SpoolCast: Innovation Beyond the Buzzword

Jared Spool

October 23rd, 2009

Duration: 27.5m | 15MB
Recorded: October, 2009
Brian Christiansen, UIE Podcast Producer
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How many IBM or General Electric television ads do we need to see before we are groaning at the mention of the word “innovation”? It’s too late for me, personally. But that doesn’t mean real innovation is dead. Steve Jobs has been quoted saying Apple will innovate their way through tight times. This past week Apple announced record revenues for the past quarter on impressive sales of premium products that aren’t supposed to sell well during down times. How are they flourishing while their competition is not?

How can you bring real innovation into your projects? That’s what I asked Scott Berkun when we spoke earlier this month. Scott is one of our favorite speakers on the topic of innovation and project management. He tells us you have to be opportunistic and start small. High-priority challenges may be a tempting place to start, but he suggested to first look at low-hanging fruit. You can build momentum for positive change by racking up a number of small wins that together move the project in the right direction. Having these small successes under your belt gives you more influence when attempting larger changes later on.

True innovation starts with you allowing yourself to be creative and recording your ideas religiously in a safe place like a notebook or sketchpad. Don’t self-censor, either. Initial precision and “getting it right” are the antithesis of creativity. It’s essential to let the ideas flow, and your ideas will improve as you continue to record them. Your journal is an incubator of ideas. Not every idea will be a success, and some will be terrible! But Scott says that’s OK. When an opportunity for change arises, you’ll have a treasure trove of ideas to pick though.

Once you have an idea, you need to involve other people to make it happen. The key differentiator in successful, innovative environments is group trust. People need to feel they are safe to share ideas with their team. If you work in an environment where you’re fearful of this, find one person on your team who is the most enthusiastic and try sharing with them. Once you have other people on board with your idea, you’ll have an easier time sharing it with others.

A common difficulty is honest and constructive critique among teams and individuals. This is an area where the most successful teams have excelled. Good critiques take practice and trust within your team. This usually requires time and commitment.

What experiences have you had trying to introduce new ideas? Politics and “we’ve tried that before” getting in the way? Let us hear about it in the comments.

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