Tend the Innovation Farm

I’ve been following the #innovation conversation for two weeks now and I’ve seen a lot of interesting comments. Here’s one of my favorites:

Why innovation is about people and purpose, not process

The overly simplified synopsis of Salterbaxters blog entry is that it is important to have a structure within which people can innovate – but the operative word in that sentiment is PEOPLE.

Innovation is not something you can empirically quantify and distill to a check list. It is a creative process. Creativity is something that needs to be nurtured and tended, by people. So think of innovation in terms of agriculture and innovators as farmers. If one farmer (innovator) ran around throwing random seeds (ideas) out the window of their car (company) some of those seeds might take and they might grow – and a smaller number still might grow wildly successfully. Take for example the practice of seed bombs – people literally drive down the road and throw pre-packed seed balls onto the side of the road to plant wild flowers. This is certainly one strategy but it nets a certain unpredictable result that is often not palatable in the business world.

Now consider the farmer who tends a structured field. Sure they have a fence and plow rows and plant seeds, but the timing of the planting, watering, weeding etc is all up to the farmer. There are some guidelines (Farmer’s Almanac for example) but the bulk of the “process” is left up to the discretion of the farmer. This structure usually yields much more product and of a higher quality. Don’t forget though that the farmer that has a check list that says they plant on a Monday and water on Tuesday and Thursday and Sunday and weed on Wednesday and fertilize on Saturday might also yield a crop, but they can just as easily destroy a perfectly good crop by performing the process of farming blindly, without taking into consideration the thousands of variables that present themselves each day.

What’s it all mean?

Build a structure for your innovation team – define the boundaries and then let them tend the farm on their own – you might be surprised at what “crops up”.