Innovation in Brewing


Innovation Beer Summit

Recently, I had the opportunity to learn to make beer.  I joined a group of friends and together we brewed six varieties of beer.  There are innovation lessons to be learned from most things.  Here are some innovation lessons I took away from my beer making debut.

Science There is science behind making beer.  Understanding what is happening in the process helps you achieve the desired results.  This is true for every domain in which I see people working in the trenches of innovation.  No matter what you are doing, there is a body of knowledge that precedes your efforts.  If you don’t have good access to this knowledge, you are destined to repeat the mistakes of the past and waste a lot of effort reinventing the wheel.  High performance innovation organizations understand the need to knowledge enable their innovation workers by providing them with the best, purposeful knowledge research and delivery systems.

Team During our little beer making party, we brewed 6 varieties of beer in one evening (90 minute IPA, Summer Ale, Belgian Blonde, Vanilla Honey Porter, Oatmeal Stout, and Scottish Ale).  Getting it all done required teamwork and collaboration.  In business innovation practice this pressure to achieve high-value innovation outcomes with limited resources and time is de rigueur.   To achieve results requires the same type of committed and connected teamwork for innovation workers.  Companies seeking to maximize the effectiveness of their innovation workforce must employ innovation frameworks that connect people to one another when they need based on what they know.

Tools Making our beer, we have at our disposal the right equipment to make the job easy and efficient: steam controlled boiling vats, wort cooling filters, automatic bottle sanitizers, etc.  Listening to others in our group recount the horror stories of making beer in their kitchens without these tools reminded me of what I see all too often walking into companies that have not begun to deploy state of the art innovation platform technology.  Innovation workers struggle to make sense of problems and find the fit between problem states and solution spaces.  Companies need to invest in providing their workers with the right tools and skills for innovation success.  Sure, you can start a fire rubbing sticks together; but why not give your teams modern torches and set them loose to burn up the competition.

Experience Having the brew master watching over us made a huge difference.  He was able to tell us in advance what to pay attention to and how to ensure the quality of the final product we were producing.  Preserving, tapping into, and leveraging grey beard knowledge is a huge problem for many companies.  Make sure you have systems in place to harvest and disseminate this knowledge to empower your entire innovation workforce and enable the generational transference of your corporate tribal wisdom.

Immersion My beer making experience was great.  One of the best aspects of the experience was its immersive nature.  While we were engaged in brewing or bottling, that was the focus of our activity.  There were no interruptions, no need to divert our attention and focus, no co-opting of resources by some other urgency.  Of course, we all have to deal with the realities of the real world when we are working in the trenches of innovation.  But, managers need to find the way to carve out protected time for innovation workers to focus on what’s important, not merely what seems urgent.  You have to willing to invest in your people, giving them the time to master and apply innovation best practices to their innovation tasks.  You will find this is an investment that will pay big dividends by both delivering the benefits of accelerated innovation and product delivery, but also greater per worker productivity.

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