Do you work in an organisation that isn’t willing to invest in innovation?
Have you or your team had amazing ideas that you believe in, only to be met with “not now”, “I don’t have the time” or “we have other priorities” from your leadership team?
Is trying to get anyone to recognise and accelerate your ideas or even your entire innovation department, like trying to push water uphill?
If the answer is no, then congratulations! You’ve secured a job in the kind of organisation we all wish we worked in.
If the answer is yes, then please take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. And let me help you with some tried and tested advise.
You need to stop asking for permission!
Yes you read that correct. The conventional methods for trying to make a change in your traditionalist corporate environment clearly aren’t working for you.
So what do you do now?
Here’s what: You feel the fear and do it anyway. Don’t wait for permission. Go guerrilla and ask for forgiveness if you get caught.
I appreciate that sounds a little scary. But stay with me for a second while I explain.
Your mission now is to stay under the radar and gather as much evidence as you can to demonstrate the impact that your idea will have on your customers and therefore potentially on your bottom line. And then to make it as easy as possible for your leadership to eventually say yes to supporting you.
I’m going to break it down for you and I promise, you will not be needing an excel spreadsheet or a 3 year business plan. Ready?
Gather a small team and get methodical in your approach. Put your customers (and maybe their customers) at the heart of your efforts. Capture those observations and insights about customer behaviour that led to your ideas. Better still, get videos and quotes from your customers that highlight what their problems are. Invite a few trusted colleagues from other parts of the organisation to review your ideas, vote on their favourites and help build them in to something better. You do not need to spend money getting your colleagues in to one place to do this. Your aim is to stay under the radar. A tool like Sprintbase is a great way to keep track of each step in your design journey and it’s cheap enough for you to buy on your credit card without needing permission from your boss.
Create some super lo-fi prototypes and use these to get some immediate feedback and learning on your ideas. Again, you need to keep costs down to stay under the radar, so create prototypes that are good enough to convey your idea but which are really cheap to put together. DesignKit has some great tips on ways to do this. Experiment with these, iterate and then engage your customers and ask for their feedback. Yes, I know it’s scary to ask a customer to give feedback on your very lo-fi prototype but, the more polished a prototype is, the higher the expectations of your target audience. If people know that it’s an early prototype, they will forgive the flaws and give you much richer and more useful feedback. Ask them to say what they like about your idea and what could make it even better.
Remember at this stage you are getting feedback to learn about your idea and not to validate or justify it.
Turn that feedback in to a new and improved prototype. Again you can keep things lo-fi, cheap and quick. If you’ve got friends within the business (or even at home) who can help iterate and improve your prototype, then take them for coffee and get them involved.
Show the new improved version to your customers or users and video their reactions. Capture how they interact with it, get video footage and quotes. This will really help you build a case to keep going.
Calculate what it would cost you build up a higher fidelity prototype and then to set up a small proof of concept. Be clear on where you can use internal versus external resources and what you hope to achieve in this next step of the process. This is the point when you might need some investment from your leadership team. If you do then keep in mind, this is ALL you will be asking for at this stage; just enough for your idea to get momentum within your organisation. If you can find the budget from within your own team to keep going, then do so!
Do NOT fall in to the trap of trying to create a full implementation plan with fully costed rollout and return on investment. You need to ask for just enough to prove your idea. You can’t see in to the future and neither can your leadership team. Trying to guess at what an implementation might look like now, is just a waste of everyone’s time. Take it step by step.
Now that your prototypes are starting to gather some momentum, use storytelling to bring your idea to life for key stakeholders. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that with enough data, leaders will buy in to your idea. You need them engaged and bought in to the purpose of your idea and the value it will bring to your customers as well as to your organisation. Therefore you need to create and rehearse a great story that really brings your idea to life. This is your one chance to make an impact so make it visual, keep the customer at the centre, be clear on the benefits for both the customer and your organisation and be able to tell the story in under 3 minutes. Listen to this podcast from master of storytelling Nancy Duarte for some great tips
Nemawashi (根回し) in Japanese this means ‘an informal process of quietly laying the foundation for some proposed change or project, by talking to the people concerned, gathering their support and feedback’. Basically, you need to find some colleagues in your organisation (senior and with a potential vested interest), take them for coffee and tell them the story of your concept informally, to see how they react to it. If you can get people bought into your idea informally, then when you come to a more formal pitch, the audience will already be warm to it. Making it easier for them to forgive you for going under the radar and to give you permission to keep going.
Trust your instincts but stay objective. I know you believe in your idea and have worked hard on trying to bring it to life, but if your users or others give feedback that perhaps your idea won’t fly then maybe it won’t. But it doesn’t matter. You learned lots of valuable skills and insights as part of the process. So, you’ll be wiser and more experienced next time you see an opportunity to address an unmet need.
Good luck, we’re all counting on you!