Five Common Innovation and Change Mistakes

by Idris Mootee

Common Wisdom Regarding Purposeful Or Successful Innovation Is Wrong

by Idris Mootee

Five Common Innovation and Change MistakesWalk into a Barnes and Noble you can find dozens of books on innovation. There are books ranging from teaching the ‘how to” to teaching creative thinking. There are not many good ones simply because the subject is a moving target with rules being broken and created every day. Meanwhile existing tools are becoming obsolete, and best practices are often worst practices. Much that is held as common wisdom regarding how purposeful or successful innovation happened is wrong. This is not to say that all organizations are not innovative; but obviously many are not, thanks to our management systems and education.

Innovation does not require a revolution. What it does require is thoughtful construction of a good sense making process, a robust pipeline management approach and a strategic intent from top leadership. Innovation is not just about creativity and having creative punks doing money shows or a facilitator running some offsites. Coming up with good-to-great ideas is the easiest part (call me and I can give you half a dozen for free); the hard stuff is activation and mobilization.

There are academics telling people to do different things, but beyond that they can’t really tell you more (because they have not done it). And then there are those who advocate outsourcing your problems to the crowd as the best solution. Companies are desperate to look outside for help and often not getting it. My friend Dev Patnaik, founder of Jump, outlined some good beginners advice on five key strategies for managing change:

  1. Avoid the innovation title
  2. Use the buddy system
  3. Set the metrics in advance
  4. Aim for quick hits first
  5. Get data to back up your gut

They all seem to make sense, at least on a surface level. But are those really good advice? It is not about that and let me tell you why I have to disagree with all of the them (sorry Dev). Better, here are my alternative views:

  • Don’t avoid the innovation title, make it available for more people. Feel proud of that innovation title as it shows an organization’s commitment to innovation. Dev suggested that calling a new team the “innovation department” is a good way to get everyone else in your company to hate you. That is absolutely not the case, in fact it is a good idea to have people dedicated to own the innovation process and the innovation titles should spread across the organization. Some can have dual titles such as Director of Operations / Innovation Team Member. That is very empowering.
  • Don’t think buddy, think communities. The last thing you want is to create little innovation circle, build fences and hide inside a room to come up with ideas. Instead find creative ways to open the innovation dialogue to a larger group – connect and engage. Find ways to share stories and get more people involved. Don’t think buddy, think community.
  • Never set the metrics too early in advance. This is an invitation for trouble, as people would immediately apply current metrics on these ideas. Metrics are important but only when the idea development is at a stage when it is ready and the implications are understood at a business strategy level, often there are a lot experimentation on how to monetize these innovative ideas. Putting metrics in place too early can push them into the wrong directions.
  • Ignore the quick hits. According to Dev, because game-changing initiatives can take a few years to develop, while most new leaders have only a short window of time to prove themselves. He suggested spending your honeymoon period on quick hits. This is very commonly practiced and I honestly believe this is a very bad idea. In most case people got distracted and ended up focusing on achieving many small incremental quick wins and losing sight of the big idea. This advice sounds good, but has serious side effects. Don’t do it.
  • Instead of getting data to back up your gut, use your gut to help make sense of the data. Quantitative data is of limited use in innovation, particularly very innovative ones. Most users have no idea of what the future holds and cannot give you any good input. But having said that, you need to use your gut to understand what all the data means and interpret it under the lens of innovation. My experience is that many market researchers don’t know how to read data using a strategic innovation lens. It is not about justifying, it is about confirming industry blind spots.

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Idris MooteeIdris Mootee is the CEO of idea couture, a strategic innovation and experience design firm. He is the author of four books, tens of published articles, and a frequent speaker at business conferences and executive retreats.

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  1. You said that there are not many good ones on creative thinking. Apparently you don’t look on the same shelves as I do or look beyond what has been published a week ago.

    ThinkerToys
    Whack on the Side of the Head
    100 Creative Thinking Games
    Zing!
    Idea Spotting.
    AHA!

    then

    Applied Imagination
    Magic of the Mind

    to name only a few you may have missed in your visits to the local bookstore

  2. An issue with these recommendations is that its not clear who it is intended for. For corporate innovation, opening up ideas to a community can be a very big waste of time. Innovation must be both novel and compelling. To be compelling the idea must address all stakeholder needs and balance ones that are in conflict. This high order goal for most companies requires that the needs of all stakeholders be shared and understood. Getting a broad community to understand these complex needs is difficult. Rather the notion of a broadly understood process and a team composed of all stakeholders is necessary. I find that a facilitator can take the burden off the innovation group, allow them to focus on the problem and not the process and keep their ideas flowing. If you just having innovative fun or the needs are easily understood the ideas provided are fine – but if you are in a corporate environment where the stakes are high and needs complex – please look beyond the recommendations provided.

  3. Hi Idris,

    Your suggestions are good and inline with Communities of Practice (CoPs) proposed by Etienne Wenger and Tribe – made popular by Seth Godin. Indeed, Innovation happens when people meet and able to bounce off ideas from one another. And if they are given time to pursue their interest, the reward can be tremendous. For example: Post-It Notes by Art Fry is the result of 15% staff free-time policy by 3M.

    Nevertheless, this kind of corporate culture is an exception than the rule. Your suggestions work well in companies like Google or 3M, but not for the majority of the organisations – where the top management would insist on having key performance index (kpi) or ‘show me the benefit’ attitude before they can endorse innovation projects. It’s sad, but this is the reality of life.

    A better way is to find ‘the pain points of the organisation’ – those are complex organisation problems with no blueprint solution in sight. For example: how to shorten the product development life cycle. Pretty often, to solve this kind of problem, staff will need to re-invent the current business processes. In other words, they will need to innovate to solve the complex problem. And this will be aligned with the top management’s strategy too. So getting their blessing will not be a problem.

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