Three Common Ways Organizations Trip When It Comes to Innovation

While there are many ways to trip, see if you recognize one of these three common ways in your organization. Fixing them can turn into a fast win and create the momentum necessary to get all the other pieces in sync.

We don’t have problems; we have challenges

“I don’t want to hear about problems, show me solutions.” Sound familiar? There are multiple reasons why different corporate cultures come up with different terms to beat around the fact that problems exist. Some cultures use “challenges,” “hiccups” or “issues,” for example. I’m sure you can think of others. Language both reflects and shapes thinking and behavior. What does this do to the overall culture?

Let me introduce you to Alexej. He has been hired from a startup-gone-bust into product development for a large German corporation. His first weekly report is greeted frostily. He has identified a problem, but merely naming in a report is considered unethical finger-pointing because of a silent consensus on whose fault it was. This bright young man learns this lesson fast. His reports turn into a list of “last week’s accomplishments.” He hides from others the challenges he is working on and stays away from sharing the opportunities for improvement he comes across. This already siloed organization not only loses the creativity and enthusiasm of a highly skilled individual, but also foregoes the enormous potential residing in an all-one-team approach to tackling problems.

Organizations should acknowledge: Human life is problem solving. For people, any level on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can quickly turn into a problem. Processes and entire departments are there to solve problems: “I don’t know next quarter’s financial results.” Industries solve problems, too: “I can’t communicate with a far-away person.”

The Russian innovation thinker Genrich Altshuller, inventor of the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ), observed: What sets the inventor apart is his or her ability to spot problems where the rest of us have grown accustomed to living with the hassle. Indeed, at times we don’t even notice that hassle anymore, that is, until someone comes up with the solution. Did anyone have a problem before the wheel was invented?

So firstly, from an organizational perspective, learn to recognize and acknowledge problems at face value, and to value the individuals who spot and communicate these problems.

Innovative = creative = good

To many of us this equation of “innovation = creative = good” appears right. Innovation being a loosely defined term, though, it is full of traps. To a cognitive psychologist, “innovative” is just one way of being creative. In this view, naming the creation of novelty “innovation” under-appreciates all other styles of being creative.

With the Kirton Adaption-Innovation (KAI) instrument, you can reliably measure people’s creative problem solving style on a continuum from highly adaptive—like Edison—to highly innovative—like Tesla. All too often, though, people confuse style (“How am I creative?”) with level (“How creative am I?”). Obviously, problem solving teams need problem solving diversity. Yet, taking a different style for an inferior level can lead to disastrous results. Unfortunately, the working together of and the later rivalry between Edison and Tesla is not the only example. People can be creative in so many ways—if only they acknowledged and also appreciated diversity better.

The equation “innovative = creative = good” has other implications, too. Have you ever heard the term “corporate antibodies”? They resist innovation. If innovation is good, then that means the antibodies are bad. But wait. We all have antibodies in our bloodstream. Do you have any desire to get rid of them?

First of all, resistance to innovation and change is the healthy reaction of a healthy organism. Your Innovation organization needs to learn to deal carefully with its own immune system. It may stand in your way if you want to implant a new liver, but don’t discard it for that sake. Instead, find ways of creating and dealing with novelty within your organization:

  • Appreciate the many different ways of being creative—from Edison and Tesla to all the rest of us somewhere between them.
  • Overcome the learnt “phobia for innovation” and build your creative confidence instead.
  • Develop your corporate immune system such that risk can be minimized and novelty embraced.

Let’s form a team

While bringing together diverse and balanced teams is important, it’s only important if you actually need a team. We often see organizations over-do the one-approach-fits-all “let’s form a team” solution. All that forming, storming and norming has to be worth it. You can’t just take the “big team gun” and shoot from the hip.

Consider this example from a producer of sophisticated electronic parts. The company had recently branched into the assembly of solutions for customized printed circuit boards, shipping these systems in boxes of 20, 25, 50 and 100 pieces. Every now and then, however, these boxes arrived at their destination with pieces gone loose in their slots. Such “salad bowl” shipments led to mechanical defects and customer complaints. This being a global client-problem, a commensurate task force was formed. Soon after the team members from sales, quality, product management and several other functions started following up—each pressing his or her own case—with the one designer in a remote development center in charge of the new shipment boxes. This over-steering resulted in chaos and stress on all sides.

Luckily, the team understood what was going on and got back to square one, preparing a problem description using the 5W2H approach, in this case. Their insight: Not all “who are concerned” (the first “w” in the 5W2H) need to be involved in finding a solution because the “where” the problem arises (the second “w”) can be narrowly defined. As a result, the designer is freed up from any other task, can meet an expert from the subcontractor who produces the boxes and together they find a simple, viable technical solution which can be sustainably implemented by a broader team.

Once a problem is clearly understood you should ask: Can one person solve this problem alone? If so, then give the problem to that person and only grow the team as more diversity in skills and creative styles is needed.

Now do something about it

Change starts from the very top and with shared clarity. Alan Mulally, who recently stepped down as CEO from Ford Motor Co., found a culture of “we don’t have problems” when he took the reign in 2006. “You can’t manage secrets,” he famously said. As reported at the time by The Wall Street Journal, the moment of truth came when one manager showed the poor performance of his unit. “Great visibility,” Mulally is said to have applauded. Within a month, the organization got to “the yellows and the reds” [traffic lights] on their performance charts. For a reason, Forbes named Mulally as an “innovation CEO for the record books.”

I recently worked with operational excellence (OPEX) organizations in the financial and pharmaceutical industries on formulating their operational innovation strategies. The corporate cultures of these two companies favored adaptive, Edison-like, problem solving. Interviews confirmed that “crazy ideas,” “out-of-the-box exploration” and the questioning of “conceived wisdom” could turn into career killers.

Now what about the OPEX teams inside these organizations? You would assume that people who preach problem solving along the gospel of Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control (DMAIC) would be more Edison-like, right? To everyone’s surprise (even their own), they turned out to be “the Teslas” who had taken refuge from their otherwise more adaptive business climate. Would Edison be happy if Tesla explained to him how to approach things in a systematic way? Is it any surprise that these two OPEX teams felt they had little grip in their organizations? Would the deployment of more “innovation” really be the solution?

Between the HBR book The Wisdom of Teams and the journal of Team Performance Management, a lot has been said on teams and how to make them successful. To get started quickly, consider this: The nature of the problem drives the method for finding the solution. The method drives team composition and team management. Here’s a simple decision tree for forming the right team to address a clearly understood problem:

  • Is a process management system in place? If not, put that in place.
  • Is the solution known? If yes, use classical project management.
  • Is the solution-space well-defined? If yes, use rapid problem solving like kaizen.
  • Will we stay with the same process, product or service? If yes, use Lean Six Sigma type approaches.
  • Is at least the concept for the solution known? If yes, use design-type approaches like Design for Six Sigma.
  • Are we developing a completely new product, process or business model? If yes, then use innovation-type approaches.

Problem description and approach will guide you fast to forming, leading and coaching the right team in the right way.

First, you must address the three common ways of tripping yourself up. Only then will you be well-set for getting in place all the rest it takes to making innovation and problem solving in your organization not only effective but also rewarding and even fun to lead and contribute to.

Innovation Games: Going Beyond the Traditional Creativity and Analytical Tools and Methods

Toys, either handmade or bought, have been most of the times the first tools for toddles to start their learning path. Nowadays we speak about educative tools that help kids to learn the letters, ride a bicycle, with the help of PlayStation we can learn how to play guitar and with Wii, how to dance or play sports. There are lot of different tools available on the market and the offer is continuously growing. Nintendo’s Wii video game console for example says that “brings gaming to people of all ages” so in today`s world games are not just for minors but also to all age ranges.

Regarding the above question, games are part of growing and educational process and their essence relies in bringing pleasure to its users. The secret behind the success is the awareness that has been raised about human psychology, nevertheless of age we tend to respond well to games. In the light of innovation management it is relevant the fact that children are more creative than adults. This was scientifically proved already back in 1968 when George Land (Land and Jarman, 1993) measured the creative performance of a group of children when they were 5-year-olds, at 10 years of age, again at 15 years of age and then compared it to same test performed among large number of adults. 5 year olds showed 98% of natural creativity, 10 year olds 30%, 15 year olds 12% and adults performed only 2% for their creativity.

This is seemingly drastic drop. In that way, innovation games can perhaps well be the most efficient methods to bridge this gap of natural creativity loss. The amount of rules and regulations that one has to follow during the traditional schooling process is considered to vanish natural creativity as we grow up. Nevertheless of the area of everything being connected and the manifested Y Generation overcrowding the digital space (offsprings born between year 1980 and 2000), the original pillars and methodologies of worldwide educational system have not much changed since the study was published so its output is still quite valid.

How can we provoke an individual to engage more during the era of everything already being highly connected?

It is proved that people need social objects to fuel interaction and socialization is all about building this engagement points and human connections. This is also why companies are getting more interested in games. Bringing in psychical engagement elements can nurture motivation and engage their employees more efficiently.

A growing demand for game mechanisms

According to Gartner predictions published back in April 2011, by 2015, More Than 50 Percent of Organizations That Manage Innovation Processes Will Gamify Those Processes. “Gamification describes the broad trend of employing game mechanics to non-game environments such as innovation, marketing, training, employee performance, health and social change” said Brian Burke, an analyst at Gartner.

Gamification is commonly described as practice of employing game mechanism to serious business environments. Gabe Zichermann, the CEO of Gamification Co. explains it as taking the best lessons from the games and applying them to specific situations. By creating alluring online and offline conditions organisations stimulate and hopefully awake the talent in each collaborator. There rests a bit of Maverick in every individual. Sometimes all one might need for unlocking personal virtue and treasures is more casual and laid-back stage to speak up. Virtual collaborative platforms assist in that respect and provide vivid recognition and appreciation mechanics in order to encourage knowledge sharing. In terms of productivity, gamification speaks the digital language of the future generations. Gamification Co., the leading source for gamification news & info, underlines that by understanding what makes games fun on a personal level, young professionals require a shorter learning curve for gamified programs and applications.

Social Games Observer also predicts that Gamification Market to Reach $2.8 Billion in US by 2016. But also according to research conducted by Social Games Observer there is another interesting finding: there is evidence that social games seem to appeal to males and females alike. This is a positive insight for organizations that face workplace gender issues, low innovation climate and maybe even weak talent development. Both, online and offline innovation games are extremely powerful tools. Once the organizational goals are meaningful to the employees, they become engaged at an emotional level according to Gartner Inc. Engagement leads to taking up new challenges in work and when something is done with will, this achievement certainly drives success. Besides, gaming elements allow to build a growth path and in that way employees can feel that they are progressing while the complete another and another challenge, receive achievement after hard work and arrive to the end of next rewording pleasure loop.

Example: Adopting new applications based on games is a global trend among innovation driven organisations. Sweden based international company Uponor Group is currently on a doorstep of starting to implement its roadmap for change. Company Strategic Research & Innovation Manager, Süleyman Dag, identify as main driver for this process the company need to extend and go beyond the current product portfolio. He explains that as for the collaborative platforms prefers social network type of solutions as fun emotion should make it easier to implement and keep it alive.

Promoting games experiences

Creativity and extended knowledge analytics leads to sound innovation solutions. For being a good leader, mastering customer experience strategies and tactics is always a requirement.
It looks war times. Napoléon himself made battlefield analytics. First he tested it by using models to seriously play a war game. Visualization and manipulation of different variables tested in a safe environment mastered his levels of trust and autonomy. Several days of prototyping different scenarios he reach a conclusion and now he will implement on real time, he plan for the right moment. Napoleon engagement levels in relation to the ultimate goal leads towards the victory. He had built strong principles of the battlefield with the help and power of game mechanisms, which was an important instrument of cognitive stimulation.

Operationally, game mechanisms can be considered the interface between real and simulated problems planned and implemented for individuals or groups. With both a dynamic system and intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. Smart gamification is an example of a compelling and fun process, providing a meaningful experience for players.

Gains are both qualitative and quantitative. Concept design and strategies with symbolic games provide a sustainable benefit and ROI [Return On Innovation]. For organizations, the magic of game mechanics relies in the value that it can help to create. Besides the monetary prize situations, companies are focused on social networking as loyalty is becoming virtual too. When we think about marketing campaigns, their viralty is both, a concern and a goal.

Leaders benefit from experiences acquired on games, extending their customer experience capabilities and reinforcing corporate culture. Ronaldo and Messi scores records are absolutely amazing. With innovation games, managers can be the leading team heroes. Design storytelling games rewards learners achieving recognition. Collecting trends in the crowd will be awarded by direct the business to F1 fast lane growth demands, mobile game based skills combined like-minded goals.

Big issues that concern the business world and that directly have a huge impact on society, as the case of agriculture and food, finance, health and wellness, energy and transport, are always good topics for games experiences. The idea of using games mechanisms apply to different services and products and will lead to safe and reliable environment.

Achieve that trust can play thinking, sharing, developing and thus implement a coherent strategic vision. Will be useful to explore the specific practices and obtain an increase in productivity and education of the behaviors that we all want to achieve.


  1. Understand the topic
  2. Identify the content
  3. Define the mission
  4. Play the game
  5. Develop the mechanism
  6. Test, monitor and evaluate

We wish to promote other good examples that connects business requirements to high value innovation games experience. Share with us your valuable insights!