Ten Tips for Creating Transformational Innovation

Most executives agree that innovation  is critical to creating and sustaining stock-holder value. Today many economists  posit that  innovation will be necessary to break through our current economic woes. Why then don’t we see more successful innovation?  Why are there so few  winners and so many wannabes? In my years working in and with organizations  striving for innovation excellence, I have noticed a few organizational and  team attributes that differentiate winners from wannabes. This article outlines ten tips for creating winning transformational innovation.

Insatiable Curiosity

Successful organizations hire and reward insatiable curiosity. Employees read and ask questions constantly. Knowledge circulates freely. They watch TED, participate on Pinterest and other social media. They seek to know what is going on in other industries. They notice even the smallest shifts  in trends, log even the smallest problems.  In meetings they connect the dots. Management actively supports and rewards curiosity. Employees are encouraged to challenge and often ask: How  might we? What’s stopping us?  Why  can’t we?

Example: ReplicateTeeth uses MRI technology to robotically  design teeth for implants, how might we use a similar  process to design just the right-sized and just in time  knee replacement? What might Replicate learn from the carbon  plastic used to create the Boeing Dreamliner?  How could teeth be more like a spaceship?

In your organization, does knowledge circulate freely? Are mavericks and challenges to  the status quo rewarded or penalized?

Design, Infuse And Culturalize Innovation 

One hit wonders can be created by anyone. According to McKinsey (Innovation and Commercialization, 2010: McKinsey Global Survey  Results, August 2010), organizations that set formal processes and priorities rate themselves more successful than those that  do not. A second survey by Cambridge University of 800 organizations concluded  that creating a culture and expectation was the single biggest predictor of success. Why do you think that every one of Beethoven’s children could play the piano? It was  expected.

True, sustainable innovation requires a process and cultural infusion. Pipelines are not filled without clearly defined processes,
accountability, objectives and rewards. Successful systems are continuous learning/improvement systems with feedback loops that hold everyone accountable.

Have you defined what success looks like? Does your organization have a clearly articulated innovation vision/mission and strategy? Is innovation rewarded? Are outcomes measurable? Do performance objectives reward action? Is performance  rewarded and celebrated?

Tenacity and Appetite for Failure

Successful organizations embrace a dogged pursuit of  ideas. They challenge the status quo. One of my favorite examples of this is  the leadership of Bill Gates. He has been known to challenge his employees by driving a dump truck filled with failed products into his annual meetings. According to Mr. Gates, Microsoft NPD had NOT had enough “at bats.” If they had, they would have filled more than one dump truck. Fortunately for healthcare, he is doing the same thing to drive innovative healthcare around the  world. Innovation and strategy must be championed from the top.

How do you  support failure? How do you ensure you learn from successes and failures?

 Jump to the 100th Next BIG Thing

It is easy to find incremental innovations. Your competitor will find them quickly also. Strive for quantity; force your
organization to stretch.

How are you rewarding quantity? Are you stretching your direct reports?

 Innovation Is A Team Sport

Good ideas come from everywhere. Research has proven many of us are better than one of us. Open innovation or crowd participation produces results because more people are connecting more dots and offering new perspectives. MIT does an excellent job making innovation contagious with their Innovation Open House. Boeing Dreamliner design involved over 40 countries, hundreds of contributors — They credit their open technical brief for the discovery of the new lighter, more sustainable plastics.

Are you challenging a larger community of experts? Presenting them with interesting  briefs?  How would they rate the quality
of your projects? The creativity of the community?

 Do NOT Ask Consumers/Physicians/End-Users What They Want, Do Focus on Needs

Let the end-user drive your imagination. Do not just listen, observe. Gillett’s razor design was the result of observing women
shaving. J&J observed that surgical sponges were lost in surgery and created sponges that included a radioactive thread.

 Are you watching? Have you incorporated ethnography into your briefs? If not, why wait?

 PLAY, PLAY, PLAY [repeat as necessary]

Create a culture of innovation, not just with new product development. With every idea/challenge, be willing to recognize when something other than the original problem is solved (3M sticky note). Today, sticky notes are keyed into mobile devices, spellchecked, read out loud and can be used in the same way in  brainstorming or project management (for wall walk) and included in reports.

 How are you encouraging play?  


Don’t try to be all things to all customers/target audiences. Your proposition will not be believable.


He who hesitates loses market share – In the words of Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton, authors of the best-selling book, “The Knowing-Doing Gap”, knowing what to do is not enough, companies often fail to act. HP delayed the introduction of a wireless printer even when they  identified the technology and had a prototype 3 years before the first wireless printer.

How does your  organization create a sense of urgency?


I borrowed this  acrostic from the book, “Break from the Pack,” by Oren Harari. The author recommends the acrostic as a measure of whether an idea is worth pursuing.

  2. Does it MATTER to the consumer/end user
  4. Is it EMOTIONALLY INVOLVING, People are not motivated to
    buy product attributes, instead they seek solutions to problems  — (See tip number 6 above)
  5. Is it REAL

About Kathleen Turner

Kathleen Turner (Kathy Yeaton), MBA, President of i2s Advantage (formerly Marketing & Research Partners, based in Dallas Texas), helps Fortune 500 and start-up organizations create and sustain a competitive advantage and build value. Kathleen is a frequent writer and speaker in numerous associations. Contact Kathleen for other articles or more information at 214-632-0183, via email KatTurn@gmail.com, or visit i2S Advantage online at www.i2sadv.com.
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