Three Ways Organisations Kill Ideas (And How You Can Remove Them)

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 Many organisations , without realising it , act as inhibitors of innovation.

Rules and protocols are put in place – often for very good reasons – that preserve the status quo.  Over time, organisations develop a set of social norms – ‘the way we do things around here’ – that either promote creativity or quell it.

Our employees generate ideas every single day about how their job could be done more efficiently. These ideas – thousands over the course of a year – mostly disappear , never to be harvested.

It’s a chronic waste of knowledge that organisations must make it a priority to unlock.

However , simply unleashing ideas just isn’t enough.

The odds of a turtle hatchling reaching adulthood are said to be 1 in 1,000. But in most organisations the chance of an idea reaching maturity has significantly worse odds.

As I detailed in my last conference slot – getting your organisation innovation ready means facing off three of the biggest threats to the survival of ideas.

1: Meetings

Meetings are the number one idea killer in any organisation.

Meetings can crush ideas. They are all too often a corporate power play where ego runs rampant. 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 might have been a bad idea. It might have changed the world. We’ll never know – because someone just beat the hell out of it.  

I’ve been in meetings where senior leaders have debated the pros and the cons of an idea (usually the cons) that hasn’t even reached proof of concept.

Solution: create a space where an idea can take its first few breaths without someone trampling all over it. Let it come to life in a nurturing environment where we can see if it solves the right problems.

And keep managers out. There is evidence that managers can undermine employee creativity through interference – changing goals and getting over involved when they should just steer clear.

Only present it to a meeting after a test has demonstrated it’s actually worth doing. Arm yourself with evidence and a working prototype.

2: Hierarchy

Most corporate structures are uniquely designed to ensure that any decent idea never goes near the top table.

Think about it. 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 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.

It’s going to be difficult for any of us to abandon our organisational structures – but there are ways you can create a “hierarchy of yes.”

Ideally you’ll have the resources to establish an Innovation Lab or Intrapreneurship programme , but in truth any of us can create a virtual space that brings together innovators.

Internal social networks are great places to crowdsource ideas without being tied to the traditional corporate system.

Bypass the middle management ground and go straight to source.

Provocative ideas and posts will help identify innovators who you can work with to bring about change. It’s important that any informal group you establish is non-hierarchical. Swarming around a problem with very disparate points of view is often where the magic happens.

If that all fails just take this advice from Helen Reynolds: adopt guerilla innovation – just don’t tell anyone what you’re doing.

3: Job Descriptions

Job Descriptions are a much underrated enemy of innovation.

They encourage people to play it safe, keep their head down and do the very minimum. They are essentially a one pager on how not to be sacked – an insurance policy against someone screwing up.

However the effects of traditional JD’s are far reaching. They discourage risk taking and imagining better ways to perform the role (such as making it unnecessary in the first place.)

Job descriptions are like organisational treacle. They cause inertia because the moment employees are given specific responsibilities they expect them to stand still. Forever.

Additionally JD’s encourage organisational silos. They demand that people only think of the service from their point of view , rather than how the entire organisation impacts on the customer.

There are a number of solutions here.

The first is to abandon job descriptions altogether and move to a system of role priorities. Too radical for the public sector? Not really. Redkite Community Housing have recently done that very thing.

Secondly you could stick with JD’s but sex them up – making it clear they are actively working against the status quo. You can read more in my top five rules for job descriptions.  Disclosure: I do have a JD (although I’ve never read it to be honest).

The most achievable way of breaking away from silo thinking is to establish a way for colleagues to pitch ideas that benefit the customer. Establishing one point in your organisation that evaluates and acts upon bright ideas from stakeholders, customers and colleagues is the simplest way to make innovation part of everyone’s job.

Our environment is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous and interconnected. We can’t afford to have our organisations stifled by the protocols of a very different age.

It’s not necessary, or even possible, to completely remove these three idea killers. But knowing your enemy , and developing strategies to avoid these pitfalls, will boost your capability for innovation.

Why the Bromford Innovation Lab is only recruiting via Twitter

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Imagine a future where you don’t have a CV or resume. A future where your talent and achievements are broken down into tweetable chunks. Your professional life , and a good bit of your personal too, is available online for all to see. You are scored according to your worth and the value of your followers. Your score can determine whether you get that job interview – Me , March 2013 – How Social Media Could Get You Your Next Job 

The first and only time I start a post quoting myself. Honest.

Next week marks the launch of the Bromford Innovation Lab – a new venture that we are very excited about.

What makes it different is the way it will work.

It consists of Lab sessions each lasting 12 weeks and run four times a year. During those 12 weeks we’ll be hosting a number of problems and designing multiple solutions to help solve them. And if we can’t design a solution in 12 weeks – it gets shelved. We won’t fear failure – we expect up to 75% of concepts won’t proceed at first attempt.

It’s rapid innovation for a connected age where none of our organisations can keep up with the pace of change.

The Lab is less of a new team and more of a social network formed around problem solving through creativity.

And working differently means attracting people who will thrive in that environment.

The Lab is open to anyone who wants to collaborate with us. We’ll be launching a new website and social networking links over the next few weeks.

But we also have a number of paid opportunities for people who want to work with us more closely.

So today starts a very different way of attracting that talent.

I’ve posted before on the rise of the Social CV and the ground breaking work done by the likes of Vala Afshar in attracting talent.

Social media has made the CV redundant. We are all searchable – and increasing amounts of us are sharing our knowledge online to build our networks and collaborate.

New and powerful connections are being born and the Lab aims to help us maximise the power of these relationships. We want to cast the net far and wide with the Innovation Lab – as well as giving opportunities to colleagues at Bromford.

Welcome to our first Twitter only recruitment.  

Here’s a brief guide to the Lab:

We feel we need three Lab Leads – Digital , Design and Data. These will help us grow our networks in those disciplines and work with us modelling and testing concepts in the Lab. The people profiles are published at the bottom of the post.

We are not publishing salaries for a very specific reason. People might already have another job or business that they wish to retain and just give us a couple of days a week. Or we might consider a match funding arrangement. Or you might want to work full time (the maximum we can offer right now is 12 month fixed term). We are really trying to break the mold in the diversity of talent that the Lab works with.

Obviously we have a fixed budget for these roles but we want to be flexible to what people can offer us.

So firstly we want to begin a conversation with people about whether this is something they are interested in. They might have loads of experience or are at the very early stages of their career.

  • We are not accepting CVs or application forms and will select people to talk to exclusively via Twitter. People have to provide online evidence of skills that are in the public realm.
  • Registering an interest will begin on 9th May and end on 18th May.
  • Three specifications will be posted via Twitter at the beginning of the selection period from the account of @paulbromford. These are also posted below.
  • All interested people should apply via Twitter using the account @paulbromford. Interest doesn’t have to be registered publicly and can be sent by direct message (DM). If you want to apply publicly then please use hashtag #bromfordlab
  • Direct messages should point us to sites and useful links that demonstrate your social CV
  • Experience must be demonstrated via web content – i.e. blogs, community involvement, endorsements, news articles and other searchable publications. It is acceptable to group these links together into one site as long as it is public.
  • We will use Google and/or other search engines for publicly available data.
  • We would expect interested parties to be able to demonstrate social influence within their relevant communities. Evidence of being an influencer in the digital , design,  data or social innovation communities is welcomed.
  • During the selection period, we will select people for chats via Google Hangout. In the event of high demand we will use a shortlist criteria based on the fit with the person profile as demonstrated via Social CV.
  • All people will be advised about their progress. All expressions of interest will be logged to ensure we get back to people.
  • Your expression of interest will not be shared publicly unless you make it public.
  • People who want to proceed after the Google Hangout will be given details of a second stage.
  • Although our physical Lab space is based in the Midlands we are open to discussions of remote working.

Here are the profiles:

Digital Lead Profile:

 

Data Lead Profile:

 

Design Lead Profile:

Will identifying talent in this way work? Who knows? Like everything else the Lab does it’s an experiment.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the approach

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