Just about any piece on innovation I read suggests that it is critical that people be given space to fail in order that they can try new things. I have even seen it suggested that if you have a star performer who isn’t making any mistakes then you should tell them to make some (if someone knows who, tell me and I will update).
So how does it work then when operational and project plans include enough time to get the work done (if you are lucky), but rarely enough time to get something wrong and start again…
There are bunches of creativity killers out there. Some are stronger than others. Limits on resources like money and people are often thought of as things that can drive creativity – but having an innovation allowance of time built into project plans could be a useful thing.
And if not, then we all might have an extra day to get all the work done 🙂
“Experience is the name every one gives to their mistakes.” – Oscar Wilde
I was out buying shoes this weekend (I wish it could have been these performance enhancing shoes – I need something like them to avoid this picture happening over and over) and came across some behaviour that was quite clearly broken (according to Seth Godin anyway).
Broken 1: Trying on shoes usually means inserting the laces into the holes. This isn’t that hard UNLESS there is an anti-theft device taking up the space where the laces are meant to go. I joked to the shop assistant that we needed someone to invent a pair of shoes to better deal with these security devices (laughter followed). Interestingly though, not an offer to remove the device.
– Good Response: Assistant automatically removes security device.
– Better Response: Assistant speaks to manager about placement of security devices or placement of shores in store to reduce risk of theft.
Broken 2: Having now purchased a pair of shows, I returned to the first store I visited (where I had asked the shop assistant to hold a pair of shoes for me). I found the same assistant and told him I had found something else. He nodded and went about his day.
– Good Response: Assistant thanks customer for returning and gives a cheery “hope we see you next time”
– Better Response: Assistant asks customer a couple of simple questions about their purchase (what, where, why) to better understand the competitive position of store (reporting this to the store manager), and then thanks customer for their time.
While it would be easy to blame the assistant in both cases, it would be far more productive to think about how the store management could have encouraged their shop assistants to either follow a better response guideline or encourage them to think more freely for themselves. For me, this is something like a company statement about their people needing to be more innovative – even though its people have nifty blogs (no, not like mine, imaginative creative stuff ), great things they share in social media, and maybe even do inspiring volunteer work for a non-profit. The problem is usually too many boundaries. Something I would suggest Netflix don’t have a problem with.
I can only aspire to be like that for people I work with.
“There is no greater challenge than to have someone relying upon you; no greater satisfaction than to vindicate his expectation” – Kingman Brewster
I was reading a Wired article with a discussion between Kevin Kelly and Steven Johnson about their new books and how they relate to where ideas come from. The section below particularly caught my eye.
Kelly: I think there are a lot of ideas today that are ahead of their time. Human cloning, autopilot cars, patent-free law—all are close technically but too many steps ahead culturally. Innovating is about more than just having the idea yourself; you also have to bring everyone else to where your idea is. And that becomes really difficult if you’re too many steps ahead.
Johnson: The scientist Stuart Kauffman calls this the “adjacent possible.” At any given moment in evolution—of life, of natural systems, or of cultural systems—there’s a space of possibility that surrounds any current configuration of things. Change happens when you take that configuration and arrange it in a new way. But there are limits to how much you can change in a single move.
Kelly: Which is why the great inventions are usually those that take the smallest possible step to unleash the most change. That was the difference between Tim Berners-Lee’s successful HTML code and Ted Nelson’s abortive Xanadu project. Both tried to jump into the same general space—a networked hypertext—but Tim’s approach did it with a dumb half-step, while Ted’s earlier, more elegant design required that everyone take five steps all at once.
As a believer of things future (and yes, that does drive other people around me nuts – since I am still waiting for a flying car, everyone to stop using email, and for printers to be removed from offices) the thing that most struck me about this passage was that the best ideas will not get up on a regular basis and instead it is the best ideas that the culture can handle that do.
Does it mean we should only put out ideas which we think people will be able to handle? Not on my watch.
Does this mean we should give up on the grand ideas out there? I sincerely hope not.
Does it mean we should be less surprised when those grand ideas aren’t taken up? Hmmm…Probably.
Oh well…maybe we should just focus on finding a smaller group who are culturally ready for a bigger change…and re-set our expectations
PS. “With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed” – Abraham Lincoln
I posted out via Twitter the other day a TED talk by Steven Johnson “where great ideas come from”. (Same video at YouTube).
The guts of this one are fairly simple – Eureka moments aren’t really the way we come up with anything. It’s actually more like a slow hunch and assisted by our liquid networks. Ideas take time to form, and often we will benefit from connecting with other ideas to help us solve them (even though they are distracting).
The example he uses in the longer version of how Sputnik helped created a key element of control of nuclear submarines in the cold war which helped create GPS systems that we now all take for granted, as well as his story of Darwin’s theory of evolution are both compelling.
As a 20 minute TED talk its good, but if you can’t be bothered listening for that long, then maybe you will like this 4 min animated annotated version that is also floating around – plus it will help you connect with other ideas in the 16 minutes you have saved.
I just love that I now have a really good excuse for why I am looking at my long and strange RSS reading list when I am trying to solve a problem I don’t have a ready answer for.
PS. “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’, but ‘That’s funny …’” – Isaac Asimov