Innovation Furnace. Execution Engine.

In reality, the 80/20 rule is 90/10 when it comes to innovation. Only 10% of “ideas” that are generated could be considered in the “good” category. However, of the entire population of ideas, 1% would be considered “great.” The difficult part to begin to grapple with is that of all ideas that a team comes up with, only .001% will be in the “fantastic” category. That’s it, 1 in 1000. For some, just coming up with that 1/1000 is enough of a thrill. All too often that’s the extent of it. There is no follow through, no attempt to build a consensus of opinion, and no attempt to prioritize and take the “idea” all the way to the “product” stage. For some, “I thought of that” is enough. But that doesn’t create sustainable business and it doesn’t create effective people and teams. What does create a business is follow through. After reading Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky, it’s clear that a process is needed to move things from the innovation stage to the execution phase.

As Scott puts it…

Only through organization can we seize the benefits from bursts of creativity.

So how do you move repeatedly from idea to launch? In my experience the easiest way to make this happen is to create a simple project plan and set milestone dates and stick to them. For example…

  1. Brainstorm, conceptualize and refine the idea for 30 days.
  2. For the following 3 days we will review objectives and prioritize.
  3. In 15 days we’ll have a working prototype.
  4. For 10 days following that we’ll review results and have a working solution.
  5. In 5 days we’ll launch in specific pilot areas.

Keep going from there. Put a process together that you can follow. Not too detailed just a general sense of what everybody is doing. If it’s more complicated than a football play then you need to stop and rethink because nobody can follow it. Pick a project manager to oversee the process. No Gantt charts, just clear and simple markers to show where you are as opposed to where you should be. When dates slip, ask “why” not “who?” If the “why” is associated to the same person every time then the “who” will answer itself. It also polices your process. You should also let the people following the process police it as well. In my opinion, anyone that is a part of a process should have the responsibility of calling “bullshit” on any portion of the process that impacts them directly. They should also be required to offer a workable solution, not just complain that the process is broken or too difficult. Once the issue and a potential solution are voiced, the rest of the team following the process needs to have a say in changing the process. Whatever you do, don’t wait to make the change if everybody approves. Make it now. Test it. Do a dry run and see what happens.

Once you’ve got one team up and running with this, split off a smaller team and move new people into the original team. Add people slowly so they can get their feet under them and get accustomed to the culture. Have the teams work on different cycles, one conceptualizing and the other executing. Create a pool of the top 10% of ideas to draw on and see if they can be enhanced. The two teams should get together at regular intervals to discuss what they’ve learned about each other and about the process. Have ONE process. Not one for EACH team. Shuffle people around from time to time to avoid group think. Mix things up again by having a different person lead the initiative. That gives people experience at leadership and making decisions without all the facts available. That type of experience will prove to be invaluable to your people, your teams, and your company.