How Do We Innovate?

Recently I had the opportunity to hear a presentation by Bill O’Connor, the founder of the Innovation Genome project at Autodesk. A number of you may already be familiar with this work that Autodesk has undertaken, but for those who are not, the quick synopsis is that Autodesk has been sponsoring Bill (and his team) to determine over the course of human history what should truly be considered “innovation” or “innovative” and what leads to successful innovation in the first place. They’ve also come up with a definition of ‘Innovation’ that I think is pretty decent:

“Innovation is the art of establishing something different or new, out in the real world that has a significant impact.” – Bill O’Connor (Autodesk)

If you stop to ponder this definition for a moment, you start to realize that it is a relatively high bar to achieve. Not that it is an impossible bar, but it demands a level of rigor that arguably most of us don’t apply most of the time and gives one pause to say; “things that I’ve considered innovative or others have said that’s a great innovation, was it truly?”

This isn’t meant to invalidate creative or successful things you or your company may have done, there is value in many things that are not “innovative” per Bill’s definition. Consulting Google for definitions of innovation leads you to what I believe are complimentary definitions that offer more “leeway” in regard to what is “innovative”. One of the most intriguing aspects of the work the Genome project has done is the concept that the place to find the truly innovative ideas are the ideas that make people laugh or say “that’s crazy”. As Bill put it, the crazy idea is not necessarily the innovative idea, but the idea right near the crazy one may lead you on a path of true innovation. For example, what if I were to say “Stantec should be the AE firm to design the first living community on Mars”. You laughed right; but stop and think for a moment, how many new problems would we have to solve to design a useful and appealing community for Mars, and how much of what we would learn along that journey could in turn be beneficial here on earth?

So what’s my point in having this discussion? At DTS we’ve always said that Innovation is one of our key pillars, at the same time I’m not convinced we’ve ever found a way to give its proper “due” in our discussions and conversations. With such a talented group of design technology thought leaders gathered together in one place, I think we should look to somehow integrate some of what the Innovation Genome has “figured out” into our Summit. We have always said that we are about sharing, and that the ideas that we bring to the table are not ours alone. To that end, I have a challenge for you readers, based on Bill’s definition with your own firm what have you been able to do:

  1. That challenged existing practice and perceptions of how something should be done, or how a tool is used?
  2. That has had a significant impact on your firm?

Can’t think of anything; that’s okay (the truth is I couldn’t either), take this post as a call to action to do something innovative. Share the definition with your leadership, with your peers and take action! Watch one of Bill’s YouTube videos on the Innovation Genome to get yourself thinking.

Lastly, once you’ve done all that, consider joining us at DTS 2017 in Toronto not only to share what you’ve done, but to learn from everyone else what they’ve done. Most true innovations rarely stay in the possession of any one person or corporation, it’s what people and companies do to harness and capitalize on an innovative idea that leads to competitive differentiation. So get out, be innovative, and come share with everyone else!

For those of you at AU this week, I’ll be around, want to chat more, find me on Twitter @rpiboy.


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