Saturday, October 01, 2011
Enterprise Innovation: Finding Value in Ludicrous Ideas...
When I started my career in the 80's as an employee of The Hartford, I remember sitting at my heavy wooden desk in the data center reading about the workplace of the future. It was filled with what we know now as cubicles. Two years ago, there was another workplace of the future exhibit in the home office where space and resources were assigned on an as-needed basis. You had to reserve your space if you were a teleworker and the notion of "hoteling" became at the center of the next workplace of the future.
In each of these "innovations", the basic needs of employees were considered, but only in a lowest common denominator sort of way. Much of the innovation in this regard didn't really benefit the 29,000 plus employees of The Hartford as much as it made it easier for about fifty people who coordinate real estate. Have you ever noticed that many of the so-called innovation processes aren't centered around helping the majority come up with better ideas so much as they are to help a few filter existing ideas? Even if we were to create better filters for ideas while not addressing the how and who filters the ideas, can we end up in a better spot?
Apple was created at a time when all other software companies were focused on engineering-oriented principles yet Steve Jobs had a vision centered on the notion of usability. His ideas were initially ignored by the marketplace and even resulted in many failures, yet his persistence never wavered.
Every time I look at the innovation processes of corporations I visit, I always ask myself how back testable are their filters such that they wouldn't get rid of ideas that were originally deemed as ludicrous but now have been proven wildly successful. One example that comes to my is FedEx. FedEx was the result of a student writing their college thesis where the professor indicated that the idea couldn't have possibly worked. Now we know better.
For enterprises that want to be more innovative, wouldn't it be a better practice if they honestly asked themselves the following questions:
- Are executives the right people to filter ideas?
- Should we separate out the person who controls the budget for exploring ideas from the person who approves the ideas?
- Does our process allow us to revisit ideas that may have potential in the future or is it a we have voted, once and done?
- If I do not understand an idea, does that make it bad where the person submitting the idea needs to refine it or does it mean that I should make myself smarter in order to understand it?
- If I declare too many ideas as being ludicrous early in their life-cycles, am I helping or hurting long term innovation?
- If I truly want my enterprise to be king of innovation, how do I eliminate the the fact that fear of failure is often stronger than the desire to succeed, not only within my people but most importantly within myself?
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