Innovation Howto II: Working WIth Ideas

Sometimes it’s easy to see how consultants make their money.  Imagine senior management at a company that wants or needs innovative ideas. Where do they come from? Should they hire someone innovative? Or hire someone to tell them how to be innovative?

In the second of their talks on the topic at the Irish Computer Society, Michael O’Duffy of DCU’s Centre for Software Engineering and David Trevitt of Business Knowledge Innovation, told of what needs to be done to capture the spark of creativity. And, as they said on their first talk about innovation, there is some work involved.

As with my previous post from this series, this is not meant to be a full report. Rather, it is a recollecDe Bono's Six Hatstion of what I felt were the important points. ICS members can see a full video by on the website’s events page. The meeting also sparked a debate about when to introduce risk management in implementing innovation. This came when O’Duffy was describing different workshop methods to tease out employees’ ideas. In the area of creativity, there are “umpteen techniques,” he said. If one does not work, drop it and find another that does. To demonstrate how a structured workshop proceeds, however, O’Duffy used De Bono’s six hats system. They are:

  • Blue hat: This is where a facilitator will organise a group, set objectives, etc.
  • White hat: Gathering facts and information. Questions about what are the facts. What is the problem?
  • Green hat: This is where the new ideas come out. What can we apply? What course of action should we take?
  • Yellow hat: Discussion of benefits. Why is it worth pursuing?
  • Black hat: This must be kept positive, but this is where caution, judgment and criticism is introduced. i.e. where the feasibility of the ideas are tested.
  • Red hat: Emotion. “Quick! Is it a good idea or not?” “What’s your gut feeling?” There is no need to justify these feelings.

After holding an impromptu workshop, one audience member stated that risks should be weighed up very early in the process. O’Duffy, however, cautioned that ideas should be aired first unimpeded. Once it looks like they could become reality, then risk should be weighed up.

On a related note, I came across this blog post on the Harvard Business Review site recently. The author, Scott Anthony of Innosight Ventures, said the best way to kill innovation is to keep asking questions! The phrase that will do it starts with, “What about…” These lead to over-analysis of problems and can hamstring large companies’ innovation groups if they are constantly being asked to justify their ideas. Large companies can research thoroughly in established markets, but as Anthony says:

But it can be a huge deficit in unknown markets where precision is impossible and attempts to create it through analysis are quixotic. Entrepreneurs don’t have the luxury of asking “What about…” questions, and in disruptive circumstances that works in their favor.

As both Trevitt and O’Duffy said in their first talk, management must be ready for failure and must be ready to tolerate a certain amount and not allow staff to become discouraged by projects that fail.

In an amusing aside, Trevitt was asked how he would deal with a room full of cynics he had been asked to lead in an innovation session. He suggested turning things around and asking, “What could make things worse?” That would get their juices flowing, he said.

5 thoughts on “Innovation Howto II: Working WIth Ideas

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  2. In fact the whole innovation idea is looking at new growth through the wrong end of the telescope?

    Game the worst way as you hint, to damage the company and the business, and the personnel. Then avoid those acts that cause that damage. This is also likely to be more relevant in a depression. Maintaining the business may bring more dividends literally, when the depression is over. Now is not the time for risks!

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