What is an Innovation Framework?

The structure you need to create magic


and exclusive content for my catalyst tribe!

November 11, 2018

When the circus comes to town, the first thing to go up is the big top — the giant, expansive tent.  People can see it driving by and they start to get excited.  They know something special is about to happen.

The components of a circus tent aren’t glamorous or particularly special: canvas (lots of it), poles, rope.  Putting one up is hard, sweaty work.  But once it’s up, the tent holds the space for magic to be created inside of it.  The space inside the tent transports audiences to a magical fantasy land where anything is possible.

Brilliant, revolutionary ideas can sometimes appear pretty magical.  Sometimes it might seem like they appear out of nowhere.  In reality, though, more often then not, the stage has been set for innovative leaps to come forth.  A tent has been pitched.  That tent is the innovation framework.

An innovation framework is exactly like a circus tent; it is the (sometimes unglamorous) structure that holds the space for innovation to occur. It creates the conditions necessary for disruptive, creative thought. While it can’t, in and of itself, generate innovative ideas, a framework makes it a lot easier to get to those ideas.  It’s really hard to make magic if you have tent canvas falling down in your face.

If you hang out with innovation theorists like me, you might occasionally hear a framework described as “scaffolding,” which is another great structure metaphor.  Scaffolding enables workers to access higher work and feel safe and secure while doing it.  In the same way, innovation frameworks enable human brains to access higher levels of thinking.  If your brain feels insecure or risky at any time, its primal instinct is to do what it can to protect itself (and you) and get back to safer territory.  The scaffold of a framework helps your brain feel safe to explore.

There are lots of different kinds of innovation frameworks.  Some are domain specific, like Agile (for software) or Lean (for manufacturing).  Domain specific innovation frameworks are super useful in the domains they were designed for, but they also have important lessons and applications for other, unrelated domains.

Some innovation frameworks are useful for short bursts of idea generation for innovative problem solving.  Creative Problem Solving (CPS) or Osborn-Parnes method is an incredible tool for accessing a refined pile of exciting, disruptive, useful new ideas in a relatively short time frame.

Other innovation frameworks focus on a longer timeline, including not only idea generation, but the action steps required to implement those ideas and bring them into reality.  Design Thinking is one of these frameworks, as well as my own Spiral Innovation Framework.

And Spiral Innovation Framework also considers how innovation progresses on an even larger, longer scale, such as within an industry or a collective domain.  This is a meta level of innovation.  Just like the moon orbits the Earth, the Earth orbits the sun, and the sun is whizzing around the center of the galaxy, so to can you take a look at different scales of innovation from the individual, to the organizational, to the domain-specific, to the planetary.  Similar principles apply.  As above, so below. And if you can move up and down between levels and scales, you’ll bring in new perspectives and fresh ideas across those scales.  The framework is the consistent piece that helps you cross these boundaries without getting lost and confused.

So the next time you are in need of some fresh ideas or some magic, consider using an innovation framework to help you set the stage and feel totally supported in your explorations.

  1. christine says:

    so beautifully written and explained! shared with friends who are launching a new business!

    1. Amy says:

      Thank you, Christine! I’m glad you enjoyed!

  2. Liliana says:

    I was very mesmerized by your descriptions and really loved the circus tent metaphor. I definitely need to work on this, and set a good foundation for myself.

    Thank you,

    1. Amy says:

      Thank you, Liliana! Let me know what kinds of resources I can connect you with!

  3. Catherine Lanser says:

    I like the circus tent metaphor. I’m learning Agile now.

  4. Leiloni Schulz says:

    I always use the scaffolding metaphor for when teaching children, but I had not thought of using it for myself, or in my blogging. I am not sure what the scaffolding would be in blogging. Maybe I have already laid it, but I am not sure of the next step.

    1. Amy says:

      Oooh, this is a great thought! So scaffolding can be any structure that you’ve put into place. Do you have a content plan? That’s scaffolding.

      But here in this case, I’m also talking about the growth of your blog and your business. Do you have a direction for where you’d like it to go and what you’d like to develop next? Unique ideas for how to be more visible? An innovation framework can scaffold these plans and ideas. Make sense?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


and exclusive content for my catalyst tribe!