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How Do You Keep Strategic Momentum Going?

The "Seminar Effect" is a term to describe the inspiration/disillusionment pattern often associated with attendance at a particularly motivating professional conference or seminar.  You may have experienced something like this process:  

  1. With the best intentions to regroup and do something for your own professional growth, you go to a conference or seminar. 
  2. There, you get inspired by a particular presentation that connects with something powerful in you. 
  3. You take notes and start to make plans for what you, personally, are going to do differently now that you're armed with this brilliant stuff!
  4. You return to the office, having already done some initial reality testing as to what you think you might actually be able to get going.
  5. Reality then bludgeons you with emergency meetings or an unexpected request for input that you (and yes, only you!) need to provide for someone else's presentation (tomorrow!) or other such cataclysms.
  6. You start to see your resolve take hit after hit, culminating in feelings of even greater disillusion/jadedness/hopelessness than you had before the seminar had raised your sights.  Wonderful.

We know something similar can happen after an ideation and concept development session, regrettably.  We want to do something about that.  Here are some possibilities to get us all thinking about how to keep the strategic momentum going after you leave (hopefully one of our) sessions.  

In this first part of a two-part series, I’m going to explore:

  • Metaphors for the exciting upfront Ideation and Concept Development
  • An understanding of what all can come from the upfront session

Metaphors for Upfront Ideation and Concept Development

To tweak a quote, first we create our metaphors and then they create us.  So, hey, let's be conscious of our choice of metaphor for the critical upfront work.  Obvious starting points from the realms of sports, navigation, space travel, etc., easily spring to mind.  We'll even start with some well-worn ones to see what they do for us.

Rocket and Launch Pad - Because we understand how great work upfront sets the tone for a given innovation cycle, this seems like a promising metaphor.  We get why starting well is so important, from early childhood education to the notion overall that small wins are the fastest way to engender overall success.  Momentum is huge.  The one tweak we might make in this metaphor: conventional wisdom tells us that 85% of a rocket's fuel payload is spent just getting off the launchpad.  That may be an overstatement in the innovation world.  We want fast, smart action upfront that is really resource-smart, and ideally represents a smaller resource commitment.  Innovation is not rocket science. It’s smarter than rocket science.

Shooting Out of the Gate for Team Races - Let's look at the luge. A 400-millisecond advantage here is huge (think “great start” as the advantage, not necessarily the time element).  In terms of the overall development, a better start increases the odds of you being able to stay ahead of the competition.  You still have to maneuver the turns well, not lose advantage by taking too many bumps into the sidewalls, etc.  In this metaphor, you come out of the upfront work with great momentum, so don't squander the lead!

Understanding What All Comes from an Upfront Session at Ideas To Go

In addition to great concepts—and depending on the project design and direction from the first round of testing—you get a lot of granular issues to sift through to make your concepts even better.  

When we first start diving into a big new opportunity area, we may have some thoughts about what potential challenges may be, but there's nothing like pulling some rough ideas together to start digging in comprehensively to what real-world conditions and contexts will be for the ideas we want to carry forward.  When we just put stuff out there and get some conversations going –see our colleague Jordan Peacock's post about this—issues, problems, risks, hurdles, etc., magically start coming up!  

You could think of innovation as nothing more than choosing the right set of issues, problems and risks to tackle, in a way that takes advantage of the company's particular resources and thus creates competitive advantage when we crack these nuts. Listing the risks of a potential initiative needs to be the starting point of the conversation, not the ending point.

An increasingly richer understanding of the opportunity/risk space is a very good thing. With this, we can start establishing the right relationship between The Real and The Ideal—and get a helpful creative tension going between the two.  Progress is the process of making more of The Ideal real over time.  Understanding the lay of the land so early in the development cycle is great, because you can learn about the true nature of the threat around the issues before you spend too much on a given idea.  You can be a little choosy about taking on the real, more-validated risks and issues of Concept A vs. Concept G or Concept M once you see learning about the risks as a good thing that can get you going.

The Ideal is the real innovation frontier

A more comprehensive understanding of the risk/benefit tradeoffs of your pipeline equips you to move into that fantastic place where we innovationistas have chosen to live, The Ideal → Real Frontier.

Moving through development we learn so that we can bring more and more of The Ideal to The Real.  We can choose how to frame this up. We need to think of the very real tradeoffs between the potential benefits and risks of a given initiative, not just its risks.

Read more in the conclusion of this series to focus on:

  • Recasting newly identified issues/problems as jobs
  • Appreciating the value of bringing issues/problems to the surface

©2012 Ideas To Go, Inc. All rights reserved.

Adam Hansen

Adam Hansen is co-author of the book, "Outsmart Your Instincts: How the Behavioral Innovation™ Approach Drives Your Company Forward," and Innovation Process Facilitator at Ideas To Go – an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies to incorporate the voice of the consumer in ideation and concept development.