What’s wrong with “old think” innovation approaches?


So, what is wrong with the traditional approaches that most companies use to generate ideas/innovations?  Plenty!!  I've seen it, experienced it and in my past, I probably inflicted it on others.  There are the four (4) tell-tale symptoms that the approach being used is “old think”.  How many of these have you seen?

  1. Ideas/innovations are either incremental or totally unrealistic:  If the results of your innovation efforts consistently fall back to being incremental to the existing products (e.g. lets “pink it and shrink it” for the woman market)  … or worse, something that is totally unrealistic given the business (e.g. launch a new product to a new customer segment in a new country within 30 days), you could be stuck with an “old think” approach.
  2. Rarely any real follow-up:  Have you ever experienced a session where you get 10 smart people together.  Someone volunteers to scribe the ideas.  The session ends, the notes are typed and distributed.  Then what happens?  In 95% of the cases, nothing.  Are you in the 95% category?  When you dig in, you find that the symptom is the result of many years of training.  If in the past, management looked at the ideas but never executed against them, then teams walk into these sessions with the clear expectation that nothing will happen.  Why have the sessions?
  3. No confidence that there aren't better ideas to be had:  When an innovation effort is being started, what's the challenge being presented/defined by management?  The most common is “Quick, come up with an idea for a new product that will allow us to regain our leadership position”.  When given what I call a “simple challenge” (undefined, non-specific, vague), the quality of the ideas are … “simple”.  If you were to ask each person who is part of the effort, most would say that they have this sinking feeling that there are better ideas to be had — they just aren't sure how to find them.  To significantly improve the quality of the ideas (and therefore the resulting innovations), you need to ask better questions.  What are the quality of your questions?
  4. Lack of executive/organizational support:  This is the make or break issue.  If you don't have management support from the top, your innovation efforts will fail.  Don't expect to just get it.  It takes work .. it takes a strategy … it takes communicating .. it takes evangelism … and it takes time.  Without that support, the ideas generated will never see the light of day.  Do you have a team and budget that is set aside to focus on taking ideas and executing them or do you need to justify (more like beg for) budget and resources for each idea?

Keep in mind that these are just symptoms.  The cause can come from any number of areas such as management apathy to innovation, fear of change, entrenched culture, etc.  Acknowledging that you have the symptoms is the first step to finding a cure to the “old think” about innovation.


Flickr photo by base2wave

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