We are all told to be “innovative”, that we need an “innovative” solution to a problem. We are then locked in a room and told that we have fifteen minutes to come up with this innovative solution because in thirty minutes the project is starting up and by the way here are the people working on the project and their skills so the innovative approach has to be able to be done by this group of individuals.
By the third Tuesday of next month.
OK, time to turn the subtlety off and talk about reality. People don’t think of innovative ideas on a scheduled basis. Particularly not in a meeting room with other people. Sure, you can brainstorm in a room with other people, but don’t necessarily expect innovative ideas to come out of that session.
Too often people are told to come up with innovative solutions to problems to which they have just been introduced. Innovation requires work. Innovation requires a deep understanding of the problem. I am not saying that you will never get an innovative idea with this approach, but the odds of it happening are rather slim. Getting a group of people together and telling them “We’re going to create an innovative solution to problem X in the next 60 minutes or we’re all fired”, is probably not the way to go about getting a truly innovative solution. Sure, you may come up with something that satisfies your immediate needs, but is it innovative or just copying something else?
Scott Berkun, author of Myths of Innovation has a summary of the 177 myths of innovation that he has uncovered in his own work and work done by others. What I notice when reading the myths is that there is no single solution. Innovation is a bolt of lightning out of the blue. What works for one industry may not work for another. What works for one problem may not work for the next even if the identical group of people is trying to solve both.
We also need to step back and realize that an innovative solution may not actually be leading edge technology, it may just be using what you already have in a different way. The Apple iPod was not the most innovative MP3 player on the market. It was innovative in how the iPod ecosystem supported all of the pieces and made the experience pleasurable. It was not the first, but for its time it was the best.
There are so many variables that we best we can do is give people the time, space and opportunity to think. After all, isn’t thinking the start of any innovative idea?