Monday, October 6, 2008

On 5 minute vs. 5 year bombs

Innovation is tough. We all know this. It has become an article of faith. Right?

I don't think so. I don't think innovation is any tougher than anything else we do. Marketing is tough. Sales is tough. R&D is tough. Life is tough.

I think the bigger challenge for innovation is not how tough it is, but how seriously we take it. That is, we just don't take it seriously enough. We don't invest in it enough. We don't give it enough sunshine, air, nutrients and time. We want it to produce results on a time line that is appropriate for other endeavors but inappropriate for innovation.

So if the primary barrier to innovation is one of volition, how can we move innovation along?

I propose the ticking bomb framework. There's a lot of hand wringing about innovation. How do we do it? How can we fund it? What are the right organizational structures or processes?... But really, these are not the questions we need to focus on. Not yet.

If a leader knew there was a ticking bomb that would go off in 5 minutes and 1 second and that would take 5 minutes to disarm, he would instantly go about getting it done. The need for innovation, however, is really a ticking bomb that will go off in 5 years and 1 second. So it is perceived as always less urgent than the bevy of 5 minute bombs that can be plainly seen in the moment. But the reality is that while innovation is a 5 year plus 1 second bomb, it will take a full 5 years to disarm. So our leader needs to jump on it with the same sense of urgency as he does the 5 minute bombs. It is the same problem.

Once we understand and accept that, we can then move along to the tactical questions of how to innovate. And I bet we will find that suddenly the questions do not seem so big and scary. In fact, I expect many of them will seem as silly as asking whether one should use a regular or needlenose pliers when disarming the 5 minute bomb. There's no time to discuss the philosophy of pliers when you're disarming a 5 minute bomb. And it doesn't matter anyway. You just do it. Well the 5 year bomb is exactly the same.

So let's just do it!

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