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Innovation Notes: Understand the Ignition Point.

This is the first in a series of articles that I'll be sharing weekly.
They're designed to be very brief and easy to read, and share some insights on how you can start to develop Innovation Capacity within your own organisations. I hope you find them useful, and if you have any questions, get in touch! 


Building on the success of my book, The Innovation Mindset, I've been having lots and lots of conversations with some absolutely amazing people, and one of the common themes that keeps emerging is, "yes, this is all great, but how do I get started"? It's been pretty interesting to see this conversation develop, and it reminds me of the 'Minimum Viable Product' concept, a term coined by Frank Robinson and popularized by Eric Ries. Essentially, perfection is absolutely and completely the enemy of achievement. 

Taken to extremes, the 'move fast and break stuff' ethos can be really destructive, but equally destructive is 'it's got to be perfect before we can do anything'. So like most things in life, it's about balance. How can we balance the risk of trying something new with our requirement for predictable outcomes. This is one of the reasons why I find Innovation so compelling, and why I called my last book 'The Innovation Mindset'. Innovation is a universal good, and a wonderful antidote to the idea that anything new has to require the destruction of what went before it, and is inherently risky. This is just untrue in the majority of instances. Done well, Innovation emerges from our current reality, and there some principles I always adhere to that demonstrate exactly how true that is. Here are a few of them:- 

  • The power of small groups. "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has". Margaret Mead. There has never been a better way to make change happen than starting with a small group. This is non negotiable, and every program we start, always starts small: always design for minimum disruption; maximum impact. 
  • There is always a sign up sheet on the door. When I was working at IBM a long time ago, we had to redesign a big piece of the sales process to adapt to new technology. The existing sales force were very entrenched, had been very successful and were very disinclined to change anything. Why would they, they were living high on the hog! as far as they were concerned, they just had to defend their turf, the demand was consistent and the orders would keep flowing in. I found a new guy, who was suffering because he couldn't break in to any accounts, he had two very young kids and had just bought a house, he NEEDED to succeed. I cut a deal with him. I'd work with him exclusively for three months if he introduced me to every one of his customers and he gave me an hour a day, every day to go over a new approach to understanding those customers. Within two months, he had smashed his number. For the remaining month, I put a sign up sheet on the door of my office to join the waiting list for my 'new way to do sales' program. If you wanted to learn how, you MADE that choice, you made it publicly and you made it yourself. 
  • Success is SEXY. This all only works if you make success desirable, and initially, very very attainable. One of the worst things I see is when companies start 'transformation initiatives' and pick people for teams where they go on to have an absolutely miserable time, fail and are sent back to their previous roles broken and disheartened. This happens way more frequently that you might think, and it's innovation cultural suicide! Yes, not every project will succeed, but the first few, absolutely MUST, and, as leaders, that's OUR primary responsibility. Pick your initial projects so that they will be successful, make sure the first projects are a success, and make that success very sexy! 

So if you observe these three principles, and you resist the temptation or believe 'more is merrier', you avoid the ego pitfall of confusing project size with project importance, and you push against the farcical belief that commitment can be mandated, you will vastly increase your chances of success. 

More on this next week!