Most large companies don’t know how to innovate. Do you?

It seems that innovation is wrongly spelled for large corporations, because it sounds very much like “eeeh, No vation (at all)” or “in ovation”. Ovation is what some leaders seem to expect to give to their reports. This is positive and generous. And god knows we need positive and generous leaders. Yet, it is based on a few fundamental misconceptions on how innovation comes to fruition. The following is the account of what was being setup at the resort, and the reflections of management during our conversation.

“Eeeh.. No vation here” cycle – a drama in 3 moves

Move 1: The Appointment (a.k.a. anointment of deacons)

The beginning of the “in ovation” cycle starts with the appointment (or is it an annointment?) of an innovation group. American teenage girls would put it best: Oh… My… God… Did you just…? Seriously? This move deserves a replay, because it killed two birds with one stone, or more precisely alienated two groups of people in one selection: the ones appointed, and the others. Take a minute for the calculation… Yup. that means everyone… Everyone who cares, at least. Why? Because the newly appointed, who are likely relatively successful, must have some understanding of your firm or the domain. As they do, they know that the answer will not come from their mind alone. At some point, the sooner the better, some action should be taken. And this will likely not happen after your last move. Why? Because the action will be the responsibility of “the others”, the “non-innovation-group”. Yes. You’re right. The people you just ostracized by telling them they were not worthy of being in the innovation group.

Summary of move 1: You appointed people in your innovation group. The selected few are worried that so much responsibilities falls on their shoulders. The others feel alienated to be selected out. Wait, wait. It gets better.

Move 2: The Brainstorm (a.k.a. flat signal blues).

For the brainstorm, you need a few ingredients:

  • a selected few – check!
  • a room – check!
  • 10 packs of yellow post-it notes – check!
  • 10 fat permanent ink markers – check!
  • … (seriously?) – no!

Now with these ingredients, you get… well, usually, some moderately useful remarks on what has worked or not worked in-house or for the competition, mixed with inspired feel-good comments like “we must work together” or  “success depends on us”, and the inevitable non-committal writings like “clients”, “build vs. buy” and “growth”. Multiple causes led to this, but in short, ingredients are not enough, especially if you do not have a clear goal, and a recipe, or at least some kind of understanding of the chemistry between these ingredients.

Summary of move 2: You organized a (series of) brainstorm. This led nowhere… or at least nowhere near where you hoped. The results are far from compelling. The remaining hopefuls are demotivated.
Move 3: The Follow-up session (a.k.a. calm after the storm)
After the brainstorm, one person is usually responsible for the capture of the “insights” (often nowhere in sight). This person, often the most junior, and hence politically least savvy, will have to take all the post-it notes and raw thoughts, and arrange them into a set of coherent, powerful and actionable recommendations. I like realistic goals. There is also a vague agreement to meet again, either on a set date or “in the future”. Nothing, or if you’re unlucky the same thing, happens then.
In the next post, we will look at how a positive innovation loop works, and what is done differently.

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