The Idea Generation Sweet Spot
Doing more, better, faster with less, screams out for innovation. This could be at the incremental level – a kaizen approach of continuous improvement or it could be through breakthrough leaps. Either way, there is a dynamic in play here between processes and people that is critical for our success. How much scope can we allow in the creative process? At the practical level, this is really asking how many and how huge are the mistakes we will tolerate to achieve idea generation?
Managers manage processes. Leaders manage processes, but they also have an important role to build people who can come up with ideas. In any workplace there will be some degree of compliance required around regulations, laws, safety concerns etc. If these are overly tight, then there is usually not a great deal of tolerance for errors. If it is a laissez-faire environment, with no controls, then we will wind up in court and possibly in jail. Somewhere between compliance and chaos is the sweet spot of the environment most suitable for our people to be really innovative.
By its very nature, change requires us to step out of our Comfort Zone, because we are either doing something old in a new way or something completely new. Getting people to step out of their Comfort Zones is fraught with difficulty. How do we encourage people to come up with new and creative ideas? Standing in front of the whiteboard, felt pen at the ready and looking expectedly at the audience for their ideas is probably one of the most common and one of the worst methods. To top it off, saving time by critiquing the idea flow as it emerges is a guaranteed innovation killer.
Take a good look around your own organisation and check just how you encourage the pursuit of ideas and how you do your brainstorming. Your actual technique may be harming the idea creation environment. If this concerns you, let me know, because we have a great system for producing ideas from the whole team and not just from the usual boisterous, noisy three.
In the messy process of innovation there will be mistakes. Accepting this in theory is pretty easy, but what about confronting it in practice when the buck stops with you? What is the environment for reporting mistakes or problems? Usually, the boss finds out about trouble last – after everyone has done a sterling job to cover it up. The truth only emerges when the issue can’t be hidden anymore. Why is that?
A workplace recording many violations of procedure and one reporting few, will be looked at differently. The many incidents location will seem to indicate a poor compliance environment (and by extension pathetic leadership). In fact it may be the other way around. The workplace reporting few may be wizards at hiding bad stuff and the other may be one where mistakes are encouraged as part of the learning process. Constantly encouraging ideas and experimentation, but also faithfully recording errors for root cause analysis as part of the creative process, could be seen as failure when simply judged by the incident numbers. We need to look past the numbers to what type of environment the leader has created.
How we celebrate failure; where we draw the line between compliance and crazy; and how we deal with mistakes are being very carefully observed by the whole team. If there is a trust environment, where mistakes are accepted as part of the process of creative change and ideas are not critiqued as they emerge, then the team will feel safe to suggest their ideas. Leaders who can build this type of environment are treasures. If you work in a blame culture with rapid retribution for failure, start praying your competitors haven’t figured out the balance needed between mistakes and innovation. If they have, in time, they will win and you will lose.