Innovation – not an agenda item
Ideas where do they come from? John Cleese (English Comedian) is very clear on the subject. “I don’t know where ideas come from, but I know it is not my laptop”. Richard Watson in his book Future Minds devotes many pages to getting ourselves away from the laptop and into the habit and habitat of generating ideas. Innovation is not an agenda item. It does not happen to order.
At a micro-level, how does one encourage innovation? To generate innovations we need a stream of ideas. How do we encourage a stream of ideas? And given a stream of ideas how so we filter, harness and develop them into innovations?
First things first, as Thomas Edison says “The way to have good ideas is to have lots of them.” So we need to establish an environment where ideas can be encouraged and expressed freely. Where do you have ideas? Usually someplace quiet, sometimes when something established and something new bump into each other.
How do you express an idea? Any ideas I have usually start as a scribble on a white board, have five or six words written around it and then a steady stream of conversations with a diverse range of people over coffee, beer and spirits until it morphs and grows a justification that will allow it a life or death of its own making.
Some people have great difficulty with this part of the process. They are shy, unsure and reluctant to share the notion. Some are worried they will lose control of the idea – have it stolen -. Some think the idea is too small and not worth talking about.
Nurturing innovation starts long before development, it starts in expecting people to talk about novelty and process improvement on a day to day basis. Some people are naturally more communicative than others. Hands up all the extroverts, – it is the others I’m concerned about. Nudging our introverts towards socializing their thoughts is important, they are half of the population and sometimes the deepest thinkers. Skilled practitioners seem to handle this phase all by themselves, they converse, push, nudge and influence until the idea is either supported or shelved, usually for another. The challenge is to get everyone into the habit of trying to change their world by aspiring to have their pet idea implemented. An innovation is useful to someone, even if it is only one person.
The effects on staff morale should not be underestimated. People who are bought into change in their day to day working lives, who have a sense of ownership in that change that makes them glow with positive attitude, are the colleagues we want.
We have a star chamber where ideas are matched with resources (limited) and implementation projects discussed. This is where the filtering begins, having your idea put in cold storage is not pleasant and can be discouraging, but it must be explained that it is a necessary part of the process. This is I think the right problem to have, too many good ideas to implement.
This process should be managed like any other departmental or group initiative, it requires senior management sponsorship, funding, rewards, recognition and occasional rejuvenation. It should fit with the company patent application process, rewards and incentive programs.
Innovation itself may not be an agenda item, but the process of nurturing a culture of innovation should appear on agenda at every level.
February 25, 2011
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