For those of us who grew up with the Space-time continuum as defined by Dr. Emmett Brown (Doc Brown) in the Back to the Future trilogy, we know that for real innovation to occur, there has to be plutonium, predictable weather and fourth dimensional thinking. But we’re not in 1955, or 1985 for that matter, and plutonium is not available in every corner drugstore as Doc Brown once predicted. So, what does a technology firm need in the 21st century to infuse innovation into everything we do? Opinions of experienced executives and industry experts echo a few themes:

  • Make space and time for innovation
  • Build a culture of experimentation
  • Celebrate innovation

It seems the Space-time connection is still relevant, and even crucial to sustained innovation. Making space for innovative thinking can range from a simple idea wall or virtual comment box to a fully-funded innovation incubator. Organizations often make space for innovation, but fail to make time for innovation. According to Clayton Christensen, the father of Disruptive Innovation, “If you defer investing your time and energy until you see that you need to, chances are it will already be too late.”

SPACE and TIME are essential to take an innovative idea to actual implementation. Once the ideas start flowing, someone has to be able to do the actual work – whether that means investigating a market opportunity, talking to customers about their interests or doing a little development to test a minimum viable product – and it will take time to figure out if, when and how an idea helps the customers and the company.

Building a culture of experimentation means finding ways to ensure that every individual in the entire company can embrace and test innovative ideas, discovery and the development of innovative ideas. It goes unspoken that the day-to-day work of delivering solutions must get done. However, just envision the power and potential that companies could experience if they successfully make time and space for innovative exploration and experimentation interwoven with their deadline and delivery demands.

When organizations invest in and promote a culture that makes space and time for innovation, I suspect the celebration piece will likely take care of itself. Although we may not see DeLoreans traveling through time, there is no doubt we will see new innovations that improve the quality of life for people around the world.

Shaun Brown
Product Manager, Itron Idea Labs
Shaun Brown joined Itron in 2015, coming from a background of technical writing, journalism, publishing and parenting. Upon joining Itron, initial projects included customer-facing documentation highlighting Itron solutions for municipalities and utilities. After a six-month fellowship with the Itron Idea Labs team in 2017, Shaun was invited to join Itron Idea Labs full-time to help with project management, process development and promotion.