Current Times and Innovation

Let me share a brief summary of a story from my perspective. It all started on March 13, 2020. That was when I was informed that I no longer needed to go to our Lab space in Toronto and that suddenly, I needed to ideate on how to we were going to deliver our planned activities for the next three months in a virtual space. AH! Sound familiar? Perhaps you don’t deliver trainings or facilitate sprints, but you also had to redesign how you presented to your clients, how internal meetings were going to take place, even how your workspace was going to look and how you were going to share space with your new colleagues (spouse, pets, children, etc.). In other words, change all, or as I prefer to say, redesign.  

So how has the current situation impacted me personally as an Innovation Coach? Here are ways in which I have used my Innovation Coach skills to get me through these times: 

Embrace creative mindset

From day one, it was obvious that I needed to put my creative mindset to work. I was expected to redesign our programs and how we delivered them while ensuring our participating members still had a pleasant Cookhouse Labs experience. It was an opportunity to let go of all limiting beliefs and get to creating ideas and putting them to test. Sometimes I was afraid of failure, but I knew that the biggest failure would be to not show up.  

Dance with change

Most of us hide from change and try to avoid it. In my area of work, what I am passionate about – creativity and solution-focused mindset — change is the constant that keeps showing up in all aspects of my life. Instead of avoiding it, I choose to create a song with it and dance to the melody. Dancing with change allows me to see the situation from different angles as I continue to move. Can you see how that is possible? How are you choosing to dance? At what speed? And which partners are you bringing along to the journey? 

Accept uncertainty

As solution-focused as I am, there was a point when I realized no one actually has an idea of when things are “going back to some normality”. That realization invited me to choose between fighting that feeling of uncertainty and feeling angry, sad, frustrated OR accepting that uncertainty had become the only certain thing around me. Accepting this fact made it easier for me to flow and look at life as many opportunities because it allowed me to play with one of my favorite two words – WHAT IF? And if you have been on our campus, you know that ‘What If’ is a door to creativity and ideation. Accepting uncertainty, asking what if, and staying solution-focused definitely made my daily work more fluid.  

Connection, connection, connection

These current times have definitely highlighted the importance of staying connected. And in the world of innovation, connections are vital because it is how we can collaborate and in our Lab, it is how we can co-create. After seeing and hearing many of our participating members share how much they miss being in their offices, it really invited the opportunity to reach out more often and stay in touch with our community, which leads to our continued purpose to #MakeInsuranceBetter as a community.  

I invite you to reflect on how these times have impacted you, changed your habits, expectations and/or ways of working. But most important, as an innovator, how have these times invited you to expand and develop your innovative skills?  

I’d love to hear from you and read how you are levering these changes for your growth.

Design and innovation

If we think about it, innovation is what drives the world forward, making life easier, more efficient and enjoyable, design is the catalyst that magically transforms a simple insight into a tangible product or service by providing the focus and structure innovation needs.

George Cox states that “creativity is the generation of new ideas. … Innovation is the successful exploitation of new ideas. … Design is what links creativity and innovation.”

How can we define the relationship between design and innovation?

A company’s understanding of the word design affects how it applies the notion of what constitutes design during the innovation process. When innovation is seen as a linear process of scientific and technological development, Design is tasked with making the resulting technologies presentable, principally through styling. Sadly, the common practice is to associate design only with aesthetics, and innovation with something new, although that is not the best way to define those terms.

There is a wide variety of meanings attributed to design inside organizations, and as a result, its impact may extend beyond pure styling activities. The term design, which originally had a very narrow definition, (‘Konstruktion’) has evolved into one with a broader meaning. A designer has suddenly been transformed into a developer or even an innovator.

Where does innovation come from?

For many organizations, innovation is not a central part of their strategy. Only when there is a disruption (a new or reinvigorated competitor) does innovation become important again. If we try to innovate too quickly, we end up with ideas that merely reflect consumers’ current needs. They will be popular today but won’t be distinct enough to be valued in the future.

Successful innovation requires the careful evolution of new ideas. In some cases, it is a response to a specific problem; in others, it’s driven by a creative’s imagination, by someone who looks at a product, service or process and thinks, “This could be better.” And, please note the mention of a creative and not a designer or scientist.

How does design influence innovation?

Design is a facilitator of generative thinking. Designers are trained as divergent thinkers with an iterative problem-solving approach to the innovation process. The ability to produce novel solutions, a willingness to take risks, accepting high levels of ambiguity and uncertainty, thinking out of the box and a passion to drive ideas through to conclusion while inspiring passion in others are some of the skills designers possess.

Design’s capacity to visualize ideas helps transform ideas into concepts. The effective use of visual and communication tools reduces misinterpretations. It also provides stakeholders with a clear understanding of the business and its position concerning its customers and other actors.

Design is generally seen as an activity, rather than having holistic influences on all areas of innovation. When design is only used to make moderate changes to the external appearance of a product (e.g., a change in its packaging or improving sales support as strategies to achieve differentiation in the market), it becomes a waste and a minor exploitation of what it could contribute to the creative process.

Design is all about questioning what it is and what it should be.

Beyond originality, beauty, and aesthetics, designers are interested in the problem design solves and the people whose lives are changed for the better because of it. How is it solving the problem it was designed for? What new approaches have been taken in this solution? Is it offering an improvement over other designs or is it just new? By learning to interpret, translate and negotiate requirements with users in iterative cycles while seeking an optimal and novel solution, innovation is born.

One of the four main drivers of innovation and productivity in all advanced economies is design.

Design aims to demonstrate new thinking and/or solve a problem in a new way, searching a broader impact and application beyond the specific instance of the design by affecting behaviour in a meaningful way. Herbert Simon famously defined design as the process of changing existing states into preferred ones. No wonder that design plays an important role in encouraging users to adopt innovations.

An increasingly important role for design is concerned with exploring and understanding product/user interactions. Tailoring these is a way of connecting customers, products and brands. The ability to understand, anticipate and design the interactions between users and products becomes especially important when creating a bridge between scientific knowledge and new technology to produce a usable end product. There are new, “inventive” technology-driven products that introduce new functionalities, but it is only when functionality is driven by people and connects to human needs that innovation occurs.

Innovation and design complement each other. By properly stimulating their growth, organizations can see what is coming next, move to lead the change and ensure a successful business in the future.