Involve stakeholders to transform ideas into innovative solutions
Innovation in a small to medium enterprise (SME) can be both vital and challenging. It is vital because markets are constantly being driven forward by new entrants, new uses, and new technologies. It is challenging because innovative ideas must often fend of obstacles that can slow down the momentum, weaken the ideas and gradually even destroy them. These barriers are varied and sometimes legitimate. You may recognize them as:
• A lack of resources
• Threats to the existing market
• Personal threat
• Inertia and organizational rigidity
• “Not invented here” syndrome
Think about those nature videos we’ve all seen, the ones with thousands of new born turtles desperately making their way across the beach to the water’s edge to continue their lives in the sea. Some will make it and some won’t. The sheer large number of turtles, however, will ensure that some of them survive and perpetuate the species. It’s pretty much the same for innovative ideas. Some ideas will thrive thanks to the tenacity of the idea owner, the network of supporters, intelligence and in some cases good old fashioned talent.
I have had the opportunity to observe the often chaotic paths that innovative ideas can sometimes go down. While creating a prototype or proof of concept may not be difficult, transforming the prototype into a product or service that can be delivered to a customer is a challenge. My hypothesis is that, it may not be just a lack of resources, or the absence of innovative project management processes that can derail an innovative idea. I believe the success of a great idea is mainly undermined by a lack of commitment by stakeholders to put themselves in the shoes of the end user, or to put it simply ‘your interest is not my interest’. This is particularly true in an SME where limited resources can pit the interest of the idea owner against the missions and priorities of the very individuals who could help bring the idea to fruition.
While there are many tools and techniques to help create a counterbalance and provide an opportunity for innovative ideas to thrive even when up against the odds, I was particularly thrilled to participate in method practiced by the Renault innovation community called ‘boxing ideas’. Nietzsche said: "That which does not kill us, makes us stronger ". In the context of ‘boxing ideas’ this means testing ideas for robustness and identifying those that deserve to move forward.
But how does it really work? The session in which I had the opportunity to participate at the Autumn School of Creativity Management in November 2016 in Strasbourg was as follows.
It began with a 10 minute pitch, where the idea owner presented the project, its value proposition, and the key points of the business model. The audience was then divided into two groups: One group was identified as knights; the other group was identified as dragons. The knights were the defenders of the idea while the dragons were the attackers. Each group was subsequently divided into smaller teams of 4-5 people. Each team of knights focused on highlighting elements of value and proposing improvements or extensions to the idea. Each team of dragons focused on the risks that could cause the idea to fail and were tasked with proposing alternative solutions to reduce the risks.
After a brief 15 minutes preparation, the armies faced each other on the battlefield. The dragon team competed first by addressing the knights and listing what they believed could jeopardize the idea. The knights responded by describing why they believed the idea would succeed. The entire session lasted approximately 45 minutes and ended with the idea owner sharing the early feedback. The benefit of the game was to challenge the project with other visions, provide a more comprehensive analysis and make the project more robust.
Beyond the playful aspect, there are two things that are important to note about the use of this tool. The first is that whatever role you play, knight or dragon, you will propose similar suggestions that will ultimately offer improvements to the idea. The second, and in my opinion the most powerful aspect of this tool, is its ability to bring together all of the stakeholders. Whether you were a knight or a dragon, the session transformed the spectator into a participant and projected them into the future of the project, prompting them to visualize its success, or devise a way to avoid failure. This radically changes the participant's perspective. Instead of seeing the idea as a threat, they begin to see it as an opportunity with enough value to become invested and remove obstacles that may be in the way.
‘Boxing ideas’ is easy to implement and is a valuable technique in my toolkit with its ability to assist in transforming innovation practices and taking innovative projects beyond the prototype stage.
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