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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Innovation is super fragile. It’s very easy to kill

This is my 150th post in nearly two years of blogging - never thought I'd have so much to put down in this blog - but the world moves and I like to capture peoples ideas and add my own thoughts.

Reading through one of the blogs from Luke Naismith, he has asked people to come up with known innovation killers.

I do recognise that managers are busy people who have time and budgetary constraints to deal with and don’t always have the time to consider the good idea that some one in their team has worked on.

I’m fortunate as a lot of my ideas in my working life have been taken up though not always immediately, though I’ve been though my career all the stages in the cartoon above.

I was reading an interesting article by one of my old professors Michael West at Aston University in Birmingham.

He highlighted what Machiavelli wrote in ‘Il Principe’ that innovators face a perilous journey because they face opposition from those that have a vested interest in the status quo and only lukewarm support until it has been proved by people experiencing the innovation. The danger of being a pioneer sometimes is that you end up like in the Wild west with a lot of arrows in your back.

He also highlights research that there is a large body of research shows’ that individuals alone generate more ideas at least as good as groups working together. The best way rather than having a brainstorm session is 'to have individuals work silently on this for a few moment and then to have everyone share their ideas together – with the leader speaking last’ This avoids the leader framing the issue for the rest of the group especially subordinates.

Marshall McLuhan once said: “In big industry new ideas are invited to rear their heads so they can be clobbered at once. The idea department of a big firm is a sort of lab for isolating dangerous viruses.”

The usual idea killers that I’ve heard are

  • ‘It’s an interesting idea but…… then with 5 compelling and plausible reasons why one should delay in a manner that would make Sir Humphrey of Yes Minister fame purr with pleasure.
  • We don’t think that our clients will think this is something our firm should be doing
and my personal favourite
  • ‘Haven’t you got enough to do in the day’

Perhaps one day we can change the discipline when an innovation is discussed to say Yes and….. and build up the idea so that it is explored and developed before approval or rejection. Another useful technique is to use ‘ How to’ questions.

Ideas are fragile creatures and managers need to work to find ways to allow people to explore either individually (or if they feel the need a team) but also to provide a platform so that that idea can be exploited. People too are fragile and need to feel that if an idea has been rejected they need to know the rationale why, not to give up, and that future ideas are welcome.

Otherwise they tend not to use what you have employed them for – their brains, vision and skill and can become de-motivated individuals.

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