Astro Teller at i4j: Innovation Requires Inspired Workers (Systematizing Innovation)On September 23, 2019 by Raul Dinwiddie
I’m really interested in the process of innovation, and trying to systematize innovation, but, it turns out there are two things you have to have both of, in order to systematize innovation. You both have to have a process for innovation which works. So there are ways of trying to help a group of people to be innovative that function better and maybe, theres probably more than one way that functions well. But anyway, there are some that function better and some that don’t function very well. These are intellectual structures. You need that: a good intellectual structure to process, but you also need the cultural aspects of it. You have to pair the intellectual structure with the emotional, the cultural support mechanisms, or you will, no matter how good your intellectual structure is, still get it wrong because you missed the cultural aspects And that issue is true, not only in the process of innovation but in every aspect of our life. So for example, if I tell you that we should fail fast, in our group, thats what I want you to do. You now work for me, and I want you to fail fast. And so, time after time, you think of ideas, but you decide they’re not good and you kill them off. If I then turn to your colleague, Sally, who has recently launched something, which might be okay, its not great, but at least it’s launched, it’s out in the world, its more visible, and I give Sally a promotion. Doesn’t matter that the process, the intellectual framework says that your doing the right thing, you will learn, you will hear, to do the wrong thing. To launch things, to never give up on your idea. To not only fail slow, but to never fail, to never stop what you’re doing to reevaluate, to try something new. Maybe the simplest example is to show how it will work. If I tell you that what I believe is the right way to drive innovation. This is an aspect of the intellectual framework, the process. is lets not build a prototype and do all the easy stuff first, so that it looks like we’re making progress every week. I don’t want that, because we’re in danger of building a ladder to the moon. Where we’re closer to the moon every week, but we’re never really going to get there. Lets work on the hardest part first. We discuss for the project that you’re going to work on: what are the things that are most likely to kill the project? And I say “your job is not to cause the project to succeed, your job is to kill your project. I want you to kill your project. You won’t be fired, we’re just going to keep doing this”. And it is only the process of failing, to kill your project that will eventually cause it to succeed. So I tell you this, Your thinking “does he really mean that? That sounds scary”. When you do that the first couple of times and you try an experiment; thats functionally what these things are, maybe it works, and we take that risk off the list. Thats awesome, we de-risked your project. We try a few more, and we find the fatal flaw. Yes, indeed this was going to be a ladder to the moon. If in that moment, I come in and I hug you, maybe literally hug you. If I celebrate you. If I point to other people and I say “do it like he’s doing it. That was awesome”. If in the end, at least over time, you feel recognized for it, you feel even celebrated for it, you get promoted for it, your compensation goes up because you do those things, you’re going to do them all the time, because that’s what you want, is to do things that work, and it turns out it does work, it works much better to do it this way but you won’t do it unless you also get all the social feedback signals that are the ones that you’re seeking. You can go read lots of management books on innovation and some of it’s wrong but a decent amount of it is right. Thats table steaks. Its actually living up to those things. Not the lip service of it, but the actual social and emotional signals that go with it. If you get those wrong, as any parent knows, it doesn’t matter what you say, kids are listening to what you mean, not to the words coming out of your mouth, and adults are no different.