Sturt and Nordstrom: Research says innovation can leave the garage

By David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, May 9 2014 2:16 p.m. MDT

This is the garage where the HP innovation started.

Courtesy of www.hpmuseum.org

Enlarge photo»

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.

There must be something magical about starting a company in a garage. We’ve heard legendary stories repeated over the years — a few rogue innovators set up shop in someone’s garage and create the beginnings of massive success. They conjure up images of secretive prototyping, overnight brainstorming and tinkering, and change-the-world vision. It makes you wonder, “What is it about garages and innovation?” Is it about being in a space where you can’t damage anything or where you won’t be bothered? Is it about being in a place that’s hot in the summer, cold in the winter and probably a bit dusty? Is it really about the garage at all?

Turns out that garages themselves have nothing to do with the genius of innovation.

Consider Cassidy Goldstein of Scarsdale, New York. In 1999, she was 11 years old and frustrated by broken, short crayons. She invented the Crayon Holder — a plastic device that holds even a stub of a crayon so that a child can still color. Think about this for a second. Crayola has been making wax crayons since 1903 and no one ever got frustrated by broken crayons? Goldstein didn’t need a lab or a factory or even a garage to innovate.

Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger had a simple idea for their second app. They wanted to make an app that made it easy to share photos online — with cool, one-click digital filters. At first it may not have sounded like that big of an idea. But just two years (and 13 employees) into it, the simple idea was sold to Facebook for $1 billion. You’ve probably already figured out that we are talking about Instagram. Once again, no garages were involved.

Or consider jet fighter squadron commander Lt. Col. Albert J. Amatuzio. After flying numerous missions, Amatuzio became curious about the synthetic lubricants being used in jets. How did they function so well in temperature extremes? How did they reduce engine friction better than petroleum lubricants? But, most importantly, if these synthetic oils worked so well for jets, why weren’t we using them in car engines? Amatuzio launched the first synthetic oils for automotive purposes in 1972. AMSOIL is now an important name in motorsports. It’s possible that a few garages played a role in this story, but Al wasn’t going to drive his test engines into the living room.

The point is that there’s a little something existing in these and thousands of other stories that often seems to get overshadowed by the garage.

A study conducted by Forbes Insights in conjunction with the O.C. Tanner Institute revealed findings that might change the way you think about innovation. The study showed that award-winning work is not determined by genius, or attributes or even trends of tinkering in a garage. In fact, innovation, according to the study, is derived from something much easier to grasp — the intention to make a difference people love. As it turns out, this intention was the guiding force of all innovative, award-winning work analyzed in the study.

How do you intentionally create a difference people love?

Focus on the people: Whether you’re trying to innovate a product, a process or an experience, focus your attention on the people whom you are trying to affect. Your innovation might be geared at simplifying workflow for your team or offering fantastic service to a customer. Think about them, watch them, talk to them and dream about them. Climb inside their world and get to know it better than they do. Write down their names, what they care about, what frustrates them, what they are really trying to do and why. You will discover innovative ideas that are grounded in real human need.

Ask: “What difference would they LOVE?” We often don’t think about what we could do beyond the boring checklist of “satisfies expectations.” This isn’t about satisfaction. Nor is it about tiny improvements that they may possibly like. When you ask yourself what people would LOVE, you change and elevate your thinking. To get your ideas flowing in new ways, consider things people naturally value like autonomy, well-being, nurturing, connection, ease, excitement and security. The more you think about new elements of value, the more paths you will see to real innovation.

As simple as these things may sound, they are often the most unpracticed elements in our daily work. Maybe there is a special magic inside a garage. However, each of us can create an “innovation garage” right in our own workspace by intentionally setting out to make a difference people will LOVE.

And, if the garage pictured above seems to strangely ignite your creative juices, then you’re not alone. This was the original home of a little company named HP — considered by many as “the birthplace of Silicon Valley.” It was a great place to start a company. But it also looks like a great place to park a car.

David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom work with the O.C. Tanner Institute. Learn more about The New York Times bestseller "Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love" (McGraw-Hill) at www.greatwork.com..

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