December 2006

Coaches Corner - A email Dialogue on Innovation

A Colleague:  

I have discovered, rather late in my career, that I see things differently than most people in industry. I see innovations that can transform an invention into something useful, valuable, marketable, and even sometimes disruptive.

The problem in an organization is to transform what I see into actions that others can take even when the vision does not yet map for them.

Here is a case in point that I am facing at this very moment.  My company acquired a technology that had huge consumer benefits.  But it was/is expensive. Within a year, myself and a very small group, working on it part time, preserved the original concept but succeeded in totally reinventing the form … to be manufacturable at high speeds.  We lowered projected cost by an order of magnitude with an additional order of magnitude available in stages as volume increased.  What began as compelling is now also inexpensive. Something that had to be used over and over again for more than a year, can now be used once and thrown away.  This further enhances the consumer experience.  In other words, we have created by strength of thought, a potentially disruptive innovation.

The problem is getting traction with a management who is used to employing the prevailing technologies.  Addressing the possibilities of the disruptive approach sitting right in front of them … that takes vision!  Imparting that vision is more than difficult.  This is, indeed, a dilemma.

I am off to prepare for one of those meetings.

Innovate:  

I appreciate your innovator’s paradox ... where you see possibilities when others immediately jump to "not possible!" and dismiss your ideas automatically ... without giving them any rigorous thought. Years ago I began to see some ways through the fog. I began to recognize that the root cause of people’s ability to think differently was their perception.  Perception precedes thinking ... the key to introducing new possibilities is to shift perceptions. This requires engaging people in very different modes of conversation ... the usual ways of selling ideas just don't work. One way to ”reprogram" the brain is by what I call 'Tuning the Listening'.

This is how it works:

  1. Telling people in advance that you are going to say something controversial and also saying that their immediate reaction will likely be negative;
  2. Now, say it ...
  3. Then ask ... "How did this first strike you?" ....
  4. Now, you can actually suggest how you would like them to listen to you.

For example ... "I am going to talk about something that might be disruptive to one of our products so your first reaction might be negative. I would like to put it on the table, though ... let it rattle around a bit ... then at a later time we can come back to it."

Knowing that I am dealing with perceptions ... including my own ... has given me new ways to approach introducing new ideas and has given others new ways to listen.

A Colleague (a week later):  

What you suggest is a more formal way of describing what has evolved for me, so far in a less complete way, by trial-and-error.

Remember I said I was going to a meeting in which I was about to deal with entrenched thought and inertia? Cut to yesterday and my meeting with (gasp!) finance people. They began with some agitation: "I heard our CEO say that a two order of magnitude drop in cost is possible. We know you're the source. That's ridiculous!"

My reply was something like, "I can see how you think that. Without a full explanation, and knowing in some detail what those costs are for and at what volumes, I would have the same reaction. Hold on for a few minutes and let me explain. Please tell me where my assumptions may be wrong. That's why we need your help."  I presented drawings, photos, and descriptions of simplified assembly scenarios, mostly right-brained. They left with two things: an appreciation that those numbers may indeed be possible, and a pledge to exercise some thought and come back as part of the Team.

I found an enthusiasm in the group beginning to emerge, or perhaps it was a reflection of my own, that was unexpected.

©2006 Innovate LLC (all rights reserved).

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