4 April 2012
I share innovation blog posts that I come across because not only is that part of what this site is about, but I'm also interested in learning more about organizational dynamics and improving productivity. The intersection of technology and human frailty, if you will, is ceaselessly fascinating to me.
So I came across "Five Key Innovation Questions to Ask" by Robert Brands. (By the way, what a great last name if you're in the marketing-consultant business, which Brands is; there's a "Who's on first?" joke here somewhere).
His aren't the questions to ask. And even if they were, there's no organization in the world that has trained its employees to be so disciplined as to run through such a list on a regular or serendipitous basis, to build them into its DNA if you will.
That said, there is a question you need to ask. And this assumes that your organization has an average distribution of leaders, followers and, the really important types, the nut-jobs. (Let's be honest: really brilliant engineers live just on the hairy edge of insanity; you know who they are, even though they often don't know who they are).
So given that your organization is average, here's the one question you need to ask:
"Is the idea so simple that it will never happen?"
Ideas that get that reaction are among the most innovative you'll come across. And they get that reaction because humans know in their heart of hearts that the most elegant solution is the simplest. And since it's the simplest, we dismiss it because "real innovation" has to be hard; it has to come down from a mountaintop, accompanied by thunder, lightning and a ringing chorus of cherubs.
"Real" innovation needs to over-turn the apple cart, upset the dominant corporate paradigm, cause walls to catch fire and stultified careers to free fall into darkness. "Real innovation" comes after toil because that's what we're supposed to do, right? That's the Protestant work ethic writ large.
But real innovation is never (if you could ask it) so pretentious. Real innovation is simple and accessible because it understands that everything is evolutionary; nothing is revolutionary.
Real innovation is looking at a music score and deciding that instead of ending with a dominant chord, maybe we should end with a seventh or a minor chord. Real innovation puts two buttons on something, not 10. Real innovation doesn't look at the boulder in the middle of the stream and explore how to deconstruct the boulder; it finds its way around. Real innovation zigs when everybody zags.
The sad thing is that, in the workplace, we have this reaction all the time to clever ideas. It's prompted by a cynicism that was born the second or third time you saw an elegant solution, an innovative solution, dismissed as too simple.
But maybe if we embrace the simple, we'll push ahead a little faster and more efficiently.