According to Don Sull, an alumnus of McKinsey and a senior lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management:

When it comes to innovation, the single most common piece of advice may be to “think outside the box.”

Constraints, according to this view, are the enemy of creativity.

How, then, can organizations embrace a more disciplined approach to innovation?

One productive approach is to apply a few simple rules to key steps in the innovation process to coordinate their innovative activities.

Innovation creates novel products, processes, or business models that generate economic value. Trying anything new inevitably entails experimentation and failure.

Simple rules, however, add discipline to the process to boost efficiency and increase the odds that the resulting innovations will create value.

Simple rules embody a handful of guidelines tailored to the user and task at hand, balancing concrete guidance with the freedom to exercise creativity.

Simple rules can also help ensure that creativity is aligned with strategy.

In addition, simple rules can help ensure that innovations create value, by balancing novelty with the need to keep a lid on costs.

Innovation is rarely the product of lone inventors.

Innovations emerge from the interactions of members of a community or ecosystem, who extend and build on one another’s ideas. Simple rules can protect intellectual property in situations where legal remedies don’t apply.


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This article builds on ideas in his recently published book, 
Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World 
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015), which he coauthored with Kathleen Eisenhardt