I spent some time this week talking about innovation with a client, a privately-held and owner-managed business operating in the UK.

One of the challenges that was identified by the people with whom I was working was that there didn’t appear to be clear channels through which good ideas could bubble up through the ranks to get support, funding and traction. Meanwhile, many ideas (many of them really good) came from a few people, some of whom were right at the top.

The gut reaction to this from many technologists is to try to design some sort of ideas process, by which innovative concepts can be assessed, judged and invested as appropriate. But this view significantly misunderstands how organisations prioritise ideas. Ultimately the ideas that succeed are those that are championed by the right people in the right way. An OK idea will trump a brilliant one if the former has won the right hearts and minds.

What this has got me thinking, again, is about the importance of networks and networking in organisational life. Increasingly we teach people how to “ideate” (I hate that word), to use design principles, to adopt agile methods – but we still don’t rigorously build fostering the networks to sell the ideas effectively into such programmes.

Moreover, rather than trying to systemize processes that will still rely on subjective opinions, maybe we should just acknowledge that the art of innovating is as much the art of selling as anything else. VHS trumped Betamax. Windows trumped Mac, Android trumped iOS.  My idea will trump your idea if I know the route to the MD’s ear.


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