Ministry Innovation Travels on Two Legs: The People-Centric Process of New Ideas

When we talk about things like disruption and radical innovation, and innovation tools and processes, it’s easy to forget that people drive innovation.  But if innovation is a process (and it is), it is surely a people-centric process.

This means that innovative ideas spread from person to person – and even though we have tools now that make this easier, it still mostly happens one person at a time.

I’ve run across a few examples of this recently.  The first is in the book Start-Up Nation by Dan Senor and Saul Singer.   They talk about “the seminar” – the six-month series of meetings that David Ben-Gurion undertook to try to understand how to prepare for the conflict he viewed as inevitable once Israel was declared in independent state:

He spent days and nights meeting with, probing, and listening to military men up and down the ranks. … Ben-Gurion was keenly aware that the midst of ongoing fighting, and plan for the existential threats that were nearing.

At the end of the seminar, Ben-Gurion wrote of the men’s confidence in their readiness: “We have to undertake difficult work – to uproot from the hearts of men who are close to the matter the belief that they have something.  In fact, they have nothing.  They have good will, they have hidden capacities, but they have to know: to make a shoe one has to study cobbling.”

Senor & Singer go on to describe how Israeli companies use similar approaches to prepare for disruptive innovations in modern times.  In both cases, it is the face-to-face contact that both generates the new ideas and then helps them to spread.

Warwick Absolon told a similar story in an Executive Education innovation course a couple of weeks ago.  He talked about the innovation program that he has been running  for the past three years.  One of the critical components of building that capability is the series of meetings that he held all around their Australia-New Zealand region.  Warwick travelled to all of the main offices, where he held workshops all day long.  In each spot, he told people that meetings would start every hour on the hour, and he would talk about innovation with whoever showed up.

This approach worked.  The face-to-face meetings accomplished several things:

  • They demonstrated a much higher level of commitment than you get from a memo, or an intranet announcement.
  • Because attendance was purely voluntary, Warwick was able to identify most of the people in the firm with an interest in innovation.  He calls this “assembling my tribe.”
  • In face-to-face meetings, people were willing to tell him what was working and what wasn’t.

The main thing that Warwick built through this process was buy-in.

Atul Gawande wrote a great piece in the New Yorker last week on how ideas spread.  Here is what he says about it:

In the era of the iPhone, Facebook, and Twitter, we’ve become enamored of ideas that spread as effortlessly as ether. We want frictionless, “turnkey” solutions to the major difficulties of the world—hunger, disease, poverty. We prefer instructional videos to teachers, drones to troops, incentives to institutions. People and institutions can feel messy and anachronistic. They introduce, as the engineers put it, uncontrolled variability.

But technology and incentive programs are not enough. “Diffusion is essentially a social process through which people talking to people spread an innovation,” wrote Everett Rogers, the great scholar of how new ideas are communicated and spread. Mass media can introduce a new idea to people. But, Rogers showed, people follow the lead of other people they know and trust when they decide whether to take it up. Every change requires effort, and the decision to make that effort is a social process.

Innovation is social.  It is people-centric.  Innovation requires a change in behavior, and that is why we need to activate our networks to get new ideas to spread.

In a workshop yesterday I was asked “How can I find out what people want?  It seems like the only way to do that is to talk to them, and that’s so slow.”

It is slow.  But that’s still the best way to do it.  Talk to people, all the time.  That’s how you’ll get new ideas, and it’s how you’ll get them to spread.

Even in our wired world, innovation travels on two legs.

Read more from Tim here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tim Kastelle

Tim Kastelle

Tim Kastelle is a Lecturer in Innovation Management in the University of Queensland Business School. He blogs about innovation at the Innovation Leadership Network.

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Build New Habits to Insure You Meet Your Goals

The problem with goals is that most of them are too big, and they take a long time, and that requires work.  That’s also what makes them worthwhile!  But on a day-to-day basis, you need to figure out how to build the habits that will eventually get you to your goals.

Charles Duhigg wrote a great book on how to break bad habits and build better ones – The Power of Habit.  Here is his flow chart for building habits (click on the image to see it full-size):

 HowtoChangeaHabit

> If your goal is to lose weight, you need to change your eating (input) and exercise (output) habits.

> If your goal is to write a book, you need to change your writing habits.

Austin Kleon wrote a great post on breaking goals down into habits. He says to do something small, every day:

Figure out what your little daily chunk of work is, and every day, no matter what, make sure it gets done.

Don’t say you don’t have enough time. We’re all busy, but we all get 24 hours a day. People often ask me, “How do you find the time for the work?” And I answer, “I look for it.” You find time the same place you find spare change: in the nooks and crannies. You find it in the cracks between the big stuff—your commute, your lunch break, the few hours after your kids go to bed. You might have to miss an episode of your favorite TV show, you might have to miss an hour of sleep, but you can find the time to work if you look for it.

What I usually recommend: get up early. Get up early and work for a couple hours on the thing you really care about. When you’re done, go about your day…

Do the work every day. Fill the boxes on your calendar. Don’t break the chain.

This approach works pretty well for most of our personal goals.  But what if our goal is to make our organizations more innovative?

That’s a bit trickier.  The main reason is that innovation is a lot more complex.  Complex systems are trickier because they require us to approach our goals indirectly.  This excerpt from John Kay’s terrific book Obliquity outlines the issue:

If you want to go in one direction, the best route may involve going in the other. Paradoxical as it sounds, goals are more likely to be achieved when pursued indirectly. So the most profitable companies are not the most profit-oriented, and the happiest people are not those who make happiness their main aim. The name of this idea? Obliquity.

Obliquity is relevant whenever complex systems evolve in an uncertain environment, and whenever the effect of our actions depends on the ways in which others respond to them.

Innovation is another thing that we need to approach obliquely.  So what habits should we build to help?  Here are some ideas that I’ve run across in the past couple of days:

  • Take care of yourself.  Jason Cohen points out that we are happier and more productive when we get enough sleep, exercise, and take time to think.
  • Practice divergent thinking. It’s a mistake to jump straight to solutions when we’re trying to innovate.  First, we have to explore a broad range of ideas.  Olaf Kowalik writes about how to use divergent thinking to do this – and this is a key innovation skill.
  • Read widely. Jorge Barba makes an important point at the end of his post recommending some innovation books to read:
    One more thing: everything is connected in some way, so read about anything and everything. Not just books that have “innovation” in the title.

To innovate, you need the process, but you also need to muddle your way through a bit.  So some of the habits you need to build are oblique – like getting enough sleep.  Others are more direct, like blocking out time for thinking and allocating resources for building your ideas.

The main point is that things that are worth doing take effort over an extended period of time.

You need to build habits that will ensure that you make that effort.

Read more from Tim here.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tim Kastelle

Tim Kastelle

Tim Kastelle is a Lecturer in Innovation Management in the University of Queensland Business School. He blogs about innovation at the Innovation Leadership Network.

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Ministry Innovation Requires a Bias Toward Action

Dwight Towers wrote a post last week reminding us that a lot of people have their ideas rejected not because everyone else is stupid, but because their ideas aren’t actually very good.  He was basically taking on the commonly used Galileo’s Gambit, which goes like this:

They made fun of Galileo, and he was right.
They make fun of me, therefore I am right.

This is obviously a logical fallacy.  Carl Sagan’s response to this idea was:

But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

It’s easiest to hold this view when your idea is just an idea – the best way to work around it is to try your idea out.  This is because the value of an idea is often only found once we try to use it.  There is often a huge lag between when we first see a new idea and when we really find out what it is good for – this is when we are working through business model innovation.  In his great book Pasteur’s Quadrant, Donald Stokes says this:

…the notable examples from the annals of technology, detailed by Rosenberg and others, in which it took many years for a new technology to find its most important commercial uses.  The steam engine was initially seen as a device for pumping water from mines and only later as a power plant for movable ships or carriages.  The railroad was initially seen as a feeder of good for canal transport and only later as a fully articulated system of transportation in its own right. The radio was initially seen as a “wireless” substitute for the electric telegraph for communicating between two ponits that could not be connected by wire, such as ship to shore, and only later as a means of “broadcasting” communication to a mass audience.  Indeed, this is is an almost universal phenomenon in the evolution of technology.  New technological paradigms seldom spring full-blown from the minds of their inventors, and when they do, as in the case of Arthur Clarke’s vision of communications satellites, the visionary is unlikely to be the person who makes the technological dream come true.

Stokes is arguing in the book for a reconceptualisation of research.  For quite a while now we have tended to view research as either basic – concerned with discovering new knowledge, but not with use – from applied – concerned only with use.  Stokes instead argues that a great deal of important research comes from work that considers both knowledge discovery and use.

There are a couple of important points here.

First, it’s not enough to have a great idea – you have to actually try it out to find out if it’s any good.  That is how you avoid the Galileo Gambit.

Second, even if the idea works, we often don’t know what it’s actually good for.  To discover this, we have to put it into use.

Consequently, the best innovation comes when we are concerned with both discovery and use.

Put it all together, and it means that innovation requires a bias towards action.

Read more from Tim here.

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Tim Kastelle

Tim Kastelle is a Lecturer in Innovation Management in the University of Queensland Business School. He blogs about innovation at the Innovation Leadership Network.

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Your Words are the Technology of Leadership

The Things We Don’t Know We Know

When we drive, there are hundreds of things that we do every minute that we don’t consciously think about.  Over time, we get so good at making these constant adjustments to speed and direction, gas and brakes, that we forget just how hard it is to actually drive a car.  If we’re not careful, our concentration will slip and that can lead to trouble.

The things that we don’t know we know are like that – they allow us to do incredibly complex tasks without thinking about them, but the unconscious nature of the action can also get us in trouble.

Leading and managing is a lot like driving.  When you’ve done it long enough, parts of it become automatic.  I don’t get to manage much in my current position, so when I get a chance to exercise my management muscles and I can see all these actions coming back, I’m much more aware of them than I was when I was a full-time manager.

Management is all about influencing from a distance.  The whole job is nudges and levers, questions and suggestions.  Little adjustments to keep on course, or speed up, or slow down.  That’s the art of managing.

The academic term for the things we “know” but can’t articulate is tacit knowledge.  It includes mostly things that we learn from doing.  Think about riding a bicycle – can you explain step-by-step how to balance while you’re moving forward?  It’s actually pretty close to impossible – that’s why we need training wheels.

We actually need training wheels as managers too.  Here is how Henry Mintzberg puts it in his superb book Managing:

Little of management practice has been reliably codified, let alone certified as to its effectiveness. That is why Hill found that people “had to act as managers before they understood what the role was”

It should be emphasized that, unlike other workers, the manager does not leave the telephone, the meeting, or the e-mail to get back to work. These contacts are the work. The ordinary work of the unit or organization—producing a product, selling it, even conducting a study or writing a report—is not usually undertaken by its manager. The manager’s productive output has to be gauged largely in terms of the information he or she transmits orally or by e-mail. As Jeanne Liedtka of the Darden School has put it (in a talk I attended): “Talk is the technology of leadership.”

Talk is the Technology of Leadership

I love that quote from Jeanne Liedtka – talk is the technology of leadership.  When was the last time you thought about how you use words?  That’s something we learned to do ages ago.  So long ago that we don’t even know what we know about speaking, or listening.

And yet, these are the core technologies of leading.  Speaking, and listening.

If you’re leading, or managing, it pays to think about these technologies a little more deeply.

Tom Peters addresses listening in a great document that he recently posted  called Presentation Excellence.  The main document is about presentation skills, and it’s useful.  For me though, the goldmine is the appendix on listening.

He starts this by saying “Interviewing/asking questions is a critical—and under-studied and under-practiced—skill. Few have treated it as a skill to be mastered akin to learning to play the piano.”  He then goes on to give 59 thoughts on becoming a better listener.  This is an invaluable resource – check it out.

In terms of speaking, I’ve also run across an excellent resource recently.  It’s a book called The Power of Framing: Creating the Language of Leadership by Gail Fairhurst.  Like the piece by Peters, this book contains a wealth of practical examples and tips for using language more effectively.

It’s time for us to consciously think about the things we do automatically.  If talk is the technology of leadership, than it makes sense to build our skills in this area.  As we do this, we should pay attention to one last quote from Mintzberg’s book:

It’s not [the manager’s] job to supervise or to motivate, but to liberate and enable (Max DePree of Herman Miller, 1990).

 Read more from Tim here.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tim Kastelle

Tim Kastelle

Tim Kastelle is a Lecturer in Innovation Management in the University of Queensland Business School. He blogs about innovation at the Innovation Leadership Network.

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Responding to Ministry Innovation Negatives: Learn to Experiment and Prototype

Encountering an Air Sandwich

I was teaching an executive education class recently when I saw a textbook example of an “air sandwich.”

If you’re not familiar with the term, here’s how Nilofer Merchant describes it:

An Air Sandwich is a strategy that has clear vision and future direction on the top layer, day-to-day action on the bottom, and virtually nothing in the middle—no meaty key decisions that connect the two layers, no rich chewy filling to align the new direction with new actions within the company.

I was working with a group of future leaders that had been identified by the management of their company.  The firm is in a pretty conservative industry, but they are starting to try to differentiate themselves through innovation.  This vision has been articulated from the top.  And the young managers in the class had been asked to think about how to embed innovation within the organisation.

They came back with a series of pretty interesting ideas, and they presented them in our workshop, with a number of senior leaders from the firm present.  And every new idea that the young guys put forward got shredded by the senior leaders.

Air Sandwich.

How Should You Respond to New Ideas?

There are two ways in which you can respond to new ideas.  Your first response can be “no, that won’t work, here are the problems.”  Or, you can say “that’s interesting.”  And with the second one, you can find ways to build on the idea, or connect it to other ideas to create an even better idea, or at least figure out some way to support the idea.

The firm I’m working with is in a pretty tough industry, and I suspect that the guys giving the rough feedback would say that’s important for the younger managers to harden up – that if they want to make it in this industry they’ll need to be tough.  And that may well be true.

But still, if you are trying to build your innovation capability, you can’t take ten of your bright young managers, ask them to come up with creative ideas to help build that capability, and then just absolutely tear those ideas to shreds when they show them to you.  This is particularly important for this firm – because they have set themselves a tough challenge.  But their overall objectives are admirable, and it’s important that they succeed.

How Should You Respond When Your New Ideas Get Shredded?

So what can you do if you’re the bottom layer of bread in an air sandwich?  You can’t control how others respond to your ideas, but you can exert some control over your own actions.  Here are some ideas:

  • Learn from it. Getting our great ideas to spread is an important part of the innovation process.  Overcoming resistance is a big part of that.  Every criticism of your ideas contains some element of truth – even if it’s based on a misunderstanding, that shows that you need to get your point across more clearly.  We have to learn from this, and improve the deliver of our new ideas.
  • Don’t take it out on others. One big danger in a situation like this is that the young managers will learn that this how to respond to ideas in their firm, and react the same way when the people working for them come up with new ideas.  This will completely kill off innovation.  Instead, we have to use these experiences to build our empathy.  This way, when others put new ideas in front of us, it might help us respond by supporting the idea, building on it, and connecting it to other good ideas.
  • Change your culture. The culture of a firm is not an unchanging fact of life that simply acts upon us.  We re-create it every single day through our interactions.  Just because our managers act in a particular way doesn’t mean that we have to.  We have the opportunity to start re-shaping a culture by changing the way we respond to things.  If we accept new ideas and build on them, others will start to do so as well.
  • Band together. It’s hard to change a firm’s culture on your own.  So another good idea is to find others that are also committed to driving change, and band together.  Cultures rarely change through edicts – it is one thing that is especially open to bottom-up change.

This is Why Innovation is a Challenge

Innovation is hard – if it weren’t, everyone would be doing it.  The environment that we create for new ideas is an important part of building an innovation culture. One of the big problems with shooting down ideas immediately is that doing so assumes that we can know in advance which ideas will work and which won’t.  But we can’t.  This is why experimenting and prototyping are such critical innovation skills.

The best way to figure out which ideas are good is to try them out.  If they work, scale them up.  Here’s how Saul Kaplan puts it:

Learn by doing. Constantly test new ideas. Learn, share and repeat. The world is ever changing — stay ahead of the curve. Embrace the art of discovery.

We need to try more stuff. Innovation is never about silver bullets. It’s about experimentation and doing whatever it takes, even if it means trying 1,000 things, to deliver value.

My main piece of feedback to the teams was: “how could we prototype your ideas?”  If we test an idea, gather data from the test, and learn, that is the best way to combat a culture that shoots new ideas down on sight.  It’s a lot harder to argue with data.

Testing your ideas, and making evidence-based decisions are two more ways to change your culture.  That’s my new idea for the day.

How will you respond – will you tell me why it won’t work, or will you build on it to make it better?

Read more from Tim here.

 
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tim Kastelle

Tim Kastelle

Tim Kastelle is a Lecturer in Innovation Management in the University of Queensland Business School. He blogs about innovation at the Innovation Leadership Network.

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Understanding How Culture Drives Your Ministry

In organizations, it is the culture that provides the beat.  This means that the same idea will perform differently in different organizations, even if nearly everything around it appears to be the same.

In an excellent post on culture, Dave Snowden  says:

Culture arises from actions in the world, ways of doing things which may never be articulated, and which may not be capable of articulation.  In effect culture is always complex, never complicated.  So it follows that cultural change is an evolutionary process from the present, not an idealised future state design.

So the most singularly stupid meaningless thing you can ever do is to define what culture you want.  At best it’s a set of platitudes, at worst its a set of pious platitudes that trigger negative and hostile accusations of hypocrisy from your employees and customers alike.  Culture is an emergent property of interactions over time so the first and most important thing is to map your culture.

Snowden has a good system for mapping cultures, and great recommendations for trying to shift them.  When we think about the culture that supports innovation, his three recommendations will also work.  They are:

  • Focus on actions. Snowden argues that actions tell us a lot more about your organization’s culture than rhetoric.  This is true.  If we are trying to build innovation, this means that being able to experiment is much more important than including innovation in your list of corporate values.  The best way to build an innovation culture is to innovate, not to talk about it.  Do this by building the capability to test ideas quickly and cheaply, and in such a way that you learn from the outcomes.
  • Manage through constraints. Constraints are the things that determine current actions.  They also drive creativity.
  • Manage interactions and connections. In complex systems, emergent properties arise through networks of interactions.  Building an understanding of your networks is crucial to improving innovation outcomes.  Network weaving is a more effective management tool than organizational restructuring.

A common mistake that I see from organizations is taking an idea from somewhere else and trying to just bolt it on to an incompatible culture.  Google’s 20% is a great idea, but it will only work if your people are empowered to make their own decisions, their regular work is rewarding, and you have the resources and desire to implement the ideas that they develop.

If your culture doesn’t include these qualities, then 20% will end up looking more like it does in this post by Shanley:

20% of the time, or all of the time, people can work on whatever they want to

What your culture might actually be saying is… We have enough venture funding to pay people to work on non-core parts of the business. We are not under that much pressure to make money. The normal work of the business is not sufficiently rewarding so we bribe employees with pet projects. We’re not entirely sure what our business objectives and vision are, so we are trying to discover it by letting employee passions take root.

The difference between that picture of 20% time and Google’s is culture.

Culture drives your ministry.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tim Kastelle

Tim Kastelle

Tim Kastelle is a Lecturer in Innovation Management in the University of Queensland Business School. He blogs about innovation at the Innovation Leadership Network.

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More Collaboration is Better for Your Ministry – Until It’s Not

Collaboration is an important part of innovation.  The days of the lone genius are gone (if they ever really existed at all) – now, it takes a network to innovate.

But how much collaboration do we need?

In his new book To Sell is Human, Dan Pink talks about some interesting findings in the research of Adam Grant.  Grant looks at sales results relative to a person’s level of extraversion.  Everyone knows that extraverts make the best salespeople, right?  Well, wrong, actually.  Check this out:

Sales Revenue - Extraversion

Pink says:

As you can see from the chart, the folks who fared the best — by a wide margin — were the in the modulated middle. They’re called “ambiverts,” a term that has been in the literature since the 1920s. They’re not overly extraverted. They’re not overly introverted. They’re a little of both.

He adds more detail in this post, and also has a test where you can test whether or not you’re an ambivert too.

The key question is why does it turn back down?  This upside-down U shape is actually a very common research finding.   You frequently see it in systems that require attention.  Usually, it means that if you have too many team members involved, you can’t pay enough attention to each, and your results start to get worse.

This is interesting for a three reasons.

  • We often search for black and white answers – but life rarely offers them.
  • Is collaboration good?  Yes, but only up to a point.
  • Is extraversion good if you’re a salesperson (and all leaders are “selling” something)?  Yes, but only up to a point.

Figuring out where that point lies is part of the art of managing.  And being comfortable with the ambiguity in this is an even bigger part being a leader.

So just remember: more is better, but only until it’s not.

Read more from Tim here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tim Kastelle

Tim Kastelle

Tim Kastelle is a Lecturer in Innovation Management in the University of Queensland Business School. He blogs about innovation at the Innovation Leadership Network.

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Working Through the Obstacles to Innovation in Your Church

Providing leadership in a church setting always necessitates change. Change implies something is going to be different in the future. While change and innovation are not always synonymous, they can often be used interchangeably – like in the following post by Innovation Expert Tim Kastelle. He encourages leaders to first recognize the obstacles to innovation, and then gives four ideas to help overcome these obstacles.

Obstacle 1: Competition

Probably the most common question I get about this blog is “how do you find time to write it?”

It’s the same question that I used to get about reading – where do I find time to read books?

The answer to both is the same – I make time.  One of the ways that I make time is that I don’t watch much television anymore.

You wouldn’t think that writing a blog has competition, but it does.  In order to write a post, I have to not be doing other things with my time.  So as I’m writing this, I’m not watching The Wire, even though nearly every single person I know has told me that I must.  And I’m not reading either.

If something as simple as writing a blog post has competition, then clearly you will always have competition for something as significant as moving forward with a new idea.

So that’s one big obstacle to getting your great new ideas to spread – even if there is no obvious competition, you’re competing for time, or attention, or money, or…

Obstacle 2: People that are hurt by your idea

No matter how great our idea is, or how beneficial, some people will be made worse off when it’s executed.

We like to think that our new ideas are benign, or only beneficial.

There are always innovation winners and losers.  Just as it’s important to think broadly about competition, it also pays to think broadly about who might lose when your innovative idea is executed.

Obstacle 3: Time

The first two obstacles both contribute to the third one: new ideas always spread more slowly than we expect.  New ideas always spread though an S-Curve:

Innovation S Curve

The time it takes to work through the innovation takes time – and that often takes people by surprise.  It is a slow process because it takes time for people to hear about new ideas, it takes time to evaluate them, and it takes time to decide to adopt them.  Once all that happens, it often appears as though successful ideas are overnight successes, but that’s only because they’ve finally hit a tipping point.

How to work through these obstacles

The first issue is that you need to be aware of them.  The idea diffusion s-surve is a research finding that has been consistently supported for 60 years now – it’s is one of the most robust ideas in management research.  Yet it is still often misunderstood – just ask Kodak.

Here are four ideas for addressing this issue:

  • Think about timing.  You have to think about the timing of your idea.  If you are still at an early stage in the diffusion process, all of your attention must go to getting your idea to spread.  The right idea at the wrong time is still wrong.  This means that you need to think about things like your network of supporters, and how to best take advantage of them to spread your idea.
  • Early ideas need little bets, not big ones.  When we face an uncertain future, as we do at the start of the innovation diffusion curve, then we need to try to influence the future through experimenting.  The problem with big bets at this point in time is that they assume that we know how everything needs to work.  When we’re in time X, we don’t know this – we have to discover it.
  • Think about competition. And think about it broadly.  Competition for time, attention and money will all slow the spread of a new idea.  If people aren’t using your idea, what are they using instead?
  • Think about who loses. This is another source of resistance.  The competitors that we just considered are one source.  But also, whose routine does the new idea disrupt? People trying to maintain their current routines are a powerful force preventing the diffusion of new ideas.  You need to overcome this as well.

People often think that having a great idea is the hard part of innovating.  Most of the time, this isn’t the problem.  Getting the new idea to spread is.

If you’re serious about innovating, you will recognize – and work to overcome – the obstacles in front of you.

Read more from Tim here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tim Kastelle

Tim Kastelle

Tim Kastelle is a Lecturer in Innovation Management in the University of Queensland Business School. He blogs about innovation at the Innovation Leadership Network.

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Clarity Process

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Mind the Gaps: Build Basic Innovation Skills First

What are the connections between these three things?

First: Comics – the magic happens in the gaps between panels

In his terrific book Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud explains that comics are special because all of the real action occurs in the gaps between panels – this is the part that readers fill in using their imagination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A huge amount of effort and creativity goes into making the comic, but then the reader finishes the story in her head.

Second: Tools Don’t Solve Problems, People Do

Here’s an apocryphal story making the rounds of various photography sites:

A well known New York photographer goes to a socialite party. On his way in the hostess says to him, ‘Oh I love your photos, you must have an amazing camera!’. They have dinner and at the end of the night, on his way out, the photographer comments to the hostess, ‘I really loved the food, you must have an amazing stove.

Third: Seth Godin on helping people be more perfect

Check this out from Seth Godin:

Most people in the US can’t cook. So you would think that reaching out to the masses with entry-level cooking instruction would be a smart business move.

In fact, as the Food Network and cookbook publishers have demonstrated over and over again, you’re way better off helping the perfect improve. You’ll also sell a lot more management consulting to well run companies, high end stereos to people with good stereos and yes, church services to the already well behaved.

The Story: Creativity Happens in the Gaps

I see the same story in all three pieces: Creativity happens in the gaps.

I’m a lousy cook.  So if I go out and buy The Fat Duck Cookbook, and follow each recipe as closely as possible, I still won’t be cooking like Heston Blumenthal.

Why not?  Because I don’t know enough to fill in the gaps.  As much as I love Scott McCloud’s book, I disagree with him when he says that “what happens between these panels is a kind of magic only comics can create.”  I actually think that applying creativity and imagination in the gaps also explains the other two stories.

We can only sell cookbooks to people that are already great cooks because they have the skills needed to be able to fill in the gaps in a recipe creatively and with imagination.  And this is why, as in the case of the photographer and the cook, focusing on tools can be incredibly misleading.

Innovation Happens in the Gaps

A couple of years ago, I met with the senior management team from a really large organisation in Brisbane.  They wanted to talk to me about being more innovative.  We started by talking about what innovation is, and then quickly went through managing innovation as a process, and a few other key ideas.

Then one of them said: “We tried a big innovation initiative a few years ago and it didn’t work.”

There were nods around the table.  I said something like:

“Let me guess.  You asked everyone for their ideas.  Lots of people submitted innovation ideas, but there was no mechanism in place for choosing the best ones.  You didn’t have any budget attached for execution either, so nothing much came out of it.  And in the end, everyone that put an idea in ended up feeling disillusioned and morale actually went down.”

As I talked, there were sheepish nods around the table.

They didn’t know enough about innovation to fill in the gaps.  They wanted to buy the innovation version of the expensive camera, or the great stove.

They had the same problem that Seth Godin outlines: they’re actually not good enough innovators to benefit from the tools that are available to them.

What Should You do If You’re Just Starting Out?

Forget about tools.  You have to build your basic innovation skills.

Once you’ve done these things, then you can go out and start buying expensive tools to support innovation.  But only then.

There are no innovation short cuts.  You have to build your skills first.

Once you have, then you’ll have enough knowledge to really use your imagination.  Then you’ll know that innovation happens in the gaps.

Read more from Tim here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tim Kastelle

Tim Kastelle

Tim Kastelle is a Lecturer in Innovation Management in the University of Queensland Business School. He blogs about innovation at the Innovation Leadership Network.

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comment_post_ID); ?> Thanks Thom, You’re exactly correct. Now how about some solutions when confronted by one of these wayward actors?
 
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comment_post_ID); ?> This is hilarious. Well done!
 
— RussellC
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Love this
 
— Ann Stokman
 

Clarity Process

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Is Innovation a Part of Your Organization’s DNA?

It’s been a brutal period for retail firms since the global financial crisis hit.  Despite this, I’ve spoken recently with the CEOs of four different retail firms (Lorna Jane, Unit, Di Bella Coffee and The Cloakroom) that have all more than doubled their sales in that time.

[Note from the Vision Room Curator: If you’ve read the first paragraph and think this doesn’t apply to your church because it’s about retail, you would be wrong. Read on for three common factors of retail stores that can also be applied in your church.]

What do they have in common?  A few things.  All four CEOs are founders, all of them are very passionate about what they do, and all four firms have innovation embedded in their DNA, as Phil Di Bella put it.

This is expressed a few different ways. The common factors among them are:

  • A strong culture of experimentation.  Experimenting is central to innovating effectively.  All four firms are great at this – having an idea, and trying it to see if it works.  If it does, they scale it.  For this to work, you also need to support the experimental approach with a strong learning culture – there’s no point in testing ideas fail if you don’t learn from the ones that fail.
  • Their passion is driven by a shared purpose.  Phil appears to be personally affronted by mediocre coffee.  Lorna and Bill are committed to helping women live healthier lives, Paul and Ian want Unit to change the sports they support, and Andrew and the Cloakroom gents are deeply committed to helping men dress well.  More importantly, this message is shared by everyone that works at these firms.  I’ve spoken with people on all four shop floors, and the message is very consistent with what I’ve heard from the top.Here is how Nilofer Merchants puts it:
    In the social era, purpose precedes scale. And as we discussed in part two of the series, shared purpose allows many communities to engage with you — without you having to invest resources in controlling their actions. When TED unleashed TEDx, they created a force multiplier. Shared purpose aligns people without coordination costs.
    Purpose is also a better motivator than money. Money, while necessary, motivates neither the best people, nor the best in people. Purpose does.
  • Their people are empowered.  This goes hand-in-hand in with the previous two points.  Even if people have a shared purpose, and the organization has a culture of learning, you can still kill innovation if there is no autonomy.  To take advantage of purpose + experiments, everyone needs to feel as though they are allowed to test out ideas as they have them.

Lorna Jane and Unit are also both exceptional at social media – I saw the social media tracking boards at Lorna Jane last week, and they are amazing.

When times get tough, it is easy to go for efficiency. Stefan Lindegaard outlines what happens when you focus on efficiency at the expense of innovation:

No one wins this battle. The employees are taken as hostages, the customers or end-users lose out on the benefits of innovation and in the long term the shareholders will suffer. The latter is true because there is actually one winner. That is the competitor that decides to become competitively unpredictable through innovation and gets this right.

These are tricky times for retail (and for many other sectors as well). In addition to widespread economic problems, Tom Fishburne’s latest post addresses one of the factors unique to retail:

Fishburne describes what happens when a retail store focuses on efficiency at the expense of innovation:

The last time I shopped at Best Buy, I ended up buying at Amazon, but not because of price. I really wanted to buy from Best Buy, particularly after I’d invested the time to travel there and preferred to have the product the same day. But the store experience was so transactional and it was so hard to find a knowledgable sales rep that I gave up. Best Buy could have won me over with a better retail experience, but they dropped the ball. They were trying so hard to be like Amazon on price, they didn’t excel at what could have made them different.

What makes the successful retail shops different?  Passion.  Purpose. Experiments.

Innovation is part of their DNA.

Read more from Tim here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tim Kastelle

Tim Kastelle

Tim Kastelle is a Lecturer in Innovation Management in the University of Queensland Business School. He blogs about innovation at the Innovation Leadership Network.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> Thanks Thom, You’re exactly correct. Now how about some solutions when confronted by one of these wayward actors?
 
— Mike
 
comment_post_ID); ?> This is hilarious. Well done!
 
— RussellC
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Love this
 
— Ann Stokman
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.