Monday, February 09, 2009

In case of emergency break glass

Do you remember the old fire alarms? They would be mounted on a wall usually in a hallway, ready at a moment's notice to sound the alarm and alert others to mounting danger. Usually there would be a sign that read, in case of emergency, break glass, which would set off the alarm. The implication was that if there wasn't an emergency, then you shouldn't break the glass.

A lot of times I think our use of innovation tools, techniques and strategies are similar to a fire alarm. Even though we have great need of new and better ideas and new ways of thinking, we leave the innovation tools and techniques behind glass, waiting for an emergency. It's as if we can only use these tools in case of a dire emergency, rather than incorporate them in our everyday challenges. When we place that level of emphasis on the tools and techniques, the barriers for using them mount up over time. If the last crisis wasn't important enough to break out the innovation tools, is this crisis important enough? And eventually, you can only break out these tools in the case of a crisis, not as part of an every day activity.

Since the tools are locked behind glass and used infrequently at best, the understanding of the tools and their implications becomes more hazy. How the tools are best applied and the methodologies become suspect. When we do decide to "break the glass", we are usually applying these tools and techniques in a crisis situation when we haven't prepared adequately or used them for quite some time, so we're using unfamiliar tools in a high visibility, high stress situation. Talk about a recipe for disaster.

Instead of locking innovation tools and techniques behind glass, why not deploy them as a regular part of your team's toolkit, and practice using them on a regular basis? The tools and techniques may add more to your day to day thinking and output, and your team will be much more familiar with their usage when the time comes to address a larger or more strategic problem. Using this approach will require some training on the various tools and techniques, and frequent application of these tools or techniques during the regular course of your working week, rather than slapdash, highly visible uses of the tool under great duress.

If you can introduce innovation tools and techniques as a natural part of your business process and a regular "tool" in your daily toolbox, then your team will become familiar with yet another way of solving a problem, and will be able to apply these tools more effectively when the chips are down.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:31 AM


Anonymous Jana Görs said...

I like this article very much. Last Friday I gave a Seminar "Thinking out of the Box with Idea Engineering". After a couple of minutes my participants were developing ideas for their own tasks. It was quite a lot of fun. And we produced a lot of usefull ideas!

Together we recognized how difficult it is to be creative in an innovation-blocking atmosphere. The worst is that it is very frustrating for employees to come up with great ideas ... and to get reactions like:
* ingnoring ideas
* killing ideas instantly
* having excuses
* ...

(As a coach it cost a lot of energy to activate the participants so that they can be free of such constraints.)

Anyway. In this case the employees are under the impression that there are so many unsuperable obstacles and it would be worthless to produce ideas or innovations actually.

It's sad for a coach to see great ideas slipping through my fingers (german proverb)!

But where should a company start? In my personal opinion it should be a vision ... ;-)

Nonetheless I think "creative thinking"-skills for employees is one of the key factors to be successful in innovations.


3:13 AM  
Blogger felicity said...

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