Recently I wrote about how creativity and innovation are not the same thing; in essence, sparking creative thought is something that takes place before innovative action happens. It stands to reason, then, that innovation itself is a step towards execution — the one, in fact, that makes it possible to turn great ideas into great projects.
More and more companies are turning to design thinking, an approach to innovation that includes three intersecting, rather than chronological, stages: inspiration, ideation, and implementation. In design thinking, it’s key to understand the necessity of shifting the focus away from loosely-structured brainstorming in exchange for the tactical integration of ideas into business blueprints. It sounds stringent, but realistically? Companies that only empower inspiration for its own sake are wasting what could, with calculated application, turn into serious competitive advantage.
The Power of Iteration
Calculated doesn’t have to mean immovable. Part of being savvy when developing strategies is understanding that even the most carefully crafted plan is subject to collapse, and it’s imperative to have backups, alternatives, assessments, and even then, acceptance that everything might just go to hell all at once. Fearing failure is useless — in fact, companies that get squeamish about it can’t possibly expect to be truly innovative, since doing so involves taking risks and following instincts.
The beauty of innovating in a world that demands constant change is that business strategies can follow suit. Tools like task management systems and collaboration software make iteration easy and when necessary, pretty much immediate. Even so, embracing changes in project plans should be done with care, and should be the result of something clearly not meeting an expectation — not the byproduct of ambiguity or impulsiveness. Before making any significant adjustments to a plan, ask the following:
- Individual projects should ultimately be blueprints for bringing ideas to fruition; is the idea a project is based on as fleshed out as possible? Are there at least some expected parameters in place? If not, back up. You’re not ready to roll just yet.
- Have you clearly identified roles, functions, and resources? A lack of clarity in these three major areas can sow the seeds of failure before you’ve even really gotten started.
- Were past successes and mistakes considered before creating the project outline, or did you dive right in without historical knowledge?
- Is it clear how information, updates, and changes will be shared with the appropriate people? Who and what will be affected by disrupting the plan?
It’s a challenge to move from what is typically a linear planning process and instead view it as malleable and built for change, but it’s the only way to incorporate new ideas or adjustments and maintain progress.
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Ideas are the genesis of all stories, and when you’ve got a great one, figuring out the best, most memorable and effective way to tell it to your customers is akin to buying life insurance for your project — when all the planning, developing, assessing and so forth is complete, how you communicate your idea can be the difference between viral adoption and total obsolescence. Make it simple, make it accessible, and if you can, make it visual — humans absorb about 95% of information through their eyes.
Stories help customers engage through narrative because people like brands they feel connected to. But before your project even hits the streets as a solution, the story will help empower the project team to more creatively contribute to the execution, as well as motivate them to come up with new concepts and approaches. No project becomes great because of a single idea — it’s the amalgamation of varying perspectives, viewing the potential of a solution through different contexts, that will round out a project and bring about truly exceptional results.
Inspiration is a key component of innovative business, but it means little if it can’t be translated into a project plan. And because excellent ideas aren’t enough to bring about success, translating brainstorms into something tangible requires a bit of fearlessness, resourcefulness, resilience, and above all, a diligent strategy that’s both flexible and meaningful.