IBM Industry Summit: John Kao On Getting Innovation Done
If you’ve never had the opportunity to see John Kao speak in the flesh, then you’ve probably never heard a greater champion of innovation (and improvisation as one means to that end…Kao was once a student of Frank Zappa, and a longtime pianist).
I first saw Kao speak about his book, Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity, the ideas from which helped lead to IBM’s own massive internal jam that helped we IBMers reinvent T.J. Watson’s core business values for the 21st century.
Kao keynoted the morning session today and explained he went out to Google the word “innovation” earlier today, and there were over 92M results! His point was that innovation continues to be important, but the word is used so often, it becomes a meaningless term.
Kao asserted in his talk that we need to restore meaning to the word, to bring “innovation to innovation,” and that his life’s work has been dedicated to understanding it as both a science and discipline.
With a little audience Q&A, Kao discovered that though 98% of the Industry Forum audience in attendance asserted that innovation was key to their business success, only about 5% of the hands went up when he asked how many had a system for innovation.
He then observed why the IBM smarter planet agenda was so compelling to him, because, he said, “it’s putting a map of innovation on top of the whole world.”
Kao used that as an elegant launching point for providing his own five point perspectives on innovation:
Definition, Disruption, Dissemination, Design, Digital
By definition, Kao explained that we have to be specific about what we mean, that creativity and innovation, for example, are not the same thing.
Creativity is enabling the human ability to be able to generate new ideas, and innovation is creativity applied to a specific purpose to realize value. Innovation is the muscle that brings creativity towards some intended end.
He then explained point number two, disruption, of which is there is no current shortage. Kao made reference to the “ghost dance” of native Americans, driven to their deaths after they denied they denied the disruption being brought about by the “white man.” A very sophisticated form of denial, that dance, but the buffalo outfits did little to stop the bullets.
Another example of disruption: Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, who went to work for then candidate Barack Obama and social media-fied his campaign, leaving the top down, command-and-control Clinton campaign babbling in its social media fallout.
Disruption can also mean great opportunity, as Bilbao, Spain, demonstrated with its Frank Gehry-designed museum now drawing 1M tourists a year to the Basque country.
Next up, dissemination: How do we innovate from a systems perspective? After WWII, the US was the main innovation game in town, but we’ve since seen, particularly with globalization, the advent of innovation centers sprouting up around the globe.
Kao walked the audience through a series of airport pictures of advertisements for those centers: Qatar, Singapore, Shanghai…the list went on and on.
That expansion enables smart managers to now pick from a global buffet of innovation offerings, and with the innovation web including a dog’s breakfast menu of disciplines to choose from.
Call it, Kao said, “innovation arbitrage.”
Next up, the importance of innovation, another lens for how innovation needs to be reinvented. If innovation is the big answer you seek, Kao asked, what is the question? Doing the work of design thinking (user centric, using tacit knowledge, prototyping, etc.), organizations can tap into the reservoir of design depth needed to bring innovation from dream to reality.
And finally, digital. Digital with a capital “D.”
He asked the audience to remember 1998: No mobile phones. No social networks. No digital music. (Yes, but let’s remember, there WAS a whole lot of commercial Internet hype).
But his point was well taken. This is no longer your mom and dads’ innovation. H.G. Well’s “world brain” is coming to reality, and as we increase the nodes of participation in the global brain, we increase the interaction between our brain cells.
The higher the ratio of brain to body cells…well, that’s why we humans are at the top of the food chain, and this syndrome Kao referred to as “encephalization.”
Innovation will no longer be just about better, faster, cheaper, or incremental improvements. It will be about major disruption, and the ability of organizations to adapt and embrace that disruption and turn it into an enhanced capability to innovate.
And that, Kao concluded, comes about as the by-product of effective leadership.