There are widespread calls for “why” businesses need to innovate and plenty of advice available regarding “what” to innovate. But “how” specifically do we make innovation happen? 


There are widespread calls for the need for businesses to innovate – refer for instance to a recent Deloitte report “Tracking the trends 2015: The top 10 issues mining companies will face this year”. The report is a call to action, for the mining industry in Australia to respond to the “new normal” of volatile global commodity prices by accelerating the industry’s ability to implement innovative thinking.


With commodity prices in a down phase after an extended boom, the “why” for innovation in the mining sector is abundantly clear. There is certainly no shortage of advice (for instance in the Deloitte report) regarding “what” to innovate.


But “how” specifically to innovate?


Let’s consider the answer to this question in more general terms.


One helpful perspective is provided by Vivek Ranadivé, a businessman, engineer, author and philanthropist who is widely credited with digitizing Wall Street in the 1980s with his first company, Teknekron Software Systems. He writes (or more accurately, speaks) as follows about the necessary pre-conditions for innovative ideas…:


“I believe innovation comes from hunger. You can do something new, that hasn’t been done before, or you can do something that’s been done before, but in a new way. You can’t innovate for the sake of innovation. It has to be genuine, not phony or insincere. It has to come from a good place with higher purpose. The most innovative ideas come from hiring really smart people and challenging them, not coddling them. If you do the opposite of everything you’ve heard, you will be innovative.”


Now let’s consider how to go about generating innovative thinking from a more practical perspective: In short:

  • There needs to be a pressing problem or challenge to be solved – unconstrained free thinking is unlikely to generate useful ideas;
  • There needs to be sufficient time regularly allocated to innovative activities – it just won’t happen if it’s at the bottom of your 35-item “To Do” list;
  • There needs to be an environment created where blockages that typically constrain our ability to think creatively are removed – these include:


* * The Thinking Process – we naturally solve a problem in two stages: “first stage” or lateral thinking where we define the problem, followed by “second stage” or vertical thinking where we solve the problem. The longer we can spend in “first stage” thinking, the more likely we are to fully understand the problem and be able to recognise the full range of possible solutions.


* * Patterning Systems – we need to be aware of how our minds seek patterns that relate to our store of experience and as a consequence  identify solutions to problems within that paradigm of experience. Disrupting the patterns inherent in the problem at hand promotes the creation of a new reality.


* * Mindset – we need to understand how our minds “self-constrain” based on the nature of the problem and/or the way the problem is defined or expressed (the often-referred to challenge of “thinking outside the square”)


A wealth of effective tools and techniques is available to assist in the process of generating innovative thinking. One excellent source may be found at


As a final point, in business when implementing an innovation, the key is that if you must fail, fail fast!


Has this article been helpful? Please comment below or send me an email. I am always excited to hear from people making it happen!

Peter Wilkinson

BE (Mech), MBA