Walk into a Barnes and Noble you can find dozen of books on innovation. There are books from teaching the ‘how to” to creative thinking”. Not many good ones simply because the subject is a moving target with rules being broken and created everyday, existing tools are getting obsolete, and best practices are often worst practices. Much that is held as common wisdom regarding how purposeful or successful innovation happened is wrong. This is not to say that all organizations are not innovative; obviously many are not thanks to our management systems and education.
Innovation does not require a revolution. What it does require is thoughtful construction of a good sense making process, a robust pipeline management approach and a strategic intent from top leaderships. Innovation is not just about creativity and having feel creative punks doing money shows or a facilitator running some offsites. Coming up with good-to-great ideas is the easiest part (call me and I can give you half a dozen for free); the hard stuff is activation and mobilization.
There are academics telling people to do the different things but beyond that can’t really tell you more (because they have not done it). And then there are those who advocate how outsourcing your problems to the crowd is the best solution. Companies are desperate to look outside for help and often not getting it. My friend Dev Patnaik, founder of Jump, outlined some good beginners advice on five key strategies for managing change:
- Avoid the innovation title
- Use the buddy system
- Set the metrics in advance
- Aim for quick hits first
- Get data to back up your gut
They all seem to make sense, at least on a surface level. But are those really good advice? It is not about that and let me tell you why I have to disagree with all of the them (sorry Dev). Better, here are my alternative views:
- Don’t avoid the innovation title, make it available for more people. Feel proud of that innovation title as it shows an organization’s commitment to innovation. Dev suggested that calling a new team the "innovation department" is a good way to get everyone else in your company to hate you. That is absolutely not the case, in fact it is a good idea to have people dedicated to own the innovation process and the innovation titles should spread across the organization. Some can have dual titles such as Director of Operations / Innovation Team Member. That is very empowering.
- Don't think buddy, think communities. The last thing you want is to create little innovation circle, build fences and hide inside a room to come up with ideas. Instead find creative ways to open the innovation dialogue to a larger group – connect and engage. Find ways to share stories and get more people involved. Don't think buddy, think community.
- Never set the metrics too early in advance. This is invitation for trouble, as people would immediately apply current metrics on these ideas. Metrics are important but only when the idea development is at a stage when it is ready and the implications are understood at a business strategy level, often there are a lot experimentation on how to monetize these innovative ideas. Putting metrics in place too early can push them into the wrong directions.
- Ignore the quick hits. According to Dev, because game-changing initiatives can take a few years to develop, while most new leaders have only a short window of time to prove themselves. He suggested spending your honeymoon period on quick hits. This is very commonly practiced and I honestly believe this is a very bad idea. In most case people got distracted and ended up focusing on achieving many small incremental quick wins and losing sight of the big idea. This advice sounds good but have serious side effects. Don’t do it.
- Instead of get data to back up your gut, use your gut to help make sense of the data. Quantitative data is of limited use in innovation, particularly very innovative ones. Most users have no idea of what the future holds and cannot give you any good input. But having said that, you need to use gut to understand what all those data means and interpret them under the lens of innovation. My experience is that many market researchers don’t know how to read data using a strategic innovation lens. It is not about justifying, it is about confirming industry blind spots.