Ready, Set, No!

What’s the right timing for innovation?

I’m not talking about developing ideas and getting to market.

I’m talking about thinking something through, making a decision, and if it’s not meant to be moving on to the next thing.

Lots of energy is spent about getting ideas to market faster. But I think we should pay more attention to the time lines for killing ideas that just aren’t going to make it.

Too often we let ideas linger. Either through indecision, inertia, or sometimes just the lack of courage to take action.

What’s the harm? Well, the problem is that most of us has limited creative and literal resources. So if we spend time on dead-ends, it may be keeping us from applying energy to other ideas.

Recently I met with the guys from Ozo Labs and they were very upfront about some mistakes and lessons they’ve learned in this area. They’ve spent too much time lingering in the zone of “going nowhere”.

So now they either do one of two things: 1) set a finite limit on the exploration of any one idea (ex. 3 months) or 2) give the idea to someone out side of the core group to explore. That way they have a fresh set of ideas looking at the opportunity, and the core group is freed up to move onto something else.

Last month I was on a panel with a terrific woman from Hasbro who is in charge of consumer insights. Given the nature of the toy business, they are coming out with 1,000’s of new SKU’s every year. They can’t afford to waste any time. So they’ve gotten really good at saying no …definitively – and early on.

Rather than quash innovation, this actually helps encourage it. It keeps the passion and energy level high instead of letting it get wasted on ideas that don’t have a real chance.

Are you spending too much time kicking the same tired ideas around? It may be keeping you from uncovering some better ideas. Next time, try setting a time limit on idea exploration. It might actually help you speed things up.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

Do you have the discipline to move on quickly from dead-end ideas?

Flat is the New Growth

“Flat is the new growth”. I heard this expression the other day, and I thought it was witty.

And then I started to really think about it and I thought is was kind of depressing…and dangerous.

I’m a realist (mostly). Well at least I read the paper (when I’ve finished the crossword) and I know what’s going on. Times are tough. But I don’t think we can let that be an excuse for complacency.

Flat may be what the markets are aspiring to, but “Flat” should never become the accepted standard for innovation.

We need to keep pressing on and moving upward, even when it feels like an uphill battle. Actually, especially when it feels like an uphill battle.

These are time of great unrest, but from this turbulence can come some fantastic ideas. The trick is to embrace the uncertainty and use it as a force of liberation and not of stagnation.

After all, it won’t always be like this. But if for now expectations are low, think how incredibly easy it is to exceed them. It may just be the perfect time to take a risk.

Many categories have quieted down in terms of spending and activity. You can make a big bang for a little buck right now.

Not that long ago I was at the launch of Virgin America’s new service to Boston. Amid all the speeches from the celebrities and politicians that were at the launch, one statement really struck a chord.

The head of Massport thanked Virgin for opening a route to Boston in these rocky times. Not just because of the business and jobs it would bring to the city …but also for the signal it sent to the consumers that life and business were moving on.

He stressed how important it was for consumer confidence for companies to keep investing and innovating and that actions like the Boston launch send a powerful, tangible message.

Consider an action you’ve been hesitating about in your business. Why not go ahead and start the ball rolling? What have you got to lose?

I believe that negative thinking breeds negative actions and that positive momentum can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

How are you taking advantage of the current lull to shake things up?

Got any Ideas?

When is the last time you had an original idea?

Not a “honey, let’s get Thai tonight instead of sushi” kind of idea.

A genuine, added value thought.

I have been in the ideas business all my life.

First in advertising, then at a branding agency, and now on the client side at Virgin.

I love new ideas, they’re are what get me out of bed in the morning and keep me going all day.

But lately, I feel like sometimes I get so caught up in the daily grind, that I forget that I am actually in the ideas business.

Sometimes I feel like I am in the “e-mail sending, project management, meeting organizer and meeting attendee business”.

And if I have a little extra time once that’s all taken care of – I create an idea.

I am working on turning this around. But it’s taking conscious effort.

I have to say to myself in the morning, that at the end of the day I will evaluate my day not on how many emails I got through- but on whether I actually came up with any original thoughts that added value.

This doesn’t have to be a new product or service idea. It could be an idea on how to solve the “never enough meeting room space” dilemma in my office.

But it has to be a solution, a new thought, something created and not just communicated or shuffled around.

You don’t have to be a marketing or creative type to hold this up as your standard. No matter what your job or industry, idea creation is what keeps things moving forward.

If this problem sounds familiar to you, here’s an idea …when you come back from the long (and hopefully restful weekend)- tax yourself and your team to get back into the ideas business.

If it helps, you could even set a side a day a week- let’s pick Wednesday- as idea day.

On that day, don’t schedule any meetings, try and establish a no-email for a day policy, and tell everyone to focus uniquely on creating new ideas.

You can try some of tricks in my older posts if that helps with stimulating ideas or you could just let people find their own way.

At the end of the day have a cocktail or an ice cream sundae party. Share your ideas. They don’t have to be perfect. But they should be celebrated.

Creating a culture of idea generation in today’s work environments is critically important to business success and to employee satisfaction.

But it takes work.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

Are you creating enough new ideas?

Silence is Golden

How much silence do you have in your life?

If you are even a bit like me, silence may not be that “golden” to you.

It might be something that you actively avoid…for fear of boredom, or wasted time, or out of an addiction to constantly checking all the “noisy” connector devices in our lives (e.g. cell phones, Blackberry’s Facebook etc).

Well, I am trying to overcome my aversion to silence.

I’m actually trying to embrace it.

Because in my constant need to be in touch and engaged all the time, I am realizing that I am drowning out the sound of my own thoughts. And my own creativity.

I commute every day in and out of Grand Central on a train route that has the most incredible views of the Hudson River.

But rather than enjoying the view and savoring this 35 minutes of “quiet time”, I check my email, check my Twitter, check my Facebook updates, read a book, read a magazine, etc. etc.

So I am now on an enforced “silence appreciation” mode. For at least a few times a week, I purposely keep the Blackberry in my purse, I don’t stop at Hudson News and buy the latest magazine, I keep my book club book in my briefcase…and I look out the window.

This is actually much more difficult than it sounds.

Especially for the first few minutes. I can literally hear my Blackberry calling out to me, like a Siren.

I purposely don’t put on my ipod, because I think that’s just substituting one kind of “noise” for another.

But if I can hold out for the first few minutes, and keep my eyes focused out the window- gradually I begin to relax and let my mind wander.

And slowly I find myself listening instead to the voices inside my head. Not the scary Sybil kind. The kind that open up new possibilities. Even new ideas for blog posts (like this one).

Don’t assume you are getting enough silence. Try to be more conscious of opportunities to tune out the world and tune in to your own voice.

You might just like what you hear.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

Are you getting enough quiet time?

The Magic Ingredient

In honor of the World Innovation Forum in NYC last week I was poking around on YouTube and came across this clip from a 2006 Forum session. I hadn’t seen it before, and I think it’s worth watching.

Andy Cohen, an inspirational speaker, taught the audience a coin trick and gave an important lesson in what we each bring to innovation.

He believes the real magic of innovation, lies not in the ability to master the trick. But rather in what each of us brings to the table. Our uniqueness, makes the solutions unique. It creates the sparkle and the “ahh”.

I believe this. I’ve seen alot of innovation companies who claim to have “proprietary” methodology. But in the end, I think a lot of it (on paper) is the same.

What I think makes the difference between an OK innovation experience or outcome and a truly inspired one…is the people.

It’s the brains using the tools. Not the tools themselves.

Maybe that’s obvious. But I think it’s worth repeating. Watch the video, at the very least it will give you a new way to impress your friends this weekend.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

What tricks do you have up your sleeve?