In the Moment

Beyond the Lightbulb: The Innovation Portfolio

Erika Bailey

Here at The Moment, our clients come to us at various points in their innovation journey. Many arrive to the innovation conversation at the true beginning of it all, ready to think through and answer the essential questions for a great Innovation Strategy. An essential mindset shift these clients face goes something like this. We no longer believe that innovation is made up of aha! moments and out of the blue idea lightbulbs. We understand that innovation is work, takes planning, and…wait for it…can take a while. 

The happy news is that innovation is less about having ideas and more about getting to better ideas and better solutions on the stuff that will make a difference to your business. To help our clients get at better ideas and solutions, we use an Innovation Cycle model with incorporates the Design Thinking process and some excellent planning and implementation. We find the design thinking principles and practice are a structured and liberating way to get better work done, and to learn in short and inexpensive loops. We add to this Innovation Cycle the concept of Innovation Portfolios as an answer to the question “what will we innovate?”

People can really only think within the mental models they have.  What we can do is to intentionally create a bigger, new box within which to think.

Langdon Morris, in his seminal book The Innovation Master Plan lays out the importance of the Innovation Portfolio. He tells us that we can think of Innovation Planning like sound financial planning. To ensure your financial success, one proven method for success is to diversify your financial portfolio of assets and investments. The same holds true for your innovation portfolio. You’ll want to ensure you are intentionally opening up the possibility of innovation in all possible areas.

Morris tells us that there are 4 types of innovation that you should address in your innovation portfolio:

  • Breakthrough innovations: break the rules (technological, service, how things are done, etc.)
  • Incremental innovations: work within the rules, but stretch the possibilities of what could be better, little by little
  • New venture innovations: new lines of business or partnerships/ acquisitions
  • New business model innovations: a whole new way to do business

It’s not possible to think “outside the box” but it’s possible to intentionally create a bigger box.

What’s great about really pushing ourselves to create a portfolio that incorporates all of these innovation types is that we get out of our everyday thinking on what we can innovate.  If you are in a public sector position, you may think that “New Venture” and “New Business Model” innovations are not really possible for your organization due to legislative, political, and financial limitations.  We like to tell our clients that innovating isn’t really about “thinking outside of the box,” as that is essentially impossible. People can really only think within the mental models they have. What we can do is to intentionally create a bigger, new box within which to think. Morris’ suggestion to play in all types of innovation encourages us stretch out of old mental sandboxes and draw new ones where creativity can really take off.

Does playing in all four innovation sandboxes mean that you will take action in all? Absolutely not! Many of the things you put in your portfolio will fail positively (helping the organization learn fast). Does it mean that you flex your innovation muscle and consider possibilities that you wouldn’t have before? You bet! Setting up and maintaining a terrific Innovation Portfolio means (according to Langdon Morris) that you’ll set up the paradoxical culture of permanent innovation. Through the structured and disciplined action of Innovation Portfolio work, you create a space for people to behave differently and shift their mindsets about innovation in their context.

If you’ve been following this blog since last week, you’ll already know that this blog is part of a 5 week series on Innovation Culture, culminating in the launch of our new Innovation Academy here at The Moment. I hope you’ll join me and chime in with your thoughts with each post, as the conversation about culture and how we shape it is richer with you in it.


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