7 Insight to Innovation Practices That Work

Kudos to Sawhney and Khosla for the astute observation that innovation requires insight as feedstock and nailing 7 surefire ways to find it in their brief November 2014 Harvard Business Review article.  I’ve ordered their 7 practices here according to their proven usefulness for associations and nonprofits boards and senior teams.  

  1. Confluence.  Insight flows from several trends coming together.  The Signature i methodology depends on asking associations and nonprofits how major economic, demographic and technological trends will affect their organization industry or market.  And the most insight does come from studying how multiple trends come together to create a major change driver.
  2. Orthodoxies.  As Sawhey and Khosla observe, “when conditions change, so must traditions”. Signature i calls this challenging the assumptions. We ask boards and staff teams to explore viable alternatives to what they have always done. We issue an invitation to think in new ways.
  3. Analogies.  Association and nonprofit executives are very interested in novel case studies and best practices. They get it they can learn from each other.   Relevant great ideas are often invented in completely unlikely and unrelated industries and professions.  This is also why it is important in benchmarking exercises to look beyond the organizations most like your organization. 
  4. Frustrations.  What pain points do members and stakeholders experience?  This is the companion question to what do they value in joining or supporting you.  Value comes from solving problems and the best results often come from seeing old problems in new ways.
  5. Extremities.  This is the search for so-called positive deviants, be they visionary or contrarian.  Associations and nonprofits have to be adept at listening to people who see things differently than their leaders do.  Their disruptive perspectives can point to innovations.
  6. Voyages.  This practice involves going to the field to see firsthand how social, cultural and environmental factors affect member and stakeholder preferences and behaviors.  Because associations and nonprofits have somewhat representative boards and volunteer relationships, they often assume they have more understanding than they do.  And it can be difficult to organize field trips to observe and interact.  Interactive focus groups can be a stand-in for discovering firsthand how to design products and services better.  
  7. Anomalies.  When data suggests a deviation from business as usual, innovative organizations ask what these differences mean. The answer can point to new ways of doing business. Associations and nonprofits need the data analysis discipline and proficiency to systematically spot these anomalies.  One readily available source of anomalies occurs in most member needs assessments. When a large number of people check “other”, it’s important to probe why.

All seven insight to innovation practices make a powerful suite of innovation tools for any organization.  They can be mixed and matched to particular situations.  What seldom works is expecting people to come cold into innovation experiences without the feedstock to fuel their thinking processes.  Keep this checklist handy when you need a sure-fire way to become more innovative.