Dealing with a lot of ideas – today’s progress is always compounded by yesterday’s effort
In the previous deliveries I made the case that innovation is about doing and not only talking about it, and that it is better to start small and keep the momentum going. To illustrate my point and support my argument again, I was recently reminded of this story on a blog I follow (http://www.marcandangel.com), that I want to share with the readers.
In 1911, two explorers, Amundsen and Scott, embarked on a race against each other to become the first known human being to set foot upon the southernmost point of Earth. Amundsen wished to plant the Norwegian flag there on behalf of his country, while Scott hoped to stake his claim for England.
Both men would be travelling the same exact distance on foot through extremely cold and harsh weather conditions. And both men were equally equipped with experience, supplies, and a supporting team of fellow explorers. There are many leadership and innovation lessons locked up in the study of these expeditions and the men involved, but the one that stood out for me was the entirely different approaches the two men took to the very same challenges.
Scott directed his team to hike as far as possible on the good weather days and then rest on bad weather days to conserve energy. Conversely, Amundsen directed his team to follow a strict regimen of consistent daily progress by hiking exactly 20 miles (32 kilometres) every day, regardless of weather conditions. Even on the warmest, clear-sky days, when the team was capable of hiking much farther, Amundsen was absolutely adamant that they travel no more than 20 miles to conserve their energy for the following day’s hike. Which team succeeded in the end? The team that took consistent daily action. Today’s progress is always compounded by yesterday’s effort, no matter how small.
Hence, as an organisation’s innovation efforts start picking up momentum, what usually happens is that more and more ideas start coming in, and it becomes a challenge to manage all the ideas in such a manner as not to dampen the momentum.
Linus Pauling said “The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas”, and although that is true, it becomes demanding to review, categorize, rank and give feedback on many ideas. It is of critical importance for an organisation’s innovation culture that people receive feedback on their ideas. The fastest way to kill innovation is to propagate that it is important and then ignore people’s ideas. People understand and know that not every single idea is a “winner” and can be implemented, but they at least want the acknowledgement that someone took the time and effort to listen to their idea.
Reviewing and evaluating ideas take time. Time that an organisation have to plan for if they are serious about innovation. However, as with any organisational process, there are ways and means of improving and optimizing the idea management process.
These days there are really potent software applications available that can automate the idea management process and make it very efficient. However, I have experienced that it means much more to a person (and an organisation’s innovation efforts) when a person gets a personalized response from a human to commend an idea that was submitted, as opposed to an automated message from a computer.
Furthermore, my personal opinion is that it is better to first have a manual process in place, and only when this process works and it becomes evident that the issue is not the process anymore, but rather a matter of capacity, only then to bring technology into the mix.
To give you a hands-on solution to the issue of handling lots of ideas (as promised in the beginning of this series), the most practical way is to provide criteria for the ideas or solutions that you are seeking.
So, when you source ideas for a specific challenge or opportunity, make it clear beforehand what you are looking for. As an example, you can specify that the solution you are looking for must be 1. Quick to implement (e.g. less than a month); 2. Inexpensive (e.g. less than N$ 10,000); and 3. Must or must not involve technology (e.g. we are / are not looking for a software solution to solve the problem).
Laying down basic criteria “forces” people to think through their proposed ideas, and when you do get in a “sub-par” idea, it is quick and easy to give feedback: “Thank you for your idea, we appreciate that you drive innovation in the organisation, but it will take too long and it will be too expensive to implement this idea. We will keep your idea in the idea library for this challenge, it may always be of use in the future!”
Having basic criteria in place for an innovation challenge will filter out the “noise” and make it easier to separate the wheat from the chaff. Coincidently, putting constraints on an innovation challenge actually improves creativity, but I will discuss this phenomenon in another delivery.
I have discussed the matter of dealing with many ideas in this delivery, but you also want to get better quality ideas, the topic for next time. I leave you with a point to ponder from Napoleon Hill: “First comes thought; then organization of that thought into ideas and plans; then transformation of those plans into reality. The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination.”