3 Keys to Increasing Innovation

There’s a lot of talk about innovation these days.  Much of it is academic and lacks practical application.  Here are three important tactics from my work helping companies become more innovative.

  1. Focus more on the work environment than on finding highly innovative people. The reason?  If the environment and management are not conducive to innovation, innovation simply won’t happen, even with star innovators.  They’ll feel stifled, frustrated, and then probably leave for a better environment.  So the first key is to create an environment where innovation is valued and where management provides the freedom to fail.  Any environment where people are highly defensive, blaming others, and getting micro-managed, will not be innovative.
  2. Reward behaviors, not results. It may be counterintuitive, but with innovation don’t incent results; instead, reward behaviors.  Highlight people who are innovating — make them role models, let others see successful examples.  Consider celebrating the best ideas that didn’t work.
  3. Fail fast. Use prototyping.  Never ever pick one idea, invest heavily in fully developing it and then launch it.  That’s a proven way to lose your shirt.  Instead move forward a few ideas then they are undeveloped, but with good potential.  Run with them and get each one to grow or fail quickly. That way good ideas can grow, but you limit both risk and cost.

My Takeaways From Megan Smith, Chief Technology Officer of U.S.

Last week I attended M.I.T’s graduation to see my son receive his Ph.D. in Aeronautic and Astronautic Engineering.  The guest speaker was Megan Smith, Chief Technology Officer of the United States.  Here are a few key points she made that I thought worth sharing along with my comments:

  • “When we work in technology, we get messy — it’s not straightforward.  You can’t learn to play baseball by reading a book.”  The same is true of leadership, management, and especially innovation.  Innovation is messy because you won’t innovate through bureaucracy and managing projects.  With leadership and management, books and seminars may be good ways to learn concepts, but there is no substitute for experience, mentoring, and coaching.
  • The importance of teams to get things done.  Her point was about knowing your own strengths and weaknesses, focusing on improving your strengths, and teaming up with people who are good at your weaknesses.   That’s why it’s so important not to surround yourself with people who are like you.
  • Kindness is not a weakness, but an extraordinary strength.  Bullying is widespread in corporate America.  Remember that the objective of a bully is to bring others down to his/her level.  bullies need to be told to chill-out.  Be kind to yourself, and to others.  Help yourself and others to perform at high levels and to grow.

You won’t get a Nobel Prize for doing what you are told.”  Engender both the confidence to learn and a profound humility of being able to innovate and create new futures.

Make Your Strategy Sessions More Engaging

Strategy should be exciting, challenging, and stimulating.  It should elicit the very best thinking of your key people, get the creative juices flowing, build enthusiasm, and get them on the same page.  Here are some ideas I’ve used to build excitement and involvement:

  1. Plan to plan.  Build anticipation with a series of key questions and provocative readings.  What is happening in our industry and why?  Where’s it going next?  What should we be doing three years from now that is very different from what we’re doing now?
  2. Be clear about expectations.  Create a high bar for what is expected from planning participants. Simply attending and listening ain’t enough — you want ideas and passion from each and every person.
  3. Plan a fast-paced, focused, and practical agenda.  Go at the speed of your best people — not the speed of the slowest.  Set the pace and run fast.  You’ll be surprised how everyone wakes up.
  4. Use assignments, exercises, and techniques to get the group working together to formulate the strategy, assess the implementation necessary, and plan the execution.  They’ll have to work together to create the strategy, so get them to create it and commit to it together.  Stop the piecemeal approach where each one takes their part of the plan and works on it independently.
  5. Get involvement from people deeper in the organization.  Bring in some hot-shots, some innovators, and thought challengers.  It’s a great way to add new blood and provide excellent development.

For more ideas on injecting greater enthusiasm, key thinking, and creativity into your planning, give me a call.  I’d love to hear what you’re doing and give you fresh ideas.

How Strategic Planning is Changing

Gone are the days of big binders with detailed projections, economic analyses, and all the other stuff that is old even before it is put in binders and distributed.  Here are some of the ways strategic plans changing.

  • They’re faster-paced, simpler, more fluid, and much more focused.  Why?  Because markets, technology, and customers are changing so fast, you can’t afford to sit still or to be overly detailed.  Think of it as changing the tires on a car while going 70 miles per hour down a highway.
  • There’s far less concern about today.  If your planning is projecting sales, operations, and organization forward from today, you’re not doing strategy.  What you’re doing is operations improvement.
  • They lock in on a point in the future, then determine how to get there.  That’s the only way to escape the frame of today’s thinking, today’s markets, and today’s products.
  • They are strategic and scenario-based.  In other words, they determine what the firm will look like, what’s it will be exceptional at, and what value it will provide.  Not just doing better what the firm already does.
  • They identify the role of innovation and awareness of growth curves.
  • And they focus on successful implementation and execution — they make strategy part of everyday work, not an added on layer of tasks.

Shake-up your strategic planning.  Throw out the old, plodding approaches.  Use your planning to open up your team’s thinking, get juices flowing, invent your future, and get everyone on the same page.