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

next big idea innovation teamwork

One old idea that continues to block the route to new ones is that only certain people in an organization has the answers to business problems or the ability to find “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 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 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.

In his Harvard Review article entitled Strategy as Revolution, leading strategic expert Gary Hame 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 objectives of company strategy, then it must be part of the teams 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.  As the global BoP model continues to evolve from the management styles inherited from the Industrial Revolution where employees were strictly viewed as implementers to employees as partners. What does that mean?

Implementers →  Partners

  • 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

Finding The Next Big Idea

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 brainstorming.  The truly forward-looking executive recognizes his or her company employees as a deep resource for that next big idea waiting to be teased out by asking the right questions.


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