Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Gaining a different perspective

It's said that Ginger Rogers was the best dancer in the world, since she danced with all the great male dancers and did everything they did, except she did it backwards and in high heels. This says a lot about her talent, and also a lot about her perspective. She expected to do things as well as the male lead, just with a very different approach and with a unique set of challenges.

What strikes me about corporate innovation is that everyone wants to play the male lead. They know the part, they know the steps, they know the music. It's a comfortable part already defined and it leads right back to the same place. The comfortable, well-known roles don't provide the perspectives that are necessary and don't introduce any new music or new moves, so eventually what started out as innovation becomes the standard issue waltz back to regular business as usual.

No, to innovate one must obtain a fresh perspective, a new insight. Imagine if you will taking Ginger Roger's role in those famous musicals. She had to trust her partner to lead her in directions she couldn't see, and match his moves while moving in an uncomfortable direction and gait in shoes that had to have been uncomfortable. That has a lot of parallels for innovators - moving into spaces we aren't quite sure about, being led by our customers and markets in uncomfortable directions using methods and techniques that perhaps we aren't expert in, to end up in a completely new place.

What is often interesting is how similar many innovation programs are to work that is underway in a business that is not innovation. The same project management tools are applied, the same staffing models are used, the same team facilitation, the same meeting spaces, the same data, the same perspectives. In the midst of all this sameness we are expecting something radically new and different? Who are we kidding? For innovation programs to succeed, we need to gain a new set of perspectives.

Start with your product perspective. Perhaps instead of examining your capabilities and determining what to create based on what you can build, what we like to call inside out innovation, perhaps you should consider what unmet or undiscovered needs customers have and determine how to deliver those products and services - innovating based on what customers want and need, not necessarily what you are expert in doing. If your starting point is always "what we know and are good at" then you can't create dramatic change.

What would happen if you innovation team was formed differently? Perhaps you invite customers as a regular part of your innovation team, from the outset. Or perhaps you meet differently, in a shopping mall or airport lounge rather than the office. Or perhaps you decide from the outset to cannabilize or eliminate one of your best products, to understand how to leapfrog to the next best thing. Any, or all, of these approaches would raise alarm bells with most management teams, and they should. But if your innovation team isn't pushing the envelope and radically reconsidering everything, then you are likely to end up right where you started.

OK, so perhaps you can't overturn years of corporate culture in one initiative. Could you meet outside the office ocassionally? Gain more direct customer insight by visiting customers rather than reading market research? Circle your desks and co-locate your team to encourage more brainstorming and innovation team development?

Let's start becoming Ginger and worry less about being Fred, then we'll be more open to innovation possibilities.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:09 AM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's hard to come up with good metaphors and you've got a great one here. Congrats!

6:30 PM  
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