Friday, 29 May 2015


At the 2015 LGPro Annual Conference Dr Amantha Imber, world class thinker and researcher on the topic of Innovation, gave a keynote address on the topic Innovation Survivor: How to Outthink, Outsmart and Outlast [your competition, I presume]. Dr Imber is an innovation psychologist and consultant. She was recently awarded the BRW Client Choice Award for Best Management Consultancy in Australia, she has a PhD in organisational psychology, and she works with major corporates like Coca-Cola, Commonwealth Bank, McDonalds and LEGO to facilitate innovation.

The session was a mix of theory and practice.The theory concerns what we are trying to do when we innovate. The practice recognises that we're human, and suggests ways that we can use the model to create great, new ideas. 

Ideally, the process of innovation has the following elements:
  • Someone submits an idea; 
  • The idea is assessed;
  • If successful, the idea progresses to a prototype.
However, in reality, is this process clear to anyone in your organisation who has a great idea? What is the climate for risk taking in your organisation; how comfortable are people with risk? Even if you have people generating great ideas, does the organisation have the skills to develop breakthrough ideas through to prototype? 

To embrace innovation, Dr Imber recommends that we analyse where our organisation sits in terms of the Innovation Framework (below) and assess the level of commitment that we are willing to make to nurture innovation. 

Which brings us to the key question - what prevents us from innovating? 
I wasn't surprised to hear that the main barrier is our assumptions. If we configure every problem with all the same variables as we have now, often this will prevent a new solution from being found.

Dr Imber recommends that we identify our assumptions and crush them - this might be to give our selves permission to imagine another outcome and ask 'What if the opposite was true?' We should consider all kinds of assumptions, too:
  • Neutral assumptions - in other words, describe things as they are;
  • Negative assumptions - try not to rule out options in your brainstorming;
  • Positive assumptions - recognise that some assumptions may be contingent on factors that may not apply.
For example, how did Apple come up with the iphone, what must be the most commercially successful mobile telephone design to date? They clearly didn't assume that a phone had to have more than one button and their enquiries into touchscreen technology must have followed on from there...

A clever strategy she recommends is to consider how someone else might solve a problem; we could try thinking "like Apple", "like an airline", or "like a gamer".

She also warns against decision fatigue - apparently the research shows that the quality of our decision declines throughout the day, so important decisions are best made first thing. As we get tired, we become more likely to take the easy way out instead of thinking things through.

These days the pressure to keep up and pull ahead is on as never before, yet I always think that being over-busy is the arch enemy of great ideas. Being able to play is key to innovative thinking. Children know it. As adults it's time we gave ourselves permission to think outside the box and play with our ideas, too.

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