Confusion about when to praise, when to probe, and when to argue with an idea is killing creativity in business. And the scary thing is some of the most innovative tools being put in place to increase the flow of ideas are just as effective at killing the spirit as in the old days of rapid confrontation. I’ve been thinking about this as I read The Age of Entanglement: When Quantum Physics Was Reborn By Louisa Guilder. Here key ‘conversations’ are reconstructed between some of science’s greatest. You get an inside peek at the way ideas can be had, proposed and defended in a very rigorous mathematical and experimental environment. What connection is there between defending an idea about quantum physics and a business process? Uncertainty. Now I’m not a scientist, nor do I play one on TV. But I do have quite a bit of experience shepherding breakthrough ideas … Continue reading
If you haven’t been part of a major failure in your career then you’re not trying hard enough. As a Scoutmaster I’ve seen adults and children learn faster and more efficiently from their mistakes than from their successes. “Well I won’t do it that way again,” holds a lot more weight than “Aren’t I clever.” Leading a risky, innovative project automatically ensures that things will go wrong. So the relevant question is how to lead through difficulties to ensure innovation continues. Whining does not work — “We didn’t have enough resources. It was out of my control….” Pointing does not work — “The division didn’t step up. The research was wrong….” Excuses don’t work. If the point of failure comes as a complete surprise to your management then you have already missed a key element of leading a risky project — Managing Expectations.
I’m guilty of preaching the “Don’t fire your innovators who fail” sermon to upper management. I’ve done it many times. Sometimes I’ve seen my advice followed, sometimes not. The idea behind the sermon isn’t wrong. But when I look at the reasons why innovators who fail get pushed aside I find that the reasons lie less with management and more with the innovators themselves. So assuming a company at least gives lip service to the idea that improvement and innovation is worth the pain of learning through failure, what differentiates the innovator-who-thrives versus the innovator-who-is-sent-packing when things get difficult? Turns out the push aside vs treat as a learning experience decision depends more on how the innovator communicates and sets expectations than in how the project itself turns out. In a well run organization managers will make their decision based on your perceived future value – not on the cost … Continue reading