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 what about the mindset outside the room? 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...and is often lacking.
Under Steve Jobs, Apple became what by almost all accounts has been the most successfully innovative company in the world. Now Apple faces what may be an even more daunting challenge: continuing with that innovation success without Steve Jobs. Isn’t that innovation’s Holy Grail? Isn’t that what the whole field of innovation is trying to figure out: how to build an organization that can produce the kind of success of an Apple…without having a world class genius at the helm? I have some hunches as to how...
In his acclaimed bestseller, Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about what he calls the “Flywheel Effect.” He describes how small actions and decisions, made over a period of time, add up to sustained momentum and success for great companies—like small nudges building momentum on a flywheel. I agree and riffing on his metaphor, I would add that our flywheel can be turning in either direction. It’s possible that a series of seemingly small decisions and incremental actions can gradually undermine our success. So the key question becomes: Which direction is your flywheel turning?
Innovation is different from other business competencies because it’s not about extending our expertise; it’s about repeatedly revising our expertise, at times rethinking our most fundamental assumptions and beliefs about our business. We need to recognize that when we encounter new information and observations, we must constantly check to be sure that when we see a cat we don’t assume that it’s just another doggie.
“There are no facts about the future.” I don’t know who first said that, but I keep coming across it lately and I agree. It’s not possible to draw factual conclusions about things that haven’t happened yet (although that doesn’t stop us from trying)...which raises an interesting question: How useful are facts in evaluating innovative ideas?
When it comes to innovation, making good predictions isn’t about trying to discern where the world is headed as much as where we might take the world. It’s an imaginative process (often just as imaginative as coming up with ideas in the first place). Innovation is not about predicting the future we’re expecting but rather achieving the future we want to create.
People in the wrong frame of mind can undermine even the most thoughtfully designed innovation processes. Folks in the right frame of mind can overcome many imperfections in those processes. Systems and processes are important in business, but they’re no substitute for enhancing the way people think.
The way we drive (or should drive) is a good analogy for innovative thinking. Like a alert driver, great innovators are those who can see problems coming, who have a heightened sense of awareness and possibility. This is not just an on demand capability, but a sustained frame of mind. They’re proactively looking for potential improvements they can make and problems they can avoid.
Mindset may the most overlooked strategic issue in business today. Getting yourself and your people into the right frame of mind is becoming a crucial determinant of competitiveness, thanks to two huge business trends.
There are proven techniques that get around these problems, approaches that encourage decentralized independent decisions, which are more accurately predictive, and boost engagement and commitment as well. These approaches emphasize differing perspectives and resist the temptation to force consensus (and the mediocrity that often entails).