Everybody wants to learn the best practices but “Best Practices Are Stupid”. A book with this name has to prove very well its efficiency; otherwise, it’s just trying to cause an uproar. However, the author is Stephen Shapiro, one of the most prestigious advisers of innovation and creativity in the USA. He built his career at companies like GE, Telefónica, U.S. Air Force and NASA. The book’s objective, he says, is to lead us to understand that while we adopt the same practice innovation of our competitors, the most that we can reach is becoming just one more of them. Check nine great points of the book and notice how, under a controversial title, there are good advices that you might have never been given:
The first step. Recognize that, in most organizations, innovation only happens when someone decides it’s time to think differently. However, to make innovation unceasing, you need to treat it the way you would treat any other business area, such as Finance, which is guided by a CFO or its own management team. Innovation demands a similar structure. Managing innovation and creativity requires a team who works with a planning, a methodology, processes, systems, measures…
The biggest mistake. We fell in love with collecting opinions, suggestions of new ideas, but take care, for it can confuse and even bring a debatable return on investment (ROI). Receiving a mass of impractical ideas and assessing each of them may be a trouble. If people don’t see their ideas implemented, they end up discouraged. Innovation demands focus. Instead of giving your employees a blank slate and ask them to bring innovations, provide a history, parameters, numbers, a well-defined problem, everything that guide its creative output.
Failure is overrated. Today, with the collaboration technologies available, we can avoid risk, exorbitant costs and wasted time. Crowdsourcing is a useful way to get solutions from outside the company. You only pay for success after it’s proven. For you to understand, let’s take the example of Netflix, which paid $ 1 million to a group of mathematicians from outside the company to create an algorithm. Netflix only paid after the system has yielded millions dollars.
Hire people you don’t like. Innovation and creativity come from tension, for it gives rise to different point of views and alternative ways of solving problems. Bring the right combination of people to unleash the potential of your team.
Have a multidisciplinary team. Of course, innovations are suggested by people who know very well the question. Or not. Shapiro exemplifies: 100 aerospace engineers are working on a problem of aerospace engineering and can’t find a solution. Adding the aerospace engineer should not make much difference. But if you add a biologist, a nanotechnologist or even a musician, then yes. Connect the dots. Albert Einstein was a unique scientist, but he also had great luck: worked in a patent office, living with all sorts of innovative ideas. Did you know it?
The paradox of the goal. The more focused you are on a goal, the more likely you are to not reach it. Imagine a sales professional who’s working hard to sell and is focused on the result. Shapiro observed with some surveys that the customer-oriented people have sold more than those that were motivated by the sale itself.
The reality show concept. Do you know why “The Voice”, “American Idol” and “Britain’s Got Talent” (Susan Boyle, remember?) are so popular? It’s fun to see people compete and show their talents. And yes, organizations have used the concept of reality show to help not only find solutions to specific challenges, but also to generate impact. Some companies even record and share the videos of their talents!
The great solution. Under the leadership of Steve Jobs, Apple popularized the concept of “design thinking,” a methodology that, with a collective brainstorm, seeks to map creative and simple solutions for business. The insights come from the observation of the other, from the act of putting yourself in the other person’s place, living their problems. In the end, prototypes are made to validate, before launching your product or service. In the words of Saint-Exupéry, Shapiro reminds us that “perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Apple’s success is one of the strongest indications that consumers agree that the best innovation is simplicity.
The mantra. “Ask the right question, the right way, to the right people.” Innovation is not about new products, new processes, new services or even new business models. Innovation is adaptation. If the pace of change outside your organization is faster than the pace of change within it, Shapiro concludes, you’re out of business. Think seriously about it.
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