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Kick-start innovative thinking

By Jeff DeGraff

Innovation: Not an amateur sport

So many of the business managers and leaders I talk to are stuck in an innovation rut. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Innovation at its core has four parts you need to get right in order to make innovation happen anywhere.

  1. You have to have high-quality targets. You have to have a clear shared goal. You don’t want something too big and you don’t want something too small where you’re sort of just tweaking the dial. You want something in between that increases your level of ambition.
  2. You  have to have deep and diverse domain experts. Innovation is not an amateur sport. You need people who really understand the field, but from different points of view. And this is because innovation is not created through alignment. It’s created through constructive conflict. You need a little pushing and shoving.
  3. You want to take a wide array of shots on goal. You want to explore many different kinds of projects, and  don’t give them too much time or money because you’re trying to accelerate the failure cycle to quickly learn what works and what doesn’t work.
  4. You want to learn from your experience and your experiments. You  want to get smarter. You want to figure out what to do more of, what to do less of, and what you need to keep doing. Most importantly, you want to learn what simple rules you can divine from this process so you don’t continue to make these mistakes.

Now, of course, every business is different and requires different creative solutions.

But these four steps will give you the much-needed momentum to get these projects launched and get you to proof of concept so you quickly can learn what works and what doesn’t work.

Ultimately these steps will allow you to develop a method and process that works best for you in your particular situation.

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Jeff DeGraff

Jeff DeGraff

JEFF DEGRAFF is a clinical professor of business administration in U-M's Ross School of Business. His teaching, research, and writing focus on leading innovation and creativity. DeGraff is co-author of several books, including Creativity at Work, Leading Innovation, and Competing Values Leadership. His PBS program "Innovation You" introduces his ideas about innovation to viewers across America. He writes a syndicated column for Fortune, Psychology Today, and the Huffington Post. DeGraff has consulted with hundreds of the world’'s most prominent firms and has developed a broad array of widely used creativity and innovation methodologies and tools. He founded a leading innovation institute,, with labs in Ann Arbor and Atlanta. Follow him at