Three steps to increased innovation

Paul Nolan

Innovation and new ideas can’t just come from corporate leaders or the executive level.

Innovation must be an “all in” proposition, says business innovation consultant Stephen Shapiro ( He lays out three core steps to achieving that:

1. Ask the right question. Having a large number of ideas does not mean you have a useful innovation program. Einstein said, “If I had an hour to save the world, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute finding solutions.” Most organizations are spending 60 minutes working on things that don’t matter. To be sure you're working on something of strategic importance, you have to leave the four walls of your company and see what is going on outside.

2. Ask the question the right way. Individuals and organizations often don’t invest the time framing better questions that lead to better information. Use the Goldilocks principle: Make sure you don’t ask questions that are too broad or abstract that lead to fluffy and irrelevant solutions. And don't ask questions that are too specific, as this reduces the possible areas where you can find solutions. You want to frame questions that are “just right. Consider these useful factors when framing questions

3. Ask the question of the right people. Studies show that people from a differing area of expertise tend to find breakthroughs. As Will Rogers once said, “There is nothing so stupid as an educated man, if you get him off the thing that he was educated in.” Your employees are likely to solve most of your challenges, but if you allow them to solve every problem, you may fall victim to a variation on the Pareto principle: 80 percent of your energies are focused on 20 percent of your problems. If you get someone else to work on that 20 percent, you will accelerate your innovation efforts massively. Sourcing your solutions from a variety of places reduces costs and speeds development. It also helps you find breakthroughs that have eluded you in the past.