About Jack Anderson
Jack Anderson has been working in innovation for the last 10 years. His background is in information technology. He has a history degree and has had interest in leadership and what motivates people and has always worked in information technology, about 30 years. He tends to lean towards to people side of the business and helping it run more like a business.
He looks at systems management and how things work and how they can get better. Through this work he started to focus on innovative processes and practices to help speed things up, make things more efficient or be more on top of what customers need. Listening to customer requirements, etc. 10 years ago he got involved with nurturing innovative thinking within groups and asking the question of whether you can draw out the creativity of your workforce, applying and making it work better.
Jack has been focusing on establishing cultures of innovation within an organization and putting practices and procedures in place that nurture innovation. He has been working with groups on things such as breakthrough thinking, busting down barriers to creative thinking, etc. Jack has done a lot of work to establish a framework around innovative practices and behaviors based around ‘design thinking’ learned from IDEO’s practices around innovation. Jack puts in the tools and processes that enable the framework.
What Jack is most concerned with, not only within his company but also the world at large, is how to help people with great ideas to articulate those ideas so that they can be understood. Using Jeffery Moore’s Crossing the Chasm description, something is worthless unless you can go from an idea or concept and bridge the gap to it actually having business application and being valuable. It is about helping people to be understood to the point where they can actually do something with it.
This is particularly helpful to technical people who articulate their ideas so that business people can understand them.
Philosophy or framework used to approach innovation
On the philosophy side, Jack follows the premise that innovation is all around us. There are great ideas, adaptable behaviors and breakthrough thoughts all around us. Being innovative is part of being a human being. The premise is that in order to make it happen in an environment where people are working together you need practices and procedures where people are enabled to think, share and collaborate so that they can understand each other. This helps move things from concepts into actual reality.
Whenever people are interested in a framework, Jack points them to the IDEO literature. IDEO is a creative company that was started in Palo Alto and spawned from the Stanford engineering design school environment. They helped to really frame-out and provide a simple way to describe how you enable a practice of innovation and the process of innovation you want to take place.
When Jack worked at Intel, the first place he really worked in this environment of innovation, he and his team took IDEO’s practices and looked at them and adapted them to Intel’s culture. Jack now works at Chevron and they are using the same general framework.
They have 7 steps in their innovation cycle:
- Understand the problem at hand: Get a group to understand what they are focusing on.
- Observe. Go out and observe either the problem or the opportunity, watch and learn from people, being like an anthropologist.
- Ideate. Creative thinking is the first thing most people think about with innovation. Most companies and groups do brainstorming. When you look out in the world there are many great techniques to expand thinking and to think out of the box. This is a refined step involves taking the raw ideas and components and refine them into themes.
- Refine. Take Idea fragments and group them. Identify themes that surface among the ideas.
- Prototyping, probably the most fun step. Take at the concepts and do something to prototype your examples and test things out.
- Approve. Select the prototypes that can cross the chasm to productive reality.
- Connect into the production process.
Jack’s job is to have tools and practices within this framework so that if someone comes to him and they are stuck, they can go through the framework relatively quickly. For example, how do you train people to do observational techniques, finding and observing things in real and objective ways?
Are there any thought leaders that you have learned from?
Jack has found that many are likely looking for a person out in the world that everyone would know. People initially tend to look for an Einstein who is a brilliant innovator. However, there is also the Edison who tries and tries, plots, experiments and learns. Jack likes to point people in the Edison school because it is rare to come across an Einstein.
Jack likes to observe people in his environment who might not be known or published. He works with a few people who are incredible at finding new ideas and putting them together. One is named Martin Curley who helped co-found the Innovation Value Institute. Martin is a co-director of the institute. He is a technology officer at Intel Corporation and has written several books on the business value of innovation. To watch him in action and how he makes connections and find possibilities in things, and importantly making connections with the right people who can get something done. There are other people Jack works with who are also like that who are unpublished and not well known.
Are there groups on LinkedIn?
There are several groups on LinkedIn, such as East/West Innovation. This group is interesting because they are exploring the contrasts between Western and Eastern approaches to innovation. There have been some very interesting discussions around that.
What types of innovation programs is Chevron implementing?
When Jack goes to conferences or reads papers about what companies are doing, Chevron is doing some things that fall right in line with what you see happening out in the industry. They have a research and development group that is investing a lot of funds, resources and people, into looking at the future of technologies and more. At Chevron, in the technology management area, they have a focus area where they bridge between long range research and the testing and application of new ideas that come through the pipeline which are likely to have an effect on business. The focus area looks at some amazing things such as virtual reality and how it might affect the production work at an energy company like Chevron. They are looking at how to manage and monitor high risk areas through virtual environment.
They also have a program on innovation practices. A lot of the work Jack does is in this area where he and his team are a service to the whole company. People come to them for help with doing some creative thinking, speeding up the requirements gathering process etc. Jack is excited about this because it has given him exposure to many different areas of his company. For example, the Health and Benefits department came to him to understand he XYZ network, the emerging young people in the workforce, and how they can be more involved in their own personal health care. One of Chevron’s pipeline environments had them do a creative practice exercise, doing requirements gathering on a technology being used out in the field. Chevron Shipping has come to them to talk about breakthrough thinking in the IT world about how IT can enable better shipping.
A wide variety of things such as these have come to Jack’s department. They do traditional research and development, all the way to a laboratory environment to enable creative innovations and breakthrough thinking.
Are business processes a source of innovation?
Jack believes it is an interesting question with a lot behind it. Most people understand very clearly when you talk about product innovation and why a company would invest in product innovation. Yet, business process is an amazing and rich area for innovation. Companies can gain a lot of value by making their business processes more efficient and effective. You can apply innovation practices to this.
One of the things Jack had an opportunity to work on while at Intel involved a group that needed to reduce their cost by a significant factor within a short period of time, otherwise a dire consequence would result. The manager chose to approach the problem with innovation. The team had the employees looking for bureaucracy-busting types of ideas. They were looking at roadblocks in business processes and how to make it more efficient. Jack’s team was able to meet their cost reduction goals just by process efficiency, it was amazing.
Why do we need to innovate?
Jack’s initial reaction to this question is that being innovative is being human. Being adaptive, agile, coming up with new ideas, approaching challenges in creative ways, is part of being a human being. For businesses to survive internally they need a rich environment for innovation and creativity. Otherwise you will have a miserable place to work.
The more obvious answer is that the world changes and companies need to adapt and change. Look at how products need to evolve and how customer service need to evolve as time goes on. The adaptiveness and creativity which innovation brings is the basic component of survival.
Many companies are feeling that innovation will be the factor that will enable them to survive the horrible economic condition we are currently experiencing. It is an understood business value right now that companies need to be adaptive and responsive.