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It’s a familiar scenario. A facilitator, either internal or external, is brought in to lead an ideation session. There may be some significant advance work done by the facilitator or participants to gather relevant data, define the problem and maybe develop some initial possibilities. Then the team is brought together, perhaps for a day, to brainstorm ideas. The facilitator may use all sorts of strategies from forced connections to images & metaphors to exploring trends and scenarios, all aimed at amplifying everyone’s creativity.
It works and the team generates a number of intriguing ideas and selects the most promising ones to pursue. Mission accomplished. The facilitator packs up the quotations and toys and goes to the next assignment. It’s a scene that’s been repeated in thousands of organizations often with great success. And, don’t misunderstand me, it can be a high value exercise. (I’m one of the people who has been doing it.)
But now what?
Maybe the marketing folks take those ideas and begin gathering customer feedback. Perhaps the most promising ideas are assigned to a project manager, or a new product champion, or are fed into the existing new product pipeline—whatever innovation processes are in place.
But something is frequently missing.
We know from extensive research that idea generation can be enhanced—sometimes dramatically—by the in-the-room strategies that are employed. We’ve learned how to leverage our creativity by getting people to think in certain ways (and stop thinking in certain ways), by adopting a certain mindset, a mindset that produces measurably better outcomes.
But once we have those ideas, we tend to think that the challenge is one of simple execution. When ideas fail in the marketplace we assume that those ideas must not have been as good as we initially thought they were. It’s all very neat and tidy and self-fulfilling: Good ideas lead to great innovations, and when they don’t, they are by definition no longer good ideas. It’s a simplistic assumption that can breed arrogance on the part of decision makers and organizations who are at times all too willing to believe that they already know how to innovate. When we see every success or failure as a consequence of the quality of the original ideas, we give ourselves a get-out-of-jail-free card that conveniently ignores the role that subsequent decisions and strategies may have played
Maybe part of the problem is the mindset outside the room. Maybe the same level of creativity and spontaneity, of improvisation and exploration that fuels those ideas in the first place, is needed throughout the innovation cycle. Clearly intuition and imagination and insight continue to play an important role in raising an infant idea to successful maturity. Who facilitates that part of the process? Where are the tricks and techniques, the mental exercises, the creativity prompts, the disciplined observation and discovery throughout the rest of the innovation cycle?
There are plenty of opportunities to optimize other steps in the innovation cycle, and not just process improvements but improvements in how people think about and mentally process those challenges. How are promising ideas nurtured and developed? How are needed course corrections identified and implemented? How do we learn from mistakes and failures? How do we identify not just the failed ideas, but failed implementations and distinguish between the two? How do we assure that teams are interacting in ways that promote rather than hinder progress? These are cognitive tasks that are just as much in need of optimization as the original ideation.
Experienced innovators and entrepreneurs know that the implementation of their ideas takes just as much skill and savvy and artistry as coming up with those ideas—often more. But as teams and organizations we’ve been remarkably slow to recognize the crucial role that mindset plays…at every step, every decision, every action taken in pursuit of innovation.
It’s no secret that great new ideas—as important as they are—are only one step in that journey. It’s also no secret that success in the marketplace is achieved for only a minority of those ideas. What are you doing to optimize the mindset of the individuals and teams and decision makers that have a role to play throughout the innovation cycle?
What are you doing to enhance your organizations mental innovation processes?
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