COACHING FOR INNOVATION
The majority of companies we surveyed said that hardest part of innovation is deciding on which idea to pursue. That makes sense because people tend to be much worse at rational decision-making in uncertainty than they think they are. They tend to be risk averse in estimating what’s possible and then tend to be impractical in allocating resources. In other words, they need to dream bigger and start smaller.
That’s also the central theme of our new innovation coaching workbook Tactical Innovation Techniques in Practice, which is Volume 4 in our Complete Guide to Business Innovation.
We have discovered through many interactions and consulting assignments that teams need to break with the past, throw out their assumptions and act based on data instead of hunches. At the same time, be open for new possibilities, free from any hard evidence.
How Dreams Grow
Big dreams often grow from the smallest of seeds, invisible to all but the most careful observers. Bergman wrote, “My films grow like a snowball, very gradually from a single flake of snow. In the end, I often can’t see the original flake that started it all. ”
At Innovation360, we have observed over countless iterations of successful innovations that ideation cannot always be traced back to a single well-formed idea. The sketch on the back of a napkin is rarely sufficient to generate a market disruptor.
Innovations grow in punctuated equilibrium from the tiniest of delicate snowflakes into a massive, unstoppable snowball. It demands a vision of crystal clarity – the kind that bursts forth from a dream.
At the earliest stages, nurtured creativity is vital for the ideation phase of innovation, but companies make a grave error in trying to contain creativity in a structured process. Creativity has its own demands and timeline. You can’t spend your way to creativity, but you can inspire it. Fixing the right incentives for your creative team is imperative. That does not mean monetary incentives, but it does involve intelligent feedback, encouragement and coordinated team efforts.
The Inner Workings of Creative Minds
There have been many scientific investigations into the nature of creativity and what sorts of techniques businesses must master to harness it. Creativity works are informed by strains of intellectual, emotional, motivational and moral choices, many of them subconscious. Common traits shared by creative thinkers in all industries include:
- An openness to one’s inner life
- A preference for complexity and ambiguity
- An unusually high tolerance for disorder and disarray
- The ability to extract order from chaos
- A willingness to take risks
All of which tend to be exciting to be around, but most of which are inconsistent with the needs of the enterprise to scale up operations by the standardization of routine tasks.
Psychologist Frank Barron at UC Berkeley described the creative type as someone who is “both more primitive and more cultured, more destructive and more constructive, occasionally crazier and yet adamantly saner, than the average person.” Building on his work, neurologist Marcus Raichle found that creativity is not a “right brain” function, as is commonly understood.
Creative works emerge from a dynamic interplay of inputs from many disconnected regions across the entirety of the brain. Notably, creativity heavily relies on activation of regions related to emotions, the unconscious and dreams.
The ideation stage is most successful when leaders can guide development teams into this state for brainstorming, hackathons, innovation jams, etc. When properly prepared and given the right incentives, creative teams can manage contradictory modes of thought—cognitive and emotional, deliberate and spontaneous. You will be able to activate this resource to dream bigger and see more clearly what customers need rather than what they want.
Anthropology as a Strategy
Businesses often make the mistake of building what customers say they want, based on market research. Nothing could be simpler or more likely to fail.
It’s impossible to outsource innovative thinking to the customer. It will be your responsibility to create not what they ask for but what they really need and are unable to express.
There’s an apocryphal story that Henry Ford said about the Model T: “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have asked for a better horse.” While there is no evidence that Ford actually said this, the thinking behind it is right on target.
Customers generally have a clear understanding of how your current offerings fit into their lives, but they aren’t in the best position to see how a truly innovative idea will change their lives and solve problems they don’t even fully recognize.
Adding a new feature is not an innovation, but that’s the character of suggestions that come from market research. True innovations, like original business models or technologies that were never commercially available in the past, change how customers think of your organization.
Consider a manufacturer of computer hardware and software that suddenly introduces and smartphone with variable (app-based) programming. MIT identified the iPhone as the “fastest spreading technology in human history”. A vast number of successful innovations had nothing to do with what customers said they wanted, and some even contradicted market research. That does not mean that you should innovate without considering customer needs, though. It means studying customers as an anthropologist would. You will look carefully at their intent and what they want to accomplish, rather than the temporary tools they are using to approximate their wishes based on current technology.
Starting Small and Failing Often
Never forget that creativity is not innovation. The first is wild and unstructured, even though there is a right way and a wrong way to elicit the seeds of dreams. The second is systematic and repeatable. In the real world, we have often seen innovation initiatives come to a grinding halt because the team didn’t come into the innovation phase with big enough dreams from the creative phase.
At the same time, these big dreams can’t come true all at once. It takes a series of small but pivotal victories and many failures along the way. Start small, fail small and use the results to course correct until you arrive at the solution that lives up to your dreams. Celebrate failures because they will define your boundaries. That’s easy to say but hard to live up to because of the nature of competition in the business world.
We have found one methodology that helps take the sting out of failing is the proper application of Hypothesis-based Problem-solving. The hypothesis-based method involves designing and running experiments to test theories. The team measures the results and either discards the theory or adopts it as the premise for the next set of theories. Although it sounds basic, it turns out to be rarely practiced in the business world.
Innovation projects more often follow a solution-based approach, in which a problem is identified and a solution proposed by an expert. The team acts on expert advice instead of their own knowledge derived from testing. As a result of the solution-based approach, one study by McKinsey found that although executives agree on the critical value of innovation, 94 percent are not satisfied with their own results.
The concept that animates the hypothesis-based method is that by running multiple rapid tests of simplified models, you learn the maximum amount of practical insights with minimal investment. A wide range of case studies and our own experience agree on the fact that “fail fast, learn fast” is a smarter approach to innovation.
In fact, an essential practice distinguishing organizations that have been more successful at innovation from their less successful peers is the sheer number of tested hypotheses. You can define that as many failures, but in reality, the word “failure” is just a rhetorical device referring to the refutation of a specified hypothesis. Just phrasing it in that way makes the process much less threatening to risk-averse managers.
With the exercises laid out later in this volume, you will be able to draft your own schematic of how that will work toward the realization of your next big dream.
We recently spun off the Ideation360 platform as a mobile SaaS approach for capturing original ideas and managing innovation projects that are distributed across remote teams.
Take a test drive of Ideation360 to discover how it function as platform for creativity within your organization. Ideation360 establishes the critical infrastructure you need to deploy tactical creativity in solving your most difficult roadblocks and bottlenecks. You will be able to foster a culture of innovation within your own organization and then expand these processes to take leadership of innovative achievement within your industry.
The Ideation360 platform is backed by big data, enhanced by AI analytics, supported by an international network of innovation experts, and delivered on the latest technology.
Learn how to apply the Innovation360 expertise and the Ideation360 technology to better coach your teams on charting out a new direction for your business.