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How to Spread Innovation: 3 Farcical Lessons from IBM 

Posted by Maggie Millard

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Oct 1, 2015 2:10:00 PM

Innovation ManWhen a creativity consultant told executives at a consumer healthcare company that they needed to suit up in spandex superhero costumes to signal a new era of innovation, they donned their capes and masks. Whether this was an act of good humor or comedic desperation is unclear - either way, it obviously didn’t work. (I hope that no one expected that a costume change would actually spread innovation…)

This story was reported in 2007, after which IBM produced a series of “Innovation Man” videos with the theme “Stop talking, Start doing.” Tucked into these 30 second hilarious videos are some gems of wisdom for those struggling to spur innovation in their organizations.

1. Don't Forget "Implementation"

This video depicts an all-too-common mistake among organizations seeking to increase innovation in their organizations. This is the original Innovation Man video: a guy in a goofy costume announces that he’s here to “Kick off the innovation agenda! Fire up the troops for innovation!” That’s all well and good; it’s nice to have leadership driving that culture shift. The trouble lies in the buzz words he chooses: “Ideation,” “Incubation,” “Invigoration.

Do you notice what’s missing? How about “Implementation?,” as the supporting character in this clip points out? In this clip, IBM drives home the point it’s crucial to remember that action is the central focus of innovation efforts. All of the thinking in the world won’t make changes in an organization - without implementation, there is no innovation.

2. Provide Direction, Not Just Enthusiasm

In this second Innovation Man video, employees are lined up at attention as their drill sergeant-esque superhero boss marches back and forth yelling variations of “I am here to get you all fired up about innovation. Are you fired up?” The subsequent exchange goes like this:

Innovation Man: Are you fired up?

Employee: YES!

Innovation Man: Why are you fired up?

Employee: … “I don’t have any idea.”

A takeaway from this clip is that it’s critical to make sure your employees’ understanding of your mission goes deeper than the corporate rhetoric. The employees in this scene knew that they were supposed to be fired up by Innovation Man…but had no idea why.

If Innovation Man were a true superhero (or just a good leader...), he would have focused on how empowering employees to innovate can improve their jobs, the service they provide to their customers, their safety, and the company as a whole. With that deeper level of understanding, maybe people would have been a little more fired up - and that enthusiasm might translate to more action.

3. Ditch the Corporate Mumbo Jumbo 

This video actually made me laugh out loud. If you haven’t watched the others, at least watch this one. In it, employees hand out BINGO scorecards before a routine “innovation meeting.” They then listen for corporate buzz words, turning the innovation messaging into a game.

A lesson from this video is that, to spread innovation, you need to ditch the corporate mumbo jumbo and hone in on what really matters. Talk to people about their role in the business, the benefits of engaging in innovation, and why this cultural shift is meaningful for them. Empower them to actually make changes. That is, unless you want someone shouting out BINGO after you’ve said “value added” for the ninth time. 

For more information about how to engage your staff in improvement, check out this free eBook: 

The Savvy's Leader's Guide to Employee Engagement

Topics: Spread Continuous Improvement

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