The Innovation Formula: A book review by Bob Morris

Innovation FormulaThe Innovation Formula: The 14 Science-Based Keys for Creating a Culture Where Innovation Thrives
Amantha Imber
John Wiley & Sons (2016)

To paraphrase Henry Ford, “If you think you can or think you can’t create a culture where innovation thrives, you’re right.”

What can leaders in almost organization do to establish a workplace culture in which innovation or creativity will thrive? Amantha Imber has identified several “keys” (i.e. components or factors) of such a workplace culture. Each poses unique challenges and most are interdependent.

Imber’s material is rock-solid. She draws upon a wide and deep base of direct experience with all manner of organizations. I agree with her that innovation is – or at least should be – an ongoing process of using creative thinking to improve products and services, of course, but also improve the processes by which to create or generate demand (marketing) produce and distribute whatever is offered, and meanwhile minimize waste of resources (especially hours and dollars).

As Imber well realizes, the term “code” with regard to individuals is comparable with the term “secret sauce” with regard to organizations. Just as there are defining characteristics of great organizations, there are defining characteristics of exceptionally creative people. Breaking a code does not necessarily mean that the knowledge gained will be effectively applied. The same is true of any formula, once in hand. The great value of this book will be derived from the options that Imber identifies and the context within which she examines each. This material will be of essential and substantial value to leaders as well as to those who aspire to become one.

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of her coverage:

o “Innovation Culture Audit” (Page xxxiii-xxxii)
o Challenge 3-12)
o Esty marketplace (3-15, 92-93, 133-135, 141-142, and 150-151)
o Autonomy (3-25)
o Individual factors driving innovation (21-40)
o Goals (22-23, 111-118, and 162-163)
o Carol Dweck and the growth mindset (z37-39)
o Team level factors driving innovation (41-72)
o Creativity (42-72)
o Intellectual stimulation: Team(43-53)
o Support from teams (53-60)
o Cohesion and innovation (55-57)
o Team collaboration (61-72)
o Communication (68-69, 112-113, and 172-173)
o Individual factors driving innovation (73-118)
o Support from leaders (78-85)
o Impacts of leaders on teams (78-81)
o Risk Taking (121-137)
o Failure (122-127)
o Cohesion (139-143)
o Participation (149-162)
o Steps in innovation process (151-156)
o Physical environment (163-173)

With regard to the 14 “drivers of an innovation culture,” the companies annually ranked among those considered to be the most innovative (e.g. probably few (if any) of them have tall at full strength all of them time. (How could they?) In my opinion, and presumably Imber agrees with me, the key to success (however defined) is to have all of the factors operative and interdependent, in ways and to the extent appropriate. It remains for leaders to provide the coordination that is needed at all levels and in all areas throughout the given enterprise.

This book was written for those who are determined to establish or strengthen a workplace culture within which innovation is most likely to thrive. It remains for each reader to recruit those who share that determination and, together, formulate a game plan based on what the “Innovation Culture Audit” reveals. Select a leader. Set priorities. (Be sure to check out “What Now” Pages 175-176.) Agree on the division of labor. You may wish to consider creating a “sprint team,” using as a model those developed by Google and thoroughly explained in Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days, written by Jake Knapp with John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz, and recently published by Simon & Schuster. Most of the information, insights, and counsel you need are in Amantha Imber’s book. Pay special attention to the “Key Points” section at the conclusion of each chapter and review them frequently.

If you ever have any doubts about what you and your colleagues can accomplish together, keep this observation by Margaret Mead in mind: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

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