Innovation isn’t just for fun

I have reached a point where I do most of my learning about ideas in the form of podcast listening. The HBR Ideacast is a good source of ideas. It can also be a great source of self-satisfied acadmeic rambling, so handle with care but do give it a try.

The episode on innovation culture, “The Harsh Reality of Innovation Companies”, is a really interesting listen. It goes a long way to describing the challenges of creating a truly innovative presence in large organisations. It also paints a picture of succesful innovation as an outcome of ruthlessness in many ways. This is not Wolf of Wall Street style careless disregard for how work is carried out as long as the results are delivered. Neither is it the playground of free experimentation that the bean bags, massage chairs and free vegan lunches might suggest.

Valuable innovation takes hard work and a kind of bravery in a, hopefully contrcutively, critical world. This is not the world for everyone. Having your ideas critiqued, often publicly, could easily be misconstrued as taking a kicking. Survivial of the brightest is a form of natural selection and being on wrong side of evolution can be very uncomfortable.

One consequence worthy of consideration is  that consensual environments are not so supportive of valuable innovation. Bad ideas need to be identified through a good test and then abandonded, not revised into a form that everyone is OK with . That way lies mediocrity. (Those in the ‘people professions’ might struggle here?).

Equally, part of the bravery of new ideas is coping with having them picked apart. So, a central part of the leadership responsibility is to set expectations and role model behaviour that supports and offers useful feedback to the brave would be innovator. I recall some very upsetting review meetings in my BBC days where digital ideas were publicly scrutinized Silicon Valley style and a fair few people stopped sharing as a result of the bruising tone of those sessions.

The most important lesson, for me anyway, in the podcast is around the competency of the teams involved in innovation. They need to be really pretty good at what they do – at all of the parts of what they do. Otherwise a failed test of a new product or service could be ascribed to the wrong variable. Is a failed experiment because of bad design, bad code, rushed implementation, poor data gathering etc. The innovation team need to know what the results of the test really indicate.

In the learning world I think there is a weakness to innovation testing in organisations because of poor content, for example. By this I mean content that tells a weak story (or no story at all), rather than content with lower production values. A proper test of a new content experience will always fail or stumble with poor editorial inputs. Many releases of new content tools and apporaches (short form, social, mobile etc.) have fallen on stony ground beacuse the message is weak. This is often then ascribed to delivery mechanism, the culture, the device or the platform. That might be the right conclusion but it could only be arrived at with good content in the experiment. The right skills in he team can avoid this mistake in analysis. The innovation baby might not be thrown out with the bathwater before the water is properly investigated.

This might lead to another post about editorial skills and sensibility being more important than production skills. But it is Friday evening and I hear the call of the bus stop.


Leave a Reply