"How do we take advantage of all the increasable innovations that Emerson is coming out with?" asked Robert B. Tucker, president of The Innovation Resource. During his keynote presentation at the Emerson Global Users Exchange Americas this week in San Antonio, he explained how mastery of the mindset, skill set and toolset of the innovator gives each of us a competitive innovation advantage that no one can outsource or take away.
"The day may start out bright and sunny, but you should be prepared for changing weather, and you need to be prepared for changing technology, as well, to take advantage of it," said Tucker. It starts with preparation, he said, telling a story of a time when he was woefully unprepared for change, which almost cost him dearly.
The story started with a wonderful day in Grand Teton National Park, but he suddenly realized that he was lost. "It got dark—pitch black—and I didn't have a simple tool, a flashlight, and I couldn't find my tent," said Tucker. "It happened fast. I went for a hike and watched a beautiful sunset, but, by the time I got to the clump of pine trees, I could not see a thing. I couldn't find my tent. I spent the night huddled under a tree covered with a park-services map, which was fine until it started to rain. And then hail. Dawn finally appeared. I get up, and 30 feet away was my tent."
He learned something that stuck with him ever since—that conditions change rapidly. You may be close to safety, but if you are not prepared it doesn't do you any good.
"If you think about it, innovation is nothing more than just a tool, a flashlight; if you use it well and remember to bring it along, you will thrive and prosper," said Tucker. "You will be able to utilize the new technologies and change with the times."
Five strategies for innovation
Tucker spent most of his keynote session discussing five practical verbs—mine, challenge, embrace, cultivate and fortify. He called them strategies you could use to help navigate your career and organization into the future successfully.
"You need to get really serious about mining the future," said Tucker. "Track the trends, look at the emerging technologies, and keep your eyes and ears open ready to receive the future to really understand what is going on."
Consider the alternative. "Don't say you didn't see it coming and be blindsided by change," said Tucker. "And don't say you saw it coming but didn't pay attention or were too busy with the day-to-day. Pay attention and have the flashlight on the future."
How do we prepare for this future? "In the past, mining the future was a hobby," said Tucker. "Today it's an essential, strategic necessity for all of us. It will serve you well. Proactively get informed instead of passively being informed."
The challenge is disruption. "It seems that each industry I'm working with tells me we are being disrupted by various forces," said Tucker. "What happens is customers have gravitated to a new way of solving their problems—a new value proposition that is better than the old way used to solve problems. For example, 22 million people have cut the cord on cable TV and haven't even noticed the difference."
It's not all digital. "It could be economic, regulatory or demographic change," said Tucker. "There is a choice in this disruption. Either we can embrace it and find an opportunity or we just watch it happen to us. Ask yourself, ‘Am I on the road to indispensability or expendability?’ Irrelevance happens. It happens faster than ever before. Businesses and their people will rise or fall based on the ability to anticipate and respond to rapid change."
Finding the obvious solution and looking at new ways to combine things are good starts. "Thinking there’s got to be a better way is the spark of innovation," said Tucker. Just think, luggage didn't use to have wheels. And, to many, peanut butter and chocolate go really well together. Find a better way."
Mindsets vs. toolsets
Tucker also talked about both the mindset and toolset of innovation. "A great thing about Emerson is it provides the toolset,” said Tucker. "We also need to embrace a different mindset. What I discovered is that being an innovator is a learned behavior. Innovators are not born; they are made. What sets them apart is their thinking style."
The innovators think of life as a game of discovery, continued Tucker. "They find a need and fill it," he said. "It's not so much about money. They want to solve problems and find something people want to use. Innovators are dreamers that do. They take action, coming up with ideas and bringing them to life."
Tucker quoted a real innovation champion, Simon Spencer at Borg Warner who said, "We have a process for everything else around here—why not for innovation?" It had processes for safety, quality and production, so why would Borg Warner leave innovation to chance?
Culture is vital to innovation. "It is necessary to cultivate the culture of innovation," said Tucker, "What happened to Nokia? In 2006, it was No. 8 on a Top 10 list of most innovative companies—seemingly unstoppable. That same year, I talked to a group of high-potential managers and did a survey and asked about the barriers to innovation.” Some answers included:
- We are a risk-adverse culture.
- We lack the time to work on new ideas.
- We have large-corporation syndrome.
"Another manager suggested that, if you had an idea, we'd just tell you to forget about it. You’re just going to frustrate yourself," explained Tucker. One year later, Apple introduced the iPhone, and Nokia started its spectacular fall from grace.
Tucker also recommended fortifying the idea factory. "Interruptions and distractions are the enemy of your innovation machine," said Tucker. "You need to fight back and have a strategy."
Try to do something creative every day. "Develop a creative routine," said Tucker. "Where do you go, and when do you go there to get your ideas?" he asked. "Some get them from other people, others when they are solitary. How do you get there? Where is your idea incubator? You’ve got to have a place and fortify it. Download your ideas. The mind is a great place to come up with ideas, but it's a terrible place to remember them. Write them down, and you will probably find you have more ideas than you think."