Innovation Antigen::Brainstorming a Waste of Time

In the last month, I have been working on an innovation antigen. I am not nearly done yet but want to share some progress here and now. This is an antigen that will help surface the need for change at the leadership level. This is not new stuff. Everyone knows companies need to be innovative. And everyone knows the typical CIO-driven organization does not have the tools, propensity or courage to invite innovation in the door. That is one problem. The other more menacing problem is that many companies feel or believe they are innovating with little or no success when they aren’t being innovative at all. This sours their appetite for continued innovation. If it hasn’t worked for them in the past, regardless of how they did it, they do not want to invite it back in to ravage their modest progress along the knowable lines of average.  In other words, they have little faith innovation can be predictable, manageable and repeatable. This I learned from

My aim is to point to the source of innovation latency and help uncover what isn’t working. Companies of all types and sizes should be able to perform their own “innovation quality checks” by evaluating prime variables affecting positive innovation. The reality is simple. It takes a lot of time, heaps of patience and a willingness to surrender control where control has lent the most comfort in the past…at the top. In my experience, innovation is far more likely to originate in a bottom-up rather than a top down fashion.  Also, in my most recent experience, innovation is deflated by a leadership that is scared and bound by need for control and lack of confidence and curiosity. Firms who’ve made modest earnings with faith in the status quo and comfort in the pragmatic are at most risk. Here are the basic dimensions that will help you determine your company’s climate for innovation.

leaders with no followers
leaders with no followers
  • Do we have a clear strategy to innovate? This is found by asking the question: “what services and products do we offer and how much are we willing to invest to make them better, more profitable or successful?”Chances are that you do not have in place, what it takes to make better situations occur from an innovation strategy. Otherwise you would not be taking the time to read this. Adopting the right innovation strategy can be simple if you are asking yourself honest questions and supplying equally honest answers.
  • Do we have the right processes in place to realize the right innovation for us? Processes are the workflows you have adopted to achieve your desired service or product outcomes. This is where I have lost all faith in brainstorming. It is most likely a waste of your time. Brainstorming is often the “re-arrangement” of all the thoughts and ideas you already have, re-purposed in safe variants too close to what you likely already have. You have to look at more stuff, think about it harder and be willing to surrender everything you have to bring something new into its place. This is critical. You have to be willing to adopt processes that allow the act of destruction in order to create new conventions. For quickest results, try a wholesale destruction of your current process. Allow yourselves to believe that breakthroughs tend to come from a perception system (or process) that is confronted with something it doesn’t know how to interpret. In other words, kill your process early and often. Re-invent processes to innovates.
  • Do we have measurable goals? No matter how much stuff you come up with, if it isn’t aligning to a goal, it’s merely cognitive masturbation. Try to bring simple goals to the table before you do anything else. If your measurement is, “come up with something the CEO likes, the president thinks is going to work or the CIO is willing to invest in, your already screwed. Those aren’t objectively measurable and in fact, invite the cancer back in. Instead, have a test group of outside potential users use them in prototype form and see how they react. Better yet, embark on a cyclical innovation process allowing your tweaks to any innovation to test with real users over and over again, allowing you to gradually perfect your new ideas with the test group. Then show how your progressive innovation process is gaining incremental successes with real users. Then show that to the C suite.
  • Do we have people who possess innovative skills or ideas? Yes you do. You have to let them do it.
  • Do we have the right leadership? –No.

4 thoughts on “Innovation Antigen::Brainstorming a Waste of Time

  1. Great ideas about a complex topic clearly articulated. Excellent article, as always, Steven. I’ve always liked your notion that leadership’s role in innovation is to create conditions where bottom-up innovation can happen and to nurture it when it does. (Like gardening, and not like manufacturing twinkies).

    1. Thanks Paul. We still think alike.

  2. I loved Jared Spool’s idea of the work continuum.

    One one side you have the most informal, loose and effective ways to get things done. At the other you have dogma.

    tricks techniques process methodology dogma

    It is so easy to slide to the right side of the continuum and so hard to get back to a place that is flexible and open. Nothing kills innovation like believing in your own dogma.

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