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Intuitive innovation starts with a ‘yes’ to risk


By Dennis Curry

Director – Account Strategy, Planning and Innovation, HP Enterprise Services


Innovation can be a tricky phenomenon.It emerges unexpectedly, sometimes the result of intuitive innovation. How unexpected? David Pensak, one-time senior researcher and technology officer of DuPont, says his wife and daughter are hard-core coffee aficionados. But they complained that their coffee tasted like Delaware River water—unfiltered—when sipped from travel mugs. They tried mugs with ceramic liners and stainless-steel liners. Didn’t work.


When Pensak watched them, he discovered the problem. The lid that kept the coffee from spilling prevented the aroma of the coffee from reaching their nostrils, which can also affect taste. Solution? He drilled holes in the lid and lined the underside with Gore-Tex, a waterproof yet breathable fabric.


Pensak eventually patented the Vapor Flow Lid and launched Vaporiety in 2011 to market it. Vaporiety was named one of the 50 most innovative startups in the world in 2011 by the Kauffman Foundation.


Innovation failures are valuable, too

Pensak says intuitive innovation is naturally pre-wired into the human brain. It’s how we survive in hostile environments or challenging situations. However, enterprise innovation may be stifled by a corporate culture that discourages risk or looks for too short returns. We set an expectation that taking risks is dangerous, even if the organization originally began from a creative risk.


Often perceived as a single point in time, risk is—from a business perspective—actually a variable factor over time. There is always risk in anything new, but it’s time dependent. The same goes for opportunity, its opposite. Innovation and risk are connected, yet distinct. Innovation is more than just the desire to risk.


But managing that desire is key. Organizations need to give employees permission to follow their innovative instincts. They need to know it’s OK to try something new—without penalty. Instead, many organizations communicate (sometimes intentionally) that there are only two outcomes when it comes to innovation: success and failure. One can earn an employee bonus. The other may put an employee’s job in jeopardy.


But there is a third, often neglected option: The trove of priceless information that can be learned or salvaged by any attempt to innovate.


4 ways to execute innovation

How can organizations cultivate intuitive innovation? Here are four steps:

  • Think like an end-user. Learn the end-user’s needs. (How does an auto executive who doesn’t shop with his or her kids or take them along on errands know what a parent needs in a car?) State problems in the terms of an end-user. This doesn’t necessarily mean asking what the end-user wants or needs. They often don’t know. 
  • Look at all sources for ideas: customers, peers, patents, your competition, industry literature, and your own subconscious. Ask questions. Ask the same questions many times and in many different ways.
  • Develop and enable an organizational culture that supports and rewards innovation. Isolated, unsupported efforts typically fail.
  • Focus on simplicity. If your product or process requires end users to make a complex string of decisions, they will likely abandon the innovation.

Incentives for innovators

Developing and enabling a culture of innovation requires organizational commitments in resources and capabilities that align incentives and modify processes to promote creativity. For example, Pensak stresses that organizations need to learn the specific compensation currencies that motivate innovators. Cash is great for motivating sales people. But cash rewards often seed resentment among teams of innovators.


Innovators are often motivated by other things, such as the opportunity to attend and learn at international conferences, special occasion events for their families, subscriptions to professional journals, or … pizza.


Pizza.jpgPizza, or a team-wide meal, says Pensak, raises morale for three reasons. Everyone likes food. The aroma announces to everyone that someone has been rewarded. The honored employee shares his good fortune with others. Plus, pizza (or some other favorite food) events stimulate cross-fertilization and team-building without breeding resentment.


Organizations create and produce marketable products and services when management and employees are aligned toward innovation. Innovation thrives in environments with innovative structures and mindsets, as well as aromas.


Stay connected to HP thought leaders and innovators. Join the discussion in the  HP Innovation INSIGHT LinkedIn group.


DennisCurry2013.jpgAbout Dennis Curry

Dennis Curry is Director of Account Strategy, Planning and Innovation for HP Enterprise Services. His focus is on driving technology innovation and strategic, co-innovation initiatives with HP clients.

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