Joanne Kossuth and Thornton May organize a meet-up of business and higher education innovation leaders twice a year at Olin College. I go whenever I am allowed. Today’s is Olin Innovation Lab #5. At it, Roy Rosin, VP of Innovation for Intuit, shared a variety of thoughts on encouraging innovation in your organization. They were fun. My notes:
- Innovation starts with people immersed in the details of operations. In the field. Looking for ideas, problems, thoughts, puzzles, curiosities.
- For the ideas you get from the bullet above to go anywhere, you have to create a mindset that craves diverse ideas. “Savoring surprises,” Roy calls it. You need a discipline around developing a multiplicity of perspectives and fighting against premature “anchoring,” or fixing on an early idea to the detriment of others. Roy mentions a famous Chinese engineering firm that requires 6 alternatives be created before any solution will be approved.
- For the two bullets above to work, you have to empower people in your organization to change your organization, or why would they bother to share their ideas? This is unusual, but important. As Roy says, surprisingly, nobody can actually tell what a good idea is–not even your senior managers. Which means you should drop the wizard, “gatekeeper,” or manager-knows-best system, get all your folks thinking, and replace your approval-by-star-chamber process with fast prototyping of lots and lots of options.
- Which brings us to prototyping. Apparently nobody can really understand an idea unless they can see it and touch it. You therefore need to rush to a real, if cheap, attempt to instantiate whatever it is you’re thinking of. Use the bits and pieces of things sitting around; whip something together in a day or two. Once you’ve done this, people get better at being able to assess the goodness of the idea, and the idea’s role in your operations gets clearer. And, incidentally, you can improve it.
- Because, to continue from the last bullet, rapid prototyping lets you (of course) improve your prototype quickly. By the time you would have only written the technical requirements for a new tool (according to the old model) you can have pushed through five or six prototypes of that same tool (if you build them quickly and cheaply). Instead of a nice plan that might then get funded, you would have the thing itself, if perhaps in an imperfect state.
- A key in the shift away from the “gatekeeper” model of idea approval is to get the gatekeepers to start thinking about growth assumptions rather than existing problems. Instead of saying “what’s wrong with this” (which is the usual approach and which depresses the people with the ideas to no end, something you don’t want to do) you can ask people of your idea, “What do you like about this, and what would it take for it to succeed?” Your assumptions about success can then be tested with some prototypes.
- Finally, to what Roy calls the “Art of the pivot.” It ends up that most successful initiatives–like new business–change completely from their initial plan, recreating themselves from the ashes of their own failures a few times before hitting gold–this is now a recognized fact from venture capitalists who look for the ability to “pivot” (or learn from rapid tests) in the companies they found.