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Portrait of a Design Innovation Team

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Sara Summers, coauthor of Dynamic Prototyping with SketchFlow in Expression Blend, explains how to develop an innovation team to lead your company away from antiquated ideas and toward future opportunities.

As Albert Einstein so aptly stated, "Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere." Yet this brilliant approach to problem-solving is strangely absent from most organizations, leaving the more creative thinkers scratching their heads in disbelief. So what are "idea-minded" employees to do? Don't despair—you have kindred spirits within the office walls, and together you can set the course toward innovation. How? Stay tuned.

Where Innovation Begins

Internal teams dedicated to the mission of capturing, vetting, and proofing ideas are an absolute necessity for companies that don't already have built-in innovation or big-budget R&D. You don't need piles of cash, either—just a few people committed to creating new value, and a few hours a week to meet collectively and make progress.

The end result of your innovation is entirely up to your team and the needs of your company—which is actually a great place to start. The difficult issues and the points of frustration in your company will help your innovation team to cull the options and drive down the path toward change. As long as everyone is open to where that path leads, that is. You may not solve the problem you set out to fix; instead, you may find some issue that's bigger and more valuable.

Innovation can begin with a tough problem, or perhaps a piece of the business or a strategy puzzle that doesn't add up. Every industry suffers from similar ailments:

  • The ROI of the seemingly "right" strategy that doesn't add up
  • Integration, technology, or legacy roadblocks
  • Leadership fixation on methodologies over results

These issues typically terrify most employees, but they need to be met head-on. Unlike the problems themselves, which may be murky, reasons for avoiding scary problems generally are crystal clear:

  • Few people enjoy taking on massive amounts of risk
  • Nobody wants to be "slapped on the wrist" by superiors for stepping outside the job description

The process by which an individual or a team actively pursues innovation depends greatly on the ability to crack open big issues and take the risks that are necessary to solve those issues. When staying within the current accepted boundaries won't bear fruit, it may be necessary to sniff out other contemporaries who understand the value of unconventional thinking.

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