Four steps towards innovation mastery…

This was first published on the blog at my other business: Objectivity

I’ve always loved looking for new ways of doing things. As a teenager on the farm, I think I drove my poor dad wild! In a way, I’ve dedicated my career to it (finding new ways, not driving my dad wild!). I didn’t always realise it at the time, I just kept doing the things that I couldn’t stop doing!

And because I value the ability to innovate so highly, it probably won’t come as a surprise to learn that I’m lucky to have many people in my business who get the same kick as I do. It’s an incredible feeling to create something new for our clients and we love doing it!

However, there’s always room for more and I wanted to find ways to encourage an even greater number of our people to develop themselves and their ability to conceive innovative solutions.

Our management teams stepped up and created many successful actions to encourage this hunger and we managed to engage lots more people.

However, my plea to our people to be more innovative didn’t land so well on everybody’s ears. For many, it’s not so easy to suddenly start a journey towards innovation mastery! They wanted some help with those critical first steps.

About a year ago, I read an article from McKinsey about practical ways that managers can help their people to innovate more. I really liked the article and it laid out 4 tactics for improving the chances of generating new and interesting options. It was great advice and I’ve not seen them gathered together in that way before.

I’ll cover each in more detail but first, a quick paraphrased list:

  • Break the rules
  • Create ridiculous constraints
  • Smash yourself into new ideas
  • Analogise to open new doors

I loved this list and I’ve used all these methods personally and with my teams to great success. I wondered if we could find a way of helping everyone understand these tactics and remember them.

First, let me elaborate a little on the four methods…

Break the rules

It can be hard to ignore the received wisdom and the known truths when exploring, but it can be hugely valuable. I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve seen young or inexperienced teams achieving amazing results because no one had told them all the things that don’t work!

We can’t turn back time but every now and then it’s worth trying to imagine that the things we know to be true, just might be wrong. Once that’s done, it’s a much smaller step to try and envision a world free from those chains of orthodoxy.

 Break the Orthodoxies - Innovation_illustrations-3

Once we “knew” that the world was carried by elephants riding on the back of a giant turtle

Create Ridiculous Constraints

In a Wired column in 1995, Nicholas Negroponte said that “incrementalism is innovation’s worst enemy”.

I’ve seen teams struggling to find ways of reducing their budget by 5% but engage creatively in ways to slash it by 50%.

Try thinking of an essential process that takes 2 hours and challenge yourself to find a way it can be completed in 2 minutes.

There are so many examples where teams of people have triumphed in overwhelming adversity where the situation was so constrained it appeared that all hope should be lost.

Most of us are fortunate enough that we’re not placed in life threatening situations and forced to innovate or die.

But, when we’re faced with a problem that needs fresh thinking, it’s not so hard to create some utterly ridiculous and totally unfair constraints. They can help us to see the problem with fresh eyes!

 Outrageous Constraints - Innovation_illustrations-1

Apollo 13 found itself with a failed mission, a damaged craft and no way home. Their constraints were utterly unfair, and yet…

Smash yourself into new ideas

Whilst our education system encourages many of us to know more and more about less and less, I’ve always believed there is huge value in a broad base of knowledge. A hunger to understand many things creates the building blocks for innovation.

History is littered with examples from Leonardo Da Vinci (“learning never exhausts the mind”) to Steve Jobs (“stay curious”) of people who achieved astonishing things through their hunger for new ideas and understanding.

 Smash yourself into new ideas - Innovation_illustrations-2

In 1962, JFK laid out a powerful new idea to a group of assembled scientists in Houston. It lead to many, many technological breakthroughs.

Analogise to open new doors

Or to put it slightly differently, learn to get better at finding ways in which things are like other things!

When we can find similarity between problems that are, on the face of it, completely different, then we can open the door to a completely new class of solution. Inspiration there can lead us to find new ways.

 Analogise - Innovation_illustrations-4

When a bee hive gets too full, the workers create a new queen and she leaves the nest, taking 1/3rd of the bees. They fly to a nearby temporary home and send out scouts looking for the ideal location…

And finally…

During a conversation with Marcin Faber one day, he suggested that we could create a series of four icons with a story behind each one. We could put them on our walls and when people ask what the icons mean, we have a chance to explain and spread the word. Our graphic designer (Tomasz Czyzkowski) rose to the challenge and created the series of amazing images above.

If you’ve got some great ideas on how to help build a culture of innovation, please let us know. If we like it too, we’ll send you a t-shirt with one of the icons printed on it 😁

Helping our clients solve their hardest business problems is our reason for being. If you’d like to have a talk with our teams about how we can help to conceive, design, and execute innovative solutions, please get in touch. We don’t hold back in any of our meetings and try to add value from our first encounter!

Published by PBS

Curious problem solver and business developer