Many a Slip ‘Twixt Invention and Innovation

A few years ago, I created The Innovation Factory to support learning and assessment organizations in turning good ideas into impactful innovations as measured by revenues, margin, and/or positive change in the lives of the individuals and communities. The Innovation Factory is a framework and a set of tools and processes to support organizations in making innovation replicable and sustainable. I created The Innovation Factory because I observed organizations rarely follow a successful path from an idea to an impactful innovation. Much of what organizations do seemed to fall under the heading of what Steve Blank in Harvard Business Review has called innovation theatre—overhyping cool ideas and breakthrough technologies but never creating value for the organization. 

Experience with Innovation and Design

The seed of the Innovation Factory began when I was originally at The Center for Assessment.  I consulted with states and organizations, and the smart people working for them, trying sometimes to create inventions, sometimes to take advantage of existing inventions.  They all struggled with institutional blockers including innovation expertise and organizational culture.  I began to explore systems as models of the school, district, and state environments. These systems models helped explain and predict the proliferation, or lack of proliferation, of innovations like good formative assessment, systems thinking, and evidence centered design (ECD).

Later I joined the Pearson Research Innovation Network–a collection of creative and talented people.  Good ideas were everywhere.  Funding for research was forthcoming.  Ideas were being turned into inventions and the validity and efficacy of these inventions was being tested.  But inventions from the Research Innovation Network, even when supported by evidence of effectiveness, were not becoming successful innovations.

After the Research Innovation Network, I joined ACT and brought with me a deep understanding of systems and design.  As the CEO had made clear, ACT was transforming from a company that might be perceived as a large-scale testing company to a learning and assessment company.  To support this transformation, we developed the Research for Mission Driven Innovation program with the talented staff of ACT Research by building on the experience of Curtis Carlson at SRI.

Study of Innovation and Design

While working as a researcher and designer, I began to explore how organizations, like SRI and Proctor and Gamble, have consistently transformed good ideas into successful innovations. I studied the recommendations from leaders and consultants who had participated in or observed successful innovation like Rita McGrath, Linda Hill, Curtis Carlson, and Clayton Christensen. The first thing I learned was that a good idea is not an innovation. I learned about product life cycles, business models, and the job-to-be-done. 

Application to Learning and Assessment

The Innovation Factory is the integration of what I learned through experience and study into a framework and a set of tools and processes to help learning and assessment organizations improve the odds of successful innovation.  An organization needs a plan, tailored to their customers and their capabilities and mission, for how to create and deliver value for a customer while also capturing value for the organization. I will have more to say about The Innovation Factory in a later blog.  Or contact us at Planful Learning and Assessment LLC (

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