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Monday, April 26, 2010

10 Ways to Help Left Brainers Tap Into the Best of Their Creativity

by Mitch Ditkoff

10 Ways to Help Left Brainers Tap Into the Best of Their CreativityIf your job requires you to lead meetings, brainstorming sessions, or problem solving gatherings of any kind, chances are good that most of the people you come in contact with are left-brain dominant: analytical, logical, linear folks with a passion for results and a huge fear that the meeting you are about to lead will end with a rousing chorus of kumbaya.

Not exactly the kind of mindset conducive to breakthrough thinking.

Do not lose heart, oh facilitators of the creative process. Even if you find yourself in a room full of 10,000 left brainers, there are tons of ways to work with this mindset in service to bringing out the very best of the group's collective genius:

1. Diffuse the fear of ambiguity by continually clarifying the process

Most left-brain-dominant people hate open-ended processes and anything that smacks of ambiguity. Next time you find yourself leading a creative thinking session, make it a point to give participants, early is the session, a mental map of the process you'll be using. Explain that the session will consist of two key elements: divergent thinking and convergent thinking.

In the divergent segment, you'll be helping people consider non-traditional approaches. In the convergent segment, you'll be helping people analyze, evaluate, and select from the multiplicity of ideas they have generated.

If participants are going to get uneasy, it will happen during the divergent segment. Your task? Periodically remind them of where they are in the process. "Here's our objective," you might say. "Here's where we've been. Here's where we are. And here's we're going. Any questions?"

2. Get people talking about AHAS! they've had in their own lives

No matter how risk averse or analytical people in your sessions may be, it's likely that all of them - at some time or another - have had a really great idea. "Creativity" really isn't all that foreign to them (although they may think it is). All you need to do to get them in touch with that part of themselves is help them recall a moment when they were operating at a high level of creativity.

Get them talking about how it felt, what were the conditions, and what preceded the breakthrough. You'll be amazed at the stories you'll hear and how willing everyone will be, after that, to really stretch out.

3. Identify (and transform) limiting assumptions

One of the biggest obstacles to creativity is the assumption-making part of our brain - the part that is forever drawing lines in the sand - the part that is ruled by the past. Most people are not aware of the assumptions they have - in the same way that most drivers are not aware of the blind spot in their mirror.

If you want people to be optimally creative, it is imperative that you find a way to help them identify their limiting assumptions about the challenge they are brainstorming. "Awareness cures," explains psychologist Fritz Perls. But DON'T get caught in a lengthy discussion about the collective limiting assumptions of the group. This is often just another way that left-brain dominant participants will default to analyzing and debating.

Instead, lead a process that will help participants identify and explore their limiting assumptions. Then, time allowing, help them transform each of these limiting assumptions into open-ended "How can we?" questions for brainstorming.

4. Encourage idea fluency

Dr. Linus Pauling, one of the most influential chemists of the 20th century, was once asked, "How do you get a good idea?" His response? "The best way to get a good idea is to get lots of ideas and throw the bad ones away."

That's why "Go for a quantity of ideas" is the first rule of brainstorming. You want to encourage people, early and often, to go for quantity. This will short circuit participants' perfectionistic, self-censoring tendencies - two behaviors that are certain death to creativity.

5. Invite humor

The right use of humor is a great way to help people tap into their right brains. Indeed, "haha" and "aha" are closely related. Both are the result of surprise or discontinuity. You laugh when your expectations are confronted in a delightful way.

Please note, however, that your use of humor must not be demeaning to anyone in the room. Freud explained that every "joke" has a victim and is used by the teller to gain advantage over the victim - a way to affirm power. And when a group finds itself in the realm of power (and the yielding of power), it will undoubtedly end up in left brain territory.

You don't want to feed that beast.

Instead, set the tone by telling a victimless joke or two, or by your own self-deprecating humor. But even more important than "joke telling" is to allow and encourage a free flowing sense of playfulness.

6. Do the right brain/ left brain two-step

Brainstorming for 3, 4 or 5 hours in a row is unusually exhausting, resulting in the "diminishing returns" syndrome. Creative thinking, like life itself, follows natural laws. Day is followed by night, winter by spring, inbreath by outbreath.

That's why the design of your creative thinking session needs to alternate between the cerebral and the kinesthetic - between brainstorming and some kind of hands-on, experiential activity. By doing this two-step, participants will stay refreshed and engaged.

7. Periodically mention that chaos precedes creative breakthroughs

Left-brained, logical people are rarely comfortable with ambiguity, chaos and the unknown. It seems messy. Disorganized. Downright unprofessional. Indeed, much of the Six Sigma work being done in corporations these days is to reduce variability and increase predictability.

Paradox alert!

If you want to get really creative, you will need to increase variability and help participants get more "out of control." Picasso said it best, "The act of creation is first of all an act of destruction." Tom Peters said it second best, "Innovation is a messy business."

So, when you sense that your session is filled with ambiguity-phobic people, remember to mention how it's normal for ambiguity to precede a creative breakthrough. You may even want to mention how you will be purposefully infusing the session with moments of ambiguity, just to prime the creative pump.

8. Establish criteria for evaluation

The reason why ideas are usually considered a dime a dozen is because most people are unclear about their process for identifying the priceless ones. That's why a lot of brainstorming sessions are frustrating. Tons of possibilities are generated, but there is no clear path for winnowing and choosing.

Let's assume, for example, that the session you facilitate generates 100 powerful, new ideas. Do you have a process for helping participants pare the 100 down to a manageable few? If not, you need one. Ideally, the criteria for selecting ideas will be clarified before the session and introduced to participants early in the session.

Please note that there is some debate amongst brainstorm mavens as to when to offer the criteria. Some say this should happen at the beginning of the session (to help assuage the left brain need for logic and boundaries). Others suggest delaying the identification of criteria until just before the idea evaluation process. Either way will work. Your call.

9. Be a referee when you have to

No matter how many ground rules you mention about "suspending judgment" or "delaying evaluation," you are going to have some heavy hitters in the room just waiting for a moment to doubt your approach or "the process."

Indeed, one of the favorite (often unconscious) strategies of some left-brainers is to debate and question the facilitator every step of the way. While you want to honor their concerns and right to speak their truth, you also want to hold the bar high for the intention behind the brainstorming session - and that is to challenge the status quo, entertain the new, and create space for imaginations to roam.

Don't be afraid to be firm with participants who want to control the session. At the very least, ask them to suspend their need for "convergence" (i.e. evaluation, judgment, decision making) to the end of the session when there will be plenty of time to exercise that very important muscle.

10. Consult with the tough people on the breaks

Every once in a while, a really opinionated person shows up in a session - someone who is probably very smart, competent, experienced, with a big BS detector, and just enough arrogance to make you feel uncomfortable. These people can really affect the group, especially if they hold positions of power in the organization.

In the best of all worlds, these people would always be on your side. They won't be. Be careful about playing to these people in a neurotic attempt to get their approval. You won't get it. But DO seek them out on breaks and engage them. Get them talking. Pay attention. See if you can pick up any useful feedback or clues about revising your agenda or approach.

Even though you wouldn't choose to be trapped on a desert island with them, these folks may turn out to be a huge blessing - because they are carriers of a particular sensibility that needs to be honored. More than likely, some of the other people in the room are feeling the same thing, but have been too polite to show their true colors. So, don't be afraid of these people. They can be a very valuable resource.

* Excerpted from 32 Ways of Working with the Left Brain, part of Idea Champions' Platinum Innovation Kit

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Mitch DitkoffMitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of "Awake at the Wheel", as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Top 16 Reasons Why Human Beings Love Lists

by Mitch Ditkoff

Top 16 Reasons Why Human Beings Love ListsThis just in.

My three most popular postings on this blog have one thing in common: They are all lists.
  1. 100 Simple Ways to Be More Creative on the Job

  2. The Top 100 Lamest Excuses for Not Innovating

  3. 26 Reasons Why Most Brainstorming Sessions Don't Work

While I acknowledge that these three postings are engaging, entertaining, and useful, I don't think they are that much more engaging, entertaining, and useful than the rest of the stuff on our blog to warrant as much attention as they've been getting.

Something else is afoot.

And that, I believe, is the medium through which the content of these postings have been communicated: Lists.

What's up with lists? Why so popular? Why does every men's and women's magazine plaster their covers with them? Why do blogs?

After some major noodling on the topic and a few consultations with the Master of the Tradition, I am very pleased to report my recent findings to you. Here we go...


  1. We are all victims of information overload. Lists help us make sense of the world.

  2. Lists simplify.

  3. Lists promise instant knowledge.

  4. Lists make it seem as if the list maker knows something that list readers don't.

  5. Lists appeal to an ever expanding population of ADD sufferers.

  6. Lists provide choices.

  7. Lists are made of soundbytes. Soundbytes 'R Us.

  8. Lists appeal to the left brain need for order and linearity.

  9. Lists are familiar. We grew up making them: laundry lists, grocery lists, and Christmas lists.

  10. Lists can be updated, added to, or subtracted from easily.

  11. Lists give us an instant opportunity to disagree.

  12. Lists, with their declarative headlines, make list readers feel like they are just about to get a crash course on a topic of great significance.

  13. Lists, when forwarded to friends or clients, position the list forwarder as a knowledgeable resource.

  14. Lists include items that are numbered - and most readers assume that an item that's numbered must be more true than an item that's merely bulleted.

  15. Lists can be printed quickly, folded up, and put into one's pocket - as opposed to New Yorker articles, the collected works of Henry Miller, or Sunday's New York Times.

  16. Lists are great ways for list makers, especially in the hyperlinked blogosphere, to plug their own businesses and books, not to mention the businesses and books of their friends, chiropractors, and college roommates.

PS: If we've omitted any TOP REASONS why human beings love lists, leave us a comment. When we get ten or more, we'll post what our readers have sent us. As a list, of course.

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Mitch DitkoffMitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of "Awake at the Wheel", as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

26 Reasons Why Most Brainstorming Sessions Fail

And what you can do about it

by Mitch Ditkoff

26 Reasons Why Most Brainstorming Sessions FailWhenever I ask our clients to tell me about the quality of brainstorming sessions in their company, they usually roll their eyes and grumble. Bottom line, most brainstorming sessions don't work. Not because brainstorming, as a process, doesn't work - but because it's usually done poorly.

What follows are the 26 most common reasons why - and after that, a list of what you can do differently to turn things around.

  1. Poor facilitation
  2. Wrong (or poorly articulated) topic
  3. Unmotivated participants
  4. Insufficient diversity of participants
  5. Inadequate orientation
  6. No transition from "business as usual"
  7. Lack of clear ground rules
  8. Sterile meeting space
  9. Hidden (or competing) agendas
  10. Lack of robust participation
  11. Insufficient listening
  12. Habitual idea killing behavior
  13. Attachment to old ("pet") ideas
  14. Discomfort with ambiguity
  15. Hyper-seriousness (not enough fun)
  16. Endless interruptions
  17. PDA addiction (Crackberries)
  18. Impatience (premature adoption of the first "right idea")
  19. Group think
  20. Hierarchy and/or competing sub-groups
  21. Imbalance of divergent and convergent thinking
  22. No tools and techniques to spark the imagination
  23. Inelegant ways of capturing new ideas
  24. No time for personal reflection
  25. Pre-mature evaluation
  26. No follow-up plan

  1. Find, train (or hire) a skillful facilitator
  2. Make sure you're focusing on the right challenge.
  3. Invite people who really care about the topic.
  4. Invite people with diverse points of view.
  5. Spend time clarifying the "current reality".
  6. Start with a fun icebreaker to help change mindset.
  7. Ask participants to establish clear meeting ground rules.
  8. Design (or find) a more inspiring meeting space.
  9. Establish alignment re: session goals.
  10. Find ways to engage the least verbal participants.
  11. Establish "deep listening" as a ground rule. Model it.
  12. Invite participants to name classic idea killing statements.
  13. Elicit the group's pet ideas in the first 30 minutes.
  14. Explain how ambiguity is part of the ideation process.
  15. Tell stories, play music, invite humor.
  16. Go offsite. Put a "meeting in progress" sign on the door.
  17. Collect all PDAs/cell phones. Establish "no email" ground rule.
  18. Go for a quantity of ideas. Let go of perfectionism.
  19. Encourage individuality, risk taking, and wild ideas.
  20. Ask people to leave their titles at the door.
  21. Start with divergent thinking. End with convergent thinking.
  22. Use tools and techniques to spark original thinking.
  23. Enroll scribes, use post-its, have an idea capture process.
  24. Create time for individuals to reflect on new ideas.
  25. Explain that evaluation will happen at the end of the session.
  26. Identify and enroll "champions". Explain the follow up process.

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Mitch DitkoffMitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of "Awake at the Wheel", as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog.

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Monday, April 05, 2010

100 Simple, Low-Cost Ways to be More Creative on the Job

100 Simple, Low-Cost Ways to Be More Creative on the Job
by Mitch Ditkoff

  1. Ask the most creative people at work for their ideas.
  2. Brainstorm daily with a co-worker.
  3. Tape record your ideas on your commute to and from work.
  4. Present your challenge to a child.
  5. Take your team off-site for a day.

  6. Listen to your inner muse.
  7. Play music in your office.
  8. Go for a daily brainstorming walk.
  9. Ask someone to collaborate with you on your favorite project.
  10. Exercise during your lunch break.

  11. Turn on a radio at random times and listen for a "message."
  12. Invite your customers to brainstorming sessions.
  13. Think of three other ways to define your challenge.
  14. Remember your dreams.
  15. Reward yourself, in specific ways, for small successes.

  16. Introduce odd catalysts into your daily routine.
  17. Get out of the office more regularly.
  18. Play with fun toys in your office whenever you get stuck.
  19. Take more naps.
  20. Ask for help.

  21. Work in cafes.
  22. Transform your assumptions into "How can I?" questions.
  23. Write down as many ideas as you can think of in five minutes
  24. Redesign your office.
  25. Take regular daydreaming breaks.

  26. Dissolve turf boundaries.
  27. Initiate cross-functional brainstorming sessions.
  28. Arrive earlier to the office than anyone else.
  29. Turn a conference room into an upbeat "think tank" room.
  30. Read odd books - having nothing to do with your work.

  31. Block off time on your calendar for creative thinking.
  32. Take a shower in the middle of the day.
  33. Keep an idea notebook at your desk.
  34. Decorate your office with inspiring quotes and images.
  35. Create a headline of the future and the story behind it.

  36. Choose to be more creative.
  37. Recall a time in your life when you were very creative.
  38. Wander around a bookstore while thinking about your challenge.
  39. Trust your instincts more.
  40. Immerse yourself in your most exciting project.

  41. Open a magazine and free associate off of a word or image.
  42. Write down your ideas when you first wake up in the morning.
  43. Ask yourself what the simplest solution is.
  44. Get fast feedback from people you trust.
  45. Conduct more experiments.

  46. Ask yourself what the market wants or needs.
  47. Ask "What's the worst thing that could happen if I fail?"
  48. Pilot your idea, even if it's not ready.
  49. Work "in the cracks" - small bursts of creative energy.
  50. Incubate (sleep on it).
  51. Test existing boundaries - and then test them again.

  52. Schedule time with the smartest people at work.
  53. Visit your customers more frequently.
  54. Benchmark your competitors - then adapt their successes.
  55. Enroll your boss or peers into your most fascinating project.
  56. Imagine you already know the answer. What would it be?

  57. Create ground rules with your team that foster new thinking.
  58. Ask stupid questions. Then ask some more.
  59. Challenge everything you do.
  60. Give yourself a deadline - and stick to it
  61. Look for three alternatives to every solution you originate.

  62. Write your ideas in a notebook and review them regularly.
  63. Make connections between seemingly disconnected things.
  64. Use creative thinking techniques.
  65. Play with the Free the Genie cards.
  66. Use similes and metaphors when describing your ideas.

  67. Have more fun. Be sillier than usual.
  68. Ask "How can I accomplish my goal in half the time?"
  69. Take a break when you are stuck on a problem.
  70. Think how your biggest hero might approach your challenge.
  71. Declare Friday afternoons a "no-email zone."

  72. Ask three people how they would improve your idea.
  73. Create a wall of images that inspires you.
  74. Do more of what already helps you be creative off the job.
  75. Laugh more, worry less.
  76. Remember your dreams - then write them down.

  77. Ask impossible questions.
  78. Eliminate all unnecessary bureaucracy and admin tasks.
  79. Create a compelling vision of what you want to accomplish.
  80. Work on hottest project every day, even if only 5 minutes.
  81. Do whatever is necessary to create a sense of urgency.

  82. Go for a walk anytime you're stuck.
  83. Meditate or do relaxation exercises.
  84. Take more breaks.
  85. Go out for lunch with your team more often.
  86. Eat lunch with a different person each day.

  87. Ask for forgiveness, not permission.
  88. Invite an outside facilitator to lead a brainstorming session.
  89. Take more risks outside of the office (i.e. surf, ski, box etc.)
  90. Ask for help when you need it.
  91. Know that it is possible to make a difference.

  92. Find a mentor.
  93. Acknowledge all your successes at the end of each day.
  94. Create an "idea piggy bank" and make deposits daily.
  95. Have shorter meetings.
  96. Try the techniques in "Awake at the Wheel"

  97. Don't listen to or watch the news for 24 hours.
  98. Make drawings of your ideas.
  99. Bring your project or challenge to mind before going to bed.
  100. Divide your idea into component parts. Then rethink each part.
  101. Post this list near your desk and read it daily.

KIND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS TO: Anne Howe, David Beath, Jim Aubele, Gary Kvistad, Howard Moody, Farrell Reynolds, Hector Cruz Rosa, Jill Peckinpaugh, and Marcy Turkington for their wonderful suggestions.

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Mitch DitkoffMitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of "Awake at the Wheel", as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

The Four Currents of a Culture of Innovation

by Mitch Ditkoff

The Four Currents of a Culture of InnovationI've been doing a lot of thinking these days about "culture of innovation" - trying to get down to the root of what the heck it's all about.

It's easy to wax poetic about the topic (and a lot of people do), but too much of the stuff I've been reading sounds like bad advertising copy for motherhood and apple pie.

So, at the risk of oversimplifying the whole thing, here's my blogospheric whack at boiling the mumbo jumbo down to the core.

If you want to create a sustainable culture of innovation, you will need to understand that there are always four forces at work - four currents that are always interacting with each other:
  1. Top Down
  2. Bottom Up
  3. Outside In
  4. Inside Out

TOP DOWN: Although the "revolution" never starts with the King, it is imperative that top leadership plays their "culture-enhancing role" far more than they currently do.

The people in the trenches need to know that the head honchos not only care about innovation, but are willing to do whatever it takes to establish a company culture conducive to it.

I'm not advocating phony pep talks from the C-Suite. I'm advocating that senior leaders actually lead the effort. I'm advocating that all those wonderful people with three letter acronyms after their name walk the innovation talk... stir the soup... shake and bake... and do everything they can do to martial company resources in whatever way is necessary to transform "business as usual" to "I love this place and I can't wait to get to work." Yes, it's possible.

BOTTOM UP: If an organization wants to innovate, it will need to get everyone into the act. Not just senior leaders. Not just R&D. Everyone. Ideas - the fuzzy front end of innovation - can come from anywhere, anytime. When an organization really GETS this and finds new ways to tap the collective brainpower of the workforce, the culture starts changing for the better. People become more proactive. More energized. More passionate about their work.

Indeed, it could easily be said that the democratization of the workplace is one of the most important social movements of the 21st century. As power and decision-making trickle down, creative output ratchets up. People become self-organizing, self-directed and, on a really good day, selflessly committed to being a force for positive change.

OUTSIDE IN: Establishing a culture of innovation is only meaningful if the fruits of the effort yield the kind of results that are valued by your customers. Otherwise, the effort to "change the culture" will turn into some kind of weird, solipsistic ritual that will have no impact on the people you are serving.

Do you know who your customers are? Do you know what they want? Do you have any kind of process in place to track changing market conditions, demographics, and emerging trends? Have you figured out how to get real feedback and input from your customers - how to include them in your ideation process?

INSIDE OUT: Ah... now we're really getting down to it. If you want a culture of innovation, you will need to find a way to unleash the passion, fascination, and inspiration of your workforce.
Not by dangling carrots and sticks (read Dan Pink's new book, Drive, if you doubt me), but by finding a way to activate the innate desire for meaning, enjoyment, and success that is buried deep within the bones of every single person who shows up for work day after day.

Organizations don't innovate. People do.

If you can find a way to unlock the primal mojo of your workforce, you won't need to manage as much as you do. You won't need to rely so heavily on incentive plans, performance reviews, pep talks, frowns, and punishment.

That stuff only exists because your workforce is disengaged.

But when people are on fire with purpose, in touch with their own authentic desire to create, a culture of innovation will naturally evolve.

A big thank you to Val Vadeboncoeur, Tim Moore, Barry Gruenberg, Paul Roth, and Michael Pergola for their humongous collaboration, insight, creativity, and perseverance on this topic.

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Mitch DitkoffMitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of "Awake at the Wheel", as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Rise of the Innovation Ninjas

by Mitch Ditkoff

Rise of the Innovation NinjasEvery once in a while I come across a quote or excerpt from an article that I want to immediately post on the windshield of every client of mine. It cuts to the chase and lucidly states what I've been trying to say, in various Neanderthalic ways, all these many years. Take this Einstein quote for example:

"Not everything that counts can be counted; and not everything that can be counted counts."

Bingo! Bullseye! What a perfect way of explaining to a left-brained addicted world that metrics and analysis is not the only game in town.

And then there's Gary Hamel. He takes a bit more time than Albert to make his point, but hey, it's all relative isn't it? Check this out from the man behind one of my favorite business books of all time:

Today, innovation is the buzzword du jour in virtually every company, but how many CEOs have put every employee through an intensive training program aimed at boosting the innovation skills of the rank and file? Sure companies have electronic suggestion boxes, slush funds for new ideas, elaborate pipeline management tools, and innovation awards - but in the absence of a cadre of extensively trained and highly skilled innovators, much of the investment in these innovation enablers will simply be wasted.

Imagine that you coaxed a keen, but woefully inexperienced golfer onto the first tee at Pebble Beach. After arming the tyro with the latest titanium driver, you challenge him to split the fairway with a monster drive. You promise the neophyte a $100 bonus every time he hits a long bomb that stays out of the rough, and another $100 for every hole where he manages to break par.

But what you don't do is this: You don't give him any instruction - no books, no tips from Golf Digest, no Dave Pelz and Butch Harmon, no video feedback, and no time off to perfect his swing on the practice range. Given this scenario, how many 200-yard drives is our beginner likely to land in the fairway?

How long is he likely to stay avidly devoted to the task at hand? And what kind of return are you likely to get on the $2,000 you spent on a bag full of high tech clubs and the 450 bucks you shelled out for a tee time? The answers are: Not many, not long, and not much. And no one who knows anything about golf would ever set up such a half-assed contest.

That's why I'm dumbfounded by the fact that so few executives have invested in the innovation skills of their frontline employees. The least charitable explanation for this mind-boggling oversight: senior managers subscribe to a sort of innovation apartheid.

They believe that a few blessed souls are genetically equipped to be creative, while everyone else is a dullard, unable to come up with anything more exciting than spiritless suggestions for Six Sigma improvements.

A more charitable reading: CEOs and corporate HR leaders simply don't know how to turn on the innovation genes that are found in every human being.

Obviously, you can't teach someone to be an innovator unless you know where game-changing ideas come from. In other words, you need a theory of innovation - like Ben Hogan's theory of the golf swing.

This is why, a few years back, I and several colleagues analyzed more than a hundred cases of business innovation. Our goal: to understand why some individuals, at certain points in time, are able to see opportunities that are invisible to everyone else. Here, in a pistachio-sized shell, is what we learned:

Successful innovators have ways of seeing the world that throw new opportunities into sharp relief. They have developed, usually by accident, a set of perceptual "lenses" that allow them to pierce the fog of "what is" in order to see the promise of "what could be." How? By paying close attention to four things that usually go unnoticed:

1. Unchallenged orthodoxies - the widely held industry beliefs that blind incumbents to new opportunities.

2. Under-leveraged competencies - the "invisible" assets and competencies, locked up in moribund businesses, that can be repurposed as new growth platforms.

3. Under-appreciated trends - the nascent discontinunities that can be harnessed to reinvigorate old business models and create new ones.

4. Unarticulated needs - the frustrations and inconveniences that customers take for granted, and industry stalwarts have thus far failed to address."

Thanks Gary!

Clearly, what's needed these days are organizations full of Innovation Ninjas. Skillful, agile, perceptive, courageous, and highly trained individuals who know how to find their way through the seeming obstacles in the way in order to get a result.

These obstacles might be "internal" - as in the outdated assumptions, paradigms, and habits of people with three letter acronyms after their name. OR the obstacles might be "external" - as in an organization's funkadelic infrastructure, protocols, and processes.

But whatever the obstacles encountered (not counted!), our nimble ninjas of necessity manage to find their way to the goal. Imagine if you had hundreds of these people working in your company. Imagine you had thousands.

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Mitch DitkoffMitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of "Awake at the Wheel", as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

The Innovation Paradox

by Mitch Ditkoff

The Innovation ParadoxMy big insight about innovation these days would make Nobel Prize winner, Niels Bohr, proud.

"Now that we have met with paradox," explained Dr. Bohr, "we have some hope of making progress."

Innovation is full of it - paradox, that is.

On one hand, organizations want structures, maps, models, guidelines, and systems. On the other hand, that's all too often the stuff that squelches innovation, driving it underground or out the door.

The noble search for a so-called "innovation process" can easily become a seduction, addiction, or distraction whereby innovation is marginalized, deferred, over-engineered, and worn like a badge.

True innovation is about allowing room enough for paradox to be a teacher and guide - and to accept, at least for a little longer than usual, ambiguity, dissonance, and discomfort - the age-old precursors to breakthrough.

Remember, there's a big difference between Six Sigma and Innovation.

Six Sigma is about reducing variability. Innovation is about increasing it - and that often means allowing the kind of "messiness" that process-mavens interpret as a problem needing to be fixed, rather than a pre-condition to breakthrough and the resulting commercialization of that breakthrough that most people refer to as "innovation."

Yes, process, structures, systems are necessary, but they don't have to become overly pre-emptive. If you stay in an innovative mindset and can adapt to emerging needs, they will eventually become self-organizing when the soul of innovation is allowed to flourish.

Can we help the "innovation process" along with the right application of strategy, infrastructure, and planning?

Of course we can.

But beware! "Helping" the process too much often becomes counterproductive - much in the same way that attempting to catch a milkweed floating through the air with a bold reach of your hand actually repels the object of your desire.

Innovation Physics 101.

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Mitch DitkoffMitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of "Awake at the Wheel", as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog.

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Monday, March 08, 2010

Top 100 Lamest Excuses for Not Innovating

by Mitch Ditkoff

Top 100 Lamest Excuses for Not InnovatingRecognize any of these? If so, find your way pass the 100th and learn how to go beyond them. Takes less than five minutes. (Or maybe a lifetime).

1. I don't have the time.
2. I can't get the funding.
3. My boss will never go for it.
4. Were not in the kind of business likely to innovate.
5. We won't be able to get it past legal.
6. I've got too much on my plate.
7. I'll be punished if I fail.
8. I'm just not not the creative type.
9. I'm already juggling way too many projects.
10. I'm too new around here.

11. I'm not good at presenting my ideas.
12. No one, besides me, really cares about innovation.
13. There's too much bureaucracy here to get anything done.
14. Our customers aren't asking for it.
15. We're a risk averse culture. Always will be.

16. We don't have an innovation process.
17. We don't have a culture of innovation.
18. They don't pay me enough to take on this kind of project.
19. My boss will get all the credit.
20. My career path will be jeopardized if this doesn't fly.

21. I've already got enough headaches.
22. I'm no good at office politics.
23. My home life will suffer.
24. I'm not disciplined enough.
25. It's an idea too far ahead of its time.

26. I won't be able to get enough resources.
27. I don't have enough information.
28. Someone will steal my idea.
29. It will take too long to get results.
30. We're in a down economy.

31. It will die in committee.
32. I'll be laughed out of town.
33. I won't be able to get the ear of senior leadership.
34. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
35. The concept is too disruptive.

36. I won't be able to get enough support.
37. I don't tolerate ambiguity all that well.
38. I'm not in a creative profession.
39. Now is not a good time to start a new project.
40. I don't have the right personality to build a team.

41. Our company is going through too many changes right now.
42. They won't give me any more time to work on the project.
43. If I succeed, too much will be expected of me.
44. Nothing ever changes around here.
45. Things are changing so fast, my head is spinning.

46. Whatever success I achieve will be undone by somebody else.
47. I don't have enough clout to get things done.
48. It's just not worth the effort.
49. I'm getting close to retirement.
50. My other projects will suffer.

51. Been there, done that.
52. I don't want another thing to think about.
53. I won't have any time left for my family.
54. A more nimble competitor will beat us to the punch.
55. Teamwork is a joke around here.

56. I've never done anything like this before.
57. I won't be rewarded if the project succeeds.
58. We're not measured for innovation.
59. I don't have the right credentials.
60. We need more data.

61. It's not my job.
62. It will hard sustaining the motivation required.
63. I've tried before and failed.
64. I'm not smart enough to pull this off.
65. I don't want to go to any more meetings.

66. It will take way too long to get up to speed.
67. Our Stage Gate process will sabotage any hope of success.
68. I'm not skillful at building business cases.
69. Summer's coming.
70. The marketplace is too volatile.

71. This is a luxury we can't afford at this time.
72. I think we're about to be acquired.
73. I'm trying to simplify my life, not complicate it.
74. The dog ate my homework.
75. Help! I'm a prisoner in a Chinese fortune cookie factory.

76. My company just wants to squeeze more blood from the stone.
77. My company isn't committed to innovation.
78. I don't have the patience.
79. I'm not sure how to begin.
80. I'm too left-brained for this sort of thing.

81. I won't be able to get the funding required.
82. I'm getting too old for this.
83. We're too competitive, in-house. Collaboration is a rarity.
84. Spring is coming.
85. I'm hypoglycemic.

86. That's Senior Leadership's job
87. I'm thinking of quitting.
88. Market conditions just aren't right.
89. We need to focus on the short term for a while.
90. Innovation, schminnovation.

91. What we really need are some cost cutting initiatives.
92. Six Sigma will take care of everything.
93. Mercury is in retrograde.
94. IT won't go for it.
95. Maybe next year.

96. That's my boss's job.
97. That's R&D's job.
98. I would if I could, but I can't, so I won't.
99. First, we need to benchmark the competition.
100. It's against my religion.

How to Go Beyond These Lame Excuses
  1. Make a list of your three most bothersome ones.

  2. Turn each excuse into a question, beginning with the words "How can I?" or "How can we?" (For example, if your excuse is "That's R&D's job," you might ask "How can I make innovation my job?" or "How can I help my team take more responsibility for innovating?"

  3. Brainstorm each question - alone and with your team.

  4. Then, DO something about it within the next 48 hours.

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Mitch DitkoffMitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of "Awake at the Wheel", as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog.

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Monday, March 01, 2010

Growing a Garden of Innovation

"Companies are actually living organisms, not machines. We keep bringing in mechanics, when what we need are gardeners." - Peter Senge

by Mitch Ditkoff

Sustainable innovation, the endless effort to find a better way, cannot be achieved by robotically lining up best practices and imitating them. The real catalyzing agent for renewable innovation is the ground from which these best practices spring - the confluence of purpose, people, and processes better known as culture.

From where will the next wave of groundbreaking innovation come?

Not from organizations mechanically mimicking each other's best practices, but from organizations with the authentic commitment to take their stand on ground that has been cultivated for breakthrough.

If you check the contents of the most popular books on innovation, the same topics show up again and again: strategy, systems, process, leadership, customer focus, risk, speed to market, prototyping, metrics, mass collaboration, market intelligence, technology, and creative thinking.

Clearly, all of these topics are important. But none of them can take root in an organization without one fundamental element being in place - a consciously created culture of innovation.

Is such a culture simple to create? Yes. Is it easy? No. And the reason why it is not easy is because the ground of most organizations is hard, untilled, and in major need of clearing.

The metaphor that most clearly conveys the effort required is creating a garden.

To experienced gardeners, the steps needed to create a garden are simple. To the inexperienced gardener, it is a tangle of complexity.

Yes, gardening demands sustained and methodical effort. And yes, sweating comes with the territory. But getting a yield - something to harvest - is a fundamentally straightforward task.

If your company is clear about the effort required, creating a culture of innovation (lets just call it a garden of innovation) is simply a matter of taking the time to execute each step thoroughly 0- in the time honored way gardeners have always practiced their craft.


If you are serious about being a gardener of innovation, the first thing you will need is hunger - a real appetite for results.

Growing a garden takes sustained effort. It is hard work - most of it unglamorous and unappreciated. Hunger for a yield is the serious gardener's real motivator. Yes, the serious gardener likes being outdoors and, yes, the serious gardener likes getting exercise, but the ultimate product of his/her labors - the harvest - is what it is all about.

Without this level of commitment, the gardening effort remains only a hobby and does not have the roll up your sleeves and get dirty quality so essential to reaping a result.

If your workforce has no appetite for innovation, you will need to find a way to whet it. If you choose not to, people will sit idly by, waiting for R&D, senior leadership, or the tooth fairy to lead the charge. And while they may talk about growth, shovels, and the need for bulk purchase of mulch, talk will not put food on the table.

Fortunately, somewhere, deep inside everyone in your organization is the impulse to create. This impulse is innate. Your task is to awaken this impulse and help people own the effort to innovate. If they do not own the effort, the only thing you will be eating at harvest time will be your own words. (P.S.: Winter is on the way.)


Amateur gardeners, fueled by visions of ripe tomatoes, have a tendency to plant before they are really ready. Unclear about how large a garden they can sustain, unsure about what is needed to prepare the ground, unable to resist the impulse for a quick yield, they rush in willy nilly.

The result? Lots of wasted effort and the kind of sweating that signifies almost nothing. The same holds true for organizations who claim they want a culture of innovation.

The antidote is a simple, two step process (though the description of the process is much simpler than the execution).

First, an organization needs to get clear about the scope of the effort they want to make. It needs to stake its territory or, more precisely, define the fields in which it wants to innovate. (If it tries to innovate everywhere, all the time, it will only deplete its resources and exhaust its workforce.)

Secondly, it needs to prepare the ground for planting.

This task includes removing obstacles that will interfere with growth, as well as enriching the fertility of the soil. Weekend gardeners cringe at this kind of preparatory effort. It does not feel like fun and there is nothing immediately to show for it. But without this effort there will be no foundation - no ground - for future success.


You can have ample space to plant a garden. You can know exactly where that ample space is. And you can have lots of fertile soil in this ample space. But unless you have healthy seeds to plant, space is all you will ever have.

If you want a garden of innovation, you need seeds. Not just one kind of seed, but many. Indeed, the more varied seeds you have, the greater your chances for an interesting yield.

In the realm of innovation, ideas are the seeds. All innovation begins with an idea. Ideas are the fuzzy front end of the innovation process - the alpha and omega of new growth. No ideas, no innovation. Its that simple.

The big question, then, is this: Where will your company get its new ideas? Is there an existing process? And if so, is this process working? Can you count on your workforce to deliver high quality, game changing ideas? Or is there something else you need to be doing in order to tap their brilliance?


While it is true that some seeds, spontaneously carried by the wind and landing on fertile soil, find a way to plant themselves, most gardens require that seeds be planted in a more dependable way.

If your company is sincere about its intention to create a culture of innovation, it will need to refine its seed planting process. More specifically, it will need to establish a more effective way for the carriers of seeds to increase the odds of those seeds taking root.

Yes, aspiring innovators will need to become more adept at pitching/planting their ideas. But at the same time, the people to whom new ideas are being pitched will need to become more receptive to the possibility that something new is worthy of taking root.

Having a silo of healthy seeds is a good start, but ultimately those seeds need to be planted - and they need to be planted in a way that will radically increase the odds of them growing into seedlings.


If you have ever planted a garden, you have experienced the phenomenon of uninvited predators showing up at all hours to devour your tender, young seedlings. Deer, raccoons, moles, rabbits, and a host of other unidentifiable varmints seem to have no other mission in life but to downsize your dreams of winning the state fair or, at the very least, eliminate all possibility of you having fresh lettuce for dinner. It comes with the territory. And it will continue to come with the territory unless you fence your garden.

Organizations of all shapes and sizes experience the same phenomenon.

Promising new business growth ideas - the tasty indicators of breakthrough innovation - are routinely devoured by ravenous corporate naysayers. That is, unless the organization finds a way to protect their aspiring innovators.

Your role, as a gardener of innovation, is to fence your garden and protect your people from the overly acidic scrutiny, doubt, and premature evaluation of predominantly left brained, metric driven, analytical inhibitors of innovation. It can be done. It must be done. And you are the one to champion the process.


Conceiving a garden is relatively easy. It requires no special skills, discipline, or education. Anyone can do it. Indeed, anyone does do it every single Spring and Summer. Getting a harvest, however, is an entirely different matter. It is not so easy - and unlike conception, requires skill, discipline, resources, and the ability to learn on the job.

In the same way, conceiving new ideas is relatively easy. It happens every day of the year to millions of people. Bringing them to fruition is not so easy. Along the way, they get neglected, mishandled, and trampled on. What starts out as a brilliant new possibility, often shrivels on the vine. Most organizations have no conscious process for nurturing the growth of new ideas.

As a result, many powerful, new ideas never mature.

They may break new ground, but they do not necessarily flower and bear fruit. The good news? It does not have to be this way. With the right kind of sustained effort, gardeners of innovation can dramatically increase the odds of exciting new ideas becoming part of the harvest and making it to market.


Inexperienced gardeners, intoxicated by their need for a big harvest and overcompensating for their fear of having nothing to show for their efforts, tend to plant too many seeds too close together. Their fear usually dissipates in a few weeks when the first sprouts emerge, but then another challenge surfaces - what to do with the apparent bounty of new growth?

While the profusion of greenery certainly looks good to the untrained eye, the reality is different. New seedlings start competing with each other for water and nutrients. Roots entangle. Left unaddressed, the results are disappointing - row after row of stunted, scraggly plants.

Savvy gardeners respond quickly, thinning out new growth to make room for a select number of the healthiest plants to flourish.

Really savvy gardeners go one step further - transplanting the healthiest of the thinned out plants to new, roomier locations.

Organizations trying to raise the bar for innovation face the same challenge. Intoxicated by their need for impressive growth (and wanting to involve as many employees as possible in the process), they get overwhelmed by a profusion of ideas and initiate too many projects - ideas and projects that end up competing for the same, finite resources.

The result? Scraggly, stunted, and undeveloped ventures.

The antidote? A clear strategy for how their organization will evaluate, select, and fund new initiatives - along with a process for identifying promising new growth to be transplanted for future development.


All cultures around the world have a holiday, ritual, or ceremony dedicated to expressing gratitude for the bounty of the harvest. In their bones, they understand the purpose, power, and privilege of giving thanks. Their recent harvest may have fed the body, but the collective acknowledgment of the harvest feeds the soul, strengthening everyones resolve to begin the growing process again the next season.

Corporate cultures could learn a lesson or two from this age old practice.

Historically, organizations have been severely lacking when the time comes to acknowledge the harvest and the people whose efforts were essential to manifesting that harvest. The endless demand for output drives most business leaders to conclude that acknowledging successes is a waste of time - a luxury no bottom line watching organization could afford. Somehow, deep within the collective psyche of senior leaders, lurks the fear that celebrating successes will invariably lead to a fat and lazy workforce.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

People flourish when their efforts are acknowledged - not only individually, but as an entire workforce. If you are serious about establishing a sustainable culture of innovation, remember to take the time to acknowledge your gardeners. For their effort. For their resilience. For their collaboration. And for whatever harvest they are able to manifest.

Food for thought?

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Mitch DitkoffMitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of "Awake at the Wheel", as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Innovation From the Inside Out

by Mitch Ditkoff

Innovation From the Inside OutThese days, almost all of my clients are talking about the need to establish a culture of innovation.

Some, I'm happy to report, are actually doing something about it. Hallelujah! They are taking bold steps forward to turn theory into action.

Still, the challenge remains the same for them as it does thousands of other forward-thinking companies - and that is, to find a simple, authentic way to address the challenge from the inside out - to water the root of the tree, not just the branches.

In today's process-driven, OD-centric, Six-Sigma savvy organization, the tendency is to focus on systems as opposed to people - as if systems were sufficient to guarantee change.

Guess what? Systems are not sufficient to guarantee change. In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, "Systems die. Instinct remains."

This is not to say that organizations should ignore systems and structures in their effort to establish a culture of innovation. They shouldn't.

But systems and structures all too often become the Holy Grail - much in the same way that Six Sigma has become the Holy Grail.

Unfortunately, when the addiction to systems and structures rules the day, an organization's quest for a culture of innovation degenerates into nothing much more than a cult of innovation.

Organizations do not innovate. People innovate. Inspired people. Fascinated people. Creative people. Committed people. That's where innovation begins. On the inside.

The organization's role - just like the individual manager's role - is to get out of the way. And while this "getting out of the way" will undoubtedly include the effort to formulate supportive systems, processes, and protocols, it is important to remember that systems, processes, and protocols are never the answer.

They are the context, not the content.

They are the husk, not kernel.

They are the menu, not the meal.

Ultimately, organizations are faced with the same challenge that religions are faced with. Religious leaders may speak passionately about the virtues their congregation needs to be living by, but sermons only name the challenge and remind people to experience something - they don't necessarily change behavior.

Change comes from within the heart and mind of each individual. It cannot be legislated or evangelized into reality.

What's needed in organizations who aspire to a culture of innovation, is an inner change. People need to experience something within themselves that will spark and sustain their effort to innovate - and when they experience this "something," they will be self-sustaining.

They will think about their projects in the shower, in their car, and in their dreams. They will need very little "management" from the outside. Inside out will rule the day - not outside in. Intrinsic motivation will flourish.

People will innovate not because they are told to, but because they want to. Open Space Technology is a good metaphor for this. When people are inspired, share a common, compelling goal and have the time and space to collaborate, the results become self-organizing.

You can create all the reward systems you want. You can reinvent your workspace until you're blue in the face. You can license the latest and greatest idea management tool, but unless each person in your organization OWNS the need to innovate and finds a way to tap into their own INNATE BRILLIANCE, all you'll end up with is a mixed bag of systems, processes, and protocols - the husk, not the kernel - the innovation flotsam and jetsam that the next administration or next CEO or next key stakeholder will mock, reject or change at the drop of a hat if the ROI doesn't show up in the next 20 minutes.

You want culture change? You want a culture of innovation?

Great. Then find a way to help each and every person in your organization come from the inside out. Deeply consider how you can awaken, nurture, and develop the primal need all people have to create something extraordinary.

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Mitch DitkoffMitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of "Awake at the Wheel", as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Six Sigma and Innovation

The Gotta Have a Process Blues

by Mitch Ditkoff

The GOtta Have a Process BluesOne of my favorite clients of all time was a key manager in a very prominent Fortune 500 company. She was smart. She was funny. She was creative. And she was kind. Then her company adopted Six Sigma.

I couldn't help but notice that soon after this she started becoming uncharacteristically cranky, not unlike the way an artist gets upon filling out a tax form. When I asked her how the Six Sigma initiative was going, she rolled her eyes and mumbled something about "going through the motions."

In a recent online Business Week posting, Brian Hindo lucidly deconstructs some of the flawed assumptions of the Six Sigma approach...

"The very factors that make Six Sigma effective in one context," explains Hindo, "can make it ineffective in another. Traditionally, it uses rigorous statistical analysis to produce unambiguous data that help produce better quality, lower costs, and more efficiency. That all sounds great when you know what outcomes you'd like to control. But what about when there are few facts to go on - or you don't even know the nature of the problem you're trying to define?

"New things look very bad on this scale," says MIT Sloan School of Management professor Eric von Hippel, who has worked with 3M on innovation projects that he says 'took a backseat' once Six Sigma settled in. "The more you hardwire a company on total quality management, the more it is going to hurt breakthrough innovation," adds Vijay Govindarajan, a management professor at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business. "The mindset that is needed, the capabilities that are needed, the metrics that are needed, the whole culture that is needed for discontinuous innovation, are fundamentally different."

And so, dear Blogging Innovation readers... in honor of all people who have ever questioned the long-term value of Six Sigma... in honor of all the people who have understood that increasing - not decreasing - variability is often the key to success, it is my utmost pleasure to make my graceful exit from this latest blog posting with the immortal, finger-snapping, toe-tapping, knee-slapping, put-on-your-blues-hat-and-sunglasses lyrics to....


I woke up this morning,
put both feet on the floor,
but I didn't have a process
to find the bathroom door,
so all I did was shuffle,
first the left foot, then the right,
forgot to count the tiles,
(hey boss, I ain't too bright.)

We got green belts, black belts,
corporate karate,
and soon we'll need a process
for going to the potty.
Lord, I need a chart and graph to help me choose
just what to name this song about the Six Sigma blues.

Back when we were kids
the only processed thing was cheese,
now we need a process
every single time we sneeze,
I say "achoo," I blow my nose,
I try to get it right,
my Black Belt says my charts don't flow,
not once a gesundheit.

I make no mistakes,
I do everything right -
to make sure nothing breaks,
I stay up all night,
I'm a Six Sigma cowboy
cutting cycle time in half,
I measure every joke
and the way it makes me laugh.

We got green belts, black belts,
corporate karate,
and soon we'll need a process
for going to the potty,
a fishbone diagram would be so cool to help me choose
just what to name this song about the Six Sigma blues.

I barely make a boo boo, I rarely blow a deal,
you might call it voo doo, but that's just how I feel,
I'm one in a million
though my defects number three,
I log on while I'm sleeping
and I've changed my name to "E."

We got green belts, black belts,
corporate karate,
and soon we'll need a process
for going to the potty.

by Blind Willy Nilly AKA Mitch Ditkoff

Editors Note: The first person to post a blog comment here identifying both the musician in the photo AND the city he's in, will win a tweet from @innovate (sorry I don't have any extra books to offer right now).

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Mitch DitkoffMitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of "Awake at the Wheel", as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog.

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Monday, February 08, 2010

56 Reasons Why Innovation Initiatives Fail

by Mitch Ditkoff

56 Reasons Why Innovation Initiatives FailInnovation is in these days. The word is on the lips of just about every CEO, CFO, CIO, and anyone else with a three-letter acronym after their name. As a result, many companies are launching all kinds of "innovation initiatives" - hoping to stir the soup. This is understandable. But it is also, far too often, very disappointing...

Innovation initiatives sound good, but usually don't live up to the expectations. The reasons are many.

What follows are fifty-six of the most common ones - organizational obstacles we've observed in the past twenty-two years that get in the way of a company really raising the bar for innovation.

See which ones are familiar to YOU. Then, sit down with your Senior Team... CEO... innovation committee, or best friend and jump start the process of going beyond these obstacles. Let the games begin:

  1. "Innovation" framed as an initiative, not the normal way of doing business
  2. Absence of a clear definition of what "innovation" really means
  3. Innovation not linked to company's existing vision or strategy
  4. No sense of urgency
  5. Workforce is suffering from "initiative fatigue"

  6. CEO does not fully embrace the effort
  7. No compelling vision or reason to innovate
  8. Senior Team not aligned
  9. Key players don't have the time to focus on innovation
  10. Innovation champions are not empowered

  11. Decision making processes are non-existent or fuzzy
  12. Lack of trust
  13. Risk averse culture
  14. Overemphasis on cost cutting or incremental improvement
  15. Workforce ruled by past assumptions and old mental models

  16. No process in place for funding new projects
  17. Not enough pilot programs in motion
  18. Senior Team not walking the talk
  19. No company-wide process for managing ideas
  20. Too many turf wars. Too many silos.

  21. Analysis paralysis
  22. Reluctance to cannibalize existing products and services
  23. NIH (not invented here) syndrome
  24. Funky channels of communication
  25. No intrinsic motivation to innovate

  26. Unclear gates for evaluating progress
  27. Mind numbing bureaucracy
  28. Unclear idea pitching processes
  29. Lack of clearly defined innovation metrics
  30. No accountability for results

  31. No way to celebrate quick wins
  32. Poorly facilitated meetings
  33. No training to unleash individual or team creativity
  34. Voodoo evaluation of ideas
  35. Inadequate sharing of best practices

  36. Lack of teamwork and collaboration
  37. Unclear strategy for sustaining the effort
  38. Innovation Teams meet too infrequently
  39. Middle managers not on board
  40. Ineffective rollout of the effort to the workforce

  41. Lack of tools and techniques to help people generate new ideas
  42. Innovation initiative perceived as another "flavor of the month"
  43. Individuals don't understand how to be a part of the effort
  44. Diverse inputs or conflicting opinions not honored
  45. Imbalance of left-brain and right brain thinking

  46. Low morale
  47. Over-reliance on technology
  48. Failure to secure sustained funding
  49. Unrealistic timeframes
  50. Failure to consider issues associated with scaling up

  51. Inability to attract talent to risky new ventures
  52. Failure to consider commercialization issues
  53. No rewards or recognition program in place
  54. No processes in place to get fast feedback
  55. No real sense of what your customers really want or need
  56. Company hiring process screens out potential innovators

Others we may have missed?

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Mitch DitkoffMitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of "Awake at the Wheel", as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog.

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Monday, February 01, 2010

Brainstorming Breakthroughs Require the Right Question!

by Mitch Ditkoff

Brainstorming Breakthroughs Require the Right QuestionThere's a simple reason why so many brainstorm sessions are a waste of time. The problem statement being pitched to participants is the wrong one.

This is not surprising - especially when you consider how little time most facilitators put into preparing for a session.

Here's what happens: The person who calls the session is usually scrambling - overwhelmed, over-caffeinated, and running from one meeting to the next. Out of breath, they pitch the topic to the group, but the topic is either vague or secondary to a more essential challenge that remains unspoken.

G.K. Chesterton, one of the most influential English writers of the 20th century, distilled the phenomenon down to 13 words. "It's not that they can't see the solution," he said. "They can't see the problem."

Then, of course, there's also the phenomenon of perception bias.

Pitch a challenge to an IT person, and it will be seen as a technology problem. Pitch it to a CFO, and it will be seen as a financial problem. Pitch it to a marketing person and it will be seen as a branding problem.

Or as a wise man once said, "When a pickpocket meets a saint all he sees are pockets."

If you plan on running an ideation session any time soon, don't just stumble into the room and pitch a vague topic to the group. Do your homework. Make the effort to identify the REAL issue before asking for ideas. If it's the WRONG QUESTION you present, no amount of idea generation is going to make a difference.

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Mitch DitkoffMitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of "Awake at the Wheel", as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Brainstorming is More Than Ideation

by Mitch Ditkoff

Brainstorming is More Than IdeationMost people think brainstorming sessions are all about ideas - much in the same way that Wall Street bankers think life is all about money.

While ideas are certainly a big part of brainstorming, they are only a part. People who rush into a brainstorming session starving for new ideas will miss the boat (and the train, car, and unicycle) completely unless they tune into the some other mighty important dynamics:

1. INVESTIGATION: If you want your brainstorming sessions to be effective, you'll need to do some investigating before hand. Get curious. Ask questions. Dig deeper. The more you find out what the real issues are, the greater your chances of framing powerful questions to brainstorm and choosing the best techniques to use.

2. IMMERSION: While good ideas can surface at any time, their chances radically increase the more that brainstorm participants are immersed (i.e. focused). Translation? No coming and going during a session. No distractions. No interruptions. And don't forget to put a "do not disturb" sign on the door.

3. INTERACTION: Ideas come to people at all times of day and under all kinds of circumstances. But in a brainstorming session, it's the quality of interaction that makes the difference - how people connect with each other, how they listen, and build on ideas. Your job, as facilitator, is to increase the quality of interaction.

4. INSPIRATION: Creative output is often a function of mindset. Bored, disengaged people rarely originate good ideas. Inspired people do. This is one of your main tasks, as a brainstorm facilitator - to do everything in your power to keep participants inspired. The more you do, the less techniques you will need.

5. IDEATION: Look around. Everything you see began as an idea in someone's mind. Simply put, ideas are the seeds of innovation - the first shape a new possibility takes. As a facilitator of the creative process, your job is to foster the conditions that amplify the odds of new ideas being conceived, developed, and articulated.

6. ILLUMINATION: Ideas are great. Ideas are cool. But they are also a dime a dozen unless they lead to an insight or aha. Until then, ideas are only two dimensional. But when the light goes on inside the minds of the people in your session, the ideas are activated and the odds radically increase of them manifesting.

7. INTEGRATION: Well-run brainstorming sessions have a way of intoxicating people. Doors open. Energy soars. Possibilities emerge. But unless participants have a chance to make sense of what they've conceived, the ideas are less likely to manifest. Opening the doors of the imagination is a good thing, but so is closure.

8. IMPLEMENTATION: Perhaps the biggest reason why most brainstorming sessions fail is what happens after - or, shall I say, what doesn't happen after. Implementation is the name of the game. Before you let people go, clarify next steps, who's doing what (and by when), and what outside support is needed.

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Mitch DitkoffMitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of "Awake at the Wheel", as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog.

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