Intention before Inspiration for Innovation

Contrary to a common misconception that innovation comes in blinding flashes of insight, innovation comes more consistently when organizations focus first on intention.

The first step in any innovation process is clearly understanding the opportunity or need for innovation. When I stripped away the PR aura surrounding the X Prize process, I discovered the core of the X Prize Foundation’s methodology is simply:

  • Framing an opportunity statement for challenges ripe for innovation and change,
  • Identifying the focal areas that are possibilities and priorities for breakthrough; and
  • Setting guiding principles that clearly define success and “winning the prize”.

When I presented the X Prize approach at the ASAE Great Ideas Conference, a participant wisely observed this method shouldn’t just apply to prize competitions. He is right. Stating your intention for innovation is the fundamental first step in any innovation process.  (See Create Breakthrough Innovation the X Prize Way for more information on how to use prize competitions in associations.)

ASAE has arrived at a similar conclusion in the first phase of research to define an innovation process it can use and share with all associations.  In another session at Great Ideas, Jennifer Blenkle, ASAE senior director for nonprofit programs, introduced creating “Job to Be Done” (JTBD) statements that frame the challenge from the users’ perspective.  While the X Prize opportunity statement invokes a grand challenge, these JTBD statements seem like a very practical way to tie innovation into everyday challenges and set the expectation that innovation should be everyone’s job.  

Whether you use the boldness of an opportunity statement or the practicality of a Job to Be Done statement, taking the time to understand and state your intention for innovation is an important first step. You will still have to run the cycle of discovery, design, experimentation, evaluation and implementation that is common in all innovation processes.  With a statement of intention, it becomes easier to invite and inspire others to see innovation as a job everyone can do.