Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Island of misfit ideas


Do you remember the annual Christmas special about the island of misfit toys, where Rudolph ends up because he doesn't "fit in" with the other reindeer? The island is full of misfit toys that weren't acceptable for one reason or another.

A recent Accenture study on innovation found that there must be a mythical land of misfit ideas. Executives who were surveyed for the innovation study said that "opportunities to exploit underdeveloped areas/markets often die because they can never find a home to nurture them." Less than 15% of the executives surveyed disagreed with this statement. In other words, organizations can generate good ideas that are relevant to specific opportunities, but fail to find business lines or leaders who will adopt and nurture those ideas. So, those ideas must end up somewhere - our land of misfit ideas.

There are several reasons why good ideas aren't adopted and nurtured. In our experience I think I'd boil it down to three predominant reasons: prioritization, ownership and fear.

By prioritization I mean that a product or service development team within a line of business typically has more work than it can effectively complete. Even a very compelling idea that is generated and has merit must find its place in the priority stack. Often it is much easier to simply slip that "great new" idea at the bottom of the stack rather than reprioritize the work, so the opportunity slips by and little is done to advance the idea.

By ownership I mean that good ideas that are generated outside of a business line are often looked at with suspicion. Even if the idea is a good one and solves a significant problem, a business unit leader may think that since his or her team didn't generate the idea, they have little stake in the idea, or the idea may cannibalize the existing products and services. So a good idea is rejected or ignored.

By fear I mean that an idea may have great value but be so radical that implementing it will create significant change. In many organizations change is feared rather than embraced, and for some reason it is better to be forced to change through the actions of a competitor (reactive) than to create change and disrupt others (proactive). Since most firms reward consistency and reaction rather than change and proactive disruption, many new ideas will never see the light of day.

Perhaps what's needed is "local" innovation in a product or service line that is safe and relatively incremental, and "global" or corporate innovation that is relatively radical and disruptive. The challenge in this regard is moving the good idea from those who don't have the responsibility to develop the concept as a product or service to those that do, unless we simply spin off new product groups or businesses based on the radical ideas, rather than trying to force them into the existing businesses.

Otherwise many of the best ideas in your organization will end up on the island of misfit ideas, waiting for someone else to come along and discover them. Then, those ideas get released and implemented with a fury on those who ignored them initially.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 8:15 AM

2 Comments:

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