Let’s Just Not Do That Anymore

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If companies want to innovate the way successful bold newcomers have, they have to unplug from the constraints of “That’s the way we’ve always done it” and recharge, starting with the mantra, “Let’s just not do that anymore.” They need to be willing to take market risks that more
traditional companies are often unwilling or unable to take.

It’s surprising that we repeat things in business even when we don’t get the results we want, but we’re creatures of habit and old habits are hard to break. Changing a routine takes time and thought out of our busy work lives and there is a risk in trying something new. Even something
that is simple and accessible and that has an obvious benefit doesn’t always go over right away. It took almost 200 years for the British Navy to give all its sailors citrus to prevent scurvy even though it had been demonstrated several times during those years that it was an effective cure.

In this volatile world the old model of process innovation needs a new framework. It isn’t in sync with the way our minds work, which brain research tells us is more serendipitous than linear. Innovation just doesn’t lend itself to being predictable and risk free. Innovation demands looking at the world differently, and finding connections between seemingly disconnected things. Corporate protocol, management hierarchies, and rigid assumptions about customer needs often create anxiety and stifle freedom of thought and exploration.

Loosen the reigns. Allow your best talent to challenge assumptions and unearth information in ways that may be outside the scope of the corporate culture without engendering fear of getting it wrong and getting fired. I call it anarcho-innovation because it entails tolerating some chaos. In politics, anarchy is considered the ideal; it’s the absence of government and the absolute freedom of the individual, free of fear or reprisal. In business it means allowing people to formulate ideas, use trial and error to gain knowledge, and turn data on its head to create new experiments. And it’s not just in your R&D department, but throughout the company. Innovation arises from serendipity, discovery, and mistakes. It’s organic and messy, which is where anarchy comes into play.

Endorse unexpected questions. Challenge existing assumptions. It’s better in the long run to have a hunch that something might work and try it out than it is to declare “I know this will work” and invest in proving it. Make sure people are out in the field with customers seeing how they use things, seeing what fails, getting their hands dirty. The process is non-linear and, yes, chaotic.

Here is your opportunity to completely recharge innovative thinking within your company, while at the same time halting the vicious cycle of failure. These are 7 surprisingly simple things you can do right now to ignite your thinking, invigorate existing ideas, and boost productivity.

Download this manifesto ) and unshackle what constricts so instead of getting what you always get, discover what’s possible.

DEBRA KAYE is a frequent commentator on American Public Radio’s “Marketplace” and contributor to Fast Company. She is partner at innovation consultancy Lucule (www.luculeconsulting.com). Her book, Red Thread Thinking: Weaving Together Connections for Brilliant Ideas and Profitable Innovation (http://amzn.to/Z4U9tG) is just published by McGraw Hill.
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