That One Thing? Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable. I call it “W-A-C-K!”
Having spent a lot of time in my life hiking and backpacking I learned early on that you must get “comfortable being uncomfortable” and then the real fun and adventure can start. So many of us (me included) are used to comfort and an easiness that makes us avoid any level of uncertainty and “discomfort”. Schools and our earlier upbringing with our parents taught us to deal with any uncertainty with action to make it go away immediately! This is great if you don’t want the speed bumps and surprises of life but we all know you can’t make them all go away. Life has a way of surprising you with good and bad events. That’s what makes life so amazing!
So how does this dynamic impact our ability to innovate when EVERYONE around you is approaching uncertainty in about he same way. At Eureka! Inventing we have learned from hundreds of clients that the following four changes will have the biggest impact. I call this the “W-A-C-K!” method to deal with uncertainty in innovation on the “front-end” and “back-end”.
- Wonder – You must admit and believe there are things you don’t know and you have much to learn. If we think we know most everything then we will predict the outcome of the idea from the start and sabotage the entire project. This is what most corporate teams try to do in every project. When you start truly believing you have a lot to learn you can start to innovate. In big companies there is a lot of peer pressure to know everything. When admitting you have a lot to learn. it in fact gives you more credibility that you sincerely are trying to do something great. Senior people admit they have a lot to learn over more junior people from my experience as they have learned the hard way.
- Accelerate – As soon as you create the initial idea take action to start addressing critical issues immediately to start reducing fear. The sooner you start moving the less chance anyone on the team can start to question the ideas. Most will push to work on the easier ideas as they can’t deal with the uncertainty. You must have a tangible and proven system to start to address the critical issues if your organization has traditionally struggled with innovation. If you have idea(s) that are really new and different your team needs a new mindset and approach to deal with uncertainty. Current systems like stage-gate and others will likely fail if you try to apply it on innovative ideas. These systems are great for project management and control but struggle with taking an idea from good to great.
- Critical Issues First – By addressing the big critical issues first and putting to the side the minor issues you can focus on those that matter. I hear very often from leaders that they have plenty of ideas but can’t commercialize anything meaningfully unique. I think the traditional mindset is that the idea is what matters. I will tell you that the initial idea represents about 5% of the idea finally commercialized (recently confirmed by HBR). So the Back-End of innovation is far more important than the Front-End. The discovery and development fast cycle process you use will make or break your innovation efforts. This requires coaching and mentoring of your team to make the mindset shift required. In P&Gs recent annual report they describe a new Pantene shampoo that went out the door in FOUR MONTHS. That is 1/3 of the time typical for the brand. Are you on track with your innovation system to deliver this increase in speed! It’s not optional but now mandatory.
- Kick Out Ideas Fast – After you admit that you don’t know, increase speed and use fast cycles to address critical issues you must be ready to quickly kick-out ideas that just don’t work. I have had the good fortune of working with dozens of the most amazing companies and brands in the world. I start most projects by reminding the teams that their batting average can be very low in the project and they would still DRAMATICALLY out-perform past history. Don’t let the need of everyone on the team to feel good about their contributions to get in the way of delivering a few amazing “meaningfully unique” innovations. If the idea isn’t going to work after addressing the critical issues and all attempts to resolve them then kill it! If you have plenty of ideas behind it the team will be more objective. If you have a scarcity of ideas it will create bad behavior that isn’t always objective. Fill the pipeline often and use rapid cycles of problem solving on the Back-End to determine if the idea is worth pursuing.
Bruce Hall is the CEO and President of Eureka! Inventing, the leader in strategy, growth, innovation and systems with 700+ clients in its history. Their Innovation Engineering approach is a break-through approach to Create, Communicate and Commercialize Ideas on the Front-End and Back-End of innovation. He also has held senior marketing positions with Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola and Novartis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.