Friday, October 8, 2010

Hurdles are for

Jumping over.
The hurdles to innovation are similar. Our own personal middle managers are culprits keen to sidetrack creative ideas before they even have a chance to become innovations. There are numerous reasons for this. As we manage our day to day activities our internal  manager may fear that if we follow-up on a brilliant idea we will move into new areas and out of our comfort zone. She/he may not want to deal with the change implicit in implementing the idea. He/She may fear the loss of her own power through as another part of  our brain takes charge of implementing a potentially innovative idea.

This is not to say that all our internal managers are innovation hurdles. Rather that in many of us our internal managers are perceived as hurdles. On the other hand, when we are open to new ideas our internal managers are  conducive to the innovation process, it is a huge benefit to us. But when they are hurdles, that becomes a problem.

Problems Are Challenges
But wait! As we have learned before the innovation process typically starts with a problem. It simply needs to be turned into a challenge so that people can work on solving the problem with creative ideas!

The first step in the creative problem solving process, which is the basis of the front end of any viable innovation process, is to understand better the problem.

The second step in the process, and this is the most important step, is to use the information from step one in order to ask why questions, for example: “why is our internal managers suppressing ideas?” 

The answer might be: “because we have no motivation to push good ideas forward.” That's a good answer. But it's not good enough. Indeed, the best practice is to ask “why?” five times. By doing so, you may discover that you are not rewarding yourself  for new ideas; you believe you are overly pressured to perform routine tasks; and that you believe you may lose face if you back a failing idea. In short, you are not rewarded in any way for pushing ideas forward, even if those ideas are winners, but you believe that you risk consequences if an idea we champion does not work.

In such an environment, any potentially innovative idea starts with a tremendous handicap. Moreover, one can hardly our internal manager for discouraging ideas.

Evaluation Criteria 

The next step in the innovation process is to define the criteria by which you will evaluate ideas. This can be done before or after the idea generation process, but it is usually more smarter to do it beforehand. In this situation, criteria will probably include: viability of implementing the idea, ease of implementing the idea, expected effectiveness of the idea; avoidance of conflict from middle managers, minimal disruption (In some cases, you may actually want to encourage disruption in a new process. But, for all the sexiness of “disruptive innovation” the truth is, most of us do not like their lives to be disrupted)

With this information, it becomes relatively easy to formulate one or more innovation challenges that can be used to generate ideas. For example: “in what ways might we motivate [or 'reward'] ourselves to champion new ideas?"or “in what ways might we encourage our internal managers to start more innovative projects?”

At this stage, you go through the usual idea generation process and get lots of ideas. This done, you can combine ideas and evaluate them using the criteria you have identified. Now, does that not sound like a lot more fun than moaning about middle managers being hurdles to innovation?

Best of all, this process can be used to identify and define other hurdles to innovation as well as generate ideas to solve them. Indeed, the biggest hurdle to innovation is probably allowing hurdles to become insurmountable. But you would never catch a leader thinking that way!

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