When one thinks about the practice of innovating something, generally they picture one area or invention that changes and becomes better as the result of a specific catalyst. However, what happens when one is faced with not one thing, but a complicated problem spanning many disciplines? Take this example of a multi-million dollar company with numerous departments in various fields of expertise who, with Jeff’s guidance, successfully found a solution to one of the world’s biggest problems: access to clean water.
This company (we will call it “Blue”) prides itself on its ability to reign supreme in many areas by undergoing the painstaking task of making sure that they hire only the best people to continue the wealth and success of each department. However, no matter the specific expertise and/or genius of the head(s) of any company, sometimes an outsider is required to bring into light solutions to help that company as a whole. At the turn of this century, Blue was having difficulty keeping their many departments in-sync and making sure that they were growing as a unit instead of just individually. Jeff was brought in to “connect the dots” and to leverage the abundance of expertise and talents in Blue to create a predatory advantage to its competitors.
Jeff started with creating a common vision and language for innovation for the entire firm by using the Competing Values Framework (CVF). Jeff explained that in order to see the results they desired Blue would have to innovate horizontally across departments instead of linearly in each department. In addition, they needed to learn that experiments are the key to innovation and that failures and testings are necessary components to success. As a company that is highly driven by success and high performance, Blue needed to adjust its fundamental way of thinking about innovation. Jeff started changing the mindset of Blue’s executives by taking them on “field trips.” They visited several thriving companies who utilize different approaches to innovation and a museum famous for housing some of history’s most important innovations to inspire out of the box thinking, and learn concrete evidence of practices that yield success.
Through careful analysis of their companies’ strengths and public need, Blue’s executives came up with a handful of large scale problems that they would like to solve as a company and created hand-picked task teams to start solving them. These groups would need to use the CVF and Jeff’s innovation principles to run a wide variety of experiments, accelerate the failure cycle, and collaborate horizontally in order to sync it up and become successful.
Jeff worked closely with the team tasked with improving water treatment. The team came up with 5 or 6 experiments, tested and modified them, and finally had a success in their hand! They found a way to remove harmful chemicals from water in a relatively but revolutionarily simple and cheap way. The low cost and simple method are crucial to their product reaching all parts of the developing world in serious need for clean water. The funny thing is this solution would never have been found without collaborating with the other task teams: i.e. the solution was found through horizontal innovation.
Jeff’s methodologies and processes along with the CVF ended up creating the cornerstones of the revival of Blue as a global giant in almost every major field. Even more than that, through these different projects, an eco-friendly movement was jumpstarted in the business world and Blue still remains one of the most innovative, eco-conscious and competitive businesses in the world.