That’s the end of the innovation model. Boy, that was dull. I was looking forward to a lively and creative three months, but suffered a slow lingering death by innovation. I don’t think poor old innovation is in a good place.

Dusty light bulb
Light bulb image:


  • There are multiple muddy definitions
  • Many of the theories don’t feel useful
  • Innovation processes/gate processes don’t factor in people and culture


Innovation is implementing new ideas to create things that society or customers value.

 The definitions is also expanded to mean the transfer of ‘value’ to the customer in a whole variety of ways including communication platforms, customer services, processes. Articles are written about “twelve ways for companies to innovate”.

This can all be innovative, but it has created a real fog around innovation in terms of harvesting and translating ideas into new products or services, and the role of R&D and discovery centres in companies. Maybe the world could distinguish between ‘new things’ innovation and ‘how to do things’ innovation.


People are Clayton Christensen mad (disruptive innovation). People are Von Hippel mad (lead-user theory). Innovation should come from creative teams. Innovation should be open. It should be incremental. Disruptive. Sustainable. Blue sky. Blue ocean. Crowd sourced.

My take-out is that innovation should be the thing your company needs it to be. Lead-user theory can help support more radical and novel innovation, working with experts or people at the cutting-edge of the user space. Blue ocean thinking is a method of connecting with people who don’t use your product/service, to create a new market. But, don’t get pulled along by ideas just because they are surrounded by hype.


There are several models to base a company innovation process on. At its simplest level, Tidd and Bessant’s 4 stages is useful:

Search –> Selection –> Implementation –> Value Capture

Within Implementation often sits a Gate Process (Cooper) for defined ideas to explore the consumer need, market feasibility, commercial potential, testing, launch, during which projects can progress or be killed off.

The importance of culture and people within these processes is hugely relevant. If a company are generating ideas from a small closed group of individuals, or experience ‘group think’ without a good critical discussion at the start, they can enter the journey without all the information to hand. Being overly considerate of the customer may stifle more radical ideas as they don’t always know what they want. My example of this is they’d never have come up with the idea of ingesting live bacteria for their digestion, giving rise to a multi $billion probiotic industry. The push came from the science.

What was interesting was the notion of intrapreneurship, encouraging people and teams to follow their energy and creativity to produce new ideas, being given time and recognition for doing so.

My experience

In a previous company I was part of a small group who introduced an innovation process. Ideas were invited from all staff, from cleaners, receptionists and anyone who had lived experience of the company products. It was fun! Ideas then entered a selection phase with the individuals pulling together a business case or prototype. All I remember is two or three ideas going to market within six months. The process included panels of nurturers, “yes, and…” people, and pruners, “yes, but…” people.

Final thoughts

Forget the theory and the hype. Empower all of your staff to become intrapreneurs and to have their ideas valued. Have a clear process but keep it open and flexible. Allow for ‘push’ from those in your company producing discoveries like your researchers and developers, and balance with ‘pull’ from what your customers want. Innovation often fails first time but the best ideas are picked up from others. Don’t be afraid to fail, and do look around and learn from other company failures.


Innovation – it has to be more than the shuffling of feet.

I’ve had an interesting few days out and about at meetings, the first with our South West healthcare science group, yesterday at the Jisc Student Experience event, and today have had an interesting conversation with a psychology colleague about  innovation.

So I’m thinking innovating in educational practices today, and linking back to my OpenEd15 presentation in Vancouver. (Slides can be found on SlideShare). I reviewed interviews and data from a number of science open educational resource (OER) projects that I lead, and viewed them through the blurry lens of innovation. What were the innovative features of these projects? What structures were in place? What was vulnerable. Here is what I suggested:

  • Innovation in education / digital practice relies on champions / early adopters
  • Impetus from local partnerships can help gain momentum (colleges and hospitals)
  • Global partnerships also drive processes (OER translations)
  • Innovation can create conflicts – the digital tussle – staff wanting to be creative but constrained by institutions and infrastructure
  • Open education innovation relies on the ‘spirit of OER’ and shared ethos. (Not a solid basis you might think, but that must be the one common thread in all of my work going back 10 years or more).

Innovation versus sustainability?

An innovation by definition has to have an inventive step or application. You can’t patent a thing, but you can patent a thing with a function. Innovation in education is a step-wise creative improvement in practice. When more people adopt this, it leads to change. In my research I then went on to think about how things can become sustainable within teams/departments/universities, and also how fragile and vulnerable they are.

OER sustainability

So what about innovation this week?

Here are some further examples and ideas relating to education innovation that have emerged this week.

Enforced innovation and at any cost.

  • Investment. Wholesale organisational innovation and change can be achieved quickly through investment and strong leadership.
  • Innovation can obviously fail without adequate investment, such as the catastrophic ‘modernising scientific careers’ initiative that has left most of our healthcare science professions at high risk. Also due to lack of buy-in verging on actual conflict by key groups.
  • Some people will achieve innovation and change at any cost. One project talked about staff working solidly for months on end, and those not complying were performance managed through appraisal processes.
  • Lots of talk about enforcing innovation and change through monitoring virtual learning environments – monitoring staff compliance with the systems; making processes or life difficult for academic staff to achieve outcomes. Enforced innovation.

How to innovate beyond a mere foot shuffling pace?

  • One of the most common problems raised always is how to bring people with you? How do you get at the ‘tail end’ of colleagues who do not wish to change their practice?
  • How do you reach over stretched people who really do not have the time?
  • The problems with champions is they set a precedent. How do you manage student expectations where they may have a small number of creative and innovative modules, and others that won’t comply?
  • Do you go for horizontal innovation (cohort by cohort embedding of practice) or vertical (innovate through disciplines/subject themes across all years)?

These are just thoughts. Do share yours through comments or via Twitter.