The Ingredients of Innovation

I enjoyed a recent post on Wally Bock’s Three Star Leadership Blog about innovation — Wally contends that ideas are easy, but innovation requires work. He quotes Robert Tucker, who said: “Anyone who has ever taken a shower has had a good idea.” He may be right… I had a great idea in the shower today too… and a good strategic one at that. The ground he covers from there is to illustrate how some ideas die on the table, and others get killed. He had some good insight around the way in which an idea’s creator often can’t see the permutations of the idea… like Edison devaluing the use of the phonograph for recording music.

He gives a good example of researchers not bothering to ask why frogs weren’t getting sick… until one scientist did, and followed the trail to a new type of antibiotic. That takes thinking differently, but the results are pretty clear. What I wasn’t aware of are the statistics he cites (yeah, I know – 85% of all statistics are made up on the spot to prove a point). Only 5% of people in an organization create ideas; another 10% will support and promote them. The remaining 85% try to kill them.

Wow.  I consider myself someone who creates ideas… so no wonder I get such opposition.  It’s innate!  Next time you instinctively go to squash a new idea, think twice… listen again, and ask that 10% slice what they like about it (assuming they do).  You might be killing a bad idea… but you might also be killing a key innovation, and you won’t know unless you listen.  Said William McKnight, CEO of 3M from 1949-66 as the company transformed into one of the most innovative we’ve seen in the last century: “Encourage, don’t nitpick. Let people run with an idea.”