How To Kill An Idea In 10 Easy Steps

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How To Kill An Idea In 10 Easy Steps

  1. 1. We all know that the pace of change is increasing rapidly, but do we know how to lead innovation in our organizations in a way that keeps us at the front in a global, highly competitive world? How to Kill an Idea in 10 Easy Steps Thomas Koulopoulus Y ou would think that in today’s “more for less” climate every com- pany would try to drum up as many In today’s overly conservative busi- nesses this is especially true. Far too many good ideas are viewed as too risky new ideas as possible to find better ways or too uncertain to justify investment. to serve its markets. Unfortunately, it’s If you’re looking for certainty, however, not that easy. you’ve picked the wrong century! Get The reality is that new ideas often used to living with ambiguity and get are shunted by a clouded lens that was familiar with this list of 10 innovation shaped through toil and investment in killers so you’re prepared to run away the status quo. It’s why even the most from them at top speed! radical ideas seem so obvious when we look back and ask ourselves why we Believing That Innovation didn’t think of them sooner. Will Just Happen After working with and studying The belief that innovation happens myriad organizations, I’ve discovered automatically makes about as much that there is a core list of bad behav- sense as the belief that a garden will iors that stand in the way of most sprout in your backyard without any good ideas, and I call them innovation planting, weeding, or watering. Attention killers. to innovation is a requirement in today’s These innovation killers almost world. Even in industries where the mar- always are disguised as protectors of gins are slim—such as manufacturing the organization, or more appropriately and sourcing—innovation is a must. protectors of the past. Few people try Here’s the irony; you may feel you cannot to kill innovation outright. Their inten- afford to take a big risk, but that doesn’t tions are always good ones—minimize mean that somewhere on the globe you risk, deliver predictability, and satisfy won’t be challenged. As an example of market and analysts’ expectations. The how vulnerable standing still makes you, innovation killers always have armies you need to think only of the U.S. auto of well-intentioned corporate citizens industry, which is locked in battle against behind them, ready to defend their turf foreign carmakers. You need to lobby for and keep innovation at bay lest it dis- the importance of innovation, as well as rupt the status quo. the dollars and owners to support it.8 The Journal for QualiTy & ParTiciPaTion January 2010
  2. 2. Telling Everyone to Think Outside the Box, job. If anything is certain in life it is that everyHolding a Brainstorming Session, and single idea we hold as indisputable, eventuallyThen Calling It a Day will be disputed and trumped by another. Barring Great ideas are the seeds of innovation, but they the most basic moral truths and human values,are not innovation itself. Ideas are not in short ideas are meant to be disproved and replaced withsupply. Spend an hour in a meeting with a few newer ideas. Yet the fear of the “new” is alwaysbright people and you will end up with dozens of present. So the next time you want to say, “That’snew ideas. Then what? Where do those ideas go? not the way we do it here,” substitute, “We preferWho evaluates them and shepherds them through to let someone else do it that way and succeed inthe next stages? Companies that get innovation figuring out how to make it work so that they canright embrace a holistic view and create a culture take our customers away.” Doesn’t sound comfort-to ensure that it flourishes. They build, implement, ing, does it? Today’s world requires companies toand communicate a process to support innovation become more like Gillette, which invests enor-so that everyone knows how it works and is able to mous amounts of money in developing productsparticipate. In the end, for innovation to occur you to compete with existing ones. Gillette’s reasoningneed a formalized process for ensuring that ideas is simple; if it doesn’t innovate on its products,are nurtured. someone else will.Laying the Success of Innovation Solely on Handing Over the Good Ideas to thethe Shoulders of Your Technologists Legal and Accounting Departments Technology should support innovation, not Ideas are fragile; they’re broken or squashed eas-lead it. This is because innovation is first an issue ily. On the surface, giving the care of those ideas toof corporate culture, concerning things such as legal or accounting may make sense because somerewards, inspiration, and motivation. In any situa- of the greatest issues with protecting new ideas aretion, you get two activities—the invention and the legal and financial. On the other hand, those withinnovation, or the actual process of innovating. I the most influence over the idea process must servedraw a hard line between the two, and technol- as innovation champions, and that emphasis mustogy’s role comes after invention. Information come from the top. Create support and ownershiptechnology/systems departments have the task of for innovation at management’s uppermost tiers.implementing the technology that best supports Being Very, Very Afraid of Failurethe innovation process. I’ve found that failure-tolerant management isCreating an Obstacle Course for Ideas the third most important ingredient in creating an If you want to guarantee a process that kills the innovative culture. Although it’s possible to buildinnovative spirit, force people to take time away an iterative process and lessen the cost of a failure,from their regular jobs to defend their new ideas. the bottom line is that the market is fickle, and youI’m not trying to sound like a corporate radical, can’t predict what will happen.but bureaucracy and Byzantine processes discour- Here’s the scary truth: You will fail sometimes.age enthusiasm and participation. Ideas need a Like a child learning to ride a bike, you simplysafe place to take shape. You must protect ideas cannot move ahead without taking a few knocks.long enough to evaluate and document them. The question is, “Are you in the kind of organiza-Make this process even a bit cumbersome, and tion that can embrace innovation in spite of that?”people will just avoid it, allowing their ideas to What doesn’t work out is merely a learning experi-languish rather than going to the mat every time ence and, therefore, fodder for the innovation cycle.they have an idea. Eventually, you’ll adopt the Use case studies, research, and other approachestongue-in-cheek mantra of the military: “The last to show naysayers why learning experiences are athing you want to do is volunteer!” must in today’s corporate environment.Viewing “Different” and “New” as Bad Innovate Only When You Need To I’ve heard legions of very smart people say, It’s tantalizing to innovate on demand. It appears“That’s just not the way we do it around here!” to cost less, focus on specific issues, and provide aand that’s the single most incredible aspect of my rallying cry when a crisis looms. Besides, it is the www.asq.org/pub/jqp 9
  3. 3. The Innovation Zone: How Great Companies Re-Innovate for Amazing Success Author: Thomas M. Koulopoulos brand, and long-term competitive dominance. Abstract: A new business model Koulopoulos describes a structured innovation of innovation has replaced process that is demonstrated with dozens of invention as the driving force examples. The book is packed with assessment behind the accomplishments tools, proven techniques, and a framework for of the world’s most successful innovation, which can serve as a foundation for organizations. This book takes leaders to champion a sustainable innovation. readers beyond the glitz of the Publisher: Davis-Black Publishing latest gadgets to explore the methods, tools, ISBN: 0891062343 and behaviors need to develop innovation as a core competency and generate the highest Format/Length: Hardcover/256 pages market value for your business, respect for your Price: $27.95 way most innovation seems to occur. This is like try- Encouraging Everyone to Drop Any and All ing to stay healthy by waiting for a life-threatening Ideas Into an Electronic Submission Box condition to arise before paying attention to your This last point may surprise you. After all, isn’t health. A crisis is certainly a motivator, but it is also the whole point of innovation to encourage idea the most expensive way to innovate in terms of submission? Yes, but there’s a very important caveat: costs, resources, and image. You must evaluate every innovation effort and check Unfortunately, we have become accustomed to it for practicality and suitability for the organiza- crisis-driven innovation over the better part of the tion. Some of the biggest failures I’ve seen involve last 200 years as the industrial model was taking companies where the ambition to solicit ideas far shape in many nations globally. Continuing to exceeded the capacity to evaluate them. approach investment in innovation from the stand- The reality is that when you ask someone to point of zero-based budgeting only serves to drive submit an idea you have to acknowledge it with innovation costs up and to reinforce the lack of a sincere evaluation, no matter how silly the idea ongoing processes that contribute to a culture and may appear. Organizations make two fatal mistakes business model of continuous innovation. in this regard. First, they put one part-time person Leaving Innovation up to the “Innovators” at the narrow end of a very large funnel of new Every organization has a handful of people who ideas. This is a setup for disaster; no one person are considered thought leaders. Sometimes they can keep up with the flow, and it’s too easy to shoot are the leaders, other times well-tenured individu- down ideas that don’t pass some unwritten code als, and sometimes people tasked with coming up of acceptability. Second, the ideas languish in a with big ideas. In all these cases, the implication nondescript repository with no taxonomy to group is that only these big thinkers can create big ideas. them, combine them, and make it possible to mine It may be true that these are the brightest minds them. You must treat ideas with respect. Whatever of the organization, but ideas can and should systems you put in place must have boundaries for come from everyone in the organization. Focusing what constitutes an idea submission. For example, on just the “big” ideas or just the “big” minds is what core values or hurdles must it pass? You must equally dangerous; it creates barriers for incre- have a transparent process for the evaluation. mental innovation and encourages ideas to find You need to involve the submitter and commu- a home elsewhere. You still might need someone nicate the idea’s status. I often use the analogy of to help you understand the process of innovation dropping off a child at day care. Parents who use and jump-start your “innovation zone,” but it has day care are concerned justifiably and have many to become your “innovation zone.” questions of the provider before they will leave10 The Journal for QualiTy & ParTiciPaTion January 2010
  4. 4. their child. What is the environment? Will staff carefor and nurture them? Will parents be involved, More Online Join Tom Koulopoulos for a journey into “The Innovation Zone”contacted, and counseled if needed? Will children at http://www.asq.org/pub/jqp.benefit from the experience? All of these are thesame sorts of questions to ask the brainchildrenentrusted to an innovation management system. Overcoming the 10 innovation killers can be adaunting challenge for many organizations. Theinnovation killers are not behaviors that changeovernight. They require a sustained and systemic Thomas Koulopoulusapproach. The best way to begin chipping away atthem is to create a team specifically tasked with Thomas Koulopoulus is founder and president of Delphinurturing innovation throughout the organization Group, an innovation management and advisory firm.by establishing an innovation zone where new He was previously executive director of the Center forideas can take root. It’s key that such a team does Business Innovation at Babson College and directornot own or co-opt new ideas, but instead nurtures of Perot Systems Innovation Lab. Koulopoulus can beand grows them. reached at tk@delphigroup.com. www.asq.org/pub/jqp 11
  5. 5. online-only contentExploring the Innovation Zone Join Tom Koulopoulos for a journey intothe innovation zone. With all of the talk andhype surrounding innovation, we’ve lost sightof the fact that innovation is a process that’ssubject to many of the quality and managementissues impacting all processes. In this video,Koulopoulos peels back the veil of mystiqueand hyperbole to focus on the core practice ofinnovation and the creation of a protected spacewhere ideas and innovation can thrive and createsustainable value. View Koulopoulos’ video athttp://www.asq.org/pub/jqp/. www.asq.org/pub/jqp 1

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