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How to Innovate Innovation: Takeaways from the Quick MIX Brainstorm (part 1)

by Michele Zanini on December 10, 2012


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How to Innovate Innovation: Takeaways from the Quick MIX Brainstorm (part 1)

Quick MIX Summary Part 1


We recently ran an on-line brainstorming session we call “Quick MIX” focused on a topic related to the current “Innovating Innovation” M-Prize challenge.  The question for the Quick MIX was: what is the one thing you’d change to make organizations more innovation-friendly?

Over the course of a few days, MIXers from around the world submitted over 100 answers to this question, many of them receiving lots of praise and tweets from the MIX community.  There was so much insight packed into the Quick MIX submissions that we decided to provide a summary of the major takeaways from this exercise, grouped into broad themes (you might recognize these from the Innovating Innovation challenge brief).  Below is our first installment, covering eight broad recommendations on how to make organizations more innovation-friendly.  We’ll present another eight in a blog next week.


1. Develop clear definitions and metrics for innovation

Several entries suggested that innovation is often a fuzzy concept in most organizations—that is, different people have disparate views of what innovation is or ought to be.  Unless innovation is clearly and consistently defined, it is difficult to set shared innovation priorities and to measure innovation performance.  Stefan Lindegaard’s contribution—the most “liked” and tweeted among Quick MIX entries—goes a step further by suggesting that innovation definitions also need to be comprehensive.  Stefan argues that “innovation often fails because there is too much focus on the product or technology aspect of innovation. We need a more holistic approach to innovation; an approach that not only focuses on products and technologies, but also on services and processes.”

Developing the right metrics goes hand-in-hand with clearer and more holistic definitions of innovation. Insightful contributions on metrics included Mike Anderson’s suggestion to have a target for failure on internal projects.  Mike calls for a 50% target for failure, based on the principle that those whose success rate is too high are not trying hard enough to be innovative.

View all the Quick MIX ideas on defining and measuring innovation


2. Upgrade the innovation skills of every individual

Companies do many things to encourage innovation, but in his Quick MIX contribution Gary Hamel argues that the most important thing is to train everyone from top to bottom in the art and science of business innovation. Gary contends that “you wouldn’t expect someone to hit a 220-yard golf shot without a bit of training, and the same is true of innovation. In my experience, you can teach just about anyone to challenge unexamined industry beliefs, uncover unmet customer needs, war game emerging discontinuities, and identify underexploited competencies.” 

Claudia Lindby makes a similar point when she suggests that everybody in the organization should be trained and allowed to consistently spot underlying assumptions about “our strategies, our operational plans, our decision-making” and to ask challenging questions around those.

View all the Quick MIX ideas on innovation skills


3. Deploy innovation tools throughout the organization

A number of Quick MIX participants suggested that the use of purpose-built management tools and techniques can be important catalysts to innovation. These include impromptu brainstorms called by salespeople that include people across an organization, as proposed by Felix Gruijters, and the use of red and yellow cards during informal meetings and ideation sessions to signal to people that they’re being negative and killing ideas—a practice that Mario Morales has implemented successfully with his teams. Past M-Prize winner Ross Smith proposes tools that aim to reintroduce play into the workplace as a way to boost creativity, reviving an old tradition quashed by Taylorism and bureaucracy.

View all the Quick MIX ideas on innovation tools


4. Create widespread accountability for innovation

In most companies there is a growing sense that innovation is something that can—and should—happen outside the walls of dedicated units like product development and R&D.  Making sure that everybody is accountable and empowered to innovate, however, remains difficult as long as traditional top-down, silo-based management practices endure.  Several Quick MIX participants suggested ideas for overcoming these barriers—Nicholas Van Zant proposes attendance-optional meetings open to everyone in the company that prove a laid-back, “we’re all ears” approach where “no input is bad input.”  Ivan Gonzales proposes that teams draft a social contract for innovation--a mutual agreement on the principles that will govern their interactions with each other. These principles can include “Be fully present. Speak your truth as you know it now. Experience discomfort. Expect and accept non-closure.”

View all the Quick MIX ideas on innovation accountability


5. Knock down the bureaucratic hurdles that often frustrate innovation

It’s hard to be innovative when new ideas have to undergo a gauntlet of forms and approvals, and not surprisingly, eliminating the hurdles of bureaucracy surfaced as an important theme in this Quick MIX. Gil Laroya suggested two changes to bust innovation-sapping bureaucracy and make individuals feel like members of small start-ups: (1) dismantle hierarchical reporting relationships in favor of lateral peer relationships and (2) do away with formal, and often artificial, groupings of “teams” and “groups."  Jay Millstead advocates the “killing a stupid rule” approach, where small groups identify what organizational rules are impeding them or their customers and vote to quickly kill those rules.

View all the Quick MIX ideas on knocking down bureaucratic hurdles


6. Make innovation an important component in compensation and reward decisions

If compensation and rewards are not aligned with pro-innovation activities and behaviors, there’s little hope that innovation will become an organization-wide capability. Mike Anderson’s entry decries how incentives created around artificial performance targets get people chasing narrow goals, and suggests instead that incentives should be shared and non-financial, such as peer recognition and learning opportunities. Myfanwy Marshall proposes developing a reward system for those who develop a business case for an innovative idea, whether successful or not, and a demerit system for those who are a barrier or a naysayer (this was one of several Quick MIX contributions aimed at removing the negativity that often hampers the innovation process).

View all the Quick MIX ideas on innovation-focused rewards


7. Carve out space for innovation in the midst of all the “busyness”

In these tough economic times, companies have re-doubled their efforts at wringing slack out of their operations.  While no one can argue with the goal of doing more with less, companies that eliminate all slack from their operations run the real risk of eliminating all of the innovation as well.  Several contributors considered how best to allocate time to innovation, such as Braden Kelley who suggested that instead of setting a hard-to-manage percentage of time or treating innovation projects as an exception, time for innovation be part of the staffing plan, like vacation.  Jonathan F Vernon suggested that, like a chapel of rest in a hospital that is distinct in every way from a hospital environment, a structure such as a “chapel of innovation and creativity” can be created that would allow people to switch modes from their usual environment.

View all the Quick MIX ideas on carving out space


8. Create “stretch” goals that encourage break-out thinking

Stretch goals, or aspirational goals, might not always return a breakout innovation, but you can be sure that incremental goals will always return incremental ideas. Marcelo Michelsohn argues that one cannot be fundamentally innovative without re-framing the purpose for organizations, which is to improve life: “CEOs should say ‘We’re not here to make cars, refrigerators, shampoo. We’re here to improve life. Let’s use our knowledge, machinery and network. Dream and prototype!’”  Randy Jones urges organizations to deliberately induce disruption – to roles, business models, “common sense” – to create an innovation-friendly culture.  This will jolt the business culture out of the local minimums it tends to fall into, he says.

View all the Quick MIX ideas on stretch goals


We thank all the participants of the Quick MIX for their energy and insightful contributions, and encourage them to build on their ideas as submissions to the Innovating Innovation challenge.  Stay tuned as we present another eight themes from the Quick Mix next week...


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