Where Has All of the Innovation Gone?

Does today feel more 9 to 5 than 1995? That’s the question I asked some colleagues the other day after reviewing a project plan that called for an extended quality assurance process for a desktop widget.

By no means am I complaining about quality assurance. In fact, I’m fortunate enough to have a project that’s going to be launched. My complaint had more to do the impact the underlying processes had on my development team. If a simple desktop widget requires 30 days of testing, what would a mobile application require? Who wants to spend that kind of time? I could feel the momentum and interest in future projects slip away.

I use 1995 as a reference because that was a pretty good year. Consumers and marketers were discovering the world of multimedia and the Internet. Everyday was truly a new day. And, everyone was scared to fall asleep lest they’d missed the latest experience or development environment. All ideas were considered because we wanted a concept to express using these modern platforms and capabilities.

Today, we take opportunities for granted and shrug our shoulders when a new opportunity arrives. Instead of thinking about a platform’s capabilities, we rush to the assumptions about the time it will take to: explain the platform, demonstrate what it can do, convince the client to take the chance, and drum up resources to manage the development of something new and “out of scope.”

How can we restore the excitement and enthusiasm of 1995 into our work? Here are some suggestions:

The Pizza Principle John Manoogian III, a former Organic and long-time friend insists work can only get done in a small team. The more people you add, the greater your chances of distraction and project disruption. So, he insists that if you ever need to order more than two pizzas to feed your team, your team is too big. I agree. Smaller teams force greater responsibility and decision making onto fewer people. And those on a smaller team will be responsible for answering their own questions and avoid the lingering delays associated with, “I’m waiting for someone to call me back.”

Work off the Scraps During brainstorming sessions, to help find the “big idea,” make a note of the “wild ideas” that will never see the light of the day because of their complexity or another reason. At the end of the session, give the wild ideas to a few people who were the most enthused about the ideas and give them 48 hours to demonstrate how they’d bring those ideas to life. The key word here is “demonstrate” and not “present.” Make sure your team has enough built-in resources to bring their ideas to fruition or else you’ll hear nothing more than, “We didn’t have anyone to design for us.” If these resources aren’t a part of your brainstorming team, then enlist some talented resources as “ringers” to listen in and provide backup support to your breakout team.

Fill up Your Space Why do people think Etch a Sketch and Lego toys are going to unlock your mind? Surround your workplace with tools for expression. Digital video cameras, desktop editing software, and other creation tools have never been cheaper. Chances are that if you get the tools into the right hands, some ideas may come to life instantaneously. Consider buying low cost equipment in masses and not in single units. You’ll feel the effect instantly.

Provide Training Not every great idea can be expressed in PowerPoint. Consider enhancing your entire team’s creative skills. Provide training workshops to give employees the chance to learn new ways to express ideas. What happens when a writer can all of a sudden cut his or her own video to demonstrate their idea?

Present Prototypes The world of emerging platforms gives me the opportunity to write and present lots of slides. My slides are great. They are witty, visual, and full of suggestion. However, it’s only when I provide a demonstration of some sort that the idea and the platform’s capability is synthesized and understood. Nothing beats a demonstration. By taking an idea and placing it in the context of a situation, your clients will better understand your thinking.

All of these tips are helpful, but mean nothing unless you provide the space. Often innovation is associated with mass change, but this isn’t often the case. Sometimes all it takes is three minds, and no more than two pizzas.

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