Are You Throwing Away Great Ideas?
The race to innovate seems to focus on ideas - ideation workshops, idea management systems, idea frameworks…
But ideas are only one side of the equation. The focus on idea generation is like teaching a team of baseball players how to throw a ball but not teaching them how to catch it.
A shortage of great ideas isn't the biggest innovation roadblock. It's the closed-mindedness that prevents those ideas from coming to life. People get in ruts. And it’s human nature to cling to those ruts for safety. It’s easier to defend against an idea, than it is to catch it.
Take a couple of examples from the traditional workplace:
Bullet-laden Powerpoint slides have never been a great way to engage an audience (though arguably better than the flip board in the corner.) Almost twenty-five years on there is a range of superior options: video, interactive tablets that allow you to draw ideas as you explain them, interactive apps that allow your audience to engage. If you were to sit down today and enumerate a list of great ideas to engage an audience a text-based powerpoint deck wouldn’t likely place in the top 10. But we keep using it.
Likewise, many people continue to use email for task management and primary information sharing– ‘You should know, I sent out an email…’. Yet, there are some really slick, interactive, collaborative task management tools available that are far more suited to the task. But we don’t use them. Because email is easier. It’s what we know.
People don’t tend to put nearly as much effort in trying to catch an idea as those that generated it do in throwing it out. If it doesn’t work first time it often gets shot down - or often it’s not tried at all. It’s often on the journey to realisation that even the most straightforward ideas can fizzle.
At one of my client engagements the business declared to IT they wanted to leverage tablets for meetings – no more hand-written notes, follow-up minutes etc. A project was kicked off, yet time-consuming discussions quickly focused on why the idea wouldn’t work - the cost of training, the cost of apps, the lack of security…the ‘why this won’t work’ discussions dragged on for months, followed by the ‘which device is best’ selection process.
Fed up with the inaction, the company president went to the local electronics store and bought an iPad for himself and members of his executive team and told IT to get the apps loaded. Within a week they were being used in meetings, and before long the next management tier had them and so on.
It turns out it was a good idea. But the idea was dying in the execution process so the president took it into his own hands. The idea that was thrown out wasn’t being caught.
In this example brute force did the trick. That’s not a generally sustainable or desired approach.
A cultural mindset to pick up the ball is. To innovate you need to maintain the momentum that tends to peak when an idea is thrown out. Encourage people to catch the idea ball and run with it - not rationalise why they shouldn’t catch it.
Of course not all ideas are good, at which point the play is truly dead. But at least you were in the game - the ball wasn’t simply thrown out to an empty field never to be seen again.
The mind open to receiving new ideas is a skill that needs to be developed alongside the creative skill to generate ideas. It is so ingrained in risk-averse organisations to reject the unknown that the reaction to not grab the ball will take time to reverse. But without teaching people to catch all preceding innovation investments will be futile.
It’s the combination of hitting a new idea out and it getting caught that brings innovation to life.