How to Jump-Start Radical Change in Your Company

When Steve Jobs developed the iPod in 1997, he assembled a diverse group of thinkers with different points of view and areas of expertise. They didn’t invent something new. Rather, they brought together disparate technologies that no one had ever thought to use alongside each other before. This is how breakthrough innovations happen: when a variety of high-performers collaborate to run experiments in a high-energy environment.

If a wild, radical solution is what you seek, then jump-starting is the way to go. Jump-starting is the creation of new ideas through exposure to an assortment of stimuli and hand-on involvement with the challenge at hand. The key to the jump-start process is learning through trial and error.

Jump-starting is invigorating. It’s about the generation of contagious excitement. It’s about risk-taking. If you’re looking for low-risk improvements, or if you need to extend or leverage your existing technologies, it is better to plan more systematically than to jump-start. Jump-starting will help you achieve any of these outcomes:

  • Generating breakthrough ideas quickly
  • Creating energy and fun
  • Transforming winning ideas into new initiatives, products, or services
  • Challenging institutional thinking and boundaries

Jump-starting works best when your organization is either in a crisis moment or a moment of intense success, outperforming expectations. It is in these extraordinary conditions when the risks and rewards associated with radical change are reversed: you have a lot less to lose and a lot more to gain.

First, identify the key problem. Write a challenge statement that clearly articulates the challenge to be solved. Make sure that the challenge is within the means of this group to address.

Then, collect data: what do you know? What do you need to know? Who knows what? Gather some facts, information, and opinions by consulting with people who are experts in their fields.

Next, generate as many ideas as possible. Keep in mind these guidelines used by design firm IDEO when brainstorming:

  • One conversation at a time
  • Stay focused on the topic
  • Encourage wild ideas
  • Defer judgment
  • Build on the ideas of others

Review your ideas and identify those that promise the most breakthrough solution. Feel free to combine interesting ideas or add new ones.

Don’t just pick low-hanging fruit. You need to choose the ideas that provide a solution to the challenge and that are feasible–within the realm of possibility–but you also need to choose those that have the “wow” factor. Does it make you and the people around you excited? Is it important to you? Is it more special than your ordinary goal or task?

The best part of the jumpstart process is the high energy that it sparks. Closure is overrated. Don’t flip to end of the book right away. Understand that the messiness of the middle is the best part of the story.