For years people have been told during brainstorming meetings to think “outside the box” and come up with innovative ideas to solve a problem. But that’s bad advice—it’s the walls within the box that hold the answer, according to innovation expert Stephen Shapiro, who will speak at RISE West’s plenary session this fall.
Shapiro’s passion for innovation was sparked nearly 25 years ago, long before innovation was part of the business vocabulary. That was early in his career when he was working at Accenture, a global professional services firm, where his role was to optimize businesses and make them more efficient.
But he discovered over time that when he trained people on the firm’s methodology, the companies would optimize their profits and often downsize employees. “Tens of thousands of people lost jobs because of the work I was doing,” Shapiro told RISE during a recent interview. “I woke up and realized I like helping companies grow and create jobs, not shrink them, and that’s where I wanted to focus my energy.”
That realization led Shapiro to oversee a 20,000-person innovation practice at Accenture, where he worked for 15 years. Since then, he has written five books, including “Best Practices Are Stupid,” which was named the best innovation and creativity book of 2011, and his sixth book is due to come out in early 2020.
Shapiro will offer his ideas for innovation at RISE West on Tuesday, Sept. 10, the first day of the main conference program for the annual event. One piece of advice he expects to share during the plenary session is for attendees to rethink the catchphrase, "think outside the box,” which he believes destroys innovation.
Rather, he said, constraints are the key to innovation. Shapiro said he has worked with businesses in nearly every industry and many of them, such as the military, financial institutions, and utilities, had many constraints and lots of bureaucracy. Like health care, all these environments are ripe for innovation. If leveraged properly, constraints can spark innovation, he said. The way to do this is to make sure you ask the right questions and reframe the problem to help come up with different solutions.
“Instead of looking outside the box, find a better box and think in a different way to solve problems and come up with solutions,” Shapiro said.
Furthermore, he said, health care leaders must realize that everyone in an organization is responsible for innovation—they just innovate in different ways.
“There is not one approach or a one-size-fits-all for how one innovates. The key to get the most out of people is to find out what is the way they like to innovate and get them to do that,” Shapiro said.
He also dispels a myth that the best innovators are creative, right-brained thinkers. “I’m left-brained. I was a member of the math club and marching band. People often collapse innovation and creativity. But innovation is a process, which starts with a problem and ends with creation of something of value, and that requires a left-brain analytical approach, not someone sitting on the grass, looking at the clouds. That’s not the way to innovate,” he said.
Editor’s note: RISE West will take place Sept. 9-11, at Loews Coronado Bay Resort, San Diego. Shapiro will give his plenary talk, “Out of Industry Perspective—tools for Practical Innovation in Health Care and Beyond,” at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10, the first day of the main conference program Click here for the online agenda or to register.