I read a thought-provoking story the other day. Professors Joe Tidd and John Bissant tell of a report presented at the annual conference of a prevalent U.S. industry. As you read the following excerpt, try to guess the industry to which the report is referring, “We are at the brink of change of an unprecedented and exponential kind and magnitude . . . We must be willing and able to discard old paradigms and engender and embrace manifest change . . . These required changes include . . .  putting in place systems and a culture for sustainable innovation.” Did you guess that the report was presented to a high-tech industry? Wrong. Some fast-moving manufacturing industry? Wrong again. The defense industry? Still wrong. The correct answer is that the report was presented at the 2001 conference of the American Bar Association (ABA).

So what’s the lesson in this story?  Actually there are two of them. The first is that the need to innovate applies to every industry and profession, even professions as tradition-bound as the practice of law. The second lesson is that innovation is a process, which is alluded to in the ABA report where it makes mention of, “. . . putting in place systems and a culture for sustainable innovation.” Various versions of the innovation process have been proffered. The “5i’s” framework in the following diagram captures the elements that are common to most of them. In this framework the innovation process consists of three phases and two conditions. The three phases are identification, ideation and implementation, and the two conditions are the condition of having an innovation strategy and the condition of having an innovation culture.

The identification phase is about identifying and understanding the problem or opportunity that will be the focus of the innovation initiative. It could just as well be called the ‘search and research’ phase considering that it entails searching for an innovation target and then doing research to gain insight into it. There are all manner of methods for searching and researching innovation targets, such as strategic issue diagnosis, employee idea systems, task analysis, ethnographic research, and living laboratories, to name just a few.

The ideation phase has to do with generating, elaborating, and assessing ideas about how to address the issue detected in the identification phase. Again, there are a multitude of methods—including a variety of creativity, feasibility analysis, modeling, and decision-making methods—that can be brought to bear on the issue.

The implementation phase is about turning ideas into reality.  Methods include detailing the design, rapid prototyping, developing business and action plans, and implementing a learning process for continuous improvement.

We’ll talk about the two conditions of the innovation process in a future post. For the moment, consider that there’s no point to innovating if your company culture kills or sabotages every new idea that is suggested. Also consider that having an innovation strategy ensures that your innovation efforts are targeted at the things that will have the most impact on your organization’s bottom line.