Charting Innovation

x-y axes, with x labeled Impact and y labeled Novelty

Here at ITK, we define innovation as “novelty with impact.” Just last week, it occurred to me to turn that definition into a graph, with Novelty along one axis and Impact along the other (seriously, how did I not think of this sooner?). At the low end of the Novelty axis, we find things that are Kinda Familiar, while at the high end things are Utterly Unique. Similarly, things at the low end of the Impact axis are Kinda Helpful, while the high end is full of products and services that SAVE THE WORLD.

So, the lower left quadrant might be minor innovations, things that are both kinda familiar and kinda helpful. The upper right quadrant is mega innovations. Both quadrants are innovative, just to different degrees. So far, so good, right?

x-y axes, with x labeled Impact and y labeled Novelty. Minor is in the lower left corner, Mega in upper rightOK, the really interesting thing isn’t in either of those quadrants. Instead, it’s this arrow that points down and to the right. I call it the Innovation Maturity Slope, and it shows what happens when an innovative product or service becomes… popular (so maybe we should call it the popularity slope?).

x-y axes, with x labeled impact, y labeled novelty, and a line pointing down and to the right labeled maturityHere’s what’s happening along this slope: popularity leads to familiarity, which reduces novelty. People see the thing and respond “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of that.” But popularity also means more people benefit from the thing, which means impact increases.

The net result: popularity moves us down and to the right.

Think of what happens to an iPod, a cool new app, or the latest software development method. At first, a small number of early adopters use the thing, so it is relatively uncommon (high-N) and its impact is constrained to a relatively small group (low-I). It sits in the upper left quadrant. But later, everyone gets an iPod, discovers the app, or adopts Agile software methods. As more people use the thing and benefit from it, it becomes less novel but more impactful.

The reason I’m sharing this is to point out: this change can feel like a loss to the person behind the innovation. It might even feel like a failure, as if they “aren’t innovative anymore,” because their creation is less novel than it was before. It’s  super easy to mistake a drop in novelty for a lack of innovation, even when impact is increasing. But the thing to remember is that novelty is not the point. For that matter, innovation isn’t the point either. Impact is the point – doing something that matters, solving a problem, creating value, helping people, making things better.

So if you are fortunate enough to see your project move to the right along the Impact axis, remember to count that as a sign of maturity and progress. It’s definitely a win.

Announcing The ITK Handbook!

Announcing The ITK Handbook!

Team Toolkit is excited to announce that WE WROTE ANOTHER BOOK!!

It’s titled The Innovation Toolkit Handbook. In this book, several members of Team Toolkit share our specific practices and processes as clearly and directly as we can, along with some reflections on why we do what we do the way we do it. It’s not exactly a sequel to our first book. Instead, we think the characters from our first book would have wanted to read this one. Basically, this handbook takes you behind the scenes and fills in some gaps the website and first book don’t cover. You’ll find chapters about Team Toolkit’s culture, our certification process for new facilitators, and our method for developing new tools. We also share tips on how to use the tools, perspectives on failure, and commentary on a collection of adjacent topics that don’t quite have a home on our website.

You can get the PDF version for free right here. It’s also available as a paperback for $8.35 (plus shipping).

How to Bring Play to Work

How to Bring Play to Work

This week’s post is by Manya Kapikian and Bill Donaldson

Eyes sparkling, front paws down, stick in mouth, a tail that’s wagging like a helicopter propeller at warp speed. That’s what my dog does when he indicates he’s ready to play.  At 7, he’s a mature adult dog with a sense of curiosity, wit, and zest for life.

Associated as a part of childhood, human adults seemed to forget what their animal counterparts have not.  Play is an activity that is never to be outgrown.  Stuart Brown, author of Play, talks about how play helps children develop as individuals and members of a society.  For children, play offers the opportunity to learn and grow, while having a bit of fun along the way.   Many adults, on the other hand, are missing out on that benefit.

Brendan Boyle, Founder, IDEO Play Lab wrote: “Work doesn’t have to be serious to be impactful. In fact, we tend to get our best ideas when we break out of the usual routine and have a little fun.”

And so, play became a topic of conversation during a recent Lunch and Learn.  The ITK facilitator asked the group: how do you increase play and playfulness during a meeting to increase innovation?

There were many activities that came up during the discussion.  Some could be done virtually while others required everyone be in the same room.  Here are a few of our activities that were successfully used as captured from the meeting that we’d like to pass along to you:

Rock, Paper, Scissors.  If you are looking for an in-person activity, nothing brings out the best of a competitive spirit than Rock, Paper, Scissors. To learn how to play, visit The Official Rules of Rock Paper Scissors. Tip: Whoever loses, becomes the winner’s best friend.  By the time you get to the end there’s two people in the room with a fan base behind them. (Warning: This can get loud!)

 Group Thumb War.  (Yes, this is exactly as it sounds and we can’t wait to try it!).  Another in-person group activity.  It is based on Jane McGonigal’s book Reality is Broken and to get a sense of what a room full of people thumb wrestling is like, check out the TED video Massive Multiplayer Thumb Wrestling

Animal Sketch Competition.  This can be done either in-person or virtual.  An excellent energizer, especially before activities like a design studio.  It requires a pencil/pen and some paper.  A moderator picks out an animal for participants to sketch.  There are 3 rounds of sketching the same animal.   Each round gets faster and faster – 1 minute, 30 seconds, 10 seconds.  The group picks the winning sketch.  The artist of the winning sketch gets to pick the animal for the next round.

Music Playlist. This can be done either in-person or virtual.  Have a playlist or theme of the day and associate it with music.  Play at the beginning as people are coming into the room and close the meeting with a song or two once business is done. 

Why were these activities a success?

They were successful because they helped people relax and get into their creative zone.  Let’s take the animal sketch competition.  Our colleague Jordan uses that often when he starts a design session. He explained,

“You ask them to draw out a cat and it’s amazing how creative people get quickly.  By the time they hit round 3, where it’s 10 seconds, people are fired up. They’re laughing. They’re playful. It’s a quick way to get a group in a more fun headspace.  It’s a little bit like warming up before exercising right like you’re stretching you know the creative muscles and flexing a little bit and that when you so when you do go into an activity. You are over that hurdle of ‘I can’t sketch anything’ because everybody clearly did 3 rounds of sketching.”

Try it out!

To inject a little bit of play at work requires a little bit of thought and foresight.  It could depend on the group, the topic at hand, how much time do you have.  An activity can take a few minutes, or even seconds.  The examples we gave may take a few minutes. It can also take a few seconds by simply asking everyone picking to pick an emoji or a picture that best describes their mood.

There’s a world of play waiting to be discovered.  Below are additional resources.  Leave a comment, we’d love to hear about what’s worked for you!

Additional Resources:

Photo credit: Takashi Hososhima

Making Things

Making Things

When was the last time you made something? Specifically, when was the last time you made something to share?

I’m not talking about a sandwich or a drink. I’m talking about a creative artifact you can pass along to someone else, so they can use it, learn from it, or be inspired by it.

OK, maybe a really good sandwich could fit that bill, but really what I have in mind is a sketch. A photo. A framework. A video. A new tool. A variant on an existing tool (like the X-blossoms or the mini-canvases). Or even an X-blossom decoupaged onto an empty Altoids tin.

We often describe the ITK community as having a “maker culture.” We love to noodle around with prototypes and sketches, building Minimum Viable Products out of cardboard and duct tape. So this post is a friendly reminder and personal invitation to put that cultural attribute into practice. If it’s been a while since you made something, I encourage you to make it a priority… to make something today.

Not sure how or where to get started? Click on a few of the links in this blog post and see what sort of creative ideas jump out at you. And if time is short, then set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes, and see what you can make before the buzzer goes off. You just might be surprised!

And of course, don’t forget to share the results of your creative efforts with someone.

Existing In The Future

Existing In The Future

In a recent conversation about team culture, I heard a senior executive say something remarkable:

“Companies that get this right are the companies that will exist in the future.

Her comment was not hyperbole. It was not an overstatement. If anything, she may have understated the case. Getting culture right is indeed essential for any company that wants to exist in the future. Any company that does not get culture right is going to find it virtually impossible to justify its existence – to its employees, customers, stakeholders, or even to outside observers.

The phrase “get this right” clearly implies a dividing line between right and wrong cultures, between healthy and toxic environments. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. There is such a thing as an organization getting culture right (and such a thing as getting culture wrong). To be clear, there is more than one way to get it right, and we should leave all talk of Only One Good Culture for the fanatics and fascists. But we still must spend some time exploring question about what types of beliefs and behaviors constitute a healthy culture that will allow a company to exist.

Exploring how to answer that question for any particular organization requires a longer discussion than this short blog post can provide. Answering it for every possible scenario isn’t going to happen here either. But we can start with a list of some cultural attributes that belong on the good side of the line and are likely to be found in most healthy cultures, such as:

  • Valuing and embracing diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.
  • A welcoming culture that treats people with grace and respect
  • A culture of collaboration, where people believe in working together rather than undermining each other
  • A culture of initiative and autonomy, where people take action and make decisions (and accept accountability)
  • A culture of experimentation, where people try new things as a way to learn & grow

If you’re up for starting that  “longer discussion” mentioned earlier, you may want to check out this 11-minute video about culture building.

photo credit: User Hide1228, from Wikimedia Commons

Four Takeaways from a Creative Project

Four Takeaways from a Creative Project

This week’s post is by guest blogger Allison Khaw!

A few weeks ago, on my own time, I dove into a short-term creative project.

I was inspired by Karim Thompson on the Innovation Toolkit team: he invented a list of fictional strip mall business names based on some of the ITK tools.  Functionally, the list helped you remember the tool names, but its intangible benefits went well beyond that.  I remember how so many of us on the team were not only entertained but also energized by what he created.  At some point, I concluded—this can’t be forgotten in the annals of team history!

Adapting Karim’s list into a more visual format seemed like a natural next step.  I expanded the original list by adding a few business names of my own, and then I formed a map legend and designed a map layout.  Several versions later, the final “ITK Shopping Mall Map” was born!  It was quite an iterative process, and looking back, I asked myself:

What takeaways do I want to share as a result of this experience?

  1. Don’t limit yourself to a certain approach just because that’s how it’s been done before.

From the start, I planned to include this shopping mall map in our ITK Handbook, which is an ITK how-to guide and an informal sequel to our choose-your-own-adventure-style book The Toolbox of Innovation.  Since I made line drawings by hand for our first book to resemble the CYOA books of the 80’s and 90’s, I originally planned to draw the map by hand as well.  However, I realized that the non-CYOA style of the ITK Handbook opened up other possibilities.  In fact, only after letting go of the “It’s always been done this way before!” argument did it become clear to me that electronically creating the map was the better option to begin with.

  1. Set yourself up for exploring new ideas by periodically saving backup versions.Sketches of malls

I decided to keep it simple by using PowerPoint as my creation software.  As I developed the map, I got into the habit of duplicating my in-progress version and then working off of the newer copy, which resulted in dozens of sequential PowerPoint slides.  Although this was a basic technique (thank you, copy and paste!), it made all the difference.  It allowed me to incrementally move forward with new ideas in the design process—and if I liked an old idea better, I could always find my way back.  To illustrate this, see the provided figure with four map versions at different points in the brainstorming process.  Some versions were considerably better than others!

  1. To leave yourself room for inspiration, set minimal expectations and build flexibility around deadlines.

Given the nature of this side project, no one would have been upset if I didn’t finish it.  In many ways, this was incredibly freeing.  I was self-motivated to see my vision come to fruition, but I took my time looking into common shopping mall layouts and actually discovered one of my best design ideas after a leisurely session of experimentation.  Even for projects with fixed deadlines, starting early to give yourself flexibility can be invaluable.  Yes, sometimes constraints are useful, but other times the feeling of not being rushed can be exactly what you need to achieve results.

  1. The end result may seem obvious in hindsight, but the path it takes to get there is often quite the opposite.

A final product that looks simple and effortless usually belies the very effort that you put into it.  What’s more, this is a good thing—it means that your hard work has paid off!  I have experienced this before when using the Premortem and Mission & Vision Tool, and I found this to be true here too after following a winding path to reach the final design of the map.  Blaise Pascal summarized it nicely back in the seventeenth century, when he is said to have penned, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I didn’t have the time.”  We need to more consistently give ourselves the opportunity to go that extra mile—and write that shorter letter.

This side project was fulfilling in that it allowed me to breathe new life into the fictional ITK business names that Karim created.  Not only did I learn valuable lessons from the iterative nature of the map design process, but each time I look back at the completed ITK Shopping Mall Map, I can’t help but grin at everything it represents.

More than anything, I consider that a measure of success if ever there was one. Best of luck on your own creative pursuits!