Experimentation Stands Tall Amid 4 Pillars of Innovation

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"This powerful mantra - [fail often to succeed sooner] - exemplifies the deep bias for action," says consultant Jeffrey Cufaude of Idea Architects. "I prefer to reframe it from as failing often (which focuses on the outcome) to experimenting more (which focuses on the process) and expecting and being okay with some things not working as anticipated."

I like the idea of experimentation over failure and focusing on the process. Cufaude recently offered his Four Innovation Lessons With Staying Power, of which that was one. Here are all four with some comments from publishers. 

1. Involve more people in research.
"Too many organizations delegate observation and field research to a very small subset of individuals as opposed to engaging a wider cross-section of those who will actually create the improved or new product or service," writes Cufaude.

"It can be tricky to make innovation part of everyone's job, so to speak, but it might be more about instilling a culture where creativity and speaking up are encouraged," said Bill Fischer, professor of innovation management at IMD, and co-director of the IMD-MIT/Sloan Driving Strategic Innovation Program.

In telling her Brief Media success story, Elizabeth Green spoke of the benefits of creating a culture where any employee is happy to raise a hand. When the industry trend was to build an app, a young employee said, "Why do something that only 17% of their audience could access? Why not follow the Boston Globe's lead and build a responsive-based website that 100% of their audience could access?'" It took their main competition six years to match them.

"During our 'think tanks,' we also look to ensure diverse participation by assigning agenda items to different employees," said Elizabeth Petersen of Simplify Compliance. 

2. Identify stakeholders' core needs or wants and optimize your solutions to them.
"After observing shoppers in action and talking with store owners and other stakeholders, [our] staffers share everything learned, covering the walls with ideas and insights," Cufaude writes. "They then home in on [the] themes that the reinvented cart should address."

"It's critical to involve the customer voice in every brainstorming session," Petersen said. "Consider holding mini-focus groups during one portion of the meeting or sharing the results of customer surveys."

Fischer finds few companies "really up-to-date with their customers' needs" and even less familiar with their customer journey. He encourages visiting customers where they work. (And if you do this, observe what's on their desks!)

"Understand what their challenges are but then think about the solution," said Greg Hart, director of marketing for PSMJ Resources. "That does not just come from the C-level of an organization. [Innovation] needs to be customer driven."

3. Fail often (experiment more) in order to succeed sooner.
Cufaude isn't sitting alone on the experimenting bus. "Create a culture to build trust and collaboration, and breaking down silos...," said Tim Hartman, CEO of Government Executive Media Group. "Think ambitious experiments and trust each other. If you look around and don't see that, you have a problem."

"I tell everybody that works for me that I'd rather have them try and fail than not try," said Rajeev Kapur, CEO of 1105 Media. "And that I want them to make a decision. We can fix a bad decision; we can't fix a no-decision. No one will ever get fired for trying something new or for failing at something they tried to do. I reward people who try, people who think outside the box. I am doing everything I can to empower my team all the way down the chain to say, 'Look, this is what we need to do for the customer.'" 

4. Be okay with organized chaos.
"Those facilitating ideation sessions must restrain themselves from unnecessarily shackling the conversations and explorations to a predetermined structure," Cufaude writes. "Instead they should remain present and intervene only when the group begins to lose focus or energy for a particular stage of the process."

"I don't think we have a shortage of creative ideas in the world," said Adam Grant, author of Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. "...Where the shortage exists is that people don't know how to champion them. They don't know how to speak up... get heard... find allies; they don't know whether one or two of the dozen ideas they've come up with is any good."

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…