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Improvisational Innovation and 'The Risk Factor': A Chat With Deborah Perry Piscione About Her Newest Release

It's a new innovation methodology -- Improvisational Innovation -- which she introduces in her new book out this week,. Here is our quick chat...
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My old friend, best selling author and entrepreneur Deborah Perry Piscione, is onto something.


It's a new innovation methodology -- Improvisational Innovation -- which she introduces in her new book out this week, The Risk Factor: Why Every Organization Needs Big Bets, Bold Characters, and the Occasional Spectacular Failure. Our quick chat:


CJ: Deborah! What is this about?

DPP: The Risk Factor is about how risk-taking needs to be applied across the organization in order to enable innovation. The incumbent world of business has become a very risk adverse environment, and while there are exceptions, the traditional business world has become static with unmemorable results. In The Risk Factor, I research and document those innovators and risk-takers (in companies and startups) who are doing an exceptional job in displaying how companies should run in the 21st century with a particular emphasis on leadership, corporate culture, the reinventing of HR, and of course Improvisational Innovation.

CJ: Improvisational Innovation?

DPP: The simple definition is this...Improvisational Innovation is an annual 12-step process (over the course of nine months) that invites participants across the organization" to be in the moment, generating anything from incremental to groundbreaking innovations (five to 10 years down the road). In Improvisation Innovation, you engage all the talents of your people, irrespective of job title, education level, pay grade, etc. Like any good improviser, you are listening actively, you are open to change, and you develop a feeling for the right moment to act. Improvisational Innovation creates a temporary space with no limits or rules to create barriers.

CJ: Go on...

DPP: I've been studying the barriers and opportunities to innovate, and found that far too many companies relied on disruptive innovation as the guiding mantra. The reality is that you can't strategically plan for disruption, and quite frankly, disruptive innovations should be left to those startups or a small select group of companies with a tremendous amount of cash on hand, and understand and support the need to fail many times over before success may occur. However, what any company can plan for is harnessing all the talents of its workforce (in and out of the office) and allow for those entrepreneurial and risk-taking types to have the freedom to experiment, and enable a process that can execute from idea to prototype to commercialization. And, I must add, that you have to reward the inventor, handsomely, or you risk having that very talented person jump ship.


CJ: Sure you do. How did you come up with the methodology?

DPP: Well, there were several experiences that led up to this new methodology. I certainly had the opportunity to observe Qualcomm's ImpaQT program and meet with some of the key executives at Tata Communications about its Shape The Future process, and was quite impressed with both of these innovation-enabling opportunities.

However, it was the development of FlexPod at NetApp that deeply intrigued me. Here four NetApp employees were sitting around a lunch table talking about how their customers needed greater flexibility when it came to bundling data storage. The employees talked about how the cable companies grew beyond to bundle services and offer customers phone and Internet along with cable. The four NetApp employees wondered if there was a comparable opportunity for storage and reached out to their counterparts at CISCO (since CISCO offered one of the services that needed to be a part of the bundle) to see if they were interested. A few years later, FlexPod is now more than a third of NetApp's revenues.

I also was deeply concerned over the poor job companies are doing to develop their talent, and those incumbents that continue to see their workforce like cogs on a production wheel. In The Risk Factor, I lay out this hypothetical story about a guy who becomes an accountant because his dad was one. He wakes up one day and realizes he hates accounting, but he is now married with two kids, has a mortgage, and can't possibly entertain returning to school. So, instead the guy reads an article on how to build a home brew robot in Popular Science and is completely inspired. He becomes a brilliant roboticist and invents something that his company can greatly benefit from. But, who does he turn to? His boss who he doesn't trust? Or he does turn to his boss who tells him to forget about it and go back to work (or even steals the idea for himself). There was no process out there to protect the inventor; no process for people who may do one thing day-to-day at work, but may be brilliant thinkers in something totally unrelated to their work. Hence, the birth of Improvisational Innovation.

CJ: And you've had a great response to it, yeah? Why do you think Improvisational Innovation is resonating so deeply with the business world?

DPP: Because there is nothing more important than growth right now. Improvisational Innovation is a pragmatic approach that helps leaders find the next big idea, get beyond the daily P&L, and motivate employees beyond the day-to-day.

CJ: Sounds great, Deborah -- as usual. Best of luck with it!

DPP: Thank you! And thanks for helping to spread the word!

Photo: Heidi Alletzhauser

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