Bird in the hand? Yes please

Organisations with good innovation track records are adept at killing ideas. The trick, says influential management thinker Ram Charan, is to kill them, but not stone-dead. Such organisations have a healthy portfolio of ideas, from the prosaic to the absurd, going at any one time. “First you look at the whole portfolio and you prioritise it,” he says. “Some things fall in the bottom priority. That’s the time you know you have to kill it because you don’t have the resources.” But killing an idea doesn’t mean it’s gone forever, Charan adds. It could be parked for another day, “you could go and give it to somebody else and take a portion of equity… you can even go to a competitor”. Innovation author, Steve Denning, says even promising ideas take time to gestate. As director of knowledge management at the World Bank, he found himself trying to persuade a change-resistant organisation to share knowledge, “a strange new idea for a bank”, he notes. “I experimented with different ways of explaining it and stumbled on the power of leadership storytelling. This was such a weird idea at the time that even I didn’t accept it for almost 18 months.” Smart leaders constantly revisit their ideas storeroom, a cost-effective way of feeding the innovation pipeline. Strategy consultant and author, Lance Bettencourt, and Scott Bettencourt, CEO of Gardman USA, say this approach means that even when money is tight, it’s possible to innovate. “Most managers think an innovation must be something absolutely, completely new,” they say. “Yet the reality is that most companies have previous discoveries with overlooked innovation or market potential. Those innovation prospects are the proverbial bird in the hand: the work is done, and the risks are low.”

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