“Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come,” the saying goes. What a noble thought – and how unrealistic at the same time. In fact, ideas have to be enforced. Anyone who wants innovation, must therefore not shy away from power. Otherwise, the best idea dies in beauty.
Successful innovation is not a question of the right time. Ideas that have what it takes to become market-changing innovations are made. What is presented as good, must also be appraised as such – in comparison to what is already there and by the right people. In concrete terms: What appears to be the next big thing for resourceful developers may be a dangerous disruption to production routines trimmed for cost optimization, a nuisance for sales (with uncertain turnover) and a risk even for their supervisors. It is they who get blamed if the budget ends up being wasted.
So, what can be done to increase the chances of an idea?
You have to analyze interests and play power games.
The term “power games” has a negative connotation. But in fact, every good idea needs an equally good strategy with which it can be pushed through inside and outside the company.
- Using established interpretations to your advantage: You have to cleverly tie in with existing innovation rhetorics. These are usually so vague that an idea that “demonstrably” serves the CEO’s demands for more innovation must at least be seriously examined. If, in addition, one succeeds in graciously acknowledging but elegantly throwing competing ideas out of the running, it is even better.
- Asserting competence: Of course, ideas cannot yet prove success. That is in the nature of things. All the more important is the innovators’ assertion of competence. They must be able to deduce from their education, or even better from their professional experience (at a start-up), that they know what is good and right.
- Seeking allies: Those who have an idea often lack access to decision-making bodies. That is where budgets and projects are approved. Especially new and unusual ideas are sorted out early on. In every organization, however, there are functionaries who want to position themselves. You must find them and let them know how they would benefit from you. In return, you have to persuade them to present your idea in the right circles.
- Using a Trojan horse: Precisely because only what is known and what resembles the established is promoted, innovators can disguise their ideas as further development in order to raise budgets. Once the project has progressed enough that it can be presented to the corporate public, no one will look too closely – if it is successful.
- Looking in the garbage can: Sometimes an idea lacks a problem – or vice versa. The much-cited “Garbage Can Model” by Cohen, March and Olsen (1972) made this clear already 50 years ago. Why not rummage through old decision templates or – even more promising – discuss with long-time employees?
Decide for yourself when the time is right.
Those who take this advice to heart and overcome their shyness about power, soon discover that being powerfully innovative means, above all, strategically pre-planning one’s own actions and taking advantage of established structures. Whether the time is right for an idea is ultimately determined by whether it is implemented.