Thursday, October 15, 2009

"Fools rush in where angels fear to tread"

In my experience, one quote from Alexander Pope sums it up nicely. Where innovation is concerned, people often rush in to try to create new ideas without any investment in training or any notion of the desired outcomes. Typically the first question someone asks me when we kick off an innovation project is: "When do we start generating ideas?" That's the "rushing in" part.

While it seems obvious that in other projects we'd carefully consider strategic goals, and identify what we "know" in terms of market research and customer needs, and think through industry trends and possible scenarios, that work is rarely considered in an innovation effort. For some reason many teams believe they can simply skip over the prep work and go right to the idea generation step. Perhaps that's because the idea generation is a visible sign of action, whereas much of the prep work seems to be team building and development. Or perhaps idea generation just seems more "fun". At any rate, rushing in to idea generation will only lead to frustration, less than successful ideas and a project that is considered a failure in many cases.

Why? In any other effort or project that your teams undertake in your organization there are precedents. The work is reasonably familiar and the people who are involved understand the goals and the scope of the work. When the project is related to innovation, virtually none of these things are true, and when people are uncertain about their scope, they usually place limits on themselves that the executives didn't intend to be there. Additionally, if the scope is unclear the team will spend a lot of time spinning its wheels trying to define the scope of the project, the needs and wants of consumers and the ultimate goal for the project. All of this will happen simultaneously as part of the idea generation, creating even more frustration when everyone suddenly realizes that every team member has a different perspective about the goal of the project, the scope of the project and the intended outcomes.

If you want to be successful in an innovation project, recognize that the preparation work is at least as important as the idea generation work, perhaps more so. Rather than rushing in to generate ideas, take the time to set the stage effectively, plan the work, engage the team and set clear goals and expectations. Understand the opportunities and customer needs and wants. Then, do the ideation work. Yes, it will take longer to do it the way I am suggesting. But you'll be far more successful, and generate far more valuable and pertinent ideas.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 7:41 AM

2 Comments:

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