#536 Innovative Leader Volume 10, Number 9 September
the Innovation Process
Grossman is President of Double Dominance, Inc. a creative
problem-solving company in Maple Shade, NJ (phone 609-779-0702).
He is author of Innovation, Inc. (Wordware Publishing, Plano, TX, 1988).
recommending guidelines to help leaders better manage the
innovation process. The
two biggest barriers to sustained, meaningful innovation are: a)
non-alignment of key decision makers and b) the use of evaluation
as a criticizing, rather than creative, task.
steps will help create an aligned direction that marshals the
critical mass of people needed for the “care and feeding” of
new ideas. It also treats evaluation as a creative exercise by putting a
buffer of creative people between the idea generators and key
decision makers. This
will cull ideas and make each as great as it can be before it is
evaluated by the executive group.
of individuals are invited to be a team to participate in
brainstorming sessions to generate new ideas.
These are employees who have some formal or informal
influence and who, in the past, have demonstrated a degree of
creative performance. They
are each instructed to bring at least 5 to 10 good ideas to their
session, and are encouraged to develop their list by involving as
many people as they can prior to the meeting.
Also before the meeting, team members should develop these
ideas through so they are presented as strongly as possible. Each
creative session, optimally with a trained facilitator, examines
the ideas and builds them up, as well as using them as a
springboard to create additional ideas. Aim for several hundred ideas..
Each idea must
now undergo a “cleaning up” before the final list is chosen
and sent to the executive committee.
Eliminate the absurd, the uninteresting (business as
usual), and the redundancies.
Special emphasis should be placed on any idea that evokes a
doesn’t matter whether the reaction is positive or negative.
(Sometimes the opposite of a terrible idea offers the seeds
for a breakthrough.)
is started with a search for utility.
All the positive aspects of the idea are uncovered with the
1. Assume the idea can be implemented, what does it accomplish?
What benefits does it yield?
Here, it is important to suspend concerns about
2. Under what environment might there be a maximum payoff? (Instead
of modifying the idea to make it work, modify the environment in
which it operates.)
3. What are all the factors that make the idea unique?
Why is it different from past suggestions?
Why might it succeed this time when other times it might
4. What are the intermediate steps or specific mechanisms that
make the idea work?
5. What general principles are represented in this idea?
Now choose the
favorite 25 to 30 based on the following criteria:
The idea is
exciting; it’s a great idea.
It fills a
sustainable need better than anything currently available.
(What are potential end-users now doing with the time,
money or effort that you want them to invest in your
There is a
significant bottom-line impact.
It is consistent
with the strengths of the business; or those strengths are easy to
It is relatively
easy to develop a working prototype.
violate safety, environmental, or legal concerns.
It is consistent
with the cultural value system of the consumer.
There are no
obvious problems of scale.
It is specific
and easy to visualize; to get a clear picture of its meaning and
jeopardize other parts of the business.
available; though not necessarily in house.
It is proprietary
the company’s mission.
It is not
important that all these criteria be satisfied for ideas to make
the executive list. At
this stage, the ideas merely represent reaction triggers for the
decision makers. The most exciting ideas have the best chance of
eventually seeing the light of day in the marketplace; therefore,
I recommend that they be placed on top of the list.
Avoid premature clustering into one general area; this is
the ultimate work of the business executives.
Finally, develop the idea portfolio with a one page summary
of each of its 25 to 30 chosen ideas.
The value and meaning of each idea should be clearly
Each member of
the executive team should independently place each of the ideas
into one of two “intensity” categories:
1. Something about the idea really interests me.
2. It doesn’t make my emotional priority list.
should be made at an intuitive rather than an analytical level, as
they are not indications of final acceptance or rejection, but
merely vague suggestions of where a focus for innovation may
eventually be found.
Next, collect the
responses and tabulate, for each idea, the number
(“frequency”) of executives who share a given intensity view.
This results in four categories:
Level C - high
Level D - high
This is the only
area that has the appropriate input for innovation. These ideas
are now analyzed for unifying characteristics.
What makes them stand apart from the others?
The answers are culled into a General Principle Statement
intended to guide the new innovation effort.
Even if the ideas that make up this statement are not
chosen, the statement will elicit similar (and perhaps more
The ideas, from
which the final statement has been induced, are forwarded to the
appropriate business units for further evaluation and to the
original idea-collecting team as useful feedback in its ongoing
mission. The new
general principle is now communicated to each employee.
executive group is merely paying lip service to the idea of
innovation, or there is a profound information gap with employees.
To determine what the precise problem is, the executives
should go through a new clustering exercise.
This time, however, they each should cull ideas from the
initial portfolio that they truly dislike. If a high intensity is found, it implies that there is a
significant disconnect between the executives and the rest of the
executives must identify the gap and close it before any attempt
at innovation is started. It also may be possible that employees
either don’t have sufficient motivation or the necessary skills
to generate interesting ideas. Of these two, it is more likely
that motivation is missing, and the employees are using this
exercise as a means of venting their frustrations..
It is also
possible that the company is not interested in innovation at this
time, and might better direct their energies towards maintaining
the status quo.
This outcome is
highly unlikely. Why
isn’t the company being very innovative right now?
Perhaps there is a recent power shift.
Maybe the mindset of the employees is outdated and they
don’t realize how hungry the organization is for new ideas.
In this case, executives should use more critical measures
for choosing the best ideas, and act on them immediately.
Words create weight, but actions give luster, and more
employees see than weigh.
This is the most
common outcome. There
is a large diversity of opinion and attitude among the executive
staff. This is the major reason that innovation has not been
recently successful. This
difference manifests itself as an inability to implement new
ideas, rather than as a dearth of ideas.
The existing vision is probably vague and doesn’t create
enough alignment and energy. Typically, ideas forever remain in the feasibility phase
until some new crisis or objective makes them fade into obscurity.
To correct this
problem and elevate to Level A, the executive group must determine
why there is such a wide divergence.
Each executive may do his or her own cluster analysis,
distilling choices to their own vision statements.
These statements provide the initiating point for conflict
are made by the executives to upgrade each idea to mitigate
differences without compromising the uniqueness of the initial
idea. Now, a new clustering may be done with the proviso that at
least half the ideas that each executive selects were initially
championed by another executive. They must get to Level A, because
that is what’s required to achieve seeds of a vision strong and
sustaining enough to catalyze innovation.
experience dealing with a variety of businesses, this process not
only allows the company to align and focus, but serves as a
diagnostic, showing precisely what may be missing in their quest
for innovation. It clearly defines specific remediation strategies
that are required to leverage the creative—and at times
dormant—powers of the workforce.