Thursday, June 23, 2011

Putting the idea cart before the capabilities horse

The phrase "putting the cart before the horse" is meant to help us quickly identify that priorities or actions are in the wrong order.  A horse does a far better job pulling a cart than pushing a cart, therefore the horse goes before the cart.  In innovation projects, however, far too frequently the idea goes before the capability or competency.

Let's stipulate that to innovate successfully there are at least five key ingredients or attributes that are necessary.  The one most people recognize without prompting is, of course, the idea, which is the celebrity of the innovation show.  Of course, the show can't go on without a number of other valuable and often overlooked features.  Those are:

  • Capabilities - processes, methods and workflows that define what to do with an idea
  • Competencies - the knowledge and skills to act on the idea effectively
  • Clarity - to understand key strategic goals and how innovation aligns to those goals
  • Bandwidth - enough time to work on the ideas
  • Confidence - the ability to work without fear of failure
A typical innovation project begins when someone has a big, pressing need and gathers a team to generate ideas.  However, exceptionally little thought is given to these other ingredients, and they are very valuable.  For example, we don't ask our team members to participate in important activities without proper training and supportive systems, except in the case of innovation.  We don't ask people to work on important projects but severely limit their time to do so, exception in the case of innovation.  Why is it so easy to start an innovation project without considering these important factors and implementing a solution for each?  Or do we believe innovation is so easy that these ingredients aren't necessary?

Perhaps it's because by the time we decide to innovate, we've wasted a lot of time, and it appears there's little time to "invest" in these activities, because they would further delay the innovation process.  When in fact we know that well defined innovation processes, leveraged by people who have been introduced to innovation tools and techniques and who work within a framework that provides enough time and commitment are much more likely to create relevant, meaningful ideas.

We've got to stop placing the idea or concept ahead of the important and necessary innovation capabilities.  While it requires an investment to train people and define methods and workflow, simply generating ideas in a team with little experience, no clear work rules and no investment in training will end in frustration.  Training on innovation techniques and methods, and definition of innovation processes and workflow should PRECEDE idea generation.  If those activities don't precede idea generation, then the idea is unlikely to proceed any further, since the people, processes and skills won't support advancement of the idea.  Again, why should we expect innovation, which is uncertain, risky and new to most organizations, to work well without the underlying foundations and frameworks that buttress other business processes?

Firms that do innovation well aren't necessarily smarter, or more creative, than other firms.  They are firms that understand the value of systematic approaches to innovation, coupled with a culture that provides time for innovation and reduces risk.  They put the capabilities and culture horse in place, which pulls along the ideas cart.

Now, we just need a 21st Century analogy to replace this whole horse/cart thing...
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 7:39 AM

3 Comments:

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Blogger felicity said...

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Blogger better ck said...

Thanks a lot for this time sharing of innovation about PUTTING THE IDEA CART BEFORE THE CAPABILITIES HORSE. This is really the best website about innovation i have ever read.
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