I really enjoy James Gardner's posts on Bankervision. He recently posted about receiving a clever bit of marketing from Adobe, and threw out this remark at the end of the post:
"Here is a demonstration of the real power of innovation: it generates something unique that causes potential customers to change their behaviour.
The holy grail of innovation teams, of course, is to find a way of doing so reliably and predictably."
This remark created quite a stir among the readers and commenters. The commenters seemed to be of the view that "if it's innovative, it's not predictable."
It's a Myth!
I would argue that a good innovation process in an organization takes you to a place where the process and culture produces innovation in a predictable and replicable way. Any given concept or idea may or may not work, but the process over time does indeed work.
It's one of the myths of innovation that it has to rely on creative and unpredictable bursts from exceptional individuals, and that this is the price to be paid for innovation.
I have tried to capture what I mean in the scribbles above. An innovation process needs to identify the challenge. And there are good processes to do that, even if your problem starts off poorly defined.
Your process then should generate ideas against that target. You don't expect every idea to hit the bulls eye. But you can quickly eliminate the stuff that is way off target.
As you move forward through a process of generating ideas and testing ideas, you bring in the body of knowledge from the organization and any experts you have found to help you. This might be operational information, risk analysis, or -- my personal favorite -- insights into your customers.
Drucker on innovation: it's hard work, not genius
Peter Drucker, who seems to have said it all first, said that most successful innovations arise from "a conscious, purposeful search for innovation opportunities, which are found only in a few situations."
Drucker identified seven situations that are ripe with opportunities for innovation:
 Process needs
 Industry and market changes
 Demographic changes
 Changes in perception
 New knowledge
Drucker takes the position that innovation based on new knowledge has the longest lead time and is the least predictable. The article cites numerous examples of innovation that are a refreshing change because they are older, but wonderful examples. He discusses the creation of the first commercial banks as an innovation, as well as the creation of the first computer.
"Above all, innovation is work rather than genius. It requires knowledge. It often requires ingenuity. And it requires focus. ... If diligence, persistence and commitment are lacking, talent, ingenuity and knowledge are of no avail."
I'm not that crazy about his seven categories, because they don't evoke the examples very well for me. But I don't have better ones.
Once we take this disciplined approach, certainly there will be failures. But they should not be random like shotgun blasts. If we take a disciplined approach to creativity and innovation, we stand a chance of managing the risks of failure. And in this way, I think there is replicability and predictability. But it's a statistical kind of thing, not a sure bet.
What do you think?
The Discipline of Innovation, by Peter Drucker, Harvard Business Review 1985. Republished August 2002 with the compilation, The Innovative Enterprise.