By Julian Birkinshaw

Among corporate innovators, the travails of James Dyson and the unlikely insight of Art Fry are iconic. Dyson’s bagless vacuum cleaner was perfected only after a staggering 5,127 tries. Fry’s inspiration, interestingly enough, came during a church service. Pieces of paper he had used to mark hymns kept falling out of his choir book, which led the 3M scientist to think about the materials chemistry that eventually produced Post-it Notes. World-changing products, yes, but also great stories.

Companies today are fixated on innovation, to say the least. Many have reorganized so that ideas can move forward faster and with less internal friction. A recent McKinsey Quarterly article describes how companies are experimenting with virtual-reality hackathons and “innovation garages” to step up their product-development hit rate. We know that much of corporate innovation travels along well-orchestrated pathways—a neat tech breakthrough, a product owner, and an orderly progression through stage-gate and successful launch.

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