The Myth of the Essential Innovation Toolset 

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE a good innovation toolset. From Nesta’s DIY toolkit to the Board of Innovations free tools and resources, I’m here for it. I dare you to find a more ardent a fan of innovation toolsets than I. 

That said, having used and contributed to innovation toolsets in the past, I can dispel an important myth. 

No matter what anyone tells you, there is no definite, most-absolute, best innovation toolset out there in the world. 

Why is that? Because the best (i.e., most effective, most impactful) innovation toolsets are built-for-purpose. They are bespoke. They are carefully curated for the task at hand. The best innovation toolsets are not one-size-fits-all. 

image of a toolset

More spice rack, less recipe book

Innovation strategists and designers treat innovation toolsets more like a spice rack than a recipe book. They take a little of this, a little of that and make something unique. Perhaps something no one else would have thought of. 

Because when it comes down to it, innovation toolsets are really about spurring creative thinking. It’s the problems being solved and the questions being asked that matter most. Not the tools and approaches being used. The innovation process is all about framing important questions, uncovering assumptions about how you think the world works, taking a fresh perspective, and formulating a new hypothesis about what’s needed. Innovation is an interactive, explorative process of creative thinking applied to a specific problem or need. The tools, therefore, must be in service of that process and the desired outcomes, not the other way around. 

 What does that mean for those of us who seek to innovate? Where do we start?

Here are my recommendations. 

  • Define your innovation objectives. Set your innovation target. Define your ‘so what’ early and keep it close at hand as a guiding star.  
  • Frame good, meaty questions. Push yourself to think about your innovation objectives through the lens of opportunities (How might we…?) and challenges (What’s stopping us…?).  
  • Play from a blank canvas. When I start my innovation process design efforts, I literally begin with a blank sheet of paper. I love having a clean slate from which to create and get messy. Perfection is not the aim; exploration is. 
  • Pull from your trusted resources. I’ve listed here some of my favorite go-to innovation tools and resources (including those related to human-centered design, systems changeand other related fields). Remember, think about these go-to resources as a spice rack, not a recipe book.  
  • When in doubt, create something new. With your objectives and meaty questions in mind, be bold in developing tools, approaches, and resources that help you (and those who are innovating with you) unleash your creative potential. Feel liberated to use existing tools as a jumping-off point, but not necessarily the final product. Color outside of the lines.  
  • Try and learn; try and learn again. After every innovation process I run, be that an internal ideation session or an external multi-day innovation workshop, I create space for myself and those involved in the process to reflect on how it went. What worked? What didn’t? What might we do differently? Be sure to capture those learnings in the moment, else they will be easily lost in the ether. Over time, this will enable you to have a refined, personalized pool of innovation tools and resources that you and others mix-and-match confidently and creatively.”

And if I can help you get started with innovating, get in touch.

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About the author

Amanda Rose supports our innovation efforts for the Sanitation Technology Platform (STeP), a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation initiative to bring to market new technologies in the sanitation sector. She brings to our group significant international innovation experience with a focus on agricultural technologies in emerging markets, innovation systems support, and innovation capacity building. Amanda received a B.S. in Chemistry and in Interdisciplinary Studies from North Carolina State University and an M.S. in International Science and Technology Policy from the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University.

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