why innovation tools can't think


A colleague recently came to me with a perplexing problem. He had just completed an innovation workshop with a global financial services firm in Europe. They contacted him to say the sessions were deemed very successful. They were keen to continue with the engagement if he could help them with one small request: could he please make the innovation planning tools simpler.

After a brief discussion about whether we could assist with a simpler tool we came to a realisation. The innovation strategy tools engaged for the workshops were simple. Very simple. The problem was not the tools. The problem was the thinking and discussions that take place in planning groups when applying the tools. 

The client wasn’t asking for a simpler tool: he was asking for tool that meant he and his team didn’t have to think!

Unfortunately planning tools do not think for themselves. Innovation planning tools are designed specifically to facilitate different conversations that lead to new insights and new ideas. These conversations – especially in the early stages – can feel messy and ambiguous. That’s the idea. The innovation process requires messy ambiguity and a bit of personal and team squirming. Persist and you uncover the ah-huh insights and breakthrough ideas. Persist often enough and you will build an innovative mindset, skills and culture.

Innovation is primarily the result of different thinking. It requires that you not only think but also think differently. The one great tool that can think for you is your brain. Unfortunately innovation planning tools are not effective otherwise.

Innovation planning tools are fantastic in helping you and your team innovate: just don’t expect them to think for you.