“We never see any good ideas,” lamented a senior executive. “People bring us ideas. But they just don’t have any . . . magic.”
At first, I found the comment surprising. I had just begun to get to know the company, and it seemed to me to be brimming with innovation energy, particularly among young employees who would regularly throw out creative “What if’s” during casual conversations.
A month later, it was clear that the problem — as is almost always the case — wasn’t a lack of raw ideas. Instead, there was a problem with the process that an idea generator had to go through before they stood in front of senior leadership. The company, it turned out, had a deep case of iteration-itis.
You see, before anything made it onto the agenda of the top management’s biweekly meeting, it was vetted. And screened. And debated. And re-jiggered. The idea generator had to show the idea to their line manager. To key functional representatives. To key staff members of senior leaders. Maybe even to one or two members of leadership. Every person who saw the idea would express a clear point of view, and the poor idea generator had to figure out how to integrate seemingly contradictory feedback.
Read more… There are some parallels with designing products too 🙂
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This is a fundamental point, not just in engineering, but in business as a whole. Whether you are pitching an idea for a new product, or going for a job interview, of all the people you meet along the way, there is only ONE person whose job it is to say yes. Everyone else is there to say no. The chances are that at least one of those people will not understand what you are saying, or will have a personal reason not to go ahead with it.
This is why it is important in every business (but particularly large ones) that the people at the top make time to talk to the people who actually do things in the business, rather than the layers of administrators.
Heh, you’re so worn out by the time you get any action on it that you start to figure “what’s the use” and don’t bother telling anyone about that new spark of ingenuity that could blow the doors off the world.
Consensus building and committee rule kill off just about any business that depends on innovation. Ideas tend to be free flowing and shoot off in odd directions that are totally anathema to leadership as they want rigid planning and control over a process that works best when allowed freedom.
Unfortunately, Dilbert is not fiction, but a full and continuous documentary on businesses that work this way.