Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Putting the solution cart before the innovation horse

So, here it comes again.  Another blog post using an old standby as a way to make a point.  Today's old standby is the adage about placing the cart before the horse.  In the fast paced world in which we live, there is great pressure to skip ahead to activities or actions that seem to provide value, or to assume we know enough information to skip over the humble act of understanding what people want and need.  To that end I see far too many clients putting solutions and technologies ahead of innovation.

What's worse, they are calling the selection of a new technology or solution "innovation" before they've done any customer insight work or research, or worse, in lieu of doing any trend spotting or customer insight work.  Many clients are simply declaring a solution or technology and then using "innovation" as a way to validate their selections.  This is problematic on a number of levels.

Reversing the order

The first problem is in reversing the order of the process.  While everyone likes closure, the selection of a tool, technology or solution before investigation of the underlying problem doesn't guarantee you've got the right solution.  The solution chosen may be the right one, but if so don't dress up the presentation in "innovation" clothes.  You've simply made a management decision to select and implement a tool or technology based on gut feeling, pressure from a manager, customer or vendor, or some other reason.  Choosing a new technology without understanding customer needs may lead to the right outcome, but it's not innovation.  Innovation starts by understanding evolving trends and unmet customer needs, acts of discovery, then defines potential solutions and identifies the best one based on gathered insights.  This places discovery before selection, not in service of the act of validating the selection.

Innovation as a cover for decisions rather than a basis

Innovation should help create insights that lead to informed decisions, not provide a cover for decisions you planned to take anyway.  There is already far too much cynicism and fear associated with implementing anything new or different.  Innovation faces far too much cultural and change resistance, why create new reasons to doubt innovation and its potential outcomes?  Everyone recognizes that true innovation outcomes (growth, differentiation) are important.  Why water down the innovation possibilities through defining a selection of a solution or technology as innovation, rather than doing the work that's necessary to discover whether or not the solution is the right one?

Short cuts often lead to poor outcomes

Ultimately, teams or managers that select technologies or solutions and implement them under the cover of "innovation" are taking short cuts.  They are skipping over important and necessary discovery work, which speeds up the decision process and moves to implementation.  But the cost of the short cut is that often a solution or technology chosen in this manner doesn't provide the benefits customers want, and fails to deliver the benefits the firm wants.  Short cuts almost always lead to solutions that are less than what was possible or achievable.  Often the work of discovery isn't expensive or time consuming.  That work is rejected because of a rush to get to an answer - any answer, rather than admit that we don't know or can't be bothered to learn.  If you are clairvoyant and know the answer in advance, you belong in Vegas.  Can you and your team be humble enough to work with customers to discover needs, rather than triumphant enough to select based on your own intuition or preference?

Begin with the end in mind

Stephen Covey often talks about his seven habits, one of which is "begin with the end in mind".  What is the "end" you want?  Fast completion of an activity based on the selection of a tool or technology that may or may not meet customer needs?  Is the "end" implementing solutions that meet or exceed customer expectations?  What are you willing to commit to achieve those benefits?  Are you willing to put the act of discovery in front of the selection of a tool or technology, even if the act of discovery exposes your lack of knowledge about customer needs?  Can you partake in discovery without demanding a specific tool or technology be defined as the logical outcome?
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 7:34 AM 3 comments

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Over- and Under- estimating Innovation

I wanted to write today about the opportunities and barriers that exist based on time.  Some of the barriers and opportunities are real.  As has been suggested by those familiar with Fred Brooks'  Mythical Man Month, nine men can't make a baby in a month.  Some projects and products have a logical, determined incubation time that is difficult or impossible to change.  Other barriers are conceptual or cultural.  We simply tell ourselves that processes or decisions can't be accelerated, and inevitably we prove ourselves correct.

Time is one of the most interesting innovation barriers and opportunities in corporations today.  Time, we believe, is a fixed commodity, and for most managers there is never enough time.  Not enough management time, thinking time, contemplative time.  Time itself seems to be increasingly compressed, as weeks and quarters accelerate.  Managers face extreme pressure based on time increments - 3 months to the next reporting cycle, and fewer resources to achieve goals.  Time itself becomes a constraint and a barrier, when we should consider it simply an ingredient in decision making.

Add to this fact the natural optimism that we have in the short run, and the risks we associate with issues in the long run.  Oh, we are happy to "kick the can" down the road when it involves investments that may not pay off.  Look at any major government entity.  Pension payments and long term investments are shortchanged, while short term needs are fully financed.  We've constructed and now serve the short term monster, while ignoring the larger, longer term issues.

Amara's Law

All of this is in service to what I want to focus on today:  Amara's Law.  Roy Amara was a futurist, who worked for the Stanford Research Institute and the Institute for the Future.  Amara is probably most famous for his statement that "We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run". I'd submit that you can easily substitute the words "change", "management decision" and most importantly "innovation" for technology and still be correct.  Our short term focus creates bias for ideas and innovations that will "pay off" now, and tends to discount anything that may "pay off" in the long run.  This is demonstrated by the many, many organizations that want to pursue the proverbial "low hanging" fruit.  By this they mean the simple but financially profitable ideas that will magically appear when they start innovating.

There are several problems with short term, low hanging fruit.  The first is that by definition we overestimate its value.  Just by the concept's nature, if we can implement it quickly we assign a higher value to it, which is often incorrect.  The second issue with this approach is competition.  Too many firms believe that they are the "only" ones with the insight to identify and harvest low-hanging fruit.  They forget or ignore the fact that in any industry, there are many smart people pursuing the same lines of inquiry.  It's almost inevitable that firms will be disappointed with the "sure thing" of short term, low hanging fruit.  Either it doesn't offer the upside anticipated (the overestimating part) or another firm beats you to the punch (the many competitors issue).

Note the second half of the "law"

If we agree that we place inordinate value on the short term, and that many competitors are fighting in the "red" oceans of the near term, low hanging fruit, perhaps we should pay more attention to the second half of Amara's "law".  That is:  we..underestimate the effect (of a technology or innovation) in the long run.  Since we've become so driven by quarterly results and so fearful of the risks of long term projects, we tend to assign greater risks to technologies, projects or innovations that take longer to come to fruition.  But, since this is a widely shared risk strategy, this means that few companies are exploring longer term innovation, and the law notes that we tend to underestimate the value of new technologies or innovations that will emerge in the long run.  These are two good reasons to ensure a balanced focus between short term innovation activities and longer term innovation activities.  Short term demonstrates consistency and quick results.  Long term creates innovations and ideas that are more likely to be "blue oceans", more unique and have potentially much higher value.

Three Horizons

Paul Hobcraft has written previously about the Three Horizons model, which we use as a planning tool and an assessment tool.  The idea behind three horizons is to first plan how many innovation activities or projects you'd like to initiate in each of three horizons:  short term, medium term and long term.  Planning these activities is easy - sticking to the plan is more difficult, as time pressures and resources pressures will demand that all activities revert to short term results.  That's why the Three Horizons is both a planning exercise in the beginning of a planning cycle and an assessment at the end of the planning cycle.  At the end of the cycle, your innovation team should review the results of the innovation investments.  Of the activities you planned to accomplish in the medium term and long term horizons, how many did you actually implement?  What impact did cultural and time constraints have on your commitment to long term innovation success?

Overestimating and Underestimating Innovation

Much like any new technology or social phenomenon, the benefits of a new technology or innovation are overestimated early in its life, and unappreciated or underestimated later in its life.  Gartner, the analyst firm, created what it calls a "hype cycle" about new technologies, demonstrating that the hype and anticipation for a new technology rarely is matched by its capability or delivery, but in the outer years the technology or innovation proves its worth and more.  The risks associated with overestimating innovation in the short run are significant.  If short term, low hanging fruit style innovation is overestimated, and by definition can't deliver a lot of value, then innovation itself seems unlikely to deliver value in any timecycle, short or long.  When you add on top of that the lack of faith in future benefits, and our tendency to underestimate the value of ideas in the long run, innovation seems like a financial loser over both time horizons.

For innovation to take root in any organization, it must focus on the medium term and long term opportunities where the unique ideas and value propositions lie.  This is a time scale change.  Additionally, managers and executives must balance their optimism about ideas in the short run and pessimism about ideas in the long run.  This is a risk and estimating change.  Only when these two changes are made can a firm expect to find real value from innovation.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:21 AM 0 comments

Friday, July 19, 2013

Prune before Innovating

If you've read about Apple and it's miraculous recovery that set it on a pathway for success, you know that the first action Jobs took on becoming CEO was to aggressively prune the product portfolio.  Apple was spending far too much time and energy on far too many products, which meant that none of the products got much time, energy or focus.

I've just had the chance to read and review Brick by Brick, about the very similar fortunes of Lego.  Lego also faced financial catastrophe, aggressively pruned products that weren't performing which freed up time and focus for the products that really mattered.  Pruning matters, especially when it comes to innovation.

The concept of pruning comes from agriculture.  Farmers prune plants to ensure that the fruit a tree or plant bears receives as much of the plant's resources as possible.  While this may mean that the plant bears less fruit, the fruit the plant does bear is top quality.  There are so many lessons that many firms could take away from this agricultural practice.

Get rid of the zombies

The first need for pruning in many organizations is to eliminate the zombies, those ideas that aren't really "alive" in any sense and haven't been killed.  Every organization has tens of projects and ideas that simply get passed along, year after year.  They are fine ideas that no one wants to fund or resource, and no one wants to kill.  These ideas and projects clog up the innovation funnel, distract from what's important and aren't going to ever be implemented.  A quick, sharp pruning of these ideas and projects is essential, if to do nothing more than free up mental RAM.

Get rid of the laggards and "me-toos"

Many firms have products that are simply laggards in their respective markets, or just "me toos" that allow the firm to claim to have a product in a particular space.  These products take up valuable development and design time, occupy a space with very little financial return and deliver nothing to your bottom line.  Yet they are fully resourced and once developed must be supported by marketing, sales, the channel and all other assets.  Your team should examine the bottom 20% of your product portfolio to identify what you should stop doing, to free up space and resources for compelling new ideas and products.

Prune the pet projects

No matter how much we'd like to think that all management is scientific, every firm has a number of pet projects sponsored by executives who want to try out a particular technology or who want to enter a particular market.  The pet projects are easy to spot and hard to kill, and frequently absorb a lot of resource for very little benefit.  These pet projects are undertaken with little market research or understanding of the customer base and are rarely successful after launch.

Resource Availability

Many clients ask us to help them accelerate their idea generation, speeding up the process and improving the ideas.  We are happy to do that and I think have been very successful.  But what we tell our clients is this:  putting a 350 V-8 in a Model T is worse that useless.  If we speed up the idea engine but lack resources to convert ideas into products and services, we frustrate everyone.  The idea generators are frustrated because they see good ideas go to waste.  Development personnel are frustrated because they are asked to make impossible tradeoffs and have years of backlogged work on products that often aren't interesting or compelling.

Before you radically improve your idea generation and innovation capabilities, or at least in parallel to that work, focus on your product portfolio and resource allocations in the development team.  It is rare to find an organization that can't cut existing projects and even existing products to free up development time and resources to work on new and interesting concepts.  Apple and Lego did the vicious pruning because they were forced to do so.  The alternative was bankruptcy.  You and your teams probably don't face the same burning platform, but you have the same internal issues.  It's worse than useless to speed up good ideas when the development team has no bandwidth.  Taking a knife to your portfolio of proposed projects and laggard products is a very valuable step in the task of becoming more innovative.

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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:07 AM 1 comments

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Book Review: Brick by Brick

There could hardly be a more compelling story than the decline and eventual recovery of LEGO.  Anyone who has been a child, or has a child, has experience with this iconic brand.  The story contains all the necessary ingredients:  hubris, near failure, a dogged recovery, a beloved brand.  Actually, after reading Brick by Brick I’m amazed at how many parallels there are with Apple, another noted innovator.

Like Apple, Lego was burning cash and found itself months away from bankruptcy.  Lego was forced to make huge changes quickly. Both Apple and Lego fell on hard times by dramatically increasing the range of products with little emphasis on profitability or differentiation.  Both brought aboard unlikely executives to lead the recovery.  Apple brought back Jobs, and Lego brought in a junior ex-McKinsey consultant with little turn around or leadership experience.  Both leaders dramatically reduced product complexity and took a knife to operating costs, returning to profitability before attempting to grow through innovation.

As an innovator, I think Brick by Brick is really a forensic story about the recovery of Lego, and not really a book about innovation per se.  In many cases the previous Lego administration got Lego into trouble through unfocused innovation aimed at expanding the idea of what Lego meant to consumers, without bothering to discover real needs or consumer goals.  Lego operated on a “push” model and angered customers by changing the meaning of Lego and the products’ positioning.  The resulting disaster wasn’t a failure of innovation, just poor management.  After all, as the book points out, Lego didn’t understand that only two product lines were profitable, and didn’t take into account the fluctuation of the Star Wars branded products based on new movie releases.

As the authors note in the conclusion “the most difficult challenge in business is not to invent an innovative product; it’s to build an organization that can continually create innovative products”.  Time will tell if Lego has learned its lesson, and built a sure foundation of effective processes and controls to sustain profitability while incorporating better customer insight gathering and market reading to identify new trends and opportunities.  It’s not as though one can choose to be efficient and profitable or choose to be innovative.  Both conditions must exist for future success.

Brick by Brick identifies what it calls the Seven Truths of Innovation.  They are:
1.       Build an innovative culture
2.       Become customer driven
3.       Explore the full spectrum of innovation
4.       Foster Open Innovation
5.       Attempt a disruptive innovation
6.       Sail for Blue Oceans
7.       Leverage diverse and creative people

Arguably, Lego before the downfall violated many of these “rules”.  Lego was disjointed, run on a country by country basis, and had a fairly homogenous workforce that wasn’t customer driven.  Plougmann, the former CEO who takes much of the brunt of the near failure of Lego, attempted to create more products in more spaces and to disrupt existing markets, but did so without enough customer feedback, and failed to understand who Lego’s customer was – both the retailer and the child.  After Knudstorp, the new CEO took over, Lego first focused on efficiency and profitability, cutting almost 50% of the product lines.  A new CEO brought in better financial controls.  Only then was Lego ready to innovate effectively.  

The real story here is that innovation isn’t a panacea for a poorly run business.  Innovation can accelerate growth and profits of a well-run business but will eventually expose the shortcomings of a business that is too insular, too conservative, too narrowly focused or too poorly managed to maintain growth and differentiation.  If you are looking for innovation insights, this may not be the book for you.  If you are looking for an interesting forensic tale of a near death experience with a remarkable recovery of an iconic brand, which was supported through innovation, this is an excellent book.

This review is cross-posted on Amazon.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:01 AM 1 comments

Friday, July 12, 2013

Innovation Exhaustion

After almost ten years of innovation consulting, I've come to learn some things about innovation, of course, but more importantly corporate cultures, hierarchies and power structures.  After years of wondering why sustained innovation is so difficult, I've come to the conclusion that for many firms, innovation is viewed as an occasional variation from the status quo.  That doesn't mean that innovation isn't important.  In that moment, during that project, innovation is very important.  But while it is important, it is also obtrusive, works outside the regular working conditions, demands resources that are normally deployed in other work and introduces new tools and methods.  Like a rubber band that snaps back to its original size and configuration, many organizations "snap back" to a historical norm once an innovation project is complete.  And, often, what I'll call innovation exhaustion sets in.

Innovation exhaustion is the culmination of the effort involved in introducing new tools, stretching perspectives and the breadth of thinking, pulling people from their regular jobs to perform innovation activities that they aren't convinced management will support, and asking them to work in ambiguous, uncertain environments with little preparation or training.  Conducting innovation as a periodic, poorly defined and poorly prepared activity is literally exhausting to an organization.  While the results may be very positive, it is often very difficult to get people to agree to do another innovation activity soon after the initial one is complete.  But that's exactly what they should do.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

Just like the famous advice on the side of your shampoo bottle, the most important step (after documenting what worked and what didn't in the initial innovation activity) is to quickly define another important innovation need, and perform another round of innovation.  Not necessarily in the same product area or business function, and not necessarily with the same scope, of course, but as quickly as possible develop another innovation activity that fills an important product or service gap.  Why?

There are more reasons than I'd care to count here, but let's list three:  continuity, to demonstrate the importance of consistent, sustained innovation; learning, to demonstrate that innovation is a learned skill that people gain by repeating the activity, momentum, to demonstrate that the rubber band, now stretched in new ways, isn't going to return to the old shape and structure.   You see, conducting one innovation project is difficult and costly because it must overcome all the inertia and resistance built up over time, and what little training or tools are introduced is quickly frittered away unless the activity is repeated.  The only way to gain skills rapidly and resist the natural urge to return to status quo is to sustain momentum, repeat the process and gain new learning, and hopefully new outcomes.  Otherwise innovation exhaustion sets in.  The organization will argue for time to "Catch its breath", to digest what it has created, to fully implement and document new methods and new procedures.  This is simply a stalling exercise for the old methods and culture to creep back in and shackle the organization with the same lethargy as before.

Innovation Reluctance

These facts, in fact, are why many people avoid or resist innovation or are reluctant to participate in an innovation activity.  They understand how much energy and commitment it will take to bring an innovation team up to speed, and how much resistance the team will face and how little time and investment the team will receive, and further, how quickly the organization will revert to its old, consistent ways of doing things.  However, if it is clear that a number of innovation projects are aligned and your executive team expects repeated, sustained innovation over time, the old methods and culture can't snap back into place.  Yes, this approach places greater strain on the organization - demanding that innovation exist side by side with continuous achievement of efficiency and quarterly results - but that's the only way to build continuity, sustain momentum and force change in the corporate culture.  Otherwise, innovation exhaustion will set in, the organization will revert to its normal practices and every innovation attempt is a major leap of faith to overcome the barriers and resistors inherent in the existing culture.  Don't allow the organization a minute of breathing time:  the rubber band snaps back very quickly, and is very hard to stretch again.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:21 AM 0 comments

Monday, July 08, 2013

What Goldfish teach us about innovation

I wanted to write today about "context" and the importance context plays when teams attempt to innovate.  You'll be familiar with the phrase "like a fish out of water" - implying that the fish is in a new and unfamiliar context, and unlikely to succeed.  Not only is the fish in a new and unfamiliar context, it also faces risks, in that it can't obtain oxygen from the air in the same manner that it can from the water.  Not only is the context unusual and unfamiliar, for the fish it can be deadly.  I want to describe why this experience is exactly the same as what many innovation teams face, without the fear of physical death.

Getting out of the box

I've written previously about the phrase "thinking outside the box", so let's imagine that we are the proverbial fish for just a moment.  Goldfish to be exact.  Goldfish spend their days in small bowls with the fake seaweed, treasure chests and divers, always looking out at the world around them.  As long as they stay safely ensconced in their bowl of water, they are comfortable and content.  Since the bowls are transparent, goldfish even have the chance to observe the world around them.  That is, they witness people existing out of the context of water, and even have a few close encounters with people or cats who occasionally try to snatch the fish from the water.  But when push comes to shove, and the fish ends up on the countertop, instead of in the bowl, weeks, months or years of observation aren't helpful when there's no water to help the fish breathe.  In other words, you can watch others perform at a high skill level in a context they are familiar with, but that does not imply that you'll operate with a high degree of success when you are placed in that context, regardless of the amount of time you've watched or the books you've read.

Tick Tock

And, like the fish, once you are out of the familiar context, the clock starts.  A fish out of water can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes before death sets in.  No matter how many times a goldfish witnessed a human standing just outside the bowl, nothing prepared the fish to exist outside the bowl.  Similarly, a new innovation team has little time before the rarified air of an innovation activity begins to make breathing and thinking difficult.  Not because the air lacks oxygen, but for two compelling reasons:
  1. Teams recognize their lack of preparation and the absence of familiar context and become anxious
  2. Executives compound the anxiousness by demanding quick results
When anyone is placed in an uncertain, unfamiliar environment and asked to perform at a high level, the level of anxiety increases.  As anxiety increases, team members quit working and attempt to return to a safe, comfortable environment.  When we apply this to innovation we see that many teams simply pick the path of least resistance - choosing ideas that are very similar to existing products or services that can be quickly and easily deployed.  This selection allows them to return as quickly as possible to their preferred context, even if innovation goals aren't quite achieved.   Executives often don't help in this regard, demanding rapid results as quickly as possible.

Emergency stations

To add insult to injury, fish don't leave the water and innovation teams aren't in demand until an emergency arises.  If the lack of context isn't enough, much innovation happens only when the stakes are the highest.  Fish don't leave the water unless they have to or are forced to.  Innovation teams face the added pressure of finding a solution to an emergency, while working under time constraints and in an uncertain and unfamiliar context.  Research shows that most people under extreme stress focus only on the immediate solutions at hand and ignore other data or evidence.  People under extreme stress make the wrong decisions when all the data is reviewed in hindsight.  Just as a fish flops from one side to another, trying desperately to return to water, people rush back and forth to find a fast solution to emergency situations, rarely giving the issue the consideration it needs.

Innovation in many firms is a story of people who are unprepared to leave a comfortable context who are asked to design and create unusual and valuable concepts under significant time and resource constraints while under high anxiety and questionable reward structures.

Innovation Business As Usual

I wrote in Relentless Innovation that we need to move from operating models focused solely on efficiency to operating models that incorporate both efficiency and innovation - creating an innovation business as usual operating model, where innovation is part of the "context" of everyday work.  Teams won't be good innovators by watching others, or reading books about innovation, but must become accustomed to the different environments presented by innovation.  They must acclimate themselves, just as the first fish that slowly began to breathe air did over time.  They must gain skills in the new roles and tasks assigned to them, or they will revert to their old tools and methods, which are comfortable and familiar.  And they must be able to work in a fashion that indicates that success is measured by outcomes not timeframes.

The good news is that unlike the fish that evolved to breathe air, our innovation teams can evolve and become comfortable in different contexts far more quickly, but only if they are allowed the time to adjust and acclimate, only if their rewards and compensation encourage them to do so, and only if they are provided with the tools necessary to succeed in the new context. 
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:52 AM 0 comments

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

These aren't the ideas you are looking for

As a guy of a certain age, who grew up with the Star Wars franchise, and who is happily passing it along to his son, I think many aspects of life can be related with a Star Wars reference.  Of course I'm going to skip over some of the franchise's less than stellar characters (I'm looking at you, Ewoks, and you, Jar-Jar).  What were they thinking?

But I digress.  As everyone knows, a masterful Jedi controls his emotions and his situation.  He or she has such control that Jedi Masters can influence the thinking of others whose "weak" minds are susceptible to influence.  Thus it was in Mos Eisley that Obi-Wan Kenobi was able to convince the Storm Troopers that "these aren't the droids you are looking for", even though they most certainly were the droids they were looking for.  It's the old trope - who are you going to believe, me, or your lying eyes?

Obi-Wan's capability with the force allows him to influence and blind a group of Storm Troopers to the obvious truth, telling them that the androids in his possession aren't the robots that the troopers have been sent to find.  With a simple mind trick he diverts the troopers' attention, and goes blithely on his way.  What's not so well known is that many executives have similar powers.  Their power of suggestion is at least as powerful as the Jedis, when it comes to innovation.

These aren't the ideas you are looking for

While any executive may ask for new ideas to create a new product or service, the honest truth is that ANY executive can derail the search for interesting ideas by suggesting the ideas are too small or too large, products rather than services, too early or too late.  A simple recommendation, a question out of context or a signal with negative body language can throw an entire innovation team into suspended animation, as they attempt to read the tea leaves and please not only the individual who started the activity, but also respond to every executive request, question and whim.

Most innovation teams are cross-functional, structured that way to introduce more experience and perspectives and to ensure many of the business functions are represented.  While one executive may need a new product or service, all of the team members report to a wide array of managers and executives who may, or may not, be all that enthralled with the innovation need and the kinds of ideas being generated.  It's a simple act to place a question in the ear of an innovation team member, or to remind the team of a failure from years ago, or to illuminate a potentially competing product, and quickly have the entire team questioning the wisdom of pursuing a particular path.

Clarity, Consistency, Continuity

The executive mind trick is sometimes intentional, when competing priorities mean that executives want to derail projects or simply regain resources allocated in other places.  In many cases the executive mind trick is accidental, an executive simply asking questions or making statements that cause the team to rethink its position.  Innovation is difficult enough for an untrained, undermanned team with limited time and resources.  No idea is perfect, and any doubt or uncertainty introduced about the team or its ideas is likely to distract or even derail the team.

What defeats the intentional or unintentional innovation mind trick are three factors:  clarity, consistency and continuity.  Clarity defines the strategies, goals, and commitments.  Innovation activities are often started with little clarity about means and goals.  The more clarity the sponsor provides, the more difficult it is for another executive to distract the team.  Consistency describes sticking to the path in the face of adversity.  Every project faces unexpected hiccups, and innovation projects even more so.  Executive sponsors must understand the deviations that are possible but remain steadfastly focused on the end goal, and encourage the innovation team to do the same.  Finally, continuity is important.  The more every executive gets in line and says the same things to the team, encouraging and supporting rather than questioning and dividing, the more likely the team is to find a valuable outcome.

What ideas are we looking for?

The most challenging issue that many innovation teams face is that they know how the ideas they are generating must be evaluated, but don't know how to reach that desired end state.  In other words they know that the ideas must generate more revenue or more profits, attract more customers or disrupt the competition, but those are end goals that can be delivered through many different means.  What type of ideas are we looking for?   Incremental or disruptive?  Products or Services?  Internal or External?  With definition comes the ability to defend the idea, but without definition or defined scope any executive can reasonably question any idea the team presents.

Many executives know that their people and teams hate uncertainty and ambiguity more than any other feedback.  Asking questions or making statements to an innovation team that introduces uncertainty or suggests different priorities or knowledge ramps up the anxiety and slows the team's progress.  With a simple question or statement that isn't aligned to the team's understanding or goals, any executive can send a ripple through even a strong innovation team or activity.  This is the executive innovation mind trick, and it derails innovation more frequently than you'd imagine.  Sometimes it is accidental, sometimes on purpose, but in either case the innovation team must be hardened to identify and respond to questions or signals that seem to cast doubt on their work.  Only an engaged executive with a clear definition and consistent feedback and oversight of the innovation team can do that.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:30 AM 0 comments