Hey, What’s the Big Idea?! Look for Answers From Your Employees Rather Than Outside Experts

philmckinney | March 17, 2014


employee partnership

One old idea that continues to block the route to new ones is that only a certain echelon of an organization has the answers to business problems or the ability to divine “the next big idea“.  The fact of the matter is that, when it comes to innovation, executives with heaps of industry experience are more weighed down by their expertise than they are supported by it. They’ve mastered the rules of the road in the competitive sandbox where they’ve been playing all or most of their careers. But the mastery that allows them to navigate competitive waters well often has the unintended consequence of rendering them rule-bound, unable to let go of the old answers and discover new ones.

Innovation is about tomorrow.  In an environment that morphs from one trend to another with blistering speed, the ability to innovate, to move away from products and strategies that no longer deliver a competitive edge is essential.  In addition to a scalable and malleable infrastructure, agility demands a culture that supports solving problems quickly and identifying future opportunities consistently. And frankly, the bottleneck in building such a culture is usually at the top of the bottle.

In his Harvard Review article entitled Strategy as Revolution, leading strategic expert Gary Hamel has preached with fervor about the misguided tendency of upper management to discount the intellectual resource sitting right under their noses.  If one accepts that innovation and reinvention must be among the major threads of company strategy, then that notion must be woven into the employees’ daily work experience.  Beyond traditional strategic alignment or so-called bottom-up approaches, a new internal “Base of the Pyramid (BoP) Protocol” needs to be implemented. This means putting processes in place that tap the imagination of the people closest to the problems, to the customers and, in many cases, to the grass-roots societal trends that have the potential to sweep the company to success or simply wash over it.  As the global BoP model continues to evolve from the patterns of the colonial age, management styles inherited from the Industrial Revolution must begin to move from a model of employees strictly as implementers to employees as partners. What does that mean?


  • Listen →  Dialog
  • Reward productivity → Reward imagination
  • Enforce compliance → Build share commitment
  • Arm’s length relationships mediated by middle management → Direct, personal interactions facilitated by middle management

To build agility and innovation into the nervous system of a company requires providing frequent opportunities and reliable methodologies for a broad cross-section of employees to participate in problem-solving and brain-storming.  The truly forward-looking executive recognizes his or her company employees as a deep resource of revolutionary ideas waiting to be teased out by asking the right questions.


Beyond The Obvious - a book by Phil McKinneyTo learn more about how to be an innovation leader, read Beyond The Obvious.  Why this book? Out of habit, we cling to the “obvious” ideas from the past. Innovation is about un-learning the past and discovering the future. This books is a guide on how to unleash your personal creativity and go beyond the obvious to consistently generate cutting edge innovations. Still not sure? Then download Chapter 1