“Innovation” has been one of the hottest topics in business for the last few years, and we have been getting a lot of requests from clients to address innovation for their teams. These requests have led us to do an extensive review of the current literature available on the subject. There are plenty of great books, websites and videos that approach innovation from many different angles. Our literature review, however, led us to find the 7 common factors that are most likely to quickly spark the innovative thinking on your team.
1. Create small innovation teams: 3-5 people is a great number to enhance efficient and nimble time management, brainstorming, decision making, project planning and fast prototyping.
2. Cross functional teams: Including people from as many different disciplines as possible (don’t forget the “artsy” types, and even people from out of the industry!) will greatly enhance the likelihood that ideas generated are truly innovative, and less constrained by the perceived limitations of “insiders”. Having people on the Innovation Team that don’t know what has already been tried or done, or “is not technologically possible” can lead to some truly novel ideas. Also, the “cross-pollination” of people with different specialties can expand the breadth of the ideas generated during brainstorming sessions.
3. Known budgets: This may seem self explanatory, but the more clearly that innovation team members know the exact numbers in their budget (including proto-typing, market research, etc.), the more focused their solutions will be. While on the subject of budgets, bigger is not better, a tight budget will force greater creativity, and will ease the pain of a failed idea/innovation effort.
4. Short Timelines: Similar to having a tight budget, a short timeline will focus the team on creating timely innovations that are “good enough” to go to the fast prototyping stage rather than spending a long time getting bogged down in looking for the perfect solution. It is often the first product to market, not the best, that succeeds.
5. Build in small “wins”: Success breeds success. If the innovation project is broken into small stages that, when completed, are tangible and made as visible as possible, then team members are frequently being recognized and re-energized to seek the next win.
6. Fast prototyping: Already having systems in place to simply and quickly create prototypes in the case of product innovations, or small scale tests in the case of process or management innovations, can improve the quality of finished products, and help to remove flaws or barriers before they become large scale problems in the innovation “roll-out”.
7. Document and learn from mistakes: Innovation efforts will sometimes fail, and as long as that is known, accepted and the organization is prepared to learn from failed efforts, the learning can be extremely valuable. When developing the light bulb, Thomas Edison is quoted with having said, “Well I have now learned about 49,999 ways to not build a light bulb.” As long as learning is intentional, and the acceptable level of risk was determined prior to commissioning the innovation team, “failed” innovation efforts can yield information that may increase the success of the next innovation effort.
We are eager to hear about and share stories about Innovation Best Practices! What has been your most valuable Innovation learning experience?
I recently came across a great quote from Teddy Roosevelt that really got me thinking about the multi-faceted (and often conflicting) roles Leaders and Managers play:
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
“Citizenship in a Republic,”? Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910
Knowing what I know about Teddy Roosevelt (not enough), I will speculate that the “Critic” he is referring to is likely the press, and/or members of Congress. The “Man in the Arena” likely represents himself, and other “men of action” of whom he was a great admirer.
But, my thought process as I read this quote was much different- I started thinking about how often Leaders and Managers feel that they have to “check on” , offer constant “feedback” or “closely monitor” their employees work in order to “maintain accountability” for quality or results (playing the role of critic). These same people are frequently men and women whose own “faces are marred by dust and sweat, who strive valiantly” to achieve great results for their teams and organizations.
At OE, we have been working with and hearing about a lot of organizations which are striving for “Innovation” in many different areas of their businesses; Product Innovation, Innovative management practices, Innovative ideas, etc. We are starting to discover that the organizations who can actually achieve significant, lasting “Innovation Results” are those that have a culture that tolerates, no- actively supports risk-taking, ”knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions”, is poised to learn from failures and mistakes, and willing to continue to take “reasoned risks” repeatedly.
There are inherent barriers that make adopting this type of an organizational mindset quite difficult. On an individual level, there is a need as an upwardly mobile professional, a family wage earner, etc. to not be perceived as someone who takes risks and fails at work. On a team or departmental level, there exists the constant competition for resources with other departments, divisions, product lines, etc . The team that just “failed” on the last project is not likely to be chosen for the next high-profile project, despite all that they learned about the market, suppliers, and what doesn’t work. Finally, at the organizational level, investors, the board and stockholders generally don’t like to hear about all that the company has learned from a recent string of failed projects or products.
So, how do you bring all of these conflicting dynamics together into a coherent and sensible risk-taking strategy that values “the man in the arena”?
There is a lot of good research out there, and we have some experiences that I will share with you in my next blog entry. In the meantime, we would enjoy hearing from you- What are your thoughts and observations on creating a culture of “men in the arena” instead of “critics”?
During debriefs, I sometimes like to bust out with catchy, easy to remember, but powerful quotes that really bring home a particular point or concept. I find that people may not remember anything else from the day, but the concept and the quote to back it up often seem to make their way into that team’s actual day-to-day lingo! Here are 5:
1.”Slow is smooth, Smooth is fast”. Military in origin, (Special Operations Teams use it to discuss room takedowns.) An excellent phrase to drive home the point that a little planning prior to task execution can be really powerful.
2. “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” Attributed to John Wooden- Former UCLA Basketball coach. This quote always gets heads nodding when used to remind self-professed “fire-fighters” and “problem solvers” that a little root-cause analysis might be in order.
3. “The Perfect is the enemy of the good.” Voltaire -(a French philosopher). This one really gets the attention of the perfectionists, risk averse, and “analysis paralysis” types. Especially when discussing why a project didn’t meet a deadline, or has been talked about in meetings, but still hasn’t materialized.
4. “I don’t trust a man who can only spell a word one way.”- Mark Twain. A humorous touch that can really get a group talking about the fact that sometimes the first solution to a problem isn’t necessarily the best solution.
5. “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”- Thomas Edison. This one is great when the subject of risk taking, risk aversion or innovation comes up.
These are just a few that I find I often have a use for, I am sure that many of you have plenty of other great quotes or stories that you use in your facilitation. I would love to hear some, ‘share them out’ when you get a chance.