Realistic Expectation of Implementation
By Jeffrey Baumgartner
If you or one of your colleagues proposes a very creative, relevant and viable idea, can you reasonably expect the idea to be implemented in your organisation? If not, there is no hope for your innovation initiative.
After all, why should anyone, especially one of your intelligent and overworked colleagues, waste time developing an idea into a vision, thinking it through and proposing it to her manager if she does believe the idea has any chance of being implemented. It is rather like ordering spaghetti with tofu and artichoke hearts at a fast food hamburger eatery. You can request the dish, but you won't get it.
Generally speaking, incremental improvement ideas are relatively easy to implement. Nevertheless, in some organisations incremental ideas get backlogged for the simple reason that no one wants to take responsibility for them. When this happens, even simple ideas -- like a campaign to turn off lights at the end of the day in order to conserve electricity -- do not get implemented. In such an environment, no one expects much from the ideas they submit and few bother to submit ideas. When they are pushed to make suggestions, they do not take it seriously and often put complaints in the form of suggestions.
If your organisation has run into this problem, you need to put in place a quick approval system that ensures ideas are reviewed and put into action as quickly as possible. Ideally, put the person who submitted the idea -- or her team -- in charge of implementing the idea. You can also look into the Japanese Kaisen system of proposing and implementing small improvements. Companies like Toyota have had great success with Kaisen.
Big, bold ideas are even more challenging to see implemented. By nature, they are riskier. They are more expensive. They require change. This is why many organisations seldom if ever implement big, bold ideas.
Consider two innovation teams at companies making mobile phones. Team A comes up with lots of conventional improvements: bigger screen size, faster processor, higher definition camera and new ring tones. Team B comes up with the KittyPhone concept which is a cat-like robot that follows its owner, takes calls and performs other tasks. It meows when there is a phone call and rides on your shoulder when you are talking on the phone. A simple prototype was tested with some young people -- and they love it.
Team B's idea is truly creative. But, to implement it requires substantial investment. New manufacturing tooling will need to be bought, programming will be necessary, marketing people need to be trained, even packaging needs to be completely different.
Team A' ideas are, frankly, not at all creative. But they are easy to implement with just a few tweaks on the existing production line and some new graphics on the packaging.
Which team's ideas do you think are most likely to be implemented? Team B's concept might cause a revolution in mobile phone design and rake in billions. But it might fail and cost millions. Team A's ideas won't rake in billions. But there is virtually no risk of outright failure -- at least not until an upstart competitor launches an innovative alternative.
In most organisations, moderate improvement ideas are viable. Truly creative visions simply have no chance of being implemented. So, when people have big, bold, breakthrough ideas, they keep those ideas to themselves or, if they cannot, they set up their own companies to develop and implement their visions.
A Big Decision
If your company, like most, is one that is unlikely to take on the risk associated with implementing bold creative visions, then you need to acknowledge that and adjust your innovation initiative to focus on smaller, improvement ideas rather than Earth-shaking ideas. As long as your competitors do not take the risks themselves, a strategy of focusing on improvements and incremental innovation will do just fine.
But, it's a wee bit boring, isn't it?
Alternatively, you need to have a serious talk with your CEO (or a talk with yourself if you are the CEO!) about her intentions when it comes to innovation. Is she willing to take risks on bold new products? If so, how will the organisation manage those risks? There are a number of ways this can be done, such as providing a special budget for high-risk innovative ideas, establishing a skunkworks (a special division in your organisation that has the freedom to experiment with crazy ideas) or setting up competitions to submit business plans. (I will not go into these options here as it goes beyond the scope of this article. You can find more information on my web site or get in touch)
In addition, training on how to manage riskier projects is critical if you want to encourage true, high-level innovation.
All of this is a lot more work than collecting ideas. But, if your colleagues know that their creative visions could become creative reality, you can expect truly incredible things to happen in your innovation initiative.
The choice is up to you.
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