How To Kill Ideas

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:

Idea Generation

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.

Idea Selection

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.

Idea Deployment

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.

Idea Extermination

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.

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Photo by Jason Abdilla on Unsplash

The Big Tech Trends For 2016 (and why you shouldn’t believe them)

 

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In late 2010 my personal assistant Sarah-Jane conducted an experiment on me – without my permission or knowledge.

Unknown to me at the time she took my effusive notes from a couple of “Future Service” conferences and sealed them as a private entry in my diary to be opened in 5 years time.

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I was pretty surprised to see “READ ME. Has it come true?” pop up in outlook.

Sarah-Jane no longer works for me but she was a bit of an oddity (in a nice way). A millennial who had a deep mistrust of creeping technology and the digitisation of our culture. She’d closed her Facebook account and challenged me about my burgeoning cheerleading for tech and social business.

“Do you honestly believe any of this stuff will actually happen?” she said of my conference notes. “You should keep this – and check if any of it does”.

Let’s look at the main predictions and whether they have come true.  (A copy of my report is here. The original was on Microsoft word. We had no work access to Google Docs in 2010)

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Not a very good strike rate overall. In fact this is a great illustration of the fallibility of futurology. It has become known as Amara’s Law , that we tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

All these things are available , just not evenly distributed. I can buy a robot assistant from Japan but I still can’t get decent wifi at Manchester Airport.

It seems the futurologists may have been more successful in predicting the changing relationship between organisations and their customers.

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Although the concept of social business is a slow burn in many organisations I think we’ve largely underestimated the way our work behaviours have changed.

Sarah-Jane has made me realise how far the world of work has progressed in five years.

  • I sit next to a 3D printer.
  • Except I don’t sit I stand – as I don’t have a desk.
  • I don’t use a single work owned device – it’s all my own.
  • I don’t use Word anymore. Or Excel. Or Powerpoint. (Yes, I’m still stuck with Outlook)
  • We publish everything we are working on online , accessible for anyone.
  • We have an Xbox and Wii U in the office.
  • We don’t measure what the team do in hours. They work when they want.
  • I work on solving problems with people in different time zones.
  • I chat with customers in real time, unrestricted by office hours.
  • I get fewer emails everyday.
  • I hardly ever go to meetings.
  • Yesterday I took part in a Google Hangout with people from all over the world.

In our rush to celebrate technology as an end in itself we risk forgetting how simple tools are allowing us to reshape relationships and extend our networks. Five years ago Bromford were still some months away from sending their first tweet. I would have been laughed out of the building for suggesting we need an innovation lab. Our collective network today is light years away from where we were.

When I read my secret message I whatsapped Sarah-Jane to tell her I’d read it (we don’t text anymore). She’d forgotten she posted it and agreed more had come true than had not. I told her I read her return message on my Apple Watch. She said “I knew you’d fall for buying one of those. What a geek. Some things never change”.

Perhaps we all need a little more cynicism when it comes to the big tech trends. It’s the small changes that are going on around us unnoticed that can make the biggest difference to people’s lives.

 

Holiday in Cambodia: 13 Innovations in Pictures

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In 1975 Cambodia attempted the most radical reinvention of society and community in history.

This was ‘Year Zero’ – a beginning of a new era where people would return to a mythic past. Self sufficiency and collectivism were promoted, technology and creativity mistrusted. City dwellers, professionals and intellectuals returned to toil the land alongside peasants.

About 1.7 million people , 20% of the population, died in the ensuing madness.

Proof – if it were needed – that not all social innovations are good ones.

Cambodia truly has been to hell and back. Today economic growth is robust, poverty is still high (but falling) and there is a burgeoning startup movement. Siem Reap has been named the top tourist destination in Asia and number 2 in the whole world.

Here’s my pictorial guide to 13 things I found creative, quirky or were simply great experiences.

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Making Flights Less Boring: I’m always interested to see how airlines are making the experience of spending 15 hours in a cramped metal tube less traumatic. In flight wifi is gradually rolling out and although far from perfect enables you to squeeze out an occasional instagram shot. I loved the Qatar Airways boxsets collecting themed films. Marvel cinematic universe and free drinks – perfect!!

 

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Tuk Tuk Customer Care: It’s hard to describe the traffic carnage of Phnom Penh. I asked a driver what the road rules were – he just shook his head sadly. But the proliferation of cheap transport encourages all sort of entrepreneurs determined to standout from the crowd.  This driver pulled over and bought us a couple of face masks to protect us from the fumes. Another gave us a couple of bottles of water. It’s like Uber – just without someone in Silicon Valley taking all the cash.
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Connected Travel: This driver has taken his Tuk Tuk to the ultimate bling level and installed free wifi. There are large parts of the UK with poor public transport and no connectivity – is it far fetched to imagine this as a solution? Note: I did see this Tuk Tuk but failed to get a picture. My instabuddy Miss Mel Travel kindly donated her pic – check out her instagram it’s awesome.

 

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The Future of Alternative Protein: Insects should become a staple of people’s diets around the world as an environmentally friendly alternative to meat. That’s not me saying that – but the UK government’s waste agency. Cambodians are a step ahead in that they’ve overcome the yuck factor. Seriously, this is healthy stuff and tastes a lot better than McDonald’s. Insect banks rather than food banks anyone? (I did do a shaky vine of me eating a deep fried tarantula but I wasn’t a fan. That abdomen was a bit mushy and funky)
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Weirdness: I asked a local guy the significance of this statue and he replied “everyone likes big dragon”. You can’t argue with that.

Wifi in the Sea: Our desire for connectivity knows no bounds. Hotels and bars are competing with each other to offer ever better wifi connections. This place on Otres Beach nailed it with connectivity that worked a good 100 metres into the ocean. My first experience of vining, instagramming and downloading music (the new Bowie album) from the water.

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RIP Dave: 48 hours later and Blackstar sounded a very different record. I didn’t get into Bowie until my mid twenties largely due to my good friend Kirsty Nicholls. (I spent most of my teenage years listening to Prince and Public Enemy and generally wishing I was black.) To anyone working in innovation Bowie will always be an inspiration for his constant experimentation – and total fearlessness when it came to failure. I’m not sure what it would look like if he’d designed public services – but they sure as hell wouldn’t be so boring. Salute.
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The Rise of the Selfie: So you get up at 4:30am to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat. Problem is, so has every other tourist – all looking for the perfect photo. A load of semi-pro photographers stood around with the tripods getting annoyed whilst 14 year old girls with iphones and sticks got in their way. Photography just got democratised. Buyer’s tip: You need to rise above the crowds, size really does matter when it comes to a decent selfie stick…
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Business Doing Good: I visited some amazing non-profits in Cambodia but one thing struck me – they didn’t look like non-profits. I’m generalising terribly here but a lot of the social sector in the UK has an image problem and I think many could look and learn from examples in the developing world. The wonderful Sandan Restaurant  is part of an alliance of training restaurants working with youth in need. The students serve you aided by a teacher, giving them vital skills in the world of work. It’s busy – we had to wait for a table. But people aren’t there to be kind to kids – they are there for the awesome food.

 

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Frugal Innovation: A wallet made from trash and old noodle packets. This is an initiative of M’Lop Tapang a local non profit who help street kids and parents who might be tempted to send them out begging.  The profits go to supporting at risk families and keeping kids in school. Cambodia has a huge trash problem – so this helps in a small way to keep the streets cleaner too.  
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Keep It Simple Stupid: This was brilliant – a hotel that gives you an old Nokia with just three numbers in it. Dial 1 for reception. Dial 2 for your personal driver and if you ever get lost or are a bit drunk Dial 3 and we’ll come and bring you home. No other tech needed. I’ll be devoting a whole post to the radical retake of the traditional hotel concept from De Saraan Villa.
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Street Level Entrepreneurs: Loved this pop up bar. Literally a bar grafted onto the side of a motorbike. The guy drives around to where the crowds are. It would never work in the UK, we’d think of 50 health and safety reasons to prevent him from kickstarting his business.
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Mobile Child Care: OK.. so we do need some some rules…

 

 

A country bouncing back from the brink with fresh thinking , drive and determination. Loved my trip and hope some of the ideas inspire you as much as they did me.

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The 2011 Top 10 Social Media Moments @bromfordgroup – My Pick

2011 has a been a pivotal year for the customers and colleagues of Bromford Group. They have embraced social media and used it in new ways to communicate about their work , lives , interests and idea’s.

Here’s my personal Top Ten:

1 – Losing the Fear Factor. Deciding to allow all colleagues unlimited access to Twitter and Facebook was a watershed moment in creating social media freedom in the workplace

2 – Engaging in New Ways. Our Customer Influence Group took transparency to new levels by opening up meetings to social media – blending the physical world with online debates in real time

3 – Leading from the Top. Having social media as a valued form of communication is a leadership behaviour. So getting our CEO to encourage colleagues to get online was a key moment. Join him on Twitter @mickkent2

4 – Getting Down With The Kids. Cirencester based young peoples initiative – The Ozone – developed their own website and Facebook page – and have done such a great job attracting people to activities, advice , education and employment opportunities

5 – Getting better at Communications. Using Yammer as our internal social network has allowed people who have never tried social media to dip a toe into warm and friendly waters. But it has also developed an easy way for colleagues to get to know each other.  And keep in touch with what Leaders are working on

6 – Giving people an opportunity. Burntwood Job Club has used social media to attract 100 members – getting 14 people back into work, 9 people onto volunteer placements and 18 people into training

7 – Social Media Training. Not by using expensive and out of touch consultants , but by using local youth radio station Kic FM to provide our managers and executive with awareness sessions , practical advice and help on setting up social media accounts

8 – Standing Up To Gangs. NO POSTCODES used YouTube to get their anti gangs , guns and knives message to the world. Watch it again. And again.

9 – Sharing experiences. Not every colleague can get an invite to No.10 Downing St. But they can get to be a part of the experience by having it recorded on flip camera’s and shared immediately via social media

10 – Making New Friends. By losing the fear factor we’ve made some great new friends and expanded our network – not just in the Housing sector – but in Web Development, Communications, Social Innovation, Enterprise , Health , not just in the UK but worldwide. From all of us at Bromford – Have a wonderful Christmas and an amazing 2012