Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.


[Review] Innovation You

I just finished Jeff DeGraff's book, "Innovation You: Four Steps to Becoming New and Improved," and I really enjoyed it.  I'd heard about DeGraff before  -- that he had good techniques to help people come up with creative solutions to life's challenges -- and I've learned a lot more about him through this well-written book.

Innovation you full cover

In "Innovation You," DeGraff provides some very practical advice for how to approach problems and go beyond your "default" approach for innovation. The notion is that we all have preferred ways of handling various situations, but that we don't always do well at adapting our approach to better fit the situation.  The result? We stay in our comfort zone too long, while our situation fails to improve.

Why do we do this?  I think it's mostly habit and fear of trying the unfamiliar.  As DeGraff says so well, "To grow requires that we temporarily suspend our need for certainty and control."

Four zones - where's your comfort?

At the heart of this book is a model that DeGraff uses to articulate the most common approaches to innovation and problem-solving.  The model is known as the "Innovation You Model," which is what is represented by  the 4-color circle inside the letter 'o' on the cover (at right).  Each of the pie slices represents a different approach or bias for solving problems or pursuing innovation:

  • Yellow is "Collaborate," which means you are most likely to team up with (or tap into) others as a default method for solving problems.
  • Green is "Create", which means you are most likely to try to create your own new and innovative solutions to a problem.
  • Blue is "Compete," which means you have a need to 'win' and are going to try to find a tangible goal within the problem space and doggedly pursue it.
  • Red is "Control," which means you'll collect the facts, figure out the rules, and be very systematic in solving the problem.

if you're like me, you can easily figure out which one of these is your dominant approach, which ones you can use effectively, and which one you have the most trouble applying (green is my favorite, I'm good at yellow, I am handy with red in a crisis, and blue is my least natural position).

Throughout the book, DeGraff uses interesting and relevant stories to share how these approaches can be used to solve problems.  This includes some analysis techniques & tools you can use to try to figure out the best innovation approach to use, or diagnose why your current approach isn't working.

It, we, or I?

Another model used in the book is one that DeGraff describes as a sort of 3-layer Russian nesting doll.

  • The outermost layer is the "universal" layer, or the "it" layer.  Things at this layer sort of happen to us and are not really within our direct control. Think natural phenomena, market forces, etc.
  • The middle layer in is the "communal" layer, or the "we" layer.  Things at this layer involve our relationships with others, whether at work, in clubs, churches, and our family.
  • The innermost layer is the "personal," or the "I" layer.  This is the layer that defines us as people - our values, health, intelligence, motivations, etc.

The interesting notion here isn't that we need to "pick a layer" when we solve problems or try to innovate - it's that we need to "consider other layers."  In other words, trying to find solutions that work on multiple layers - not just solve for a local optima at a single layer.

Again, DeGraff provides some great examples and stories (I think of them as mini case studies) to help you internalize what this really means.

Become new and improved, a step at a time

This book is an easy read - the concepts are straight-forward, the chapters are short, and the stories are engaging.  I think the thingI like most about "Innovation You" is that it is both prescriptive and practical.

This book would be a great gift if you know someone who feels stuck or overwhelmed by a difficult problem.  One line I liked from the book: "Where is the pain so high that trying something new would be an improvement?" - if that hits the mark, get them a copy of this book!

It is also the sort of book that would be great for a book study group, particularly if you wanted to go through the book with an intact team (at work, in an organization, etc.) that needs to work together to solve problems.