Worthless ideas and valuable innovation

Information is so durable that not even a black hole can destroy it. So what happens with a ubiquitous commodity that is more durable than even space itself? It quickly becomes worthless, even worse than worthless. Consider ideas: no sooner do people come up with ideas than they try to get rid of them. Getting rid of ideas by trying to pass them on like a hot potatoe has never been easier. All you have to do is spread it on social media and you will never have to care about it again.

Part of a conversation about innovation

This is part 12 of a conversation on innovation with Gene Hughson. In part 11, “innovation on tap” Gene discussed how you could come closer to having innovation on tap by implementing a collaborative innovation habit (part 10). Gene ends his article with the following sentence:

You can’t pull a tap and draw a glass of innovation, but you can affect whether your system makes innovative ideas more or less likely to be recognized and acted on.

A deluge of worthless ideas

Anyone and everyone can and will have ideas. The ideas start when we wake up and keep coming during the whole day and continue in our dreams while we are sleeping. Most of the ideas we have are so useless that we do not even notice them. But out of all these ideas, a few stand out and we feel the need to free our mind from them and so we pass them on to other people in discussions or through social media. Only very few ideas make it past our internal critic to the stage where we try to do something about them. Small ideas, we can simply put in our “to-do lists” and implement them when we have time for them. To-do lists don’t work, mostly because we put too many items on them. For bigger ideas we need the support of and collaboration with others to make them real. Because of the effort involved, only very few ideas can be implemented as innovations.

Needle in a haystack

All that hay, but where is the needle?Source: Montanabw via Wikimedia Commons | PD

Close up of good quality grass hay

So how do we find the innovation needle in the haystack of ideas? How do we avoid being overwhelmed by all the hay? How do we turn worthless ideas into valuable innovation? Sadly, today the answer is more often than not that we try to “eat all the hay”. We try to implement as many ideas as possible. Sooner or later, often in IT, there is a bottleneck and a huge queue of initiatives build up. “We’ll put that on the backlog”, is the new way of saying “that’ll never happen“.

The answer is to rely on empiricism, short feedback cycles and making small bets. Lean portfolio management has many of the answers, but just as with any idea it is worthless until it is implemented.

Next week, I will be presenting at IBM Interconnect 2016 how I and Kenneth Verlage implemented a practical innovation habit at PostNord. I believe that there are many more companies out there that need a practical, working approach to innovation rather than ideas and frameworks about innovation. If you cannot be there, you can still watch the video learn more about what we did.

Image sources

About Greger Wikstrand

Greger Wikstrand, Ph.D. M.Sc. is a TOGAF 9 certified enterprise architect with an interest in e-heatlh, m-health and all things agile as well as processes, methods and tools. Greger Wikstrand works as a consultant at Capgemini where he alternates between enterprise agile coaching, problem solving and designing large scale e-health services ...


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