#244 from R&D
Innovator Volume 5, Number 11
Energy: The Physics
Grossman, a scientist, inventor, and consultant on innovation is
co-author of Innovation, Inc. (Wordware
Publishing, Plano, TX, 1988).
He is president of Double Dominance, Inc., Maple Shade, New
Jersey (phone 609-779-0702; firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr. Mattimore, ideation and
innovation consultant, facilitator and author of 99%
Inspiration (American Management Association, New York, 1994),
is president of the Mattimore Group, Stamford, Connecticut (phone
how to implement and foster a culture of innovation, most
companies either turn to current gurus, or use the reported
experiences of companies considered as leaders in new idea
companies as 3M, Texas Instruments and Microsoft have fascinating
tales to tell about how they accomplish new product and process
whatever the inspiration source, the translation from theory to
practice is difficult. Your
business isn’t Microsoft, your people don’t “thrive on
chaos,” and attempts to implement these philosophies often meet
with poor results. A
reason for this implementation gap might be that these theories
and best practices aren’t generic enough for a one-size-fits-all
approach. So, what
works in one organization may not be applicable to yours.
In school, you
may remember, the way to get good grades in the sciences was not
by mere memorizing; you had to understand general principles. We are, therefore, going explain the operative mechanisms of
innovation and business creativity by using an analogy with the
basic concepts of energy. Energy
is at the heart of any physical or chemical change.
It’s development and control is also central to any
business change. There are several general principles of energy that are
useful to get going on the innovation bandwagon.
Power and Aligned Energy
bulb is often used as the symbol for genius and individual
to successfully execute new ideas in a complex corporate setting,
we need to consider laser light as a more appropriate key to
success. We’re all
familiar with the properties of the laser...powerful enough to cut
through metals, intense enough to reach the moon, and focused
enough to use in the most sensitive surgical settings.
What makes the laser so different from ordinary light, and
why are these differences important in the company?
light is a result of a constant play of electrons moving back and
forth between low and high energy orbits in atoms.
As the electron moves from high to low, it emits light
movement from low to high absorbs the same kind of energy--a
rather inefficient process. Laser
light is a result of a discharge of energy from electrons all
moving in the same direction at the same time. It
works because there’s an intermediate staging area where the
electrons “wait” until a critical amount has gathered, and
they then fire down together, emitting highly focused in-phase
light that doesn’t get diluted or dissipated by movement in the
To make new ideas
a reality, corporations need to create “idea staging areas”
where everyone involved in the potential execution of an idea has
the opportunity to influence its ultimate shape and direction
before an attempt is made to implement the idea.
In this staging area, the idea may change its shape and
size many times as more and more people participate in molding it
into a final form. However,
once a critical mass of people has gone through this exercise, the
idea will sell itself because it has so many authors.
This notion implies two important principles:
1. You can
implement virtually any good idea as long as you’re willing to
release sole ownership. 2.
The truly creative tasks are the modifications that take
place in the staging area to insure that everyone involved has
their “hand print” on the final form.
Everyone is now a
co-creator, so when final critical mass is achieved, the idea will
“fire” through the organization with the alignment and energy
required for successful execution.
If we consider
most chemical changes, a new product is formed when reactants are
brought together in close proximity.
The reaction will generally occur when the result of the
change liberates energy. In
many cases, however, a small amount of energy must be put into the
system in order to initiate the reaction.
This is the activation energy.
We may define
innovation as a unique idea implemented profitably.
The innovation process is generally initiated by
someone’s breakthrough idea.
The idea may release a tremendous amount of energy for the
creator and the organization.
However, many times, for this “birth” to take place,
the creator must experience an initial injection of energy--a
personal activation energy. (The literature is full of accounts of great scientists and
artists who report a sense of “mental elevation” prior to the
onset of a great idea.)
can be an activation source by increasing the level of intrinsic
motivation in their employee’s work.
To help stimulate excitement about their work, ask your
staff these questions:
What, at work, excites you?
To what extent do the things you value appear in your daily
What do you dislike about work?
How might you maximize your response to a
and b, minimize c, and still
get the work done?
When, and under what conditions, do you get your best
How might you translate these conditions to the work
The extent to
which the organization can help the employee match his or her
interests with business objectives, will determine the pool of
available activation energy.
The first law of
thermodynamics tells us that for any system there is a direct
relationship between its internal heat content and the work it can
do on an external environment.
The higher the heat content, the more potential work
available in the system.
This law has
application for the idea-selection process. The higher the idea’s heat content, the greater the chances
of its successful execution.
Much work needs to be done to overcome all the internal
problems and challenges that come with any new idea.
Aside from the technical difficulties, there’s usually
emotional resistance. If
the idea is “hot” enough, all of these can be overcome.
The decision-making system should then be biased towards
choosing the most exciting idea, even though it may not, on the
surface, be the most practical alternative.
The attitude of key decision makers needs to be to
“let’s make exciting
ideas work!” Following
is a suggested process to help reach this objective.
Search for all the positive aspects of the new idea by
answering the following questions:
Once the decision
has been made and resources provided, shift attention to
can be a long, arduous and sometimes frustrating process.
To be successful, you must maintain the idea’s energy
value. The second law
of thermodynamics tells us that this will not happen by itself!
This law states that when two bodies are in close contact,
and the temperature of the first is higher than the temperature of
the second, heat will spontaneously flow from the warm to the cold
body. When this
happens, the warm body experiences a drop in energy that is not
compensated by a corresponding increase in the cold body.
There are always net energy losses.
Over time, the whole system cools down.
You must not let this happen with new ideas.
The organization must continually inject energy into the
system as the implementation process proceeds.
injection device is the organizational vision, which should depict
what the world will look like when the idea is successfully
visions communicate both the value to the marketplace and the
benefit to all the internal and external customers.
The new idea now becomes a vehicle for reaching the vision.
This connection between the idea and the organization’s
preferred future provides greater and greater inspiration the
further along the implementation path we move.
Without the vision, and its continual reinforcement by top
management, passion fades. With
the right vision, momentum is maintained, the idea is successful
and everyone wins.
fundamental scientific principles of energy development and
control is one way to look at the basics of successful innovation. Using them may put us in the shoes of a Chinese philosopher
who said, “There is nothing so sublime as sitting quietly,
sipping a cup of tea, in full knowledge of events that have not
yet taken place.”