I recently posted 10 questions that every organisation and every manager needs to ask in order to think entrepreneurially [link]. To be sure, some probably saw my list and hopped right on it, printing it out and exploring new possibilities right away. But it dawned on me that there might be others for whom my self-examination list was too much to handle. They couldn’t find the physical energy, intellectual strength or team support to do anything more than already-assigned work. That realisation led me to explore others who might be delving into variations of “innovation desolation” — a state of complete emptiness when it comes to thinking like an entrepreneur. Let me point you to three sources I especially liked.
Inovation Fatigue Alf Rehn [link] asks managers to explore whether they are creating organisational tiredness because they are trying to promote innovation the wrong way.
Well, there is a problem in innovation-land, and the name of this problem is innovation fatigue.… as I use the term, [this] is what happens when a group of people — e.g. a team in an organization — is subjected to vague innovation talk and badly explicated innovation projects to the point where the very reference to “innovation” triggers feelings of boredom and meaninglessness. It can emerge after a company runs a series of innovation projects that fail to generate anything particularly innovative, or from managers repeating pointless clichés like “think outside the box” or “let’s innovate our way out of this”. Regardless of how it emerges, it builds on managers and leaders propagating a vague and far too general perspective on innovation and thereby emptying it of meaning.
Innovation Exhaustion Jeffrey Phillips [link] points out that, because innovation is such a disruption from the status quo, many can become worn down when innovation is tried too often.
Innovation exhaustion is the culmination of the effort involved in introducing new tools, stretching perspectives and the breadth of thinking, pulling people from their regular jobs to perform innovation activities that they aren’t convinced management will support, and asking them to work in ambiguous, uncertain environments with little preparation or training. Conducting innovation as a periodic, poorly defined and poorly prepared activity is literally exhausting to an organization. While the results may be very positive, it is often very difficult to get people to agree to do another innovation activity soon after the initial one is complete. But that’s exactly what they should do.
Innovation Myopia Tina Seelig [link] In a reprinted excerpt (on Fast Company’s Co.Design) from her book, Ingenius, Seelig points out that the brick wall that many people feel they have hit when trying to be innovative may be due to the fact that they have not been asking the right questions. Problems, she asserts, can become opportunities if they are “reframed”.
Reframing problems takes effort, attention, and practice, and allows you to see the world around you in a brand-new light. You can practice reframing by physically or mentally changing your point of view, by seeing the world from others’ perspectives, and by asking questions that begin with “why.” Together, these approaches enhance your ability to generate imaginative responses to the problems that come your way.
Inserted into the Seelig post is a short, nine-minute video which is indeed a classic. Powers of Ten [link] is a 1977 video created by Ray and Charles Eames [link] which is mesmerising. Here’s the description right from YouTube: “Powers of Ten takes us on an adventure in magnitudes. Starting at a picnic by the lakeside in Chicago, this famous film transports us to the outer edges of the universe. Every ten seconds we view the starting point from ten times farther out until our own galaxy is visible only a s a speck of light among many others. Returning to Earth with breathtaking speed, we move inward- into the hand of the sleeping picnicker- with ten times more magnification every ten seconds. Our journey ends inside a proton of a carbon atom within a DNA molecule in a white blood cell.”
I mention that video here because it is a great refresher for anyone in the depths of innovation desolation. Every business and every organisation looks different when examined with either a macro or a micro view. Put another way, a senior manager could learn a lot by spending a day working on a loading dock or processing an order in customer service. Similarly, lower-level employees could learn much by sitting in on a senior-level marketing meeting. And all employees at all levels could learn a great deal if they stepped away from the business entirely and attended a lecture on a topic totally unrelated to their business, meandered slowly through a museum or enrolled in a class on a subject they have never studied.
The need to find your next is a real and unflinching challenge. The 10 questions I have already put forward [link] are designed to help you and your team zoom in and out — like the Powers of Ten video — and, by that act, go places you have not been before.