Innovation Management – It’s the Little Things That Count

Whats the greatest invention of all time. Come on – you know the answer. Universally it is used as the benchmark against which all new inventions are compared. “It’s the greatest thing since …” Right, Sliced bread.

OK – so we can debate whether or not sliced bread REALLY IS the greatest invention of all time.  Maybe it’s not, but given the degree to which it has become ingrained into popular modern culture as the invention benchmark, you have to agree, it ranks up there.Bread

Why do I bring this up?  Well, just yesterday, in a heated discussion with co-worker, Dan Keldsen about our Innovation Training and consulting, I suddenly realized the prominence of sliced bread and what struck me was the nature of the invention.

As I said, Dan and I were in the throes of finalizing our  training on Innovation Management and complementary consulting methodology.  Whenever we get to talking about innovation,  the concept of Big I innovation versus little i innovation is a popular topic.

We were discussing the value of little “i”s when it hit me, “the greatest invention of all time, sliced bread, is a little i innovation.  Sliced bread did not change the overall value statement of bread. The recipe did not change. Production for the most part did not change, nor did pricing or it’s nutritional value.  Bread continues to be used for pretty much the same purposes. Sliced bread was a small change to the way the product is delivered – only.

What’s my point? – There is tremendous value in small “i” innovations.  Yet, all too often individuals and organizations view innovation under the Big I lens. Effort is almost exclusively focused on the big innovations, hitting the ball out of the ball park. While those home runs are spectacular, many a game have been won one single at a time.

Although always crucial, innovation has recently been credited as the foundation to economic recovery, for corporations as well as countries.  President Obama, for example has promised a new national commitment to science and innovation,  and was recently quoted as saying innovation will play a major role in securing long-term economic strength and stability.

But with such fanfare and attention at such lofty levels, there is a fear, at least personally, that innovation will near exclusively be viewed through the BIG I innovation lens.

We all need to appreciate that there is a discipline and a process behind innovation, and that it can be taught and instilled within virtually any organization. It does not have to be left to chance, to a select few, and/or  focus on major game changing discoveries and invention.

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