Monday, November 30, 2009

More on Innovation

Gary Hamel is a great guru of mine and has been writing for many years on how organisations can take the next step to upping the ante on a culture of innovation. In this blog I take some of his ideas and expand on them to provide some practical examples of how we can apply some of his thinking in the workplace.

1. Learn from the fringe. Hamel says - "What’s true for music, fashion and the arts is true for business as well: the future starts on the fringe (not in the mainstream). As William Gibson once said, 'The future has already happened, it’s just unequally distributed.' To see it coming, managers have to pay attention to nascent technologies, unconventional competitors and un-served customer groups. A good rule of thumb: spend an hour a day, or a couple of days a month, exploring emerging trends in technology, lifestyles, regulation and venture capital funding. The future will sneak up on you unless you go out looking for it."

In your teams, set up a process where managers or team members have responsibility for doing research on emerging trends generally - not necessarily in their specific field of expertise. Ask them to do fun presentations on the future for others in the organisation.

2. Regard every belief as a hypothesis. hamel says - "The biggest barriers to strategic renewal are almost always top management’s unexamined beliefs. Music can only be sold on shiny discs? Don’t bet on it. The news has to be delivered on a big piece of flimsy paper? Not necessarily. You have to load programs onto your computer before you can use them? Maybe not. In an age of unprecedented change, it’s important to regard everything you believe about your company’s business model, its competitors and its customers as mere hypotheses, forever open to disconfirmation. Every industry works the way it does until it doesn’t; and if you don’t challenge industry dogma, you can be sure that some unconventional upstart will. So now more than ever, humility is a virtue."

Make this concept real in several ways - Run a fun session where everything is challenged.

What could things look like if there were no bank accounts, if there were no credit cards, if there were no formal loan system, banks no longer existed etc.

This is where I think LEGO Serious Play would be marvellous – or drawing and collages would also be great.

What are the possibilities that emerge. Make a video of them.

3. Invest in genetic diversity.

Hamel says - "Check that the innovation team has a good mix of innovation skills" – Know who is who on the team. Who are the ones who ideate and who are the implementors? Who are the process people and who are the people who are detail-focused.

4. Encourage debate and dialectic thinking. "Diversity is of little value if senior executives value conformance and alignment above all else. One of the reasons that McKinsey & Company* has remained at the top of the consulting game for so many decades is that it encourages internal dissent."

Do an activity where one team presents and the other does ‘ritual dissent’. This is a process where the other team pulls apart the ideas of the previous team as though they are holding their own private meeting with their backs to the team that presented. It is not intended as criticism - it is intended to stimulate further debates.

5. Build a magnet for great ideas. Hamel - "In the quest to expand the option set, it’s important to cast the innovation net as broadly as possible. IBM did this in 2006 when it hosted a worldwide Innovation Jam. The online conversation was designed to help IBM identify new ways of using its resources to help address some of the world’s toughest challenges. More than 150,000 experts, vendors, employees and clients participated in two 72-hour brainstorming sessions that generated 46,000 postings"

See how you can do an “innovation jam” session – either on-line or face to face. Take the concept and make it your own. Brainstorm without post-its as the main mechanism.

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