How to embed innovation and creativity skills in an organisation


Matthew Syed’s book “Bounce” is a remarkable read. It talks about the sustained application of Purposeful Practice to become great at a particular skill. There is no short cut. You need to fail, learn and then repeat the cycle again and again. The faster you fail the faster you learn, but only if the failing has purpose to enable you to reach your goal.

In todays world people want a fast track to success. “Bounce” provides overwhelming evidence that there isn’t one (except in a lottery of course where there’s always a chance of success, however slight).

To succeed in the real world you need a proven, purposeful system and perseverance.

The former you can learn and you have to be willing to do the latter.

To embed innovation and creativity skills in an organisation you need people who are willing to learn a system and provide them with the tools and support to apply that system to achieve business goals.

There is one documented system in the world, developed over 40 years of research with data based on $17 billion worth of Innovation Projects, that can do that.

It is called Innovation Engineering and is based on the systems thinking of Dr W Edwards Deming who transformed Japan’s economy after WW2.

Don’t be misled by the title. Innovation Engineering means the practical application of the science of innovation.

Until recently the Fundamentals of Innovation Engineering (Quick Start) was only taught at Eureka! Ranch in Cincinnati, USA and in a number of North American Colleges & Universities.

Potter Innovation in Scotland has worked with Eureka! Ranch personnel to both make that training available in the UK & Ireland and in developing unique Innovation Project Management Software capable of managing both certainty and uncertainty.

So we can guarantee to embed innovation and creativity skills in an organisation that has willing people by bringing the training, tools and a proven system

  • to CREATE bigger and better ideas,
  • to COMMUNICATE more effectively to internal and external Stakeholders,
  • to COMMERCIALISE by removing risk and adding value.

If you can’t write down how your own organisation embeds innovative and creative skills in people, find out more about how  Innovation Engineering can!

It’s time to end the BIG BANG theory of innovation

Big Bang

There is a misperception that big ideas are created through a magical “Big Bang.” It just does not happen like that. We have listened as executives rewrite history by claiming that it had occurred that way even though it hadn’t.

The truth of the matter is that big ideas are built through many cycles of learning, problem solving and reinventing. Big ideas are created by people who care deeply about building something that matters.

To put numbers on it – your starting idea is responsible for at best 10% of your final bottom line business result. 90% of your success lies in the hard work you put in during the journey from idea to reality.

Consultants, speakers and authors who preach but have never practiced innovation perpetuate the Big Bang misperception. They advise that the secret to success is investing in the front end of innovation – in expensive insight research, market modelling and strategic summits. Their theory is that from that work a Big Bang miracle insight will occur that you can simply execute. They then claim victory, take their high fee – and you struggle to make the idea real. To be quantitative about it – two very high quality studies found that the key to innovation success is in the get your hands dirty, hard work of turning the ideas into reality.

Done right and good ideas become awesome.

Done the average corporate way and two high quality surveys find your idea loses 50% of its’ value during the development process.

What sets Innovation Engineering apart from other innovation systems is a never ending commitment to the journey from idea to reality. This rigorous approach has been shown to increase the value of an innovation by 28% through the development cycle.

I have first hand experience of this during my time in the Drinks Industry, where I added over £12Million in profit to The Famous Grouse brand by applying IE.

Now as part of the Innovation Engineering Institute, we continue to ship our ideas – only now they are innovation systems training, tools & software. The process of going from ideas to reality keeps our teaching and software real. It’s also a TON OF FUN. In fact, I don’t think there is anything in business more exciting than the journey from idea to reality. The feeling you get when the idea ships (product, service, new work system) is indescribable.

So what are you waiting for? Roll up your sleeves and take an idea – actually any idea – and begin the journey to make it GREAT!

Are you open to change ?

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I have recently had the pleasure of introducing Innovation Engineering to various groups of people from a variety of sectors & backgrounds during Lunch & Learn sessions across Scotland.

They was a recurring theme of questions about the barriers to innovation and change in Scotland and what can be done to overcome them :-

How do you get companies to commit ? 

How do you get people interested ? 

How do you remove resistance to change?

How do you free up culture to be less fearful of failure?

In the past, there was little urgency to change what was on offer or how we operated. It was possible to create a business based on an innovative service or product and to market it to the same customers for years.

Over the career of most senior leaders, the life cycle of profitability for new products and services has been long. It has not been uncommon for a company founder to innovate and for the life cycle of their offerings to last for a couple of generations. Children of innovators, if they managed the family business right, could have a great career. By the third generation the marketplace usually changes such that it needs to be reinvented if the organisation is to survive. Sadly, most don’t and only 3% of family businesses make it to the fourth generation.

In the past, it has been possible to succeed even with an inferior product or service in your sector. This was because customers didn’t know that there were other alternatives available outside their region that offered greater value for the money. 

The internet has changed everything. Today customers have the ability to know more about what alternatives exist in the world. It gives them the ability to painlessly and shamelessly compare value for money. It also gives them the ability to share their experiences with other buyers, making it hard for companies to make false promises. For example, when you put a new design skin on the same old product, customers quickly figure out that your improvement is just skin deep.

The internet has changed everything. Today you can use it as stimulus to learn what is available in other parts of the world to help you to increase your value proposition to your customers. You can do rapid research to learn what can be meaningful, sustainable improvements.

Finally, and to give you some hope that resistance to change can be overcome, let me share with you an excerpt from a Q&A with Kevin Cahill, President & Executive Director of the Deming Institute and Grandson of Dr W Edwards Deming and Doug Hall,Founder of Eureka! Ranch and The Innovation Engineering Institute.The full interview is available in Doug’s latest book “Driving Eureka!”

Doug: Bill Conway told me that Dr. Deming had told him it was important to work with the willing. What advice would you give to an employee who is working for a leader who is “unwilling” to learn/change? 

Kevin: I agree, you’ve got to work with the willing, whether it’s at the bottom, at the middle, or at the top.

I know my grandfather said quality starts in the boardroom, and I’ve heard many people say unless you’re at the top, it’s not worth doing. I disagree because you’re not always going to get the person at the top right off the bat. I believe that every single person, in every single organisation, has some sphere of influence they can impact. 

Ultimately, that’s what I did. When I started out working, just out of college, I had leaders who were fantastic people, but they really didn’t want to change, because what they were doing at that time was working well. 

I started out as an assistant to an assistant. But I realised that I could use my grandfather’s ideas, and thinking to improve the areas that I had some influence over. In time, it had a real impact and people started noticing that this guy did something really interesting and different. What it enabled me to do was to move up in the organisation. Eventually those who are willing to learn the new way of thinking and applying it could end up being in charge of that leader who is unwilling to learn or to change.

What can 21st Century Innovation learn from 20th Century Manufacturing?

Light Bulbs

In the 1980s the Western World had a Manufacturing Problem.

Manufacturing was considered an art.

Quality was poor.

Management blamed the workers and the workers blamed management.

Businesses were destroyed in the UK with the influx of high quality goods from Japan.

Yet Japan themselves had undergone a manufacturing crisis following WW2 and they turned to Dr W Edwards Deming and Systems Thinking. He famously wrote that 94% of the problems are due to the System and 6% due to the worker rather than vice versa.

So, in the 1980s manufacturing in the Western world adopted the Systems Thinking of Dr Deming and Total Quality, 6 sigma, Lean Manufacture & Just in Time became the norm for industry. In his book “The New Economics” however, Dr Deming wrote that the factory represented just 3% of the opportunity for company improvement from applying system thinking.

Now let’s fast forward to today.

Innovation is considered an art.

Yet unlike manufacturing in the 1980s innovation today has a 95% failure rate.

Still we treat it like a random gamble with Management blaming Product Development, Marketing, Manufacturing & Sales for their lack of success with innovation.

And yet the solution lies, as it did in the 1950s in Japan and the 1980s in the West with the Systems Thinking of Dr Deming. He felt that 97% of the opportunity for improvement from applying system thinking lay in applying it to innovation, strategy and the way we work together.

So what held back the application of system thinking to innovation?

It was lack of data.

No one collected any because innovation was viewed as an art and needed gurus not data.

Well almost no one. Doug Hall of Eureka! Ranch in Cincinnati, whose father worked with Dr Deming, has spent the last 30 years building the largest documented innovation system on earth. In the process he has educated over 35,000 people and has over  $75 Billion of documented projects in active development that provide proof innovation can be transformed from a random gamble to a reliable system.

Or in other words from an art to a science.

Doug’s system thinking approach to innovation is called Innovation Engineering and is now taught as a field of academic study and leadership science in over 20 universities across USA and Canada as well as in organisations such as Procter & Gamble and Disney.

And just like the managers and workers discovered in Japan in the 1950s, anyone can be enabled to learn how, you just need to be willing

Will it be the BEST or the WORST of Times 
for YOU in 2019?

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With the news in the UK dominated by stories of political turmoil and a more than likely economic decline in 2019, I’m reminded of the famous lines from Charles Dickens 1859 novel A Tale of Two Cities…

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…

Innovation Engineering was founded at the start of a recession – with amazing new offerings and did very well. When the next recession came we were caught without new offerings and it was painful. We learnt that when you are innovative you win, when not you lose.

When times get tough the time for marketing puffery and design fluff is over. People want real solutions to their real challenges.

So NOW is the time…

  • To Invest in BIG IDEAS – Bold Patentable Breakthroughs
  • To Invest in YOURSELF – to learn how you can think and work faster and smarter
  • To Invest in YOUR TEAM – to create stronger collaboration

If an economic decline happens we want to be ready. It won’t be fun, it won’t be easy and Innovation Engineering has built some amazing new training, tools and software for 2019 that will transform innovation from a random gamble into a reliable system.

YOU TOO CAN DO IT… Get Up, Get Out, Get Going! The life cycle from monopoly to commodity used to take decades. Today, because of the internet, it’s often measured in months. Organisations that don’t innovate are destroyed by those that have embraced a growth mindset of never-ending, continuous innovation.

In the USA that reality was made clear following the recession of 2008, when the marketplace didn’t bounce back like it had in the past.

A survey of CEOs conducted in 2011, for  the US Department of Commerce, quantified the gap between those who innovate and those who don’t. The survey found that those who had an innovation mindset following the recession of 2008 realised significantly better business results three years later.

Sales Growth: +84% for innovators versus +4% for non-innovators

Profit Growth: +96% for innovators versus +13% for non-innovators

Employee Growth: +64% for innovators versus +1% for non-innovators

A similar study with CEOs of companies in Ireland found nearly identical results. We live in a global economy. And, no matter where you live if you’re not Meaningfully Unique, you better be cheap. 

Those organisations that are leading change in their industries are winning. Those that are “reacting” to the forces of change are losing.

The Innovation landscape of Scotland


Towering mountains, glittering lochs, thick woodland and miles upon miles of golden beaches -Scotland’s landscapes really do take your breath away. 

But what of Scotland’s innovation landscape – what does that look like?

Recently I have come across many references to our innovation landscape, including one who told me that in Scotland there were 160 innovation funding opportunities available to the Food & Drink Industry alone.

So how does an intrepid innovatornavigate this landscape of opportunities ?

There are lots of pathfinders who will help set you off on your journey, you will meet other explorers who will share their experiences and there are lots of advisers who can help you along the way.

Having said all that, Scotland’s innovation landscape is a difficult one to traverse. It is full of uncertainty and it takes time.

How can we enable people to traverse it faster and with less risk?

To learn how to innovate requires passion, resilience, stimulus, collaboration, a willingness to learn and a willingness to fail.

We Scots have these attributes in abundance but above all of these we need a system.

A system to traverse the uncertainty quickly, to build courage and get us back on the right path  again and again and again until we succeed.