Larry Keeley: How To Demystify Innovation And Build Breakthroughs

Larry Keeley: How To Demystify Innovation And Build Breakthroughs

Doblin CEO says innovation isn't luck – it can be driven by using smart tactics in unusual combinations.

Larry Keeley, Doblin
  • 9 june 2013

Now and then industries change fundamentally. This doesn’t occur often and is usually the result of some profound technological disruption. As an illustration, only a person born before 1970 will remember life prior to the impact of personal computers. For children born later, that time before the digital era seems quaint and vaguely ancient. One consequence of such epochal change: virtually all players are affected downstream in a massive cascade.

One of the few clichés about innovation that’s actually true is the one that says necessity is the mother of invention. In the early days of the digital revolution, technology pioneer Alan Kay, working at the time on the ARPA project at the University of Utah, thought about the software challenge and helped to pioneer object-oriented programming (OOP). This revolutionary new approach had one key insight at its core: building a programming language around the idea of reusable modules. With OOP, objects are data, files, and other common computing elements, described distinctly. Then, other related objects can be swiftly created, identified, or managed by the system. Most tasks can be described as methods or subroutines and made efficient, repeatable, and easily managed without lots of buggy code that needs to be custom developed for every new task.

The modularity of object-oriented computing revolutionized the computer industry. Similar advances can now be at the center of a twenty-first century innovation revolution. Just as with OOP, this system democratizes the field, making it easier for the average team to innovate reliably and robustly, and dramatically lowering the cost and risk of bold innovation.

Here’s what we have done:

Using the Ten Types of Innovation analytically, we have specifically identified more than 100 generic innovation tactics — modular ways to achieve each type of innovation (these are our objects).


Click image to enlarge.

Next, we found ways to arrange these tactics in sophisticated combinations that are robust enough to build integrated innovations (these are our subroutines). Put together, these are plays in a breakthrough innovation playbook.

These plays illustrate how innovation can be driven by using smart tactics in surprising combinations. We’ve deconstructed some archetypal examples showing how they work, and reveal how you can construct a similar breakthrough of your own—pictured below is the Collaborative Consumption play.

Our goal is basic but vital: we are trying to make it easier to help teams reliably build bold breakthroughs.


Click image to enlarge.


Innovating with discipline demands a sense of what you’re doing and why. Remember two critical innovation questions: “How ambitious do we need to be?” and “How can we innovate differently?” Now you’re ready to combine specific types and tactics to fuel your mission. While selecting a random array of them is one approach, it helps to examine similar solutions to the one you’re trying to build.

Thinking this way is similar to what great professional teams and coaches do all the time. Athletes drill plays over and over — until they can execute each one flawlessly. Coaches read situations in the heat of the game — to select the right play at any given moment from a full team playbook.

Which play will you call to outflank or overpower your competition?

Text adapted from Ten Types of Innovation: The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs (April 2013; Wiley) by Larry Keeley, Ryan Pikkel, Brian Quinn and Helen Walters. For more details, see

Larry Keeley is co-founder of Doblin, an innovation strategy firm, now a unit of Deloitte Consulting LLP. He teaches innovation effectiveness at both Chicago’s Institute of Design and the Kellogg Graduate School of Management.

Ryan Pikkel is a design strategist at Doblin. He makes significant contributions to developing Doblin’s own tools and processes — including the Innovation Tactics.


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