Most of us CPAs are left-brained, logical thinkers, so that means we need to leave innovation to the creative types, right?
Fresh off revamping the course I teach on Innovation to Master of Accounting Students at the University of Waterloo, I came across The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators. According to the authors, innovation is a skill that CPAs can learn:
“Most of us believe that some people, like Jobs, are simply born with creative genes, while others are not. Innovators are supposedly right brained, meaning that they are genetically endowed with creative abilities. The rest of us are left brained-logical, linear thinkers, with little or no ability to think creatively. If you believe this, we’re going to tell you that you are largely wrong. At least within the realm of business innovation, virtually everyone has some capacity for creativity and innovative thinking.”
– Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen, Clayton M. Christensen, ‘The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators.’
Most, including CPAs themselves, would characterize the profession as "logical, linear thinkers" instead of the "right-brained" creative types. The consequence of this incorrect characterization is that CPAs may artificially limit themselves when it comes to addressing innovation.
So, if innovation is a skill, what can CPAs do to be more creative?
One of the five skills highlighted in The Innovator's DNA is "associating," which is the ability to draw from insights from unrelated fields and connect them to one's own domain. For example, Marc Benioff developed the Software-as-a-Service model of computing he used for Salesforce.com by "associating" the e-commerce model of Amazon and eBay to the world of software deployment. The insight came to him “while he was swimming with dolphins during one trip to the Aloha State."
Does that mean you need to get to Hawaii and set your dolphin swim-time to get creative? I can't blame anyone trying to justify the business case for such a trip. However, it's probably not going to be approved!
Perhaps a more realistic approach is to take advantage of free webinars, conferences, and online content to swim in knowledge streams outside our usual purview. For example, the Association of Intelligent Information Management is an organization that offers content relevant to its members that may help us think differently about financial audits. If you want to discover some free content, Auvenir recently hosted a complimentary webinar on ‘How to Grow Your Practice by Leveraging Key Strategic Partnerships,’ which highlighted the importance of developing and innovating strategic relationships for your firm.
How did a CEO unlock a hidden goldmine using association?
One best illustration of the associating technique was the GoldCorp Challenge 2000.
Rob McEwen, Goldcorp's CEO, at the time, wanted to find more gold on the “company's mine in Red Lake, Ontario [which] was underperforming and producing only 50,000 ounces of gold a year property". At that time, gold prices (not adjusted for inflation) were in the $300 range, putting revenue at $15 million. The solution was to make “the company's geological data available to the public, and offered an incentive prize of $575,000 CAD to anyone who could locate the untapped gold deposits. Within a few weeks, over 1000 submissions came in from all over the world from virtual prospectors, which included geologists, mathematicians, military officers, students, and consultants.”
The result was +1000 submissions, with the winning submission unearthing $6 billion worth of gold. That's an ROI of over 1,000,000%.
But the real question is, where did McEwen discover this great idea? Certainly, not from attending a mining conference. In 1999, he went to an MIT conference where he heard “the story of how Linus Torvalds used the Internet as a collaborative resource to build the Linux software operating system." And so, he applied this model of crowdsourcing to harness the power of +1,000 people to take a “struggling mining company into the most profitable in the business. And all because McEwen went outside the company and sought the help of outside experts, something unprecedented for a mining company to do.”
That's the power of associating. By taking ourselves out of the familiar, we can learn to develop a unique perspective to find that hidden gold mine.