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Beyond the Conference Room Solution

April 22, 2013

Translating Ideas into Innovation

Let’s consider those finicky and elusive sparks that ignite the many new products, services, refinements, and enhancements that we as consumers enjoy and demand at an increasing pace. These temperamental ideas are what give rise to the great actions, products, and services of our day, yet they are so often extinguished before ever being given a chance.
Drawn on a napkin, hashed out over the 14th hole, or devised while eating junk food late at night in a dorm room during senior year of college, organizations are founded on a rich deposit of great ideas—and flourish because of new ones. Quite simply, if a company doesn’t recognize the need for a constant infusion of creative thinking and fresh strategic concepts, then that company most certainly won’t be willing to take the necessary steps toward lasting change. Good, bad, brilliant, even god-awful, ideas propel a business to new heights. They distinguish an organization from the competition, delight customers, and reward stockholders. Without them, organizations languish.
In fact, a recent survey by Robert Half International suggests that more than a third of CFOs believe that a lack of new ideas is the greatest barrier to their company becoming more innovative. Compare that to fewer than a quarter blaming it on too much bureaucracy, a fifth saying it’s because people are too busy, and less than a tenth saying it’s ineffective leadership.

Half offers six tips for inspiring innovation among work teams:

  1. Engage the entire team. Empowered employees tend to be more innovative because they have a bigger emotional stake in the firm's success. Cultivate a culture in which staff at all levels can easily share solutions for improving the business. Maintain an open-door policy and also encourage people to offer ideas in meetings, through an internal website or even an old-fashioned suggestion box.
  2. Remove the red tape. Examine internal processes to ensure company procedures aren't generating unnecessary red tape. Employees become disillusioned when they put their time and energy into devising ingenious ideas only to wait forever for them to be approved and implemented.
  3. Keep it collaborative. A healthy level of competition between employees can spur innovation. But if a workplace becomes too competitive, team members may be reluctant to speak up for fear that their suggestions will either be stolen or ridiculed. Create policies that support the open exchange of information and a team-first atmosphere.
  4. Build a better brainstorm. Too many potentially great ideas are discarded prematurely in brainstorming meetings. Rein in the naysayers who relish in saying why novel proposals won't work. Support "blue-sky thinking."
  5. Give 'em a break. Burnout does not beget brilliance. When employees are consistently overworked, they're likely to have more "uh-oh" than "a-ha!" moments. Implement programs that promote work-life balance, and consider bringing in temporary professionals during peak activity periods to keep your team fresh and focused.
  6. Seek inspiration. As a leader, you set the tone. You'll have difficulty motivating staff to ignite creative sparks if you're feeling uninspired yourself. Research shows a person in a relaxed, positive mood has more innovative thoughts. Feeling the pressure? Occasionally get away from your desk and unplug by going for a head-clearing stroll.

You may wish to ask yourself the following about your company’s idea generation process:

  1. Do you believe that idea generation is important to future growth?
  2. How many measures do you have that focus explicitly on idea generation (versus optimization)?
  3. Can you say as much about your company’s idea-generation ability as you can about your company’s operating efficiency?
  4. Does your company have any personal performance metrics related to idea generation?
  5. Does your organization systematically benchmark other companies on creativity and idea generation?
  6. Do you know how to build a quick, low-cost experiment to test a promising idea?
  7. Does your company regularly build rapid pilots prior to full implementation?

If the answers to the questions above are primarily “no,” then it is time to build an idea generation process that is at least as robust as the other essential processes that run your company.  There are millions of exciting new ideas – now go get them!

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"When I have fully decided that a result is worth getting I go ahead of it and make trial after trial until it comes." - Thomas A. Edison

Let’s start with an explanation of the title, Beyond The Conference Room Solution. In all of my workshops and in many of my lectures, I refer to the phrase, The Conference Room Solution as a far too common approach used by organizations use to solve many of their most challenging issues.

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The Q-Loop by Brian Klapper

How does an established organization filled with long-time employees, a deeply entrenched culture, and a history of drawn-out planning and development cycles become nimble, innovative, and responsive in today’s challenging business climate? Published by Bibliomotion, The Q-Loop: The Art & Science of Lasting Corporate Change delivers an actionable strategy to help your company rapidly achieve lasting transformational change.

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