A client recently impressed me with their willingness to use a powerful word that is rarely allowed to enter into the pursuit of innovation: the word “STOP.” So often, innovation efforts are focused exclusively around invention sessions that lay out all sorts of potential new possibilities and opportunities. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement and wonder of it all. Invention is the fun part.
In order to successfully implement these new offerings, however, it is crucial to make some hard decisions about what current undertakings you are willing to stop. This is the hard part. It is never easy politically to cut the funding for a department or program. That project is somebody’s baby. It is also difficult to let go of some of the very things that got the company to where it is today. In some cases, it might even be necessary to stop an offering that is providing a safe and reliable revenue stream because it does not fit into the long-term strategy. To do this requires leadership, guts, and discipline.
If you have the stomach for it, this approach will yield huge dividends. Organizations have only limited resources and time they can allocate to their various strategies. Additionally, individuals – no matter how smart, passionate and energetic – only have so many hours in their day. Making innovation happen by trying to stretch your budget and tack on more responsibilities to your employees day jobs will result in delayed, half-hearted, and sloppy results. Steve Jobs said that successful innovation comes from “saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much.” The most innovative companies understand that getting the new things right means getting some of the old things stopped.
Our client understood this concept. During our engagement with them, we led them through a very powerful exercise in which breakout teams worked on recommendations on which current offerings they might stop in order to allocate resources to their new innovation priorities. The result was a frank, open, and valuable dialogue that informed some big decisions.
If you are going to engage in such discussions, it helps to establish some ground rules. Here are a few guidelines we used with this client, which helped make the session such a success:
- Resource Allocation Ground Rules
- Pretend You’re the CEO – What would you do if you were running this business?
- Don’t take it personally – We all want to see the company succeed. We may disagree on how to get there, but our objectives are the same.
- No Sacred Cows – Nothing is out of bounds. You are free to complete rethink and reinvent our business.
Now get out there and start stopping!
Chris Dolan is a Business Innovationist at Creative Realities, Inc. the innovation management collaborative. You can follow him on Twitter @theChrisDolan.