Encouraging innovation and invention

Years after creating the SMART Board interactive whiteboard, we find we’re still curious about how things work and our interest in coming up with new ideas hasn’t abated. We’ve learned that valuing ideas encourages innovation and invention.

Red apple in basket of green apples

Back in 2005 I wrote an article entitled “Where new products come from.” I wanted to help people understand how the idea for the interactive whiteboard was first developed and then how the product spread into the market. It really does take a number of players to develop and introduce new products and ideas, and it was clear how it happened with the benefit of hindsight over almost a 20-year period.

Embedding creativity and innovation

Now that we are starting up again with new companies, we are mindful of creating new ideas from scratch. This time we have the benefit of hindsight of what worked when we created the world’s first and still most popular interactive whiteboard, the SMART Board interactive whiteboard. We also have other lessons that we have learned through the years, and we now want to experiment with a variety of factors to see if we can embed creativity and innovation into our group DNA.

Getting a lot of ideas

Dave and I believe that creativity and the generation of new ideas are the result of a curious mind. Wondering how things work and how they can work better are good starting points for someone wanting to develop a habit of getting ideas. There’s an old saying that goes something along the lines of “if you want to get a good idea, get a lot of ideas.” Getting a lot of ideas comes from actively looking at things and wondering why they are as they are. This is not a passive process.

I like to work on an idea alone for some time until I have enough of it laid out that I can express it to others. Verbalizing a concept is an important part of the process for me as it makes me more committed to the idea. I will then continue to work on it to make it viable. I can’t just toss out an idea and make it someone else’s responsibility.

Some people think that getting an idea is an “ah-ha” moment, but it has not been that way for me. I usually think about a problem for some time, and then an idea starts to form about how to resolve it or how to create a product to address the opportunity.

Encouraging innovation

Innovating can be applied to almost anything – it could be a product or process improvement. That means that anyone can be an innovator, with people across an organization looking for improvements everywhere. For products, it could be additional features and functions or it could be a usability improvement. For processes, it could be streamlining or simplification.

Using a baseball analogy, innovation is focused on getting hits versus home runs. Just as in baseball where getting on base is a critical stat that highly correlates to a win, getting lots of small innovations in a company is a great sign of a healthy environment where staff are engaged and contributing. People like to see their suggestions accepted, so creating a mechanism to accept ideas and recognize contributors is important.

Contemplating, thinking, wondering, dreaming

Fewer people are or will be inventors – people who create new product ideas. Very often inventions come from combining well-known concepts in novel ways, and that means reading or other forms of ingesting information. Giving bright people time to contemplate and think, to wonder and dream is a good first step.

Is one type of idea better than the other? The reality is that we need to value them both – the inventors and the innovators, people who are curious and creative, who think about making life better.

Latest Posts

Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.