Are you a leader, entrepreneur, or researcher looking for a system for making your organization more innovative? In our economy, creativity has become a critical skill. In a music context, the artists that continue to re-invent themselves find ways to remain relevant, fresh, and attractive to the market. Organizations take huge risks when they don’t reflect on their product or service offerings and look for new ways to serve. (When was the last time you used Kodak? How about AOL?)
Our book club at work just finished “Beyond the Obvious” by Phil McKinney, a book helping organizations create a disciplined culture of innovation. Mr. McKinney was a director for innovation at HP. In this book, he shares his systems, plans, and soft skills required to organize innovation team and create new products and services. He has a wealth of experience from other technology companies he has directed too. In my view, I found this book very pragmatic and thoughtful to helping us focus our innovation activities.
Key points from “Beyond the Obvious”:
- Questions Matter: The questions that we ask determine the quality of ideas we receive from our teams. The book is designed to help organizations find “Killer Innovations.” While most organizations focus on incremental innovations, Mr. McKinney coaches leaders to ask bolder questions to discover ideas that are desired by the market and remarkable. What are the assumptions of your organization or processes? What if you changed the assumptions about who you serve and how you serve them? “What are the criteria our customers use when selecting our product or service?” You can find more “Killer questions” from Phil’s Twitter feed and website.
- Management of Ideas: You have a system for managing your money in your business or family. In a similar way, Phil coaches organizations to create systems for managing ideas. The book reviews a gated funding model to help your team and leadership manage risk thoughtfully. He argues that ideas with remarkable execution define innovative companies. Phil introduces readers to his “FIRE” method: focus, ideation, ranking, execution.
- Focus – He encourages leaders to use bold questions to challenge and focus the attention of the organization. This phase can also be informed by market research. On a personal level, you also might consider your passions too. He also challenges organizations to REALLY know who you serve.
- Ideation – It’s important for organizations to find a system for documenting their ideas. If you have ideas stuck in emails or meeting memo’s, it will be hard to move those ideas forward. You also want ideas to mingle and combine. In this phase, you want to encourage your team to combine ideas together to create new concepts. This is especially potent when ideas combine from different divisions or functional groups. The following TED talk speaks to this concept too.
- Ranking – You might have hundreds of ideas. How do you find the top 5% or 10%? He challenges organizations to use gamification, voting, and other mechanisms to help you discover your best ideas and focus on those concepts.
- Execution – Phil challenges individuals and organizations to move and execute their ideas. In this perspective, he challenges organizations to build prototypes, perform limited launches, and get feedback from users. If you start finding successes with these small prototypes and limited launches, then start selling the product and service and measure the impact thoughtful. This is a very similar concept to “build, measure, learn” concept from Lean Startup by Eric Ries.
In the closing chapters of the book, he provides a clear plan for running innovation workshops with your team. His six golden rules for innovation workshops include the following: (1) Setting the focus, (2) Assigning 2 “Killer Questions, (3) Encourage research, (4) Don’t filter ideas, (5) Schedule time for idea generation, and (6) ranking ideas.
I think OpenIdeo is a solid example of Phil’s FIRE system in action. If you’re looking for fresh ideas on civic entrepreneurship, this is a great website. Notice how the website encourages focus through questions, ideation, and ranking.
If you’re serious about creating a culture of innovation, I would highly recommend Phil McKinney,“Beyond and the Obvious”, and his podcasts. They are not easy teachings. I, however, think they are ideas that will make a difference.