Chris Trimble, author, researcher and adjunct professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, kicked off the ILTA 2011 conference with a thought-provoking keynote session focused on innovation.

He started out by defining innovation as any project that is new to you and has an uncertain outcome. With this definition in mind, he talked about how innovation and ongoing operations are inevitably in conflict because one focuses on predictable, repeatable processes while the other is non-routine with unpredictable outcomes.

Chris states that the well-tried and repeatable processes of a company’s ongoing operations make up the performance engine of the organization. These processes allow companies to understand their customers and competition, operate efficiently, and consistently produce results that are on-time and on-budget. Chris acknowledges that all of these things are very good and lead to highly successful and profitable companies, however, this model is not the most conducive to innovation.

He offers three models for innovation:

Model 1: Innovation = ideas + motivation

This model encourages all employees to pursue innovation on their own initiative.
A limiting factor to this model is time – people have to squeeze innovation in, which works well for continuous improvement but not for creating completely new ideas or large-scale change.

Model 2: Innovation = ideas + process

This model treats innovation like any other business process: script it, make it efficient, make it routine.
The limitation to repeat innovation is that you get this year’s version of last year’s product instead of a something totally different.

The third model, which Chris advocates as the only real way to execute high-level innovation projects, is often met with a lot of anxiety and resistance. In order to move past some of this resistance, we must first destroy what he calls the “myth of the innovation man.” This myth involves looking inside an organization for individual heroes. He argues that one person fighting the system doesn’t work.

Model 3: Innovation = ideas + leaders + team + plan

This model is different because it calls for a special kind of team and a special kind of plan. Chris argues that the only way to successfully execute this model is to create a separate, dedicated team. He says that this team should be viewed as building a new company from scratch – new structure, new people, new titles. In order for this to work there needs to be a partnership between the performance engine (on-going operations) and the innovation team.

He states that innovation is an experiment but you need to learn quickly, make predictions, measure results, and make better predictions.

He also acknowledges that implementing the third model is difficult but that the companies who manage to do it successfully will be the ones who will continue to succeed in the future.

Overall, it was a fabulous start to the conference!

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