The Three Learning Phases of Innovation: Thinking, Automating, Predicting

There seems to be a natural learning progression as something is mastered. I’ve observed, in many instances, the transition of learning through three distinct phases; Thinking, Automating, and Predicting (TAP).

Stage 1: Thinking

The Thinking phase is about learning the necessary skills, rules, and tactics to accomplish the goal. In this phase you’re consumed by gaining proficiency, and there is a strong sense of not knowing everything you need to know.

For innovation, the first stage, Thinking, is embodied through idea capture and processing. Organizations in this stage are trying to figure out how to get innovation started. They are working on the rules and process for capturing ideas, reviewing them, and moving them forward.

Stage 2: Automating

In the second phase, Automating, you’ve mastered all of the rules such that you no longer have to think much about what you’re doing. This is the most dangerous stage as we believe we know all there is to know, and feel confident in our success. Many feel that they have enough expertise to be a good teacher.

Organizations that make it into the second phase have usually succeeded in putting in place a robust innovation process. They will often have achieved pockets of success, and forward-thinking managers will attempt to build on this success. During this phase, the teams will try to align the entire business with an innovation strategy, and incorporate innovation into part of the daily routine so that it’s a continuous process.

Stage 3: Predicting

The last stage, Predicting, is the most sophisticated step and is reached when you can break the rules knowingly and with good reason, and based on your strong understanding, you can predict or actively create the future.

In this final stage of innovation learning, the organization completely weaves innovation into the culture, and innovation is driven by top-level strategy. Now that volume, process, participation and quality are no longer issues (as addressed in stage 1 and 2), innovation is driven by real organizational needs such as blocking competitors, building synergies, or creating value. In this stage, innovation as a means to drive intellectual property is at its peak, considering not only the market/technical aspects, but also the intellectual property issues.


Inevitably, every organization goes through these stages of learning, and hence innovation expertise. With a clear understanding of where you are and where you’re going it’s easier to map out the steps to improve your organization to the expert level. For the complete white paper, click Innovation and the Three Stages of Learning.

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