Ideation & Innovation

‘Innovation’: What response do you get?

Innovation is trending. It has been for some time and will always be an important aspect of business transformation. But it’s worth exploring if the word “innovation” actually engages and inspires action within a business.

When designing future states, we notice that if we ask teams to participate in an ‘innovation’ workshop, the natural response is often one of panic; even fear. And that’s simply because people feel pressure to come up with ideas that are entirely new. But in that state of panic, where we’re worried about being judged, we freeze. Our brains shut down and, to cope, many disengage or try and derail the session. Not a great space to be in if your objective is to inspire lateral thinking and generative ideation.

Diffusion of Innovation

The ‘Diffusion of Innovations’ theory, developed by Everett Rogers, helps explain why we often experience this somewhat primitive response to the word ‘innovation’. If you agree with the theory, just 2.5% of us are true innovators so, for most of us in the room, innovation can feel foreign and frustrating. And while we don’t always admit to it, those in senior positions often feel even more pressure to come up with the next ‘big idea’. For more on this…

The law of diffusion of Innovation
The law of Diffusion of Innovations, developed by Everett Rogers

Reinvention Portfolios

The good news is, often just acknowledging the ‘curve’ will result in a noticeable shift in individual participation. And if, instead of ‘innovation’, we start by asking teams to come up with ideas to improve…ways to make things better, the group dynamic shifts too. More people get involved and the ideas start to flow. And because we’ve started from a place of psychological safety, stress and anxiety levels go down, ideation feels ‘doable’, and we usually end up with more innovative ideas on the table after all.

Which is why we like to explore ‘reinvention portfolios’ with teams, always explaining upfront ‘why’ we prefer this approach. Here are some of the simple but effective messages we cover:

  1. Ideas don’t have to be novel, disruptive and unique to be incredibly valuable. Yes, we want the truly ‘innovative’ ideas. But we value the ideas for ‘improvement’ too. And we don’t have to be one of the 2.5% to imagine ways to make something better.
  2. With a portfolio approach to reinvention, we explore both the intensity and scope of ideas. Radical change that impacts at an ecosystem level – where you reimagine everything – that’s where we capture innovation. But within our portfolio, we capture the ideas that make just part of a system better too. Nadya Zhexembayeva, author of ‘The Chief Reinvention Handbook‘, asks that we consider innovation as just 1 of 9 approaches to reinvention.

What response do you get to the word ‘Innovation’?

There can be concern that if we ask for improvements, we’ll never get to the bold, innovative ideas. But if you’re trying to create an environment conducive to ideation, you may want to explore experimenting with the language you use. If the word ‘innovation’ sparks a fear, fight or flight response, consider giving ‘reinvention’ (or something similar) a go. You may get better results.

This nuanced language, context setting and approach works well for us with groups across organisational levels. And because the best ideas sometimes come from those who are not as close to the opportunity area, if you can bring a range of ‘outside in’ perspectives and insights to your workshops, even better. We always start by ‘listening to learn’ so that we can help discover what ‘matters most’ to your customers in the context of your business vision and strategy for success.

Coming Soon: we’ll explore ideation techniques that are inclusive, no matter where you sit on the ‘diffusion of innovation’ curve.