Moisturize for Innovation


Guitars require moisturizing, as does your innovation environment!

I have a beautiful Martin guitar. It has a wonderful tone and it’s easy to play, it’s a love relationship. It’s a well engineered, and under some conditions, a quite delicate instrument. As the winter weather descends on the midwest I’m remembering I need to keep it moisturized.

Yes, moisturized.

And yes, your innovation environment needs moisturized in order to make beautiful music.

Five years ago I left my prized guitar out of it’s case on a stand in my living room. I had no idea that the very dry air in my apartment would suck all the water out of that rosewood and maple. I got up one morning and started strumming — and it sounded terrible. I flipped it over and the back side was split down the middle — the guitar ruined. Heart broken, and angry, I went back to Guitar Center where I’d spent a nice chunk of money. I demanded a refund. I was told that I hadn’t taken care of the instrument and they would not refund my money or exchange it for another guitar. I was incensed, and as I calmed down, I realized they were right. I’d not taken care of the environment my guitar lived in, and therefore, my guitar broke. Who knew you had to moisturize a guitar!

The good news is my guitar was repairable — and quite pricey. The repair shop put my guitar in a plastic bag which they continually injected with water. After a month they took the guitar out and carefully re-glued it. I bought an in-guitar humidifier and now, in winter, I keep it in the case when I’m not playing — with plenty to drink.

Innovation environments require moisturization. You can have the excellent people, the right resources, an amazing product or service idea, and a rigorous innovation process — and still fail (see Blackberry, Kodak, etc.) I refer here to Mel Rhodes 4 P’s model of organizational creativity, Product, People, Process, and “Press” Press is environment. A suitable environment for innovation is the least visible factor — and maybe the most important. On the outside my guitar looked fine before it cracked. Your organization might appear to be ideally suited for innovation, but under the surface might be slowly drying up.

How do you know if you need to moisturize for innovation? Here are a three indicators, and questions to ask:

1. There’s no fun in the air. If you’ve ever visited Pixar or Apple or Google you’ll notice that there is an air of excitement and fun that seems to hover about. If you don’t feel fun, there probably isn’t any, and that’s as bad as a winter of dry heat for a Martin guitar. The question to ask: Are people having fun here?

2. People don’t think it’s their job to innovate. If innovation is left to a few engineers or marketing people, while everybody else runs daily operations, you’ve got a problem. Everybody can, and should, feel some connection to the innovation process. If only a few people are getting the water they need, you’ll have a few lovely guitars making music while the rest of the supporting orchestra is out of tune. The question to ask: How do you support our innovation process?

3. Lack of formal process, or, an overly formal process. It’s tough to keep the humidity at just the right level. A very formal process can simply take too long or cramp quick-hit innovation — think of it as drowning in process. A lack of any formal cycle leaves innovation to chance — and that’s akin to a desert. So, don’t throw your Martin in the river, or, hang it on a cactus, balance your process. The questions to ask: Do we have an innovation cycle? And, How fast does our innovation cycle spin?  

It’s winter in America — maybe it’s time to check that guitar humidifier — and your innovation environment.


Posted in Creative Problem Solving (CPS), Entrepreneurial, Guerilla Innovation, Innovation, Leadership