Thursday, May 19, 2011

FEI Day 3: Are You an Idea Monkey or a Ring Leader?

For the first break-out session of FEI Conference Day 3, Michael Maddock of Maddock Douglas Agency of Innovation® delivered a high-energy presentation that inspired and empowered the curiosity of the audience.

An average Fortune 500 company disappears after 40 years because it runs out of ideas. Similarly, companies often incur substantial advertising and marketing expenses – a “tax [they] pay for bad ideas.” In contrast, good ideas are often organically and quickly spread by word of mouth. So how could organizations continue to generate ideas, with a focus on not only quantity, but also quality – to ensure idea implementation results in utilitarian value for the consumers?

One option is to free the idea monkey and focus its creativity with the skills of a complementary ring leader. The concept is to encourage and make it possible for individuals who inspire and empower with ideas to collaborate with those who excel at maintaining focus on priorities and relevant values to stay on track. More specifically, Michael highlighted these recommendations:

To empower the idea monkeys, ring leaders need to use processes and rigor to
“Focus on specific challenges to be solved”
“Move from inventing to differentiating”
“Make every touch point uniquely [that of the company]”

To inspire the (ring) leaders, idea monkeys should
“Strive for quantity before [solution]”
“Infuse outside peer-to-peer expertise”
“Make fast-failures be OK”

Are you an idea monkey or a ring leader? Whichever you are, it is important to find “the yin for your yang.” It is at this delicate balance of insight, communication/commercialization, and ideation that true innovation can occur. When one of these three elements is out of balance, innovation misalignment occurs, undermining consumer’s utility of product or service.

While consumers may perceive a number of challenges in evaluating a service or product offering, Michael recommended attention to insight about what is most appealing to the consumers, to stay on track for solutions. However, comprehensive and relevant insights are not always simple to attain from our, individual perspectives. Especially if we have been working on a given problem for a long time, it is easy to become entrenched in a myopic line of thought or find ourselves in a situation not unlike one of being stuck in a jar and trying to read the label from the inside. Another problem with being in a jar is that you miss people too, and the opportunity to inspire and empower them. Ask yourself, as a leader, what are you missing?

To move outside the constraints of the jar, reframe what you do, Michael suggested. Infuse outside people who think they are doing the same thing as you are, introducing new energy and ideas into your problem solving process. It can be difficult to let go and open yourself to a completely new line of thinking, to learning when you think you really know, because we are naturally drawn to what we need least and to more of the same, the things and practices to which we have grown accustomed. Yet ability to be nimble and humble is critical, for leaders who cannot let go of the tight reins “are the ones that are dot gone.” Not only that, but it is essential that every member of the organization be aligned to the culture of innovation, as the strength of an organization is in its people.”

Concurrently, apply this portfolio innovation framework to drive your strategy and operations. Move away from business and market certainty toward increased business and market uncertainty: away from evolutionary (enhancing current platforms) approaches and toward revolutionary (R&D) approaches, away from differentiation (difficult but necessary) and toward fast-fail innovation (fast exploration).

Moreover, the intent alone to innovate is not sufficient. Michael underscored the importance of perseverance and a positive mindset fraught with curiosity, gratefulness, and a sense of wonder to find the treasure at the end of a long journey. Michael reminded us that, “in [everything], there is treasure to be found, and people who look for it, will find it.”

In summary, “Idea Monkeys and (Ring) Leaders, remember: you are in the Jar! Be a learner, not a knower. Manage your portfolio. Parallel engineer [translate ideas from other spaces and industries to your own]. Find a yin for your yang. Keep looking for treasure.”

Elena Cavallo is a member of the FEI Community and focuses on Strategic Innovation in Medical Research and Healthcare. She is posting live from FEI 2011 in Boston May 16-18.

1 comment:

Stephen M. Frey, AIA LEED AP said...

Elena, I like the visual image of the ring leader and the idea monkey and how they're both needed along with hard slogging perseverance.

The jar analogy about being behind the label with all of its myopia left me wondering though. Being in or around a jar is all fine and good but what if you're not even on the proverbial shelf as a choice? This aligns with seeking deep understanding as you mentioned of customer needs, wants. Without getting on the shelf whether you see behind the label from the myopia within or outside the idea, your product is DOA.

Thanks for the provoking post which got me to think about monkeys, ring leaders and myopia. Ever read Marketing Myopia from by Ted Levitt. That's a fun read for any serial innovation monkey types.

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