Strategy. Innovation. Brand.

Innovation: The Idea is The Easy Part

I sometimes wonder if the Innovation Industry isn’t looking through the wrong end of the telescope. The Innovation Industry consists of

Is it worth my while to tell you my idea?

several thousand mainly smallish companies that will gladly teach your company how to be more innovative. Many of them focus on the front-end of the process: how to have a good idea. You can find courses on how to lead brainstorming sessions, how to creatively whack yourself on the side of the head, how to do mash-ups, what to do with silly putty, and so on.

That’s all well and good but, frankly, creating the idea is the easy part. The hard part is doing something useful with it, especially in an established organization where turf is already defined. Let’s look at what happens once someone has an idea:

  • Idea creator has to propose the idea to someone else — it’s easy to kill an idea at this stage. All it take is a little sarcasm. That not only kills the idea, it kills the person’s desire to create ideas.
  • Proposer has to marshall evidence to support the idea — somebody has to write a formal proposal. How many customers will buy this? How much money will we make? Will the idea cannibalize existing products? These are tough questions. The more innovative the idea, the harder these questions become. Business plans are based on the past. A truly innovative idea has no past.
  • Proposer has to present the idea — “Geez, now I have to take my idea, present it to senior staff, and get grilled by all the top executives. A root canal sounds like more fun.”
  • Proposer has to wait — decisions on innovative ideas don’t happen quickly. The proposer waits and waits and waits … often with no information about process or progress. It’s easy to get cynical at this point.
  • Nothing happens and proposer gets cynical — “Geez, they said they wanted ideas but they sure didn’t want my ideas. They said we should be creative and think different. But what happens when we do? Nothing. I did my regular job plus this special project and I have exactly zero to show for it. I’m not going to do that again.”

The process is complicated, time-consuming, and more than a little scary. It makes you wonder why anybody would ever propose anything. And, indeed, that’s what happens in many companies.

It’s possible to make your company more innovative. Teaching your employees to be more creative can help — but it’s not sufficient. Creative employees become cynical if they never see their ideas put into action. Before you ramp up the creativity, be sure you have the processes in place to put new ideas to work. The first step? Train your Idea First Responders. More about that tomorrow.

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