Short Story: If a group of experts struggles with innovation, provide an opportunity to look at the situation from the outside to discover mental space to innovate.

I was talking with an engineer at a company that primarily employs engineers. The company focuses on materials testing.

He told me how difficult it is for the organization to consider an innovation strategy. The reason why? The engineers are so accustomed to testing EVERYTHING, they routinely shoot down any innovative ideas. That’s what they are used to doing. When the whole business is built on trying to prove something doesn’t work, I guess it takes you out of the “let’s try something new and innovative and see what happens” game.

I suggested looking at a version of one of our extreme creativity questions: How can we innovate our processes to test things faster than all our competitors? Specifically, how can we test ten products in the time our competitors test two things?

I don’t know if they’ll do it or not, but they’d be better off if they did.

2 Ways to Take a Fresh Look at Outside-In Innovation Strategy

They could also take the outside-in innovation strategy approach we wrote about recently: look at other testing situations ripe for speeding up and solve those. They could then take those ideas and apply them to what they do. It always seems easier and more fun to work on somebody else’s problems and fix them. That is especially true when your expertise is tearing apart what others overlooked in their work!

Additionally, our conversation suggested an intriguing innovation strategy role. He told me how the company had its annual meeting at the same venue two years in a row. At the most recent annual meeting, the bartender was the same as the year earlier. The bartender remarked that all the engineers were sitting in EXACTLY the same seats as at the previous year’s meeting!

While the engineers obviously remembered where they sat (and returned to the same seats), it took an outside observer to point out the bigger message: YOU GUYS DON’T EVER DO ANYTHING DIFFERENTLY! That story got me thinking: beyond an outside facilitator, who else is witnessing your innovation strategy development over time and can point to what those closest to it will never see, or at least never mention?

If thinking about doing things in new ways is tough for your organization, start looking at an outside-in innovation strategy!  – Mike Brown

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