Innovation: How To Do It (Part 1)

September 13th, 2017

This is the third post in the 10-part series on innovation, provided by Dr. Michael Murray. Earlier posts addressed questions of “what” innovation is and “who” the innovators are. This month’s piece begins to address the “how” of innovation.

To start with, there is no “the right way” to innovate, but there probably is “your right way” to innovate. Your right way will depend, to a large extent, on whether you are working in a startup or an established company, the type of industry in which you conduct business, and whether you are creating a solution for internal or external users. There are countless books and blogs on what to do and what not to do, but as we progress through this series, I will offer some insights about how to find your right way.

As mentioned in the previous segment, we can consider five phases of the innovation journey: Seeking, Exploring, Committing, Realizing and Optimizing. The processes involved in the Committing and Realizing phases may differ considerably by company, based on its industry, internal processes, legal and regulatory requirements, customer characteristics, etc. The Seeking and Exploring phases, though, comprise elements that are similar across many types of businesses. There can be a tendency to rush through these phases, or overlook them altogether, as one endeavors to get the perfect product to market as soon as possible. This can lead to solutions that fail to provide value to the intended user.

Importantly, the Seeking and Exploring phases are characterized by high levels of uncertainty. What do users want, how do we know they want it, can we provide it, can we grow a business by providing it, how will it affect our existing business? These are just a few of the uncertainties that are inherent to the early phases of innovation, and that uncertainty can create such anxiety that efforts to innovate are sometimes crushed before they can gather any momentum. Why crush innovation? People and organizations loathe uncertainty and risk, because they evoke a fear of loss. Also, uncertainty and risk are often lumped together, but they are actually opposed. Risk encompasses outcomes that might happen based on information that you have and that is assessable, whereas uncertainty comprises all that you don’t know. Almost 100 years ago, economist Frank Knight noted in his book Risk, Uncertainty, and Profit that opportunities for profit only exist in the face of genuine uncertainty. Therefore, if we want to innovate successfully, we not only have to deal with uncertainty, we must seek it out!


So at the beginning of the innovation journey, we seek out potential opportunities that are filled with uncertainty, but once we have developed a potential solution we avidly put our efforts into reducing uncertainty, by rigorously testing the key components of our potential solution and including user feedback to adjust and refine the solution. In the following segments, I will use the Design Thinking/Human Centered Design template to highlight the key aspects of these initial phases of the innovation journey, enabling you to both optimize opportunity and reduce uncertainty.


This post was written by Mike Murray, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, CPC. Dr. Murray is an innovation expert and a guest blogger on our site. He is a veterinarian, and serves as a Technical Marketing Director for Boehringer Ingelheim’s Animal Health division. He is a life and leadership coach, as well as a certified trainer for Managing Innovation™ with his organization. Dr. Murray coaches individuals and teams to help them be even more successful innovators.