Innovation Isn’t an Idea Problem

For the past decade, I’ve participated in and facilitated innovation sessions with a number of Fortune 500 companies. Most were very productive, generating tons of solid ideas but a few fell flat with a resounding thud at the end of the day. Straining, I could almost hear Ben Stein’s character in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” mouth the dreaded, “Bueller, Bueller, Bueller…” in the background.

While all of these innovation sessions followed the same proven methodology I and other innovators have come to rely on, the individual participants were obviously different. Over time, I came to label groups as “creators” or “editors.”

“Creators” are wide-eyed, eager, open to new ideas, and genuinely seem to enjoy the brain exercises. They seem unperturbed by the unease that comes with treading into new territories or stretching their minds. They’re “edge of the seat” creators.

“Editors” bring to the table a halting reticence with stiff body language, sour faces and contributions laced with negativity. Even if they don’t speak, they’re still like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh, all gloomy and down.

For an experienced facilitator, it takes about two nanoseconds to figure out who is a creator and who is an editor. Rarely is my intuition off. At the first sign of negativity or “editing” of ideas, I intervene forcefully, call out the foul and issue a penalty flag against the offender, regardless of title. Sometimes, I’ll share stories about companies that missed opportunities because they didn’t let ideas flourish long enough, choosing instead to “edit” them to death or ignore them.

If you’re ever leading a session and need some ammunition, take a look at this HBR post on innovation and keep these stories in your back pocket. You’ll be glad you did.

Market well.


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