Innovation – ban the committees

Does your organisation create a plethora of steering committees? Even worse if you work in the public sector you might have been subjected to the dreaded ‘Task and Finish group’.

These groups, and others like them are one of the major reasons that organisations claim that Innovation fails. Here’s why.

Most group members do nothing at all, they are there for political reasons or in some cases to sabotage the process. Committees meet infrequently and are thus ineffective in getting things done. They do however have one significant output – frustration!

Committees tend to be:

Full of lazy control freaks. A bit harsh perhaps but these people don’t want to get their hands dirty. They just want to take the credit for success. Often too, they demand creativity but just want other employees (the project team) to carry out their bidding.

Isolated. If people have not been ‘at the coal face’ for a long while (or maybe not at all) then they may not have any insights to provide at all.

Slow and political. Project teams are expected to be flexible but those steering the process tend to be the opposite. The decision making process is bureaucratic and is governed by the frequency of meetings. Nothing can get signed off without the correct signatories present!

So what can you do to make things a little easier?

It is important to connect senior management and other relevant stakeholders to your project team.  Instead of a steering committee, make these people an extension to your project team. They need not be with you all of the time but could, for example, engage in the following way:

Spend time in the project instead of supervising it. Get them participating in workshops or other brainstorming events. This will demonstrate commitment and remove the appearance of remoteness (aloofness).

Learn to create rather than evaluate. Don’t judge but add insights, views and ideas to the mix.

Make decisions immediately instead of waiting for the next committee meeting, causing delays of many days (or more usually) weeks. Decisions can be made ‘on the spot’ because executives are more closely connected to the process and have all of the information necessary at their fingertips.

This can take a bit more effort to get going but it is often the case that senior managers do actually like to be involved.

So next time someone suggests a steering committee of any sort, say ‘no’ and invite them to spend some time getting their hands dirty.

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Are you thinking about Design Thinking?

For many Design Thinking is the breath of fresh air that they have been looking for. For some it is the lever that opens up new possibilities for innovation but for others it can be a very bad idea indeed.

Instead of getting into a state of ‘analysis paralysis’ by over thinking, over analysing and focusing on minimising risks, design thinking allows you to stop contemplating your navel and get on with it.

However, such thinking can sometimes lead to under thinking. Just because doing something is possible, that does not necessarily mean that it is a good idea to do it!

Any sound strategy is based on a clear understanding of what your organisational values are (who you are and what you do). Any ideas that you choose to implement have to fit into the wider strategy. Design thinking does not replace your product or service strategy, but should be part of it.

Stage one of Design Thinking requires the generation of ideas without judgment. This is a brilliant way to inspire innovative ideas, but after this stage, someone will have to narrow down the ideas to actionable ones which fit into the greater product and company strategy. When creating new business models, it is critical to consider alternatives, trade offs and opportunity costs.

If an idea does not fit in with your strategy then do not get uptight about it, why not consider spinning off a business venture to pursue this?

There is no ‘one size fits all’ method for building Design Thinking into your organisational processes. Instead, each organisation must work out how its own internal processes can support Design Thinking.

Before embracing Design Thinking, sponsors and decision makers must take into account the following:

  • What are available to ensure innovative ideas have a chance of succeeding?
  • What indicators will be used to determine whether a project has succeeded?
  • How will ideas produced by the Design Thinking process be evaluated?

Design Thinking is not a magic cure all. It cannot replace product and brand strategies, but it can be a tremendous help in unleashing the creative potential of your organisation.

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Innovation – the hardest steps

Many companies are ill equipped for the trial-and-error process that is part of real innovation. They stumble in the first steps, the first few yards.

These first steps are a critical period when an idea moves from concept to paper and then to market, where it will fly or fail, and maybe take a company with it. It is the most fragile time for a new idea, because every great new idea is partly right and partly wrong. Because of this one of the most critical skills for both individuals and an organisation is the reduction of uncertainty.

When starting out you must be systematic about what you do, if not you are vulnerable on several counts. The first is getting discouraged and quickly giving up, or if you can’t identify the things you are doing wrong, spending a lot of time and money pursuing what ultimately proves to be a fatally flawed strategy.

You can also get lost or sidetracked when something that you thought was a great opportunity turns out not to be so. It is also common to put the wrong people in charge of a project, people without the right technical skills or perhaps lacking the managerial skills  to handle the uncertainty and ambiguity that will exist for a while.

You or your business may simply run out of ‘innovation fuel’. We tend to be optimistic about the money and time needed to go from concept to world beating product or service. Innovation costs more and takes longer!

Many businesses often try to run before they can walk. They have a great idea and have produced prototypes or maybe pilot production lines. They have not quite got the recipe or the economics right but cross their fingers and hope that all goes well when they quadruple their output!

These are all things that any individual or business may fall foul of but there is one last thing that lies in wait for large corporations. They all sit on the bottoms, sifting through large piles of paper. They make plans to innovate but never take action. When their endless planning meetings fail to deliver they conclude that innovation has failed them.

Innovation is essentially a trial and error process until you have got that idea into production so without action there is no trial, with no trial there is no error and with no error there is no learning.

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Learn To Value Play

As young children we play without thinking about what we are doing. Sticks become spears and swords and cardboard boxes make great castles. These, and other methods of play allow us to experience the real world but in a non-threatening way. Also we engage our imagination without the presence of the artificial barriers or filters that adults tend to employ.

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