Shell’s GameChanger Program offers Lessons in Innovation

GameChanger is a program at Shell Oil to put the spark back into their R&D effort by capturing and encouraging new ideas from inside or outside the company

From 1996 to 2002, GameChanger screened 400 ideas, commercialized 32 new technologies and established three new businesses [1].  

In addition to being successful, GameChanger might have some interesting observations on innovation.  Perhaps, innovation is less about an earth-shattering scientific break-through and more about dispelling our preconceived ideas about the nature of the solution.

Russ Conser, Manager of the GameChanger program:

We use the term ‘orthodoxies.’ The idea is that most often, the barrier that keeps us from considering coming up with solutions [… is] simply the mental models that we have in our head as to what the solution should look like. We tend to frame problems and potential solutions in the way they’re expressed today, not in terms of how they could be done differently in the future. Usually what happens is that an inventor or innovator has had some ‘aha’ moment, usually connecting two ideas that weren’t previously connected. The challenge of breakthrough innovation is, very often, there is the functional challenge of doing the real technical work – engineering work, scientific laboratory experimental work. But the real hard part of GameChanger is working with other people to help them see the benefits of breaking historical orthodoxy and looking at the problem differently.

[1] Susan A. Hill & Julian Birkinshaw, “Strategy–organization configurations in corporate venture units: Impact on performance and survival”, Journal of New Business Venturing, Volume 23, p 426.

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