Harness your built-in drive to invent

Perhaps Ben Franklin said it best, "Man is a toolmaker".

All we have to do to prove that this statement remains true is to reach for our smartphone. Managing the explosion of new tools to interact with the world around us can sometimes feel daunting (special retreats are now available to help us unplug from the irresistible lure of our continual connectivity).

No one really expects the floodgates to close any time soon on better, faster and more efficient tools. Moore's Law remains in effect and will continue to drive rapid innovation in the foreseeable future. Some argue that IT innovation is accelerating exponentially.

But perhaps the most compelling proof for our destiny as master toolmakers is literally within our reach

It can be found in the remarkable and still mysterious part of the human brain called the neocortex. As we now know, the neocortex is the source of our unique human capacity to think at a higher order of abstraction. It is the source of our poetry, our music, our sense of beauty, and importantly, our built-in capacity and instinct for invention.

We are, by our very nature, inventive problem solvers

But the most successful and accomplished inventors and innovators, no matter what field that they are operating in, all understand that they must invent within a world of practical constraints.

One current day “Ben Franklin” whom many of you already know, Ray Kurzweil (early pioneer of innovations like voice recognition software), is often quoted as saying, “We are always expanding our reach. It’s what makes us human. But for an idea or innovation to take hold it must be the right idea at the right place at the right time”.

Here’s how to tap into your team’s natural power of invention and dramatically increase your odds for success:

Utilize the following discipline and 3-step protocol to first identify the "right place" and the "right time" and then, and only then, use these practical guidelines to invent the "right idea".

Step #1. Establish the "right place"

• Have informed discussions with the project team about where, exactly, your best opportunities present themselves. Describe that particular place or market space or customer opportunity in detail.

• Narrow down the opportunities to the top 5-7. Then have everyone, including your senior management, ratify those “high opportunity areas”.

Step #2. Acknowledge the "right time"

• Have informed discussions with the project team about which present day conditions must be met. For example, if the time isn’t right for large capital expenditures then the new ideas have to be developed and launched within certain understood budgetary constraints. Also, any new idea must support either the brand promises you are offering customers today, or the new promises you have on the drawing board for tomorrow.

• Let’s call these practical timing boundaries “success criteria”. Agree on the top 5. Again, top management and all the project team participants must be aligned on them.

Step #3. Create the "right idea"

• Now you are ready to unleash your team’s natural and instinctive built-in drive to invent. All the creative work must be carefully informed and inspired by the agreed guidelines on “right place" and “right time”. Think of these guidelines as a kind of "target" for your creative development as you nominate many possible ideas.

• Later, use these two guidelines as a "screen" to make sure everyone reviewing and ranking the nominated ideas uses the exact same selection criteria. Your team should only spend its precious time and energy fine-tuning and eventually executing the ideas or initiatives that have proven to best meet all of your agreed upon guidelines.

Remember, seemingly fun and interesting ideas can very often be a distraction

It's sometimes tough, but just because an idea sounds cool and looks shiny should not be reason enough, in of itself, to invest in it further.

Innovative ideas that don’t meet your established criteria haven't earned further investment. Table them for later, that is, re-visit them if, and when, the "right place" and the "right time" comes along.