As the son of a coach, and full-on sports participant in years past, I am not a stranger to exercise. I was doing push-ups daily before I entered kindergarten. I was an average athlete at best, but Dad was proud of how fit I was. The modest success I had was entirely due to good conditioning. Once upon a time! I’m back into an exercise program again and after just a couple weeks of very hard work I’m feeling the positive effects. While far from perfectly fit, I’ve made progress, I feel more prepared for life! It occurred to me, as I reached near maximum heart rate last night, that there is a huge parallel between the concepts of exercise and formal innovation.
Organizations that allow themselves to focus on cost reduction and operational efficiency, without exercising formal innovation skills, are like well dressed middle aged men who get botox and have their hair dyed — but don’t exercise. They look good on the surface, but under the expensive suit, a heart attack is waiting to happen. Like an out of shape guy, organizations are setting themselves up for life threatening myocardial infarction by not exercising their innovation skills.
Conducting a brainstorming or concept writing session with those who practice is dramatically different than those who don’t. Those who practice generate more and better ideas, faster. They are also better at elaboration and story building. My experience says, the less you do it, the less likely it is you’ll be much good at it.
This lack of exercise means your organization won’t be prepared for sudden consumer behavior change, market shifts, or new competition.
Emergencies and stress cause heart attacks in those with unconditioned hearts. Responding quickly with innovative ideas and products to organizational emergencies will be difficult, and maybe even disastrous, if you’re not in innovation condition.
It’s hard to generate ideas when you are scared to death, and being out of ideation breath won’t help.
Weight loss is really pretty simple isn’t it? Eat less, exercise more — right? And yet we see thousands of books written to exploit the fact that doing what’s right for your body is just plain difficult. It requires behavior change. Practicing innovation is difficult as well for the same reason. Taking people out of day-to-day work to get training, scheduling innovation work while you’re trying to keep up — these are behavior changes that must occur. In order to improve in innovation you must practice these skills: learning innovation process, conducting frequent strategy and brainstorming sessions, writing up/presenting new product concepts, prototyping, and launching. If these activities aren’t “business as usual” you’re not exercising your innovative skills and you’re at risk for Innovation Infarction!
So, get on the program already.