Home > For the sailors: Hone your innovation skills > Innovation lessons from crime author Roger-Guy Ulrich

Innovation lessons from crime author Roger-Guy Ulrich

Since 1987, Roger-Guy Ulrich has written nine successful crime thrillers around his favourite character, police detective Erwan Le Morvan who operates in the Saint-Malo area in Brittany, France. In an interview with Ouest France, he gives away one of his secret recipes:

‘On the basis of a single idea, I build a very rough scenario, of which I know the end. Then, I get started with no specific plan: the characters join in, and often take the lead. Sometimes it feels like I’m discovering the story as I write it‘.

Let me point out three of the innovation success factors that I see emerging from Ulrich’s quote:

1. ‘I know the end’.

Fixing the end point and a rough roadmap provides the author with what the enterprise would call a strategic challenge. Rather than constraining the endeavour, the end point and roadmap set a framework that channel the creative effort and enable it to move forward. In the absence of relief constraints water will just damp the soil and turn it into a marsh; conversely, relief will channel the water and allow a river to surge.

2. ‘I get started with no specific plan’.

As Vijay Govindarajan highlights in a recent Harvard Business Review blogpost, innovation = creativity x execution. If there is no execution, however great the creativity may be, the innovation output will amount to zero. Getting started does not cover the entire execution requirement but it is the first step, and often the more difficult one to take. Ulrich teaches us to get on with it and let the execution juice flow.

3. ‘The characters join in and often take the lead’. 

The author relinquishes control for the sake of letting new developments and twists enter the scenario. Arguably, all these building blocks of the story come from his mind, or at least transit through it, but the point is that Ulrich does not care where the ideas come from or how they appear. He practices the solitary version of crowd sourcing, inviting his characters to join in a form of open innovation platform.

A lot of people dream of writing novels and often have good ideas; but very few succeed. The same goes with innovation in general: a lot of great ideas get lost in the sands. Ulrich’s method bridges in three simple steps the gap between creativity and innovation.

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