September 18, 2010 at 8:14am
So, you've decided that experimentation is the path to innovation. How do you:
- inspire a team of innovators
- create a democracy of ideas for experiments
- find and allocate resources to experiments
- get management buy-in for the experiment(s) if you're not the manager
Some in the organization believe that experimentation can lead to new products, services, and processes...
but others believe that it's a distraction, reduces productivity, is costly, risky, scary, dangerous, and a waste of time...
Alternatively, the managers in the organization—those that control the money and resources—get to choose which ideas are "good" and which are "bad."
But... why do they get to choose? Why do they get the credit? It's enough to take the fun out of the project.
How do organizations funnel ideas up instead of down?
How can organizations choose experiments that have the support of those that will actually make it happen?
And while all the advice about Management Innovation sounds great, how do those in the organization that aren't the CEO, president, senior manager make any headway in changing the hierarchical culture of ideas that stifles experimentation and innovation?
Solution: Bring the MIX Home. Start with a Small Team of the Early Adopters. Build Out.
In The Future of Management, Gary Hamel outlines a Shared Beliefs exercise. In short, a group of colleagues gathers to question common beliefs about a major management issue. The exercise starts with a silent brainstorm on post-it notes, then moves to active sorting of the post-its, and ends with open questioning of 2-3 of the top categories.
The Shared Beliefs exercise works for any management problem; however, if experimentation is an issue in your organization, I recommend using it as the topic of your brainstorm. My hypothesis is that your group will quickly determine that creating a marketplace of experimental ideas is the way to go.
The Shared Beliefs exercise gets everyone on the same page, but the trick is translating it into action. That's where this hack comes in. The hack isn't in the idea of creating a marketplace for ideas—that's already been done (e.g. Rite-Solutions's "Spazdaq"). Nor is it about the Shared Beliefs brainstorm itself (thanks, Gary). The question is: how do you put them together? How can you create a marketplace in an organization for which such things really aren't part of the culture and where you don't have someone at the top who sees a value in creating that marketplace from the top down?
In this hack, the idea is to use the brainstorm to get to the marketplace. Using the brainstorm as a starting place, build out the team as its own experiment in management innovation. Because of the brainstorm, the original group has become ambassadors for an entire new way of thinking and doing and becomes open to testing the marketplace idea.
Ask the group to come up with one or more ideas for an experiment—it could be a new product or service, a build out of an existing product or services, or a new process. Keep it brief: a sentence or two on the problem to be solved, a sentence or two on the suggested solution.
Gather the ideas on a wiki or other online forum. Post ideas anonymously to avoid bias. Open up a public (not anonymous) commenting period. Ask the original to build out the ideas—question them, answer the questions, debate. For each one, ask them to "guess" how much the project will cost above and beyond staff time.
Finally, ask them to vote with their time. Ask them to identify up to three projects that they would actually be willing to work on. Take the list of projects to management. If management adopts one of the experiments—continue to build out the practice, one small team at a time, on a monthly or quarterly cycle. Or maybe stay with the same team for a while and see how long before other teams become inspired to mimic your efforts. Maybe rotate who in the team presents the most recent list to management.
- Uncovers hidden problems
- Leverages employee creativity and enthusiasm
- Fosters cross-departmental communication and problem-solving
- Ideas funnel up rather than down
- Teams form organically
- Employees influence management
Unless everyone in the room needs to understand why experimentation is a challenge and the factors that are preventing experimentation from happening. So the first step is the management innovation brainstorm.
Hamel, Gary. "Uncovering Shared Beliefs," The Future of Management. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, pp. 130-143.