Putting Ideas to Action

Julian Birkinshaw in his HBR article Taming Your Company’s Most Elusive Beast talks about a very important gap in Innovation in organizations – putting Ideas generated to action.

I remember an Innovation Champion in an organization very proudly mentioning to me that they are sitting on 7000+ ideas and how brilliantly they have done on that. When I asked him what do you plan to do with these ideas, do you even have the bandwidth to look at those many ideas? He drew a blank, obviously, his job was to generate ideas and not really do anything with them. He had read enough literature on how every idea is a good idea and how getting more and more idea is good. I asked him what happens to the morale of the employee who gives you an idea in the hope that it would be taken forward only to realize that it is lying in some folder on some hard disk. Do you think he or she will make an effort to give you ideas next time you ask for it? I got the most unfortunate answer – I would not be here next time, whoever handles this will manage this.

Julian picks up three basic things that companies need to do to convert ideas into actionable items –

  1. Timeout – A concept made popular by Google and 3M
  2. Loosely defined role – Do not straight jacket to the extent that all flexibility is lost
  3. Tolerance of Failure – In practice, not many companies practice it though some like Tatas have institutionalized this.

I would re-emphasise the loosely defined roles or rather allowing a flexibility in the roles that allows people to look beyond their narrow domains. In fact, this is required even beyond Innovation Goals for areas like customer service where those who handle customers do not know who can handle it or issues like that. What can be challenging in doing this? Would it lead to a bit of chaos and then the organization would need a capability and an attitude to handle that too.

Anuradha Goyal