Getting Innovation Backwards
Far, far too many organizations, when given the chance to innovate, rush out to generate a bunch of ideas. There are several reasons they do this:
- They are familiar with idea generation
- It feels like they've accomplished something - a list of ideas
- They now have a pile of stuff to wade through
- They've been told that generating lots of ideas is important (and in context, it is)
- Management wants to see ideas
But this seems counterproductive. Identifying answers - opportunities or challenges means taking time to research existing business challenges, prioritizing needs, understanding customer requirements. This doesn't seem like "innovation" and doesn't deliver quick ideas. So, after a month or two of following this path impatient management, not understanding the approach asks "where are the ideas?". So, far too many firms follow the first approach, since they think they understand the tools and know they need to deliver quickly.
But delivering poor, misaligned ideas quickly is just another way to deliver rapid failure. When your ideas aren't relevant or valuable, no matter how quickly you generate them, or if they fail to attract powerful sponsors or funding, who cares how quickly you generated them.
As with many things in life, received wisdom has it exactly backwards. Identifying the key challenges, understanding the links to strategic goals, deciphering customer needs leads to understanding the potential answer. Only then are you ready to generate ideas that matter. Or, as Einstein said "given an hour to solve a major problem I'd spend 55 minutes defining the problem and 5 minutes working on the solution". Once again, our approach is exactly backwards, which is why so many idea generation activities fail to deliver great solutions.
If you generate a lot of ideas without clear context or in answer to an important strategic question or need, you are simply shoveling the manure, looking for the pony that has already left the barn.