If you do a Google image search for “innovation,” what do you get?
Go ahead and try, but we promise you’ll get bunch of light bulb graphics.
Is that really innovation? No, it’s not. Innovation is less about bright ideas and creative spark than it is about getting organized.
The ideas are already there – we are all creative. Yet, what creates a competitive advantage is the ability to organize a team and a process to channel natural creativity to bring new value to the market through products, services, and methods. Innovation is well-coordinated work.
Look at any historically monumental innovations and there’s a common factor of intentionality, strategy, and organization.
World War II caught the allies utterly unprepared. So, the U.S. government formed the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) to marshal and manage resources and facilitate innovation to win the war.
In their paper, “Crisis Innovation Policy from World War II to Covid 19,” Daniel P. Gross Bhaven N. Sampat study the innovation outcomes for Allied victory, as well as lasting postwar benefits of innovations such as antibiotics and microwave communications.
“Not many people today have ever heard of OSRD—which was dissolved in 1947 and whose peacetime responsibilities were strewn across a range of government agencies—but its fingerprints are all over some of the most important breakthroughs of the 20th century,” wrote Derek Thompson in The Atlantic. The Gross and Sampat paper provides a deep dive on what we’ve learned from the war and the pandemic, but our point is it’s all about how you facilitate the process. From the massive OSRD to our current defense industry clients to local communities addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion, innovation is first and foremost an organization process.
You can see lots of examples now. The Great Resignation of the pandemic has created a war for talent. So, Kawasaki reorganized its manufacturing process and its talent management paradigm to provide new assembly line shifts tailored to the schedules of parents who wanted jobs but couldn’t neglect their families (often due to the pandemic). People with no factory experience, and in some cases very unmatched backgrounds, were hired and began to thrive.
New York State’s largest health care provider, Northwell Health credits its innovation organization to getting it through the worst of the pandemic. Innovations included better use of space to increase the number of beds, co-working environments as an alternative to being completely remote, a Fitbit partnership to develop a means of monitoring the health of the staff, and a new plan to deploy ambulance service more efficiently. With 77,000 employees those are all organizational feats that put Northwell Health on Fast Company’s list of Most Innovative Companies.
Innovation during uncertain times is a well-documented proven advantage. And as you read the historic and recent case studies of innovation organizations during crises and times of uncertainty, you see a lot of brilliant solutions and “ah-hahs,” but they all got there through lots of well-organized teamwork.