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Keys for Driving Your Innovation Potential

October 10th, 2014

I can say with confidence based on more than 30 years of research involving both desktop analytics and face to face interviews with practitioners that THE difference between the industry leading firms and the rest of the pack is NOT superior operational efficiency (although that is at a high level) it is a superior business model.

Here are 7 keys that I have observed drives the innovation potential in any organization:

  1. You need to really understand your clients by seeing the world through the lens of their eyes. This is called developing empathy and in the business model generation literature it’s achieved with a tool called an Empathy Map.
  2. You need understand that innovation is NOT simply about technology breakthroughs (e.g. cloud delivered applications.) In every organization there are at least 10 areas which are potential candidates for game-changing innovation to occur. At the level of a firm, moving to a cloud platform is not innovating, it’s just a smart operating decision. Innovation is how the firm figures out a different way to harness that technology to deliver a superior client value proposition and capture a part of the superior value more effectively than its competitors.
  3. One of the richest sources of innovation potential is to be found by looking beyond simply performing a job that your clients need done and seeking ways to contribute a higher transformative impact. This typically mandates working with clients in respect of whom this is possible and therefore has as much to do with client selection as it does with innovation …. but here’s an idea …. having clearly defined client selection criteria is a form of innovation and firms that understand that find themselves way ahead of the pack.
  4. Innovation do not come from incrementally improving current processes BUT they do come from rejecting current orthodoxy and that might involve turning those processes on their head and seeing what falls out.
  5. The last place to find innovative ideas is to look at what is called common industry practice. That reflects the implementation of previous innovations. Competitive advantage is not to be found here.
  6. Embrace the “impossible.” What people believe is impossible is where advantage lies because breakthroughs can only occur when there’s a barrier.
  7. Use PO not YES or NO. Edward DeBono invented a word call PO as a contrary thinking tool. You can interpret it in different ways but it sits between YES and NO and means possiblity option or other possibility. The binary Yes/No represents the essence of lateral thinking but “lateral” is not how our brain is structured.

New ideas are the source of innovative breakthroughs but too often they die on the vine. Below I have listed 13 ways great ideas submitted by your team members can be killed before they see the light of day. Have a look at them and ask yourself how you stack up:

  1. Point out all the reasons it won’t work, this will ensure that the reasons it might work will not need to be addressed.
  2. Say you’ll look into an idea and then just sit on it.
  3. Laugh hysterically and ignore the suggestion. You’ll find that this tactic will effectively prevent you from again being subjected to ideas.
  4. Remind the proponent that his last idea was a total failure or, on a similar theme, remind him what happened to the last person who came up with a failed idea.
  5. Tell the proponent that she doesn’t understand the broader issues. That will remind her that good ideas only come from people at the top.
  6. Ask for a report containing a detailed analysis that you know the proponent is not capable of doing or will require a lot of time, and at the same time give the proponent five other tasks to perform so that further analysis of the idea gets pushed to the bottom of the list of priorities.
  7. Change the subject e.g. ask the proponent how his current project is going. That will be a reminder that team members are paid to work not to think.
  8. Attack any holes in the suggestion – that’s a great way to make someone feel stupid for even raising it.
  9. Ask for all the details to be outlined immediately. That usually makes the proponent realize that the idea has not been thought through fully and sloppy thinking will not be tolerated.
  10. Say we have already thought of that. That will remind the proponent that he is no smarter than people who have been there for some time and that as a newcomer he is not yet qualified to make suggestions.
  11. Say that we have already agreed to go with some other idea. That will send a message that unless you’re part of the insider decision-making group you’ll probably waste your time thinking about new ideas.
  12. Say we’ve tried that before. The implication here is that the idea did not work and by implication it cost time and money so the firm would have been better off if it had never seen the light of day.
  13. Say we’ve done it this way for 50 years and there’s no reason to change now.
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