Leadership in Action – Creating Simple Innovation

Too often, when we ask our teams to be innovative, they think “the next iPhone” on the horizon. We put innovation too far out there. If we take a step back and approach it as creating simple innovation, making improvements in our everyday processes and products seems a lot more doable. This is where we want our teams to Energize Action.

A classic example of simple “I could have done that” innovation is the award-winning watering can from IKEA. This watering can sells for, at most, a tenth of the price of regular watering cans. Beyond the elegant shape the designers went for, they also challenged a few assumptions which enabled the product to be produced and transported for a fraction of the cost. The big innovation? The spout does not have to be a tube. It can be a trough. This is simple innovation with a big impact. You can check out this watering can at the following link.

Vallo Watering Can

There are different ways to challenge assumptions with your team. Starting with a “clean sheet,” a typical starting point is to ask your team how would you design this if we did not already have a design today?

Another method is to use famous people as a way to challenge assumptions, in other words, “How would Steve Jobs have designed this?” Of course, it does not need to be Steve Jobs. It could be Rosalind Franklin, Elon Musk, Marie Curie, Leonardo da Vinci, or Ann Tsukamoto. The point is to take a different perspective regarding the process or product. These discussions can be fun and can yield some unrecognized assumptions that could stand to be challenged.

A more involved process is to have an ideation meeting, once or twice a month, with your team. Prior to the meeting (a few weeks), ask a team member to prepare a presentation on an innovation (outside of your industry) and the impact it has had on the marketplace. Start the meeting with this presentation, then use that innovation as a starting point to talk about all the other places where that type of innovation may be applicable. Finally, how would that type of innovation impact your industry? These meetings do not need to yield specific ideas to implement. They are designed to take time to step back, challenge assumptions, and come up with crazy ideas.

In all of these methods, the idea is not to implement the crazy ideas. It is to create a culture where we challenge our current assumptions and allow for crazy ideas to be discussed. It’s creating a space where stuck thinking gets unstuck, allowing for a more open mindset. And you just might find that some crazy ideas might not be all that crazy.