The Seeds of Innovation

One can picture a time – back in the early 1800’s, in a small rural town, perhaps in Canada, Australia or India – when a farmer would wake before dawn, and set out to the fields. He would grab a bag of seed and, by the handful, he would toss the seeds onto the land. He would let nature take its course, and hope that enough rain would come and that the seeds would produce enough food for the family, as well as some to sell in the town.

Today, farmers rely on the latest technology. Seeds are planted with precision, accurate to the centimetre. Irrigation allows for just enough water, and the seeds are constantly monitored, fertilized, and cared for. The resulting crop is bountiful, and even surpasses the demand.

When it comes to innovation, unfortunately, many organizations are still acting like primitive farmers, randomly scattering seeds, hoping for anything. This approach often creates a sense of panic for employees who believe the only innovation worthy of praise is a “breakthrough” innovation.

The reality is – breakthrough innovations are one in a million.

Today’s successful organizations, on the other hand, use well thought out and proven methods and processes that have a better chance of yielding top quality ideas, and then they have an ethic of discipline to carry these ideas through to fruition.

Nice Innovation

The situation in far too many organizations today is that somewhere along the line “out-of-the-box” thinking was actually placed in a black box, and moved to a store room in the basement of Head Office. Goofy brainstorming sessions, and too many PR speeches about how the organization must innovate, have reduced innovation to the business jargon equivalent of the word – nice.

The passion is gone.

The excitement is gone.

The organization didn’t take it seriously, and it died.

I read a book several years ago by Elaine Dundon entitled “The Seeds of Innovation” in which she breaks innovation down into 3 types:

Efficiency Innovation – developing new ways of using and improving what already exists

Evolutionary Innovation – developing “new and improved” ideas

Revolutionary Innovation – developing paradigm shifting new ideas

Your organization will be well served if you are able to focus on the efficiency and evolutionary innovations, and take the pressure off the idea of revolutionary innovations.