Ever hear about or play the game “Hot potato”? The game’s objective is for players to sit in a circle and pass a “hot” potato around the circle as quickly as possible until the music stops. The object of hot potato is to not be the one holding the potato when the music stops. No one wants the hot potato. Could this very same scenario apply to corporate innovation? There is a phenomenon in innovation I like to call “Hot Potato Syndrome.” It is when there is an idea that everyone thinks is great, but is continually passed around in circles from one organization to another. Clearly everyone supports the idea in theory but no one is willing to take ownership to lead it to implementation.
Are ideas seen as “hot potatoes,” even if the idea is widely accepted, supported, and strategic? Sometimes it is the ideas that could provide the most impact because they affect multiple parts of the organization that fall into this bucket. But how can you avoid hot potato syndrome? In my experience, it sometimes feels that way, so I decided to explore what are the root causes to this very common scenario. Below are some ways to recognize and deal with this phenomenon so that you can finally land the hot potato in the right person’s hands, and it is a potato they need.
Identifying a work stream that has a defined need for the idea is always the first option. If an idea can garner support based on its relevance to the work streams strategy, the idea will get the attention and ownership it needs to drive forward. It is important to establish accountable individuals based on the type of work stream they are associated will make them more willing to take on an idea. Creating accountability and ownership in the business is critical to avoiding the “hot potato” syndrome and giving people ownership to move forward with ideas they feel are important to their work stream.
Facilitate Leadership Teams to Assess and Come to Consensus
Creating a forum to facilitate a working session with a clear objective may help in understanding the true potential of an idea and driving ownership and responsibility necessary to implement. Set up touch points throughout your organization to share ideas, create forums for those individuals to discuss and share. There is truth when they say it takes one person to have an idea, but it takes an army to implement. Setting up different people to be part of the “troop” will help in garnering support and responsibility. Sometimes pulling together the people that may be interested or who have already assessed the ideas can be the ones that devise the best course of action for the idea.
Connect Ideators with Potential Owners
Getting the person who came up with the idea in front of those that have not made decision will often times produce a result. Being able to have the person with the passion and the insight to elaborate on the potential impact of the idea is important to decision making. If the Ideator can appropriately convince a leader of the need and impact of the idea, then the idea will have more relevance and most times a decision can be reached more quickly.
I find most companies I work with suffer from a case of hot potato syndrome. To help avoid this, the above techniques to facilitate discussion, drive action and create ownership will yield results.