Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Few Good Ideas

There is an interesting discussion about innovation taking place over at The Hourglass Blog, hosted by Eric Lanke and Jamie Notter. In addition, a useful dialogue has broken out between them and Jeff DeCagna of Principled Innovation.

Eric and Jamie have offered three questions that association executives can use to determine the innovation readiness of their associations associations:

1. Does your leadership embrace innovation as one of the strategies necessary to achieve your goals?
2. Do you have a defined process for how innovation will function in your association?
3. Is that process working?
Starting with this post, I will propose the first of three alternative questions executives should ask themselves before embarking on that "innovation thing."

Lessons from the Innovation University program

A few years ago, I had the privilege of participating in the Innovation University Program. It brought together a select group of change agents from non-competing companies who gathered each quarter to visit innovative companies and explore ways to apply these lessons in their own organizations. Visits included companies such as Coca-Cola, Interface Carpet as well as several companies in Lima, Peru.

Those visits brought me face-to-face with a number of remarkable people; leaders who had the passion and tenacity to make innovation a living, breathing, results-producing force in their organizations.

The lesson I learned: innovation isn’t about processes or concepts or theories, it is about the people who champions it. How they behave, how they treat other people and how they respond to challenges, obstacles, failures and opportunities is the engine that drives the Innovation Train.

But first, a story about a “problem plagued” CEO

Let’s consider the story of a ‘problem plagued” Fortune 500 CEO.  One day he complained to friend, “I spend all my time dealing with people’s problems and complaints. No one ever brings my new and exciting ideas.”

The friend asked, “Let’s say I work at your company and I come to you with a problem or a complaint, what happens?”

CEO:  “Well, we sit down and talk. I gather the facts; we discuss options and try to figure out a way to deal with the problem.”

Friend: “That’s very good. Now what happens if I come to you with a great new idea?”

The CEO paused, looking a bit flummoxed. “Gee, um…I’m not sure.”

The friend observed, “So let me get this straight: if I bring a problem to you, I will get a lot of your time and attention. If I come to you with a new idea, you don’t know how to respond?”

The CEO nodded his sadly, “Yes.”

A Few Good Ideas

Now comes the fun part! We’re going to imagine the above dialogue as part of an exciting new movie. It’s called A Few Good Ideas and it’s loosely based on that classic, A Few Good Men with Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise. Here’s how the exciting confrontation plays out:

The first question you need ask yourself, "Can I handle a new idea?"

I hope I have made my point: if you don’t how to respond when someone brings you a new idea (i.e., “you can’t handle a new idea!”), you aren’t ready to launch an innovation initiative in your organization. The leaders I witness during my Innovation University visits thrived whenever people brought them ideas. They knew how to have a productive and encouraging conversation and how to act as a guide and even the muse.

Are you ready to do that?

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