The changing face of innovation: Five trends from 2013


Every New Year I come up with a compilation of top innovation stories from the year gone by. This has been a ritual for some good five years now. To arrive at my insight, I relied on interesting stories shared at some of the most influential and authentic sources available. These 20 sources capture the art and science of the subject matter, and I can only encourage you to take a deep dive. It will be enriching.

I reckon that there are five marquee trends that stood out in the discourse of innovation and creativity last year. While I use the words innovation and creativity together, delineation is in order. For starters, creativity is an ‘act’ of finding a solution, while innovation is the ‘implemented’ solution. The key word here is implemented, or to the business kinds- commercialised.

1. Infusing science into innovation

Innovation is fast moving from an era of almost an art- like status to being engineered to deliver results. While there still remains the element of unpredictability in the pursuit, most firms are striving to decode what it takes to innovate. Academics and consulting firms alike are impressing upon the need to bring in more intelligence and analytics to the way an idea is conceived and the whole process is managed.

For instance, Big Data and Data Analytics have taken a major share of most conversations in the realm of innovation. Several impactful articles at the ‘Harvard Business Review’ (HBR) touch upon the subject, such as the issue of making smarter decisions while innovating, and lessons from innovation model in DARPA. In fact, the last three editions of HBR have dedicated quite a significant space on discussing analytics and decision making in context of innovation and change. ‘MIT Sloan Management Review’ (SMR) has focused research articles on how the innovation process itself is its reward, and on using analogies to bring new ideas.

Companies are also encouraging employees to systematically think of absurd ideas in order to gain breakthrough insights, as reported by Knowledge @ Wharton (K@W). Further, McKinsey & Co. offers a set of five routes for innovative problem solving, applicable to individuals and corporate alike.

2. Opening up the innovation frontierOpen innovation has been in the popular literature for quite some time now, but with drying up innovation pipelines, and with greater access and reach of ideas, the idea of open innovation is taking ground. MIT SMR in its Fall issue offers a checklist of what to open and what not to in an innovation model. In another insightful piece, the magazine offers insights on how to gauge your firm’s innovation culture, especially to know where and what to look out for.

The openness of innovation is not limited to formal means, but also to informal mechanisms such as community-powered problem solving, or as ‘Time’ Magazine depicts that even movie crowdsourcing goes beyond money! Firms are realizing that diversity can indeed drive innovation if well managed, and that designers are needed even when firms have inventors, often from outside.

3. Deciphering creativity

The capacity of our mind has always captivated researchers and philosophers alike. However, in the recent years, we have been learning a great deal about how this wonderful organ functions and influences our creative abilities. ‘Scientific American’ offers a fascinating treatise on the origins of human creativity, stating that creativity is rather a recent phenomenon. In another piece, researchers offer new insights into how creating and perceiving music improves our mental abilities. ‘Nature Magazine’ draws parallel between art and science, and suggests ways in which scientists draw inspiration from arts.

In an interview with ‘Fortune’ Magazine, Ray Kurzweil talks about reverse engineering the mind, and how technology can assist the features and functioning of the brain in order to enhance creativity. The BBC also aired a series of videos titled ‘The creative brain’. In fact, engineering serendipity is also a thought to have, as a ‘New York Times’ article suggests. Sir Ken Robinson wrote a good summary on creativity for ‘Business Week’.

4. Embracing an entrepreneurial mindset

The May edition of ‘HBR’ dedicated special sections talking about fostering a startup culture, and how to negotiate with venture capitalists. Richard Florida in an interview with ‘McKinsey Quarterly’ impressed upon the way creative cities are built around creative organisations and risk investors, and why an enterprising behaviour is an indicator of a city’s vibrancy. In fact, the list of 50 Most Innovative Countries by ‘Business Week’ demonstrated that most of these countries are also the ones where one takes least time and cost in starting a business. The piece on Israel shared interesting insights on how a culture of creativity would be fostered the startup-nation way. The ‘NY Times’ article by Thomas Friedman called for inventing a job, which calls for an entrepreneurial mindset.

Even the most routine tasks have room for creativity, as every task has to simultaneously improve while making itself redundant. BCG calls this approach ambidexterity and proposes the approach of honing it to achieve creative outcomes. Having said that, one needs to remember that entrepreneurial attitude is more important than being self employed, as even larger firms are looking for entrepreneurs.

5. Moving beyond size

The listing of the most disruptive companies of 2013 by ‘MIT Technology Review’ and the world’s most innovative companies by Fast Company has one thing is common. Not necessarily that the large companies are the most innovative ones. In fact, the list has several interesting firms, names you might be hearing for the very first time. From an era where innovation was powered by huge R&D budgets, we are getting into nimble ‘disruptors,’ challenging the very belief system that large firms protect.

So here was my take on the year gone by in innovation! Do check out my blog for regular updates, case studies and analysis.

 About the guest author

Pavan Soni is an innovation evangelist by profession and a teacher by passion. He has consulted for dozens of organisations including Café Coffee Day, Capgemini, GlaxoSmithKline, Infosys, Mahindra, Marico, Tata Steel, Thermax, Titan, and Wipro. He also collaborated with the Karnataka Knowledge Commission, CII, and European Business Group. He was conferred with the Innovation Excellence Award at the 5th Indira Innovation Summit in 2012. He is a gold medalist from MBM Engineering College Jodhpur, and did his PGDIE from NITIE Mumbai. Currently, Pavan is pursuing his PhD from IIM Bangalore.


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