By now you’ve probably seen those famous images comparing design vs user experience – a beautifully designed and straight sidewalk is forgotten, instead a path is cut by people who need to get somewhere. I’m sure that the architect and the landscape designer put a lot of thought into the perfect design for the space, only to be thwarted by what people actually do.
When you are defining an innovation program, or any program for that matter, its key to not force your innovators into specific paths. Sure, it may be helpful for ROI to include one or more challenges which can help to box in the brainstorming, but after that, why shouldn’t all bets be off? If you start with a challenge to frame the discussion, then things go off in a different direction, do you really need them to come back to the path if they are providing value?
I like to think about these programs as being agile in nature – that if the program seems to be heading into a different direction from what you started – then go with the flow. Allow your innovators to beat those different paths, follow them to their conclusions. Keep an eye on the ebb and flow of the conversation – but don’t do too much, if any steering, unless you see people going down well worn and trodden paths.
Interestingly enough, most of the time we have to try to encourage people to go off the beaten path. Typically, especially in some large corporate environments, its difficult to get people to think off the path, so to speak. They are so used to taking the path that’s been given them, that they need permission to stray. To take the easier path.
One of the exercises that I use in order to help unleash innovation in an organization works by removing all of the cultural and technical constraints which the innovators have been living inside of. I allow them to be free to think about the kinds of products and services they can develop if they just remove those constraints. This is usually a turn around moment within the sessions – the ideas suddenly flow at an amazing pace. Things are usually faster when you create your own shorter path.
Of course, even though its a cathartic time when the inventors can freely describe all of these amazing ideas and inventions without their current cultural constraints, they invariably say to themselves – well all of these ideas are great – but there is no way we can implement them.
That’s when I show that we can, that it is possible. That the ideas that they generated could happen. That the path that they forged for themselves can be paved and become the new path for them – that’s when the magic happens.
Of course, follow through is also key – even if we find that there is some reason why that path cannot be taken, there is still no reason why the idea itself can’t be protected. so in some small way, the innovators path is taken. And eventually paved.