Innovation Lessons from My Cats

Nancy and I have a lot of cats, at least according to most people. Sometimes, they end up helping us out with work-related things – like the time Denali helped me with exam marking:


Since they like to be in the middle of things, I thought it might be time to let them be in the blog. An emergency trip to the vet this morning reminded me of a couple of innovation ideas that the cats illustrate. Gromit’s emergency this morning ended up being relatively minor, and as I was talking to our vet Fran, we got to discussing the weight of both Gromit and his brother Zamboni.

Zamboni has had digestive tract problems for a long time now. Several of our vets have told us that the best measure of his overall health is weight. Since Nancy and I are both researchers, we responded to this in the logical way and went out and bought a kitchen scale that went up to 5 kg, which we could use to track Zamboni’s weight. So for the past 6 years or so, we’ve been tracking his weight pretty regularly (as well as that of the other cats when they’ve gotten sick). I mentioned the scale to Fran today, and she said ‘so that’s why you always have such precise information about their weight’ – to which I responded ‘yeah, data’s important, right?’

And that’s the first innovation lesson from my cats – if you want something to get better, you have to measure it. This is one of the key ideas that came up when I was talking with the Public Sector Innovation Network members earlier this week in Canberra. You innovate when there is a gap between where you are and where you want to be – and the best way to know if this gap exists is to measure. Why does your organisation exist? Whatever the reason, you ought to be able to measure how well you fulfill that function. If you’re not where you want to be, it’s time to innovate.

Angel is our most inventive cat. She’s the grey one in the picture above from one of their board meetings. The second innovation lesson from my cats is that innovation occurs when you are dissatisfied with the current state of affairs. Angel is very often dissatisfied with the current state of affairs – usually because she’s outside of a room in the house that’s closed and she wants to be inside. As a consequence of this disgruntlement, a meeting usually isn’t enough for her – she takes action. She is constantly coming up with crafty ways to get where she’s not supposed to be, which led Nancy to formulate her Law of Cats:

All cats have sufficient brainpower to get wherever it is that you don’t want them to go.

The one thing that helps out with Angel is that she’s really bad at getting her ideas to spread. No matter how many new ways to get places she comes up with, she’s unable to get the other cats to pick up her ideas and build on them. This helps us out, because if the cats ever start to genuinely collaborate, I think we might have big trouble. And that’s the last innovation lesson from my cats – your innovations are much more powerful if you can get the idea to spread.

Note: And if you’re interested, here are the slides from my talk in Canberra – if you’ve been following along closely, you’ll notice a strong resemblance to the talk I gave to the CEIT in December (but those slides include audio).

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

One thought on “Innovation Lessons from My Cats

  1. I did not know that cats can be a very great help for us humans like giving innovation lessons. This gives me the idea to get a pet cat because I really want to own one since chilhood.

Comments are closed.