:: Voices ::

The Need for Innovation:
Why Good Ideas Fail

Ideas usually fail because we haven’t connected them with intuition, data, and people, says Brad Ruiter of Universal Mind. He tells us what success looks like and how to get there.

Find success among failure. [ IMAGE: Yukikae4b via istockphoto ]

Universal MInd is a Dallas Innovates is Silver Founding SponsorIn conference rooms across the globe, teams are meeting to brainstorm, discuss, and evaluate new ideas that will drive organizations in new directions. From products, processes, and services, companies are inundated with ideas from not only their internal teams but external influencers such as customers, market experts, and consultants.

As a typical example, I remember early in my career sitting in a large conference room, ready to unveil the latest piece of work to our executive team. Our team had spent months working on this idea, and it was nothing short of brilliant (in our opinion).

Executives began to trickle in, visibly feeling rushed from one appointment to the next. We were the last meeting of the day, and the team’s excitement was palpable as we began to present our idea that would change our approach entirely when it came to the European market.

EXCITEMENT TO DISBELIEF

Within three minutes of starting, our team transitioned from excitement to disbelief as the CEO systematically picked apart our idea by commenting on our obscure data and opinions on the market. Within three minutes, a VP at the end of the table proposed “another” approach that at its core was exactly what we had just presented. The CEO leaned over and listened intently, and the focus moved away from our presentation to the VP’s analysis of their “new” found idea.

Wait, what just happened?

Our team sat in a bit of stunned silence, as idea ownership officially transferred to someone else: Time of Idea Failure — 2 minutes and 3 seconds

IDEAS IN THE WILD — OPEN INNOVATION

There is something naturally exciting and inspiring about idea generation within organizations. The common feeling among these teams of people is that we can create something bigger, better, and more meaningful for our organizations. Typically these teams and individuals are motivated about “quick start” idea generation and enjoy the journey of the discovery. One thing is true; they are very passionate about their ideas (especially the ones that they own personally). Not all ideas, however, will be accepted — creating a demoralization factor that can’t be ignored. In fact, most times you will find it’s easy for people to dismantle the validity of your ideas versus rallying around them.

The art of the relationship is a critical component to success.

The danger and the challenges appear when deciding on the right time to release the idea into the wild — internally or externally. There is no particular science to this; it is more of art. The art side demands the ability to broker deals with allies and foes within the organization. The art of the relationship is a critical component to success. Once you have established a firm beachhead relationally with both parties, you can begin to vet the idea. Do NOT spring ideas. It is better to have them trickle in. While that might be a painstaking proposition, the relational equity you gain will be valuable for a longer period.

In a prior position, we adopted an Open Innovation Model that pursued “outsiders” and their ideas to participate in the ideation process. We knew that within organizations, disparate groups were working on like ideas in their protected areas of influence. Additionally, we knew there was an abundance of similar thinking occurring outside of the organization. We found that when entering a co-creation mode, we generated higher quality targets for executives to react. Instead of having 175 ideas coming from different areas, we would have fifteen that represented the best and most diverse thinking.

LESSON: Inclusion beats exclusion. Include people from outside of your organization as well as trusted internal teams.

CHOOSING YOUR TARGETS

The one thing I’ve found throughout my career is that no person or group is short on ideas. The trick is choosing the right one. We have spent lots of time as ideators coming up with as many ideas as we can, filling the funnel, and yet often fail in choosing the one that will have the most impact (while we do get lucky sometimes).

The science of this is to have a method that will help you with the discipline of looking at all aspects of an idea and then vet the idea through that process. Universal Mind uses a method that aligns ideation to strategic goals, unique market positioning, internal capabilities/capacity and most importantly, the organization’s core mission and value. You have to look at all of these influencers to ensure the idea has a chance of winning. One variable that is too far off can create mayhem in your process. And remember, even though the idea looks good in theory, it must have relevant data to support the idea.

The art aspect is born out of experience and maturity. It’s the individuals or teams intuition and domain knowledge that lends itself to knowing the right play. Intuition is gained over time and with exposure to the outside forces of the world.

Art and science together are a powerful combination, especially when it comes to idea development. Successful ideas are born out of having both equally represented.

I worked with a colleague for nearly 10 years who had developed the knack of doing this. He somehow knew what idea target to go after over 90 percent of the time and somehow the data always seemed to support his intuition. He gained this through years and years of product development, sales experience, and just hard knocks maturity. There is no fast track to the art (although, I have met some brilliant anomalies).

Art and science together are a powerful combination, especially when it comes to idea development. Successful ideas are born out of having both equally represented.

LESSON: Ideation is not all art, you have to root decisions in the science as well. Be sure your teams have both represented.

IDEA ACTUALIZATION: YOU HAVE TO EXECUTE

It may seem pretty obvious, but often it is the most difficult part of growing and maturing an idea and making it a reality.

By our very nature, as ideators, we are quick in the beginning but tend to slow as our ideas require more time, more data, and more attention. We like the excitement of the hunt and the “take-down” of an idea versus the ongoing “parenting” that’s often required to make it successful.

Embracing the theoretical process, acting upon the right targets, and knowing how to integrate back into the organization is key.

Innovators not only have the power of creation, but they also convert it into actionable activities. The challenge in achieving an Innovation Mindset stems from embracing the theoretical process, acting upon the right targets, and knowing how to integrate back into the organization. This requires identifying the right people in the appropriate places to ensure ideas can mature.

So, at the end of the day, after you have aligned people around the idea and it’s crazy potential, you have to actualize that idea. Frankly, this has less to do with process and more to do with people.

LESSON: Identify the right people in the appropriate places to ensure ideas can mature.

DREAMERS & DOERS

Earlier I stated you need both art and sciences represented. In people language, you have to have dreamers and doers in your team. When you have only the dreamers,” you will tend to only fantasize about the idea and what it could be. All the while becoming frustrated by your executive team asking about organizational impacts and not appreciating the beauty of the idea. Conversely, if you only have “doers,” the idea will get diluted by over-analysis, over-consensus, and over-processing.

A team infused with passionate dreamers, and relentless executors will not quickly lose sight of the ideas mission

It takes BOTH. A team infused with passionate dreamers, and relentless executors will not quickly lose sight of the ideas mission. And while it’s a pure exercise in relationship management, the reward on the other side can be pretty amazing. When you have this magic concoction dialed in, idea actualization often becomes possible.

LESSON: Infuse your team with passionate dreamers and relentless executors who will not lose sight of the ideas mission.

WHAT SUCCESS LOOKS LIKE

Ten years and a couple of companies later, I look back on all the ideation I’ve had the opportunity to do, and frankly, the ideas are not the things I remember. My markers of success have been the people I’ve worked with that had the “right” formula: passion, execution, and leadership. When the right people are in position, the ideas and actualization just seem to happen naturally.

Thinking back to that conference room, with all the wisdom, passion and leadership we had together, we should have seen it more opportunistically than we did. The idea was presented out in the open, the CEO had some data, and the other VPs bought into the idea by taking it as their own. It had all the components of a winning formula.

Ideas usually fail because we haven’t connected them with intuition, data, and people.

Want more?

Here are a few resources shared by Universal Mind.

The Era of Open Innovation, Henry W. Chesbrough

Making Stone Soup — How to Really Make Collaborative Innovation Happen, Jeff DeGraff, Dean of Innovation, University of Michigan


Universal Mind is an independent, digital consulting and services firm focused on enhancing human experiences and solving problems through technology. Founded in 2003, we have over 100 strategists, designers, developers, delivery managers, and agilists located across the US and Canada who all understand that true experience design and creation – and the resulting business value – happens at the intersection of PEOPLE, BUSINESS and TECHNOLOGY. For more information visit www.universalmind.com.


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