This is the third post in our series on Catalyzing Innovation. I discussed the first threee contributing factors last week, and will explore the final three later this week.

Rock Star Advocacy

Bringing any new idea to market means facing countless barriers along the way.  Without the full support of key allies and influencers, great ideas are often prematurely abandoned, diluted, or never recognized at all. 

Organizations need to encourage, identify, and publicly celebrate individuals and groups that come up with new ideas. More than that, respected individuals must be made into innovation champions and tasked with discovering and nurturing promising ideas regardless of their origin. Innovations and innovators, when partnered with a rock star advocate, are much more likely to receive the attention, resources, and connections they need. This role is common in start-up ecosystems – in the Boston community, Bill Warner is a great example. His work in helping entrepreneurs find their path whether through providing inspiration, gathering like-minded individuals together, or opening doors for talented individuals with exciting ideas is truly inspiring. That same role is essential inside the organization.

Anchored Exploration

Common wisdom holds that necessity is the mother of invention (or in this case innovation). Even innovation requires constraints, and successful innovation requires that creative individuals are anchored by commitment to satisfying a specific need. Half the challenge of innovation is defining and understanding this need.

Especially in large established organizations, random acts of innovation rarely take root and those that do rarely survive without tremendous effort. Before launching into the solution-focused hallmarks of innovation – brainstorming, prototyping, iteration – organizations must apply processes designed to build a clear and common understanding of the domain in which they desire improved outcomes. This is a key insight of the empathic design approach espoused by the Stanford and others, where “defining” the problem is a crucial step.

Selective Seeding

Innovation begets innovation. Selectively planting “lead innovations”, nurturing them to sustainability, and celebrating their successes, paves the way for follow-on innovations to build upon the initial breakthrough and rapidly come to market.

Ecologists studying patch dynamics observe that in arid environments, fertile “neighborhoods” of vegetation develop following the establishment of a central plant. Similarly, a lead innovation creates a fertile micro-environment in which collaboration can spark a chain reaction of creative insights and the rapid application of those insights to known and newly-identified problems.

Once organizations are anchored in the most strategically important areas for innovation, they must devote the time, resources and talent to seeding successful lead innovations in those areas and encourage related innovations to quickly follow.


In my next post, I’ll be exploring Space to Fail, Creative Tension, and Unlikely Talent.