In my experience working Innovation programs, I have found that the failure of programs typically comes not in the inability to successfully execute a solution, but rather in the failure to first define the right problem to be solved. While this may seem obvious, frequently in our rush to start inventing something, we fail to take the time to clearly define the “blueprints” for what we should actually invent. We need to remember that “Activity does not equal Progress”, and that the upfront investment in “architecting” a clear mission, big idea, and success criteria will not only ultimately yield better results, but typically will also yield a faster overall development time (Measure twice, cut once). The following outlines 6 principles that I encourage innovation teams to establish at the definition of any new program so as to map out the course before starting to run.
1. Clearly define WHAT the objective is, before diving into HOW to deliver it.
Set clear, actionable, and inspiring success criteria and align with your Innovation Team, your internal and external “customers”, and your respective management at the onset of your project.
“We more frequently fail to face the right problem than fail to solve the problem we face.” –Unknown
2. First AMAZING, then Actionable.
First, define the “Wow”… no matter the cost. We are very good at taking something amazing and figuring out how to deliver it… it is virtually impossible to start with something actionable and to then make it amazing.
“Vision without action is daydream. Action without vision is nightmare.” -(Japanese proverb)
3. Perfect is the Enemy of Amazing.
We must be comfortable taking risks, failing early, and failing often. If we measure success by minimizing mistakes, we are destined for mediocrity.
“There are no rules here, we’re trying to accomplish something.” –Thomas Edison
4. Simplifying too early makes things more complex. On the surface, defining the “box” early may appear to simplify via driving focus and minimizing choices. In reality, closing off Degrees of Freedom too early often adds limitations and makes work more challenging.
“If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be called research.” –Albert Einstein
5. Activity does not equal Progress. Amidst a constant pressure for “Action”, make sure that precious resources and time are focused on the 3 critical issues*. (*At least 80-90% of time and resources anyway… do leave some capacity to play a hunch (e.g. Google’s 20% projects) without derailing the team!)
“There is nothing more useless than doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” –Peter Drucker
6. Empower the team to set the vision and to lead the way. Get aligned with management on success criteria early… but lead from bottom up and not from top down.
- Managers: Help when needed, but get out of the way.
- Team: Beg forgiveness, don’t ask permission.
“The moment you feel the need to tightly manage someone, you’ve made a hiring mistake. The best people don’t need to be managed – Guided, taught, led – yes… but not tightly managed.” –Jim Collins
Again, this is not intended to be rocket science… however it is remarkably common for teams to skip past the critical first step of “defining the problem” before jumping into execution mode. Innovators tyoically are problem solvers by nature, and are most energized by the chase of finding the answer and not necessarily in the discipline in rigor of clearly outlining and refining the problem statement. As architects of our innovation programs, we must take the time to get clear on our blueprints up front before starting to build the program. While this upfront investment will take time and may drive impatience among both the team and the management, the discipline to maintain this investment will not only yield bigger results, but will most likely yield faster results as well.