We were asked a really good question last week with the visit to Bromford of the Disruptive Innovators Network.
How long should you spend on an idea?
In the early days of Bromford Lab we had a 12 WEEKS MAX rule. If we couldn’t get an idea up and running within that time – it should be killed.
We soon realised the error of our ways. Some ideas need to be timed exactly right. Now we don’t so much kill ideas as leave them languishing in the pits of our Exploration Pipeline – waiting for the stars to align.
The Premature Death of Ideas
Many organisations , without realising it , act as inhibitors of innovation.
Our colleagues generate ideas every single day about how their job could be done more efficiently or how customers could be better served. These ideas – hundreds of thousands over the course of a year – mostly disappear , never to be harvested.
Organisations have developed numerous tools to kill off ideas.
1: Have A Meeting About It
The best way to assassinate an idea.
Meetings can crush ideas. People want to look like they are adding something in meetings and being hypercritical is highly valued. Putting your freshly hatched idea in that scenario is asking for trouble.
It’s only a matter of time before someone says “That sounds good in theory, but what’s the business benefit?” or even…“We’ve already tried that.”
Meetings are the best place to shoot down an unsuspecting victim who is trying to generate new ideas.
2: Take It To Your Manager
The middle layers of organisations are trapped between management (keeping wheels turning and not rocking the boat) and leadership (inspiring and taking risk).
People here are often scared to take risks because they’re responsible for so much. The bright spark on the team is often seeing as someone who is trying to mess with success.
There is evidence too that managers can undermine employee creativity through interference – changing goals and getting over involved when they should just steer clear.
3: Suggest The Idea Is “Escalated”
Most hierarchical structures are uniquely designed to ensure that any decent idea never goes near the top table.
Any idea that emerges closest to the customer has to work its way up through a series of managers, any one of whom is likely to veto it. As David Burkus points out, research suggests that there is often a cognitive bias against new, innovative ideas – a “hierarchy of no”.
The higher an idea moves up the chain of command, the more likely it is to be rejected, as the people furthest from the idea’s source will have a lesser understanding of its potential value.
4: Ask For A Report On It
Once you’ve written a report about an idea – it’s no longer an idea. It’s a project.
That will attract all sorts of project management attention, far too early. As soon as the Gaant chart appears it’s time to pack up and go home.
5: Ask To See The Data On It
“Data fixation” is an innovation killer. The trend towards having an evidence base for absolutely everything removes the gut instinct from your idea. Measuring things too early means you constrain experimentation. And experimentation includes the possibility, the high probability even, of failure.
It’s not necessary, or even possible, to completely remove these idea killers. But knowing your enemy , and developing strategies to avoid these pitfalls, will boost your capability for innovation.
The Four Stages of Ideation
Often we think of ideas as being single events when instead they should happen in stages:
Having the idea is the easy part. What separates successful innovation approaches over ‘innovation theatre’ is the latter promotes generation over action. The successful ones know know that an idea without execution remains simply that—an idea, a paper exercise, no more impactful than a passing thought.
Most of our organisations don’t suffer from a lack of ideas, they suffer from a lack of process that identifies the ideas worth having. It’s not an idea problem; it’s a recognition problem.
Perversely, the answer to unlocking creativity isn’t to go looking for ideas – but to go looking for really good problems. That’s the way to select the ideas that matter.
We need to move from reporting about things we are going to do and shift it to things we have done.
Spend less time talking about ‘What would happen?’ and start demonstrating ‘What happened’. That means we need to make available resources for prototyping and space where we can turn ideas into reality.
Your ideas might be wrong, even when your instincts are right. Knowing when to let go is vital.
Innovation is all about discipline in the creation and implementation of new ideas that create value. If ideas are allowed to live too long they can become zombie projects.
To support innovation , we need to create a climate that protects early stage ideas and become comfortable existing with ambiguity.
Rather than just being highly efficient killers our organisations need to become better at idea generation, selection, deployment AND extermination.
And if you’re really struggling to get traction for your idea why don’t you follow this advice from Helen Reynolds? Don’t tell anyone about and just do it anyway.