Innovation Learning Process
I used to be an absolutely terrible cook! I almost never cooked and when I did, even the toast would burn. Over the years, however, my cooking has improved despite the fact that no one will ever brag about my cooking.
Learning to cook involved several steps, many of which are the same as a company will undertake in learning to be a better innovator. Cooking is really a systematic process – luck is not an element – just as innovation is a planned and systematic process as well. The process steps are:
- Education (reading, attending class),
- Coaching / mentoring (watching, expectations),
- Practice and experimentation, and
- Continued improvement (repeat the learning process steps).
Let’s take a look at each step in detail.
Learning any new task requires some degree of education. Education may take the form of reading, attending a class, or watching a YouTube video.
To learn cooking skills, I began reading lots of magazines and books (thank you, Betty Crocker!). Many community colleges offer cooking classes and even supermarket demonstrators show specific cooking skills.
In innovation, many people study a variety of books and courses. For example, The Innovator’s Book Club on LinkedIn offers a learning forum as well as many other LinkedIn groups (PDMA, PMI, etc.). We also offer the NPDP Discussion Forum here at GNPS for topic-specific learning for New Product Development Professional certification. Studying for NPDP Certification will also deliver new knowledge and confirm mastery of best practices for innovation experts.
Coaching / Mentoring
Rachel Ray was my cooking mentor. Not that I’ve ever met her, but I’ve watched hours of her television shows and DVDs. Step-by-step, she showed how to first collect the ingredients, prepare the materials, and then, actually cook a meal.
You can find a coach and mentor for innovation as well. Attending conferences and local meetings on new product development (NPD) or project management will allow you to discuss and model behaviors of successful innovators. Following a set of best practices, such as a staged and gated NPD process, allows a firm to mimic the step-by-step instructions of an established organization.
Practice and Experimentation
Unfortunately, I don’t have a dog because Rachel Ray claims that her dog eats a lot of “mistakes”. Yet, practice and experimentation are incredibly important in learning to cook and in learning to innovate. I prefer to use whole grains when I make bread, but I’ve also learned that if I don’t add yeast activators, the loaf of whole grain bread might come out more like a brick. Adding too much activator will cause the loaf of bread to collapse on itself. I’ve learned from these mistakes, practicing and experimenting to add just the right amount of yeast activator to yield a light, airy whole grain loaf of bread.
Likewise, successful product development requires trial and error. Market research can help to define and validate product concepts. Our first idea from a brainstorming session is not likely to be the same as the commercialized product. Following the staged and gated NPD process encourages experimentation while minimizing risk and investment.
No process is ever perfect. In Japanese, kaizen refers to continuous improvement. Every meal is a new opportunity to improve my cooking skills. The way to improve is to continually revisit the process: more education, enhanced coaching, and additional experiments and practice.
The same is true for innovation. Project leaders should hold a post-launch review or lessons learned review to encourage continuous improvement in the innovation system. And like cooking, the process steps repeat: education, coaching/mentoring, and practice/experimentation.
Cooking Up Innovation
No one can become a famous gourmet chef overnight. Learning to cook is a systematic and unending process. The steps in learning a new skill – in the kitchen or innovating at the business – are the same. Successful innovators will follow these steps:
- Education – learning about the trade from books, articles, and classes;
- Coaching – following the actions of a successful pioneer and observing experts implementing best practices;
- Practice – experimenting and making mistakes to learn what works; and
- Continuous improvement – no process is perfect, so repeat the steps to improve the quality and reliability of the product development process.
To learn more about the NPD process and innovation, please see “NPDP Certification Exam Prep”, available from Amazon. You can also gain knowledge about learning and mastering innovation skills as a project or engineering manager by joining us for an NPDP workshop. Workshops address both theory and best practices in innovation, and have allowed hundreds of individuals and companies to become more successful with product development. NPDP workshops are held monthly through guided webinars or at your own pace in a cost-effective self-study format. We now also offer project management training through our partner, Leap University. Use code GNPS2015 to save $50 on your registration.
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