Eat, Sleep, Innovate: How to Make Creativity an Everyday Habit Inside Your Organization

by Scott D. Anthony, Paul Cobban, Natalie Painchaud, Andy Parker

My grandfather used to tell me I was full of beans when I was being rambunctious. In contrast, this book is full of BEANS—behavior enablers, artifacts, and nudges—which are ways to encourage a new behavior.

The book is about developing a culture of innovation—not just for engineers and scientists, but throughout the organization. Three of the co-authors are with Innosight, a consulting firm co-founded by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen (1952-2020), who wrote The Innovator’s Dilemma. Paul Cobban is Chief Data and Transformation Officer at DBS Bank, the largest bank in Singapore.

“Our formal definition of innovation has five simple words: ‘Something different that creates value.’ … We use the word different in our definition over more dramatic words, like breakthrough, because it reminds us that the highest-impact path to innovation is paved by making the complicated simple and the expensive affordable… Finally, the definition’s most critical words: creates value. These words separate innovation from precursory activities like invention and creativity.”

CULTURE. “Our definition of a culture of innovation is one in which the behaviors that drive innovation success come naturally… The authors identify five behaviors that drive success. “Great innovators are curious, customer-obsessed, collaborative, adept in ambiguity, and empowered; and great cultures encourage and reinforce these behaviors.”

Singtel Group identified one of their behavioral blockers was starting discussions “with questions like, ‘What are we planning on doing?’ and not ‘What problem are we trying to solve?’ or ‘For whom are we solving that problem?’… The core behavior enabler was a proposed ritual to make sure that every meeting included discussion around the question, ‘Who Is The Customer Here?’ which forms the memorable acronym WITCH.”

“One of the quickest ways to learn how a company really thinks about innovation is to be a fly on the wall during its budget discussions or project reviews. Those are magic moments where words are given to often unstated assumptions.”

RISK. “It is not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It is the manager’s job to make it safe to take them.”

Wreckoon is “a BEAN that increased DBS’ ability to be adept in ambiguity. At any meeting reviewing a major initiative, a slide would appear at some point with a simple but powerful checklist of key questions, such as ‘What have we forgotten? What is the riskiest assumption? What is the opposing view? What could go wrong… [It] nudged leaders to pick a space in these meetings to pause and ask for dissenting views, challenges, and objections. Leaders were coached to seek out the views of quieter participants, as well, rather than use the space to reinforce their own opinions.”

The MonkeyFirst BEAN from Google X “encourages employees to tackle the hardest problems first… One team was working on a way to turn seawater into economically friendly fuel. The ‘monkey’ for this team was the economics of the fuel-conversion process, which they tackled first. The team concluded that the odds of the project being economically viable within five years were very low, so they decided to kill the project.”

“A small but growing number of companies visibly celebrate failure to destigmatize it. Finnish mobile gaming company Supercell… At Supercell, success is celebrated with beer, and failure with champagne… ‘Whenever we realize that we haven’t failed in a while, it’s a sign that we haven’t taken enough risks.’”

FAILURE AND PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY. “Successful innovation often has a lot of false steps that feel like failures… A key environmental component to encourage innovative ways of working is psychological safety, in which intelligent failure is rewarded, not punished.” Certainly, preventable failures should be avoided. The book explains two other types of failure:

  • Complex failure is “where a surprise event leads to an unpredictable outcome in an intertwined system. ‘We couldn’t have known or learned about this,’ you might say. When these failures happen to you, learn from them, strengthen early-warning systems, and reinforce buffers.”
  • Intelligent failure. “Here, the right answer is… unknowable in advance. When this type of failure happens, you think, ‘This is good. We smartly learned what we couldn’t have known.’ The only mistake here is taking too long or spending too much money to figure out that you were wrong.”

Part Two of the book covers the innovation process.

PHASE 1: DISCOVER OPPORTUNITIES. “Discover a problem worth solving… Executives often think that the best way to spur innovation is to remove constraints and let hundreds or thousands of flowers bloom. Overly fragmented efforts result in nothing more than a lot of undernourished flowers.”

“As the famous British spy novelist Sir David John Moore Cornwell [who used the pen name John le Carré] once quipped, ‘a desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.’ … Atari founder Nolan Bushnell [used] the phrase ‘idea road trip’ at a conference in Australia a few years ago. The idea is that you get out of your normal routine to seek new ideas. That might involve going to a trade show in a disconnected industry, visiting a museum, or even leafing through a magazine.”

PHASE 2: BLUEPRINT COMPELLING IDEAS. “In this phase, customer obsession continues to be important as it forces you [to] continually check the degree to which the idea solves a real problem for a real person… Collaboration becomes increasingly important, as one of the most time-tested findings in innovation literature is that magic happens at intersections, where different skills and mindsets collide.”

The authors explain the difference between a “discovery question, which encourages dialogue and opens possibilities” and a “delivery question, which forces a decision and narrows choices.”

“When an idea looks like one you have tried before, instead of asking ‘Why are you proposing something that we know won’t work?’ consider asking, ‘What has changed from the last time we last tried that?’”

PHASE 3: ASSESS AND TEST IDEAS. “Over long periods, results are a meaningful guide to capabilities, but in the short run, you can get a good outcome by doing the wrong things and a bad one by doing the right things… That means appraising innovators more on how quickly and efficiently they learn; not on near-term commercial outcomes.”

PHASE 4: EXECUTION. “The final phase of the innovation journey involves moving from experimenting and learning to executing and expanding… If you ask employees to generate ideas, create mechanisms to do something with them… [If] you generate a long list of ideas destined to never go anywhere, all this does is create substantial organizational cynicism… Develop a set of criteria by which to judge ideas and predetermine what you will do with the best ones.”

SUCCESS STORY. DBS asked, “How can banking be joyful?” The answer: “By disappearing from people’s lives… So it set a new metric, called customer hour, which measured the aggregate time customers spent waiting to complete tasks. It designed and executed 250 process-improvement events to remove operational waste from the system. Those events ended up saving more than 250 million customer hours, rocketing DBS from the bottom to the top of the customer satisfaction scores.”

Anthony, Scott D., Paul Cobban, Natalie Painchaud, and Andy Parker. Eat, Sleep, Innovate: How to Make Creativity an Everyday Habit inside Your Organization. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2020. Buy from

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