Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Norms and Forms

I was watching a documentary on Blue Man Group last night on television when it struck me that much of what BMG does is to adapt the norms and forms of acting or music and then introduce something new and different. In fact, during an interview with the founders, one of the founders said their goal was to change the form of acting or music.

To be successful innovating, most firms need to examine their norms and forms. What I mean by this is what your firm considers "normal" and everyday, and the forms by which work gets done. The norms create the culture and atmosphere in which ideas exist, and the forms dictate how the ideas are worked. Good innovators are constantly evaluating the atmosphere or environement that innovators live in, and the rules and tools presented to them to help them accomplish their tasks.

A simple but great example of breaking a norm is stereo headsets. For many years, when you purchased any electronic device - a Walkman (that will take you back), an MP-3 player, a television - you received a set of headphones "for free". It was expected that an electronics device would come with a set of headphones. Most of us prompted placed the headphones in the circular recepticle and used a set we'd purchased. Recently I heard that Bose and some other top-line headphone manufacturers were giving away MP-3 players "for free" with the purchase of headsets. Here's an example of turning the tables and breaking the norms. What if we sell the headsets and give away the electronics?

I believe it was Einstein who said we can't solve new problems with old processes and thinking. I also think it's hard to create new products and services and bring them to market successfully with old cultural norms and processes and forms. Innovators in many companies have a dual task - create new products and services AND create the processes and evaluation metrics and cultural norms that push the idea from initial concept to final product. Either one of these jobs is tough - taking on both jobs requires a zealot. That's why most innovators are good for two or three big concepts in their corporate life. It is simply too hard to generate and manage the idea and create the process by which the idea will move through the organization.

Every firm has stated and unstated norms and forms. These are the spoken and unspoken rules, expectations, formats and processes by which things get done. To be truly innovative, your firm will have to examine, and quite possibly change some of its forms and norms. What forms or norms exist that hamper or block innovation in your firm?
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 4:53 AM

36 Comments:

Anonymous Dan Keldsen said...

Jeff - Good speaking to you today, always nice to take the virtual discussion to at least phone if not in-person discussions.

Funny that you should mention Blue Man Group (reminds me I should have a wishlist setup on TiVo for them) in an innovation context. Having seen them 3 times now, and having watched a class that one of the Blue Ones ran for a modern dance troop I was familiar with (in Boston), they are exactly looking for the "normal" rules that should apply, and then work to either bend them just enough to make you smile, or shatter them into millions of bits, and laugh at the resulting mayhem, and eventually, "new order" that arises.

In the box, or out of the box - there are cases (inadvertent pun) when different styles of innovation are required, and BMG does provide a nice metaphor for that duality.

Cheers,
Dan

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