Here are 4 ways you can ignite innovation

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Dave Logan for CBS MoneyWatch, the CBS Interactive Business Network. To read the complete article, check out an abundance of valuable resources, and obtain a free subscription to one or more of the website’s newsletters, please click here.

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(MoneyWatch)  Innovation is great fun to study, filled with inspiring stories — 3M’s invention of Post-it note glue, Xerox’s development of the graphic user interface or the many stories about Steve Jobs’ last few years at Apple. Equally interesting is the fact that most approaches to innovation backfire, resulting in the entrepreneurial spirit being broken by people who are trying to make it flourish.

Innovation cannot be managed — a lesson China, and most big companies — need to learn. It can, however, be led, and here are [two of] four ways to do just that:

1.    Focus on the immediate need, not the long-term problem. Airbnb connects people looking for places to stay to those with floor space, rooms and entire apartments or houses to rent. The company had its first major success in Denver during the Democratic National Conference, when then-Senator Obama received his party’s nomination. More people wanted to be in Denver than Denver had hotel rooms. The stories of Obama supporters opening their homes to other supporters, and Airbnb’s role in making the connections, made international news. After that initial success, web traffic and listings dropped to near zero. Soon after, the company needed cash — immediately. They focused on what they knew — how to get stories in the international press, and also Obama supporters. Airbnb deviated from its core business and introduced Obama O’s cereal, which carried the subtitle “hope in every bowl.” They also introduced Cap’n McCains (“a maverick in every bite”), although Obama O’s was a bigger hit. After printing up boxes and securing cereal, they sent sample boxes to reporters, and the story went global. Orders surged — getting the company the cash it needed. Notice that Airbnb focused on the immediate problem — getting cash — not the long-term problem of not enough business for its core operations.

2.    Highlight scarcity. Many people think — erroneously — that innovation results from blue-sky thinking, or people having a lot of free time. The truth is that necessity is the mother of invention, and also of innovation. Said differently, scarcity drives innovation, according to numerous studies. The problem is that many companies wait too long before admitting there’s a problem, not giving innovation enough time to offer solutions. Airbnb illustrates this point — the founders focused on the lack of cash (the scarce resource), and did so in time to do something about it (barely). When caught in time, people will often respond to scarce resources by combining their creativity. Scarce viewers force advertisers to find new ways to reach people, just as wars increase technological innovation, especially on the side facing a disadvantage. The scarcities inherent in sending people the moon famously drove NASA and its contractors to create many technological breakthroughs.

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To read the complete article, please click here.

“Making innovation work quickly is the subject of my personal blog, where you can also download a segment from a course on innovation, based on content from my course in the USC Executive MBA program.”

Dave Logan is a USC faculty member, management consultant, and the best-selling author of four books including Tribal Leadership and The Three Laws of Performance. He is also Senior Partner of CultureSync, a management consulting firm, which he co-founded in 1997.


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