In his book Invention to Innovation, former CSIRO head Dr Larry Marshall draws lessons from his years as a scientist, an entrepreneur and the agency’s longest-serving CEO.
Don’t mistake invention for innovation.
The problem in Australia is we think that once we’ve invented something, it’s someone else’s job to figure out what to do with it. You need to carry the invention all the way to a solution and deliver a product to a customer willing to pay for it. That’s when it becomes innovation and creates economic and societal value.
Most of the innovation you need is already inside your company.
The first step is to start talking about the uncomfortable truths. In my first year at CSIRO, we created a crowd-sourcing platform that gave the 5500 people who worked there a voice. It was messy and noisy but like a pressure-relief valve – the crowd got more positive.
Remember how at school it was, “Let’s learn by doing”?
Ease off on the KPIs and say, “We’re going to try half a dozen new things and we’re not sure they’ll work.” Measure everything but turn failing into lessons that solve the problem.
Hierarchy is the enemy of innovation.
Innovation almost always happens at the intersection of two different parts of the company; you’ll have one part with a problem and another that has the solution.
The unicorn never comes from consensus.
You need diversity. In a venture fund, the outlier – the deal only one person was passionate about – is usually the winner. Because if everyone at the table can see it, then everyone outside the organisation can, too.
Try to make your product obsolete.
When we created [carbon emission-abating livestock feed company] FutureFeed, the criticism was, “It only works in feedlots”, but we’d already invented a way for it to work in open grazing. As you launch a product, have your team innovating the next. But keep it quiet and nail the first product.
Image credit: James Horan