Entries in Ten Types of innovation (2)


Hacking Innovation: A Starter Kit.

I’ve been fortunate to know and work with many successful innovators and innovation facilitators. I make this distinction not because they are mutually exclusive, but because each focus plays a critical role in understanding, codifying and teaching innovation.

Over the years, I collaborated with one of many creators of the SIM card, helped bring to market the first free trial of web service in the U.S. for Citibank, and worked on projects evolving the semantic and synaptic web.

I have also collaborated with leading innovation facilitators including Gerald Haman of Solution People, Larry Keeley of Doblin, Saul Kaplan of the Business Innovation Factory, Tom Monahan of Before & After, and Dana Montenegro of Red Bull and Seriously Creative.

Collectively, these thought leaders have had to grapple with conveying a definition of innovation – a word that is so overused as to be rendered meaningless.

In his provocative book, The Myths of Innovation, Scott Berkun writes “I need to say one last thing about innovation. It is not a word I am fond of.  It’s used too often today, and it has lost any significance. More useful to you, perhaps, is that of its many meanings you’ll find in the dictionary, the potent is significant positive change.”

Contrast this with Larry Keeley’s (with Ryan Pikkel, Brian Quinn, and Helen Walters) definition in the seminal Ten Types of Innovation, “ Innovation is the creation of viable new offering.”  The subtitle is equally instructive, “the discipline of building breakthroughs.”

There is always a challenge in the commercialization of innovation thought leadership and practice because of the varying sophistication of the audience. 

For example, experienced product innovators are very familiar with methodologies like TRIZ – a Russian acronym for the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving developed by G.S. Altshuller and his colleagues. (It was the result of an analysis of three million patents looking for patterns that predict breakthrough solutions.)

On the other end of the spectrum, there are people who are asked to participate in ideation without any prior experience or exposure to any of the hundreds of techniques in the innovator's toolbox.

Can you really hack innovation and distill it into bite-sized gems of knowledge?


 One of my favorite business writers, Mike Myatt, has offered up a great definition of what I call ethical hacking.  “Hacking – the present participle of hack (verb) to discover an alternate path, clever and skillful tricks, shortcuts and workarounds, breaking the code, deciphering complexity, influencing outcomes, acquiring access, creating innovative customizations to existing or outdated methodologies.

So in the next few weeks I will offer some hacks that will help you gain perspective on innovation and ways to integrate innovative thinking into your life and business.



If you want to get a head start, get your hands and your mind on:

Ten Types of Innovation

The Myths of Innovation      

The Art of Innovation



A modest proposal: A new definition of innovation.

Innovation is a one the great Rorschach words.  Nearly everyone defines it a bit differently.  It has been overused, (293,000,000 results on a single Google Search) over-hyped, and often misunderstood.

At Solution People in Chicago, leading innovation coach Gerald Haman defined it as simply as “ideas that create value.”  Behind that verbal tip of the iceberg was a lifetime of teaching the creation and implementation of ideas and an even deeper understanding of what value means the consumer and social marketplace.

Why is defining the word "innovation" so important to innovation teachers and purveyors of the gospel of innovation?

There are a handful of Fortune 500 companies who have elevated innovation to an art form (Apple) and other Fortune 500 companies who have been seriously burned by failed innovation efforts.  So imagine standing up in front of both groups and saying the word “innovation” and you’ve already divided your audience. 

It’s the Rorschach effect.

So innovation teachers try to define it precisely to get buy in to talk about process.

For example, Larry Keeley and his co-authors (Ryan Pikkel, Brian Quinn, and Helen Walters) have written an excellent book Ten Types of Innovation.  Their definition: “Innovation is the creation of a viable new offering.”  This seemingly simple definition has an additional four call outs to further explain what they mean behind each of these words.

It’s simple and if you do even a modest deep dive in the book, it’s an excellent working definition. In fact, it shineswhen discussing the first six of the innovations which are focused on the innermost workings of a business. (i.e. profit model, network, structure, process, product performance and product system.)  

Do we really need to add yet another definition to the lexicon?

In my seminars, I have used a definition of innovation that I have evolved over the years.   In 2007, I was inspired by Jim Kilts’ book, Doing What Matters:  How to Get Results That Make A Difference.

It’s easy to describe Kilts’ book (as articulated by Wally Bock) “what goes on in an experienced CEO's head when he takes over a company that needs to turn around."

Jim Kilts was a successful CEO at Kraft and led turnarounds at Nabisco and Gillette.

My innovation definition:  Creating what matters.

Like Keeley et al, it needs a deeper dive or context.  The difference?  “Innovation as a viable new offering” and “creating what matters.”

Keeley would argue that viability means “returning value to you or your enterprise.”  The definition is based on two criteria:  “the innovation must be able to sustain itself and return its weighted cost of capital.”

As good a definition as it is, I see it as company or entrepreneur centric.  My definition is customer centric.

The innovation must matter to the customer – somewhere along its evolution from idea to product or service. 

Take Pixar for instance.  They pioneered many advances in CGI animation. But would they be considered an innovation in 1979 when the original company was founded? Or when they released Toy Story in 1995?  In a span of over a decade it neither returned a value or cost of capital. Keeley, et al, did not put a time limit on when an innovation is sufficiently anointed, but it is easy to see how limiting that definition can be.

Creating what matters (audience centric) is also limiting, but I feel it offers a slightly more flexible approach to thinking about innovation. 

In the Keeley definition, Pixar would not technically be an innovation until Toy Story.  In my definition, the audience of advertisers (through commercials) and the audience of one (Investor Steve Jobs) was technically an innovation earlier in its evolution.

Another compelling case.  Eienstein's Theory's.  Most of his theories were published in 1905.  They did not meet any of the criteria of Keeley's definition. So these ideas were not innovations until nuclear power was advanced in the 1940s.  But I do believe that these innovations of thought were accepted much earlier by an audience of physicists.  

Both definitions are worthy of discussion and improvement. And Ten Types of Innovation is one of the best books on innovation you'll find today.

I welcome your feedback at inotivity@gmail.com

Happy innovating.