Friday, September 28, 2012

Big Companies - Can They Innovate or Not?

I love the "Headlines" portion of  "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," especially when he shows two completely contradictory headlines, side-by-side, in the same newspaper!

Well, I just came across a similar situation in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) blog emails that I subscribe to. Yesterday, I saw an intriguing blog posting from Scott Anthony titled "Big Companies Can Unleash Innovation, Rather than Shackle It." He makes his case convincingly stating three reasons why "big companies" are better poised for innovation than their smaller counterparts.

Guess what? Today's email from the HBR prominently has a blog posting by Maxwell Wessel titled "Why Big Companies Can't Innovate." Not surprisingly, he too makes his case convincingly well. 

So, which is it? 

I know, it's easy to make the case that these postings are not contradictory at all. It just means that while big companies are not good at innovation in general, they are better poised to blow their smaller counterparts out of the water if they just put their hearts into innovation. Ok, I can buy that but I would have expected HBR (or the blog posters themselves) to make this connection for us.  

Regardless, HBR blogs are always informative to read... and just like today, can also sometimes help put a smile on your face.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Challenging the Status Quo Starts with Asking the "Right" Questions

Most of you are probably familiar with the story "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" in One Thousand and One Nights. The gist of the story boils down to Ali Baba stumbling upon a magical phrase "iftaŠł• ya simsim," which translates into "open, O sesame", that opens the mouth of a cave in which forty thieves have hidden a treasure.

This story has quite a bit of similarity with the real world. Most of are like Ali Baba, in search of that magical phrase or key to open the riches of innovation. What might that magical phrase be?

Well, a recent blog entry by Warren Berger in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) discusses a "secret phrase" that successful innovators often use. The phrase boils down to three simple words that when used together have the power of stimulating the thought process and get those creative juices flowing. So, what are these magic three words?

"How Might We"

As Berger explains in his blog entry, "the "how might we" approach to innovation ensures that would-be innovators are asking the right questions and using the best wording. Proponents of this increasingly popular practice say it's surprisingly effective — and that it can be seen as a testament to the power of language in helping to spark creative thinking and freewheeling collaboration." 

It makes sense. Talking about challenges discourages problem solving and inhibits innovative thinking. Additionally, it's not just about asking questions because the wrong questions such as "why do we do it this way" or "how should we change" imply judgement that could create an atmosphere of defensiveness as opposed to collaboration. Berger quotes business consultant Min Basadur, who explains that "by substituting the word might you're able to defer judgment, which helps people to create options more freely, and opens up more possibilities."

The Bottom Line - As I mention right from Chapter 1 in my recent book Living in the Innovation Age "Status Quo is the Enemy of Innovation." Principle #3, Innovation is "Where No Man Has Gone Before," in my book also discusses how the best approach of overcoming this status quo is by asking the right questions such as "what if", "why", and "why not". "How Might We" is an excellent question to help you explore the next level of possibilities created by the preceding three questions.