But innovation isn’t easy, and most businesses – big or small – aren’t all that adept at consistently generating fresh new thinking. “Ideas are the lifeblood of business,” says Keith Harmeyer, co-author of a book on business innovation called SmartStorming. “So it’s important to eliminate any impediments to effective idea generation swiftly and handily.”
Here are five reasons that small companies have trouble innovating, and how you can do better:
1. The people running your brainstorming sessions are duds. Ideally, the person leading such meetings would be inspiring, supportive and open-minded. They’d encourage participation in a way that helps others share new and different types of ideas and perspectives.
But, alas, such is not always the case. Instead of inspiring and building up others, they come with dominating personalities that rule and control the group. Others relentlessly pressure the group for vast quantities of ideas without end, never pausing to analyze what’s been offered for merits and minuses. Select a leader who can inspire others to offer their best ideas.
2. Negativity and judgment hang in the air. One common refrain is “We tried something like that and it didn’t work.” But things change, and this idea might just be different enough. Instead, the fledgling idea is simply massacred. Nothing kills a group’s efforts to brainstorm faster than negativity and judgment. If anyone’s contributions are quickly dismissed, they’ll think twice about offering others.
To avoid this trap, try setting some rules of the game that include suspending all judgment and embracing all ideas, including the seemingly wild and edgy ones. By having the group agree to such rules, you establish a more open and supportive atmosphere that’s more likely to result in innovation.
3. It feels like a torture chamber. Brainstorming session that are poorly planned, loosely structured, have ill-defined goals and use no techniques to inspire new avenues of thinking can feel like torture. And the agony is only intensified by “leaders” who allow discussions to meander aimlessly or who fail to keep the energy level up.
When enthusiasm drops, the idea flow plummets and familiar ideas get recycled over and over again. To avoid this, plan and structure sessions ahead of time. Use a specific, active process to help stimulate ideas.
4. The wrong people are invited. Some people simply have toxic personalities when it comes to generating and embracing new thinking. As a result, who you invite to an idea session can dramatically impact its quality and productivity. Some people might even sabotage the group’s efforts with fiendish attitudes. Here are a few personality types to avoid:
· Attention hounds always want the focus to be on them and can suck the life out of the rest of the group.
· Nay-sayers are the chronic pessimists who see only the flaws in every idea and quickly dampen any enthusiasm.
· Dictators love every idea, as long as it’s theirs. They think all other ideas must conform to theirs, or risk extinction.
· Obstructionists overcomplicate conversations and procedures, bring up extraneous or off-topic points and generally derail the flow.
5. There’s no idea selection process. The group should agree early on how to define a good idea before trying select one. If there are no criteria to aid evaluation, it can become a messy, combative affair where promising ideas live or die on the subjective assertions of one or two dominating personalities. To avoid this mayhem, define the specific attributes and benefits a winning idea must possess in order to be successful.
“Try to visualize as clearly as possible what the perfect solution or end result would look like,” says Harmeyer. “Then consider what qualities an idea must have in order to achieve that visionary goal.”
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