Monday, April 27, 2009

Two rules for innovation

1) Biggest mistake this year (as voted by your colleagues) wins a paid trip to Mexico
2) Intentional mistakes are not allowed

These rules are easy to implement. Spread over your workforce, the cost of the initiative approaches zero. The communication of the rules is simple. Within a day or two, a staff of thousands would know them by heart.

These rules are hard to say out loud if you're in a position to make this commitment. The rules feel risky. They feel like you're not being accountable... at least on the surface. You are flying in the face of a culture that values minimizing risk.

But really, what would happen? I think:
  • A signal is transmitted - leadership is committed to change
  • Individuals pursue the incentive
  • Some fail. One lucky SOB really fails
  • Some succeed. Some of the results can only be described as revolutionary.
  • Most efforts fizzle, but we learn from them
  • The organization benefits from thousands of employees choosing to apply discretionary effort

While it feels risky, the results actually seem pretty solid. I think economists would look at the incentive and the statistical probabilities for success and say it's a no-brainer. More likely, you hurt your business if you don't do it.

The challenge is to step away from the emotional reaction and go with the effort that produces results.

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