Innovation is not random

The mantra that good ideas can come from anywhere is true.  It is also true that some of the best innovations are inspired by solutions found in nature or other unrelated categories, such as George de Mestral's idea for velcro coming from burdock thistles.

What is not entirely true is that innovation happens by chance.  While the solutions themselves were inspired by seemingly random occurrences, the fact that they were recognized as viable solutions is not random at all.  Defining the conditions that would constitute a viable solution is hard work, and it is this work that separates successful innovation from fads or irrelevant inventions.

Companies are realizing that it is more important than ever to be able to innovate in meaningful ways.  Many are scrambling to figure out how to solicit new ideas, or to figure out which new technologies will propel them into the future.  I have seen very few who are developing new processes that will enable them to recognize viable ideas when they see them.  And yet, it will be this skill that will enable long-term success from innovation efforts.

I wrote a post not long ago about how good design embraces constraints.  Consistent with that idea, I would say that good innovation processes create the right constraints.  When you think about your company's innovation processes, how much attention is given to developing the right constraints vs generating random ideas?