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Monday, April 26, 2010

There is No GPS for Innovation

by Stephen Shapiro

There is No GPS for InnovationOK, after 2 weeks of sleep deprivation due to manuscript deadlines, I am now back in action here. The final version of the manuscript went to the publisher on Saturday. I then played Personality Poker in Memphis with nearly 100 representatives from Penguin's gift sales on Sunday. These individuals sell books into non-traditional bookstores, gift stores, hospital gift shops, department stores, casino, and similar places.

Last weekend, I played Personality Poker with a couple hundred people at a conference in Canada.

After the event, over a dozen of us decided to go to dinner together. Half the people fit into taxis. After the taxis departed from the hotel, the remaining individuals went in two cars, one of which I drove. We had the address and a map. I, being Mr. Technology, plugged the address into the GPS. The other individual had the map, but also relied on directions he received from the front desk. I didn't bother getting directions since I had the navigation system.

I was the first car out of the parking lot. After exiting the hotel, I turned left, just as the GPS told me to do. The other car followed, but not for long. David, the other driver flashed his lights. I kept driving. After a minute I realized David was no longer behind me. Instead of believing that I might be going in the wrong direction, I just assumed that the GPS was taking me there via a shortcut.

After taking a series of turns - left, right, left, right, left, right - the final turn led us to a dead end. In fact, this road was nothing more than a large pile of dirt. So much for taking a shortcut.

Since my technology was not going to get us there, we needed to rely on the map. Unfortunately, the map provided by the hotel only had the restaurant marked off. The hotel was not to be found. The reason we could not find the hotel on the map was because the map did not extend far enough to include it.

There we were, in the middle of nowhere, with a map that told us nothing - and a GPS that told us even less.

This got me thinking.

How often do we drive our innovation programs the same way I drove to the restaurant that night?

We create our plans for innovation and we start driving. There might be signals along the way (like the flashing lights of the car behind us) that something is not right. In the case of innovation, it might be signals from the customers, buyers, or vendors telling us we are going the wrong way. But all too often, we continue to drive forward, arrogantly believing we are right and that those signs are all wrong.

No matter how great your plans are, you need to keep your eyes open. Look for signs. Don't assume others are wrong. Maybe your blueprint/map is incorrect.

Or, as Scott Cook from Intuit so eloquently said, "For every one of our failures, we had spreadsheets that looked awesome."

There are no accurate GPS systems in the world of innovation. Your ability - and willingness - to adapt, evolve, and change your plans is critical to a successful innovation program.

If you don't watch out for the signs and you blindly follow your plans, your innovation program will probably lead you to a huge pile of, um, dirt.

P.S. We did eventually get to the hotel. We did what any sane person would do... we asked for directions.

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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 Mitch Ditkoff said...

Steven: Excellent post! True! Really nicely done. Much appreciated.


9:35 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

Thanks Mitch! I appreciate the kind words. When I screw up, that is when I get my greatest insights :-)

12:36 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

The passenger who was in the car with me that evening had this to add...

As is often the case with any other “plans”…

Ours were hampered by not having a clear perspective on our STARTING point.

We knew where we were going (or rather, where we wanted to get to) … but, without knowing where we WERE (relative to the end point), we had no idea in what direction to head off.

That, too, is a common error in innovation.

The big difference here, though … was the fact we had no money riding on the outcome. So we were quite happy to just drive all over the place. “Getting lost” was FUN.

In business … it ain’t.

12:41 PM  

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