Good thing I have been working out.

Give me 15 minutes and I could rattle off dozens of other, more sinister ways to smuggle weapons on board.

Reactionary Innovation

This is a reactionary approach to business.

The current financial situation also demonstrates a reactionary approach to business. Enron has a meltdown. What should we do? Implement ridiculously stringent rules like the Sarbanes-Oxley act. Our financial institutions start to falter. OK, let's spend $700 billion of the taxpayers' money to sort out the mess.

I'm not saying that these rules and legislation are good or bad (or ugly). That's a conversation for another time. But I do find it ironic that the "big ideas" always seem to come in response to some tragedy. They are rarely proactive.

What does this have to do with innovation? Everything.

Most organizations use creativity to help them determine what to do next. They brainstorm ideas, select the best solutions, and then implement the most promising ones. Creativity is used to determine what your company or organization will do next.

Predictive Innovation

But in these rapidly changing times, creativity can be equally (if not more) valuable for determining what the marketplace and your competitors will do next. Or, if you are the government, it may help determine what your banks and terrorists will do next.

When is the last time you had a brainstorming session where you asked the following questions?
  • What are we most afraid our competition will do to us?
  • Who is not a competitor now, but might be in the future?
  • What shift might happen in the buying habits of our customers that may make our product/service less appealing?
  • How can the sagging economy help our business?
  • What emerging products or services may make our business irrelevant?

The list of outside-in questions can be endless - and valuable.

In your next brainstorming session, try the following:
  • Brainstorm your own list of questions, building on mine above.
  • Determine which ones you want to tackle first.
  • Brainstorm, using a variety of creativity techniques, to identify "possible" outcomes.
  • For those which are deemed plausible, brainstorm a list of "triggers" for each. These are market conditions that tell you that the given scenario is moving from "possible" to "plausible."
  • Set up a corporate "radar" system to help monitor external conditions. Have everything in place such that you can implement critical ideas when market conditions dictate.

This approach blends creativity with scenario-based planning. It helps you move from reactive solutions to proactive solutions. And in today's volatile world, this might just be the key to your long-term survival.

Stephen ShapiroStephen Shapiro is the author of three books, a popular innovation speaker, and is the Chief Innovation Evangelist for Innocentive, the leader in Open Innovation.

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Blogger Steve said...

I originally wrote that article in October 2008. Given what just happened last week on the plane to Detroit, it seems we have not learned a thing in the last 14 months. Oh well.

9:21 AM  
Blogger Blogging Innovation said...

Ahhh, but much companies have become much more eager to learn about innovation in the past 14 months and to change their practices. :-)

9:31 AM  
Blogger Katie Konrath said...

But we have learned a couple things. Such as... to prevent passengers from activating explosives in the toilets during the last hour of a flight, we should just prevent them from going to the toilet during the last hour of flight! Problem solved! ;-)

I definitely agree that security in the US seems to be lacking in innovation. We never actually try to plan ahead, instead we focus on preventing what's already been done. Kinda like closing the barn door after the cows have already left!

It would be a really nice change if TSA and the security companies figured out security innovations ahead of time.

And while they're at it, why don't they be a little more innovative about ways to get people to accept new security measures? What if when people went through those new body scanners, they also received a spritz of deodorant under each arm? That in itself would make me happy to welcome the new machines to the airports!

10:04 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

I just posted a new blog entry about how "some things never change." Obama's comments last night about the most recent terrorist attack attempt are deja vu all over again.


Katie, with our luck, they will remove the toilets on planes. But I do like your deodorant idea! It's funny...because it's true.

4:43 AM  

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