Associations – the Power behind Innovation

This is the third in the series focused on The Innovators DNA and how product leaders and others may acquire and develop their innovative DNA. It’s my goal to introduce concepts and ideas that will have product leaders of all types, think, act and engage differently. This post focuses on associations, their value and role in the innovation process.

Merriam-Websters online dictionary describes association as:

a) the act of associating.

b) something linked in memory or imagination with a thing or person.

Considering these two definitions, what do associations provide and why are they important?

In my last post The Courage to Innovate, I shared an innovation model from the authors. This model should be at the core of every product and marketing leader and drive our disruptive thoughts and actions. When you think about your role as a product leader, do you possess and use Questioning, Observation, Networking and Experimenting? If you do, then what’s missing?

Associations – “or the ability to make surprising connections across areas of knowledge, industries, even geographies– is an often-taken-for-granted skill among the innovators we studied” shared authors Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen. “Innovators actively pursue diverse new information and ideas through questioning, observing, networking and experimenting– the key catalysts for creative associations.”

Associations aren’t new. Throughout history, they’ve been used and perhaps are the keystone of innovations. In his book, The Medici Effect, Frans Johansson shares. ” When you step into an intersection of fields, disciplines, or cultures, you can combine existing concepts into a large number of extraordinary new ideas.”

Johansson calls this the Medici Effect named for the fifteenth-century banking family who funded creators from a wide range of disciplines.

Where does associating happen?  Today, we recognize Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Walt Disney and many others as innovators with the creativity to spark ideas in others.

While many organizations believe that innovation happens at home, I believe what Pragmatic Marketing teaches in, “Nothing Important Happens in the Office or NIHITO.” 

However, for innovators, I think we should change it to “No Innovation Happens in the Office.” 

While you’ll agree that you have to get out of the office to question, observe, network or experiment, how often should you get out and with whom and when?

“Innovation flourishes at the intersection of diverse experience, whether it be others or our own” shares the authors. The DNA of an innovator is one that “intentionally maneuvers themselves into the intersection, where diverse experience flourish and foster the discovery of new insight.” How often should you get out and observe, experiment and build new associations? Everyday.

As an example, last year I met Brice Sloan, President of Sloan Security Technologies. Now, I know almost nothing about about the security market where they succeed, however, they do and the Sloan brothers bring vast experience in large scale perimeter and other kinds of high-end security that would require government clearance to talk about. Brice found me through an intersection and the network.

He intentionally found me. Why? He’s has an innovators DNA and was experimenting with new ideas. He sought a variety of people, background, experiences and those that could experiment with him.

Why does an innovator connect with a person that has spent a large majority of his career in software? Simple. To question, experiment and connect with others who may not question “why,” but are willing to say, “Why not.” Since our first meeting, Brice and I have gotten together several times. He’s invited me and others to experiment with his ideas and how it applies his world.

With a strong desire to seek out unique problems and to engage with others that have ideas and expertise, Brice has introduced a series of solar powered surveillance solutions not dependent on the grid. Basically, they’re smart video cameras that run on solar power and transmit video wirelessly to any location. Can you think of hundreds of applications and uses, I can.

Intersections – “Disruptive innovators shine best at associating when actively crossing all kinds of borders, (geographic, industry, company, profession, discipline, and so on) and engaging the other innovator’s DNA skills.”

Where can this happen? For product leaders, it can happen at BarCamps, Product Camps, wondering through a local retailer, a lawn and garden center or a child’s classroom. The intersections are limitless, but we have to be willing to step into them and not expect anything to happen but another idea or the unexpected.

You have to engage with your neighbors, friends, friends of friends, people who say, “You have to meet this person” and a thousand others. I’ve heard stories of people who give time to private investors, angel funds, and micro-lenders as well as volunteer in their communities with start-ups and small businesses to break into new intersections.

To grow your innovators DNA as a product leaders, we need to get out, get busy and extend ourselves. Please join me in taking the challenge this week to jump into some new intersections, collect ideas and experiment outside the office and leave your non-innovative comfort zone. As Edward de Bono author of Lateral Thinking shared, “You cannot look in a new direction by looking harder in the same direction.”

In my next post, we’ll discuss Innovation for the Risk Adverse. If you like the post, please share it on Twitter or LinkedIn using, , Associations, the Power behind Innovation – a new post by @jim_holland http://wp.me/pqeWU-qj #prodmgmt #innovation #leadership. 

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