In the world of innovation, it’s easy to get caught up in the lingo and the energy… and forget the basics.

Buzzwords, ideation exercises, and all the post-its and whiteboards in the world are useless without a basic foundation of innovation skill sets on which to build. What’s worse is when leadership gets so caught up in the heady excitement of big ideas that they start thinking a one-day workshop will transform their entire company.

Joshua Cohen is here to offer the antidote to this challenge. At GIANT Innovation he leverages his years of experience as an entrepreneur, investor, and adviser to work with large organizations and make sure they have the tools and knowhow they need to create companies that are agile and creative with sustainable results. GIANT’s methodology distills the best of lean startup, design thinking, creativity tools, strategic communications, and innovation research in a way that is both practical and powerful.

We sat down with Joshua for a Q&A session ahead of his Miami workshop with Innov8rs to get a better feel for his approach and philosophies.

Your premise is that we forget some of the basics. What are the basics you talk about, and how does missing them show up in our day to day, and our (lack of) results?

Innovation has to be more than a collection of terms that one can throw about during meetings. It needs to be a set of reflexive skills that one can draw upon in a variety of circumstances and situations in one’s daily job.

For example, many people know the term Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is some sort of prototype or working version of a product concept they have.

This is a great start, but what really matters when it comes to MVPs is knowing when they should be used, how they should be designed and how to go about implementing them in order to maximize learning.

At GIANT we teach core skills of innovation that will have a profound impact on the organization on every level. For example, one of the skills we often teach in our workshops is “connecting.” We need methods and techniques to facilitate connections between different ideas, people, tools, etc. Research has shown that traditional brainstorming methods are not as effective for generating new ideas as we once believed. We now have much more effective techniques, backed by the latest academic research into creativity, to connect a variety of ideas and concepts to generate new, more creative, and more effective ideas.

When we take a bird’s eye view, we see that many people don’t see the importance of connecting things, not just on the individual level, but within the organization as whole. We see the effects of this in the form of organizational silos, staid products, myopic strategy, etc.

In his book, Social Physics, MIT Professor Alex “Sandy” Pentland explains how the most creative teams tend to have the most contact outside of their teams. In order for the organization to have a more open, transparent approach to business, employees at all levels must not only intellectually see the importance of connecting, it must be something they feel; they must know it deeply and build it into the structure of their jobs. Thus, having a solid foundation of the basics is important not only on the individual level but has cascading effects on the entire organization; this is true across a variety of innovation skills.

If you look to how most companies are doing innovation, what else is missing?

To phrase this a bit more positively, I’ll talk about two changes that companies can make in order to more effectively innovate throughout the entire organization:

First: As important as technology is for innovation, it’s imperative to remember that innovation is driven by people.

Many organizations rightly choose to start with people; organizing trainings, workshops, and other activities to build the core skills they need.

The problem many organizations fail to recognize is that innovation doesn’t happen in a two-day workshop. Innovation is all about follow through.

Giving a select group of employees access to a “Grounding Innovation” workshop is a great start but it’s just that: a start. Leadership needs a plan to ensure those skills are actually applied and stay relevant.

One way to do this is to make sure all trainings focus on a challenge that is relevant to the participants so that they will be immediately and continually applying those skills after the training. A cohort model, in which fellow workshop participants stay in contact and evaluate their progress can be beneficial here. This model is especially attractive in that it doesn’t require an enormous allocation of resources.

Second: organizations must not fall for the trap of believing that a one-day workshop will be the silver bullet the’ve been looking for to solve all their problems.

To give you an example, design thinking is an amazing approach to innovation and one that is absolutely necessary for any organization that is seriously thinking about its future. BUT there is no single silver bullet and Design Thinking is not the only approach that innovation-savvy employees need to learn about. Don’t forget about lean startup, creativity, exploring metrics, etc.

What keeps innovation leaders awake at night and what could they be doing differently (for better sleep and innovation outcomes)?

The big issue we see many leaders grappling with is how they’re going to show senior level management a return on their investment.

This makes sense, after all, many companies are investing huge budgets into innovation to ensure that their companies remain relevant.

So, in the early days, be lean, scrappy, and keep budgets small. Every organization is different so building out a huge program based on research, consulting guidance, etc., doesn’t make sense. Your goal is to learn as much as you can, as quickly as you can, so the organization can identify what key pieces of innovation should look like. I’m talking about pieces like processes, structures, incentives, culture and governance.

Take small bets and use them as opportunities to figure out what will work best for the company. One of our clients actually has a regularly occurring evening event in which they’ll highlight failures inside and outside of the organization!

In that same vein, avoid the shiny new space that often goes along with “corporate innovation theater” for as long as you can.

Once you move into this new space, you’re effectively paying rent. If you want a clear historical example of what the results of scrappiness can be, read a bit about MIT’s Building 20, a hastily thrown together workspace that became a powerhouse of creativity and innovation.

Also, it’s your job to establish credibility. Don’t underestimate the importance of educating your stakeholders in this endeavor. They need to understand that innovation efforts have a wholly different set of tools, metrics, practices, etc.

At the end of the day, this is all about managing stakeholder expectations and if they don’t understand the rules you’re playing by, nervousness, distrust and ultimately the demise of your program could be the result. You need to be speaking the same language and using the same definitions, evaluated by a common set of metrics.

With our clients, we’ve seen that an offsite seminar or workshop in which senior execs are forced to get their hands dirty can be quite effective. At the risk of sound self-serving, it is often most effective when a third-party vendor runs this workshop as they bring the credibility of having seen a slate of best practices across multiple clients; experience that the internal innovation teams often lacks.

Innovation should come only from the innovation function. Becoming a truly innovative organization does require fundamental shifts in the way we design and run organizations, right?

It’s all about people and giving them the toolset, mindset, and skillset they need in order to contribute to the innovative organization. The first thing to bear in mind is that competent people aren’t “wrong” for having a negative reaction to your innovation efforts. They’ve been doing their jobs a certain way for a long time and for whatever reason you aren’t on the same page in terms of what the future of the organization looks like. They might even feel threatened by your efforts to change things.

It’s your job, as someone who is charged with transforming the organization, to make sure that not only do these people have a role to play in the future of the organization, but also to ensure they understand that role.

One of the biggest mistakes we’ve seen companies make is creating an “us” (those in “innovation or digital functions”) and “them” (those with traditional jobs) environment.

The entire organization needs to understand the “why, what, and how” of innovation. Why do we need to change? What will this change look like? How will we achieve it? Bear in mind, not everyone is going to be a fast-moving disruptor and that’s ok.

The key is to make sure that everyone in the organization is working toward the same goal and understand the rules of the road so that even people in the most traditional functions can still support the overall innovation efforts.

What will we be doing in your workshop at Innov8rs Miami?

At GIANT Innovation, we believe that the best way to seamlessly incorporate new skills into your work life is via experiential learning. As Galileo put it, “We cannot teach people anything; we can only help them discover it within themselves.”

To that end, all of our workshops include three components: teaching, doing, and reflecting. Specifically, this 90-min interactive session will introduce participants to three core innovation skills—Questioning, Connecting, and Experimenting—which are drawn from the innovation methodologies of design thinking, creativity research and lean startup, respectively.

The workshop will combine teaching with hands-on / interactive exercises designed to stimulate the audience and give them a strong foundation for reinforcing the tools and mindsets of innovation within their own organizations. Join us- it will be fun too!