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A Simple Formula to Be More Innovative

LightbulbWhile companies that most effectively use disruptive technology continue to make headlines -- and profit -- many organizations have a heightened interest in innovation. Their staff are being asked to focus on future growth opportunities rather than defending the status quo; embrace failure through small and quick learning experiments; and reinvent business models to create value for their customers and themselves.

My colleagues and I on the AICPA’s Innovation team seek to drive member value by encouraging staff to work collaboratively to convert ideas into new services. We’re here to help foster a culture of innovation across the profession. 

Organizational change and new value creation begin with people. However, some people have difficulty fully tapping into their natural curiosity or harnessing their creative problem solving potential.

Is your organization struggling to innovate successfully? If so, you’re not alone. A study by CPA.com found 58% of CPAs agreed that it is important to create a culture of innovation and learning through minor failures. The study also found that 10% of CPA firms view themselves as innovative and 82% recognize they need to better understand innovation. This gap reveals an opportunity for the profession to more readily embrace innovation.

An informal poll conducted on aicpa.org found that 79% of respondents believe innovation is very important for the accounting profession. Skills associated with innovation that CPAs struggle with the most seem to be generating ideas (43%), leadership and influence (20%), and communicating (18%).  The biggest challenges for firms to innovate are lack of resources (30%) and lack of support from management (26%).

I’ve developed a simple formula to help you be more innovative and foster change within your organization:

Investigate - like a detective, look for clues, trends, opportunities

Dive - educate yourself and ask questions

Envision - see new possibilities, new realities, what could be

Apply - do something, execute, follow through

Let’s take a closer look...


Nearly all innovations begin with curiosity. To be more innovative, find something that intrigues you, then look for trends and observations about it. Develop a curiosity for something of interest. Perhaps you don’t even know what you’re looking for yet. Check out the Seven Sources of Innovation, first published by Peter Drucker in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. It discusses investigating unexpected successes, changes in the market, changes in demographics, unexpected failures and other topics.


Once you’ve found at least one area of interest, dive deeply into it. Ask questions, conduct research, host focus groups, do surveys and educate yourself. Share your newfound knowledge with colleagues to encourage discussion and collaboration. This can aid their understanding, drive their curiosity, and help you identify more pertinent questions to research.


Once you deeply understand an area of opportunity, envision a new reality or alternate future. How can you apply knowledge of other industries to create a different reality at your organization? If you could change one thing based on your understanding and research, what would it be? Your ideas should focus on the area of opportunity and be informed by your research.


This is the hardest part of innovation. Take action and apply your ideas. Test all or part of them in the marketplace. Don’t get discouraged if they don’t work right away. Investigate any failures and learn from them so that the next iterations will be better.

When you and your staff are innovating within your business, even incremental changes can have a big impact. As you use this framework, communicate with your colleagues and share what you learn. Increasing dialogue with customers and coworkers will build trust, cohesion and influence, thus facilitating the change that you seek by being more innovative.

Mark Brooks, Senior Manager Innovation, American Institute of CPAs. 

Light bulbs courtesy of Shutterstock.


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