Innovators--Not Managers--Should Vet Ideas

One of the biggest mistakes managers make while trying to encourage innovation is thinking they can choose the best ideas.

One of the biggest mistakes managers make while trying to encourage innovation is thinking they can choose the best ideas. They create structures, policies, and procedures designed to accumulate, vet, and funnel ideas in the hope that those that reach the bottom can then be easily sorted and funded. Typically, a group of decision-makers assembles, and, after reviewing the proposals, similar to a Roman gladiator event, they give them the thumbs up or the thumbs down.

Instead, when an employee comes to you with an idea, avoid attitudes like, “I’ll be the judge of that,” or “I’ll know it when I see it.” Replace those with, “Let me tell you what will make me say yes.” To do that, you need to build an easy-to-understand innovation leadership machine.

If you are a manager, here are 10 reasons why, if you give innovators the power and get out of the way, they will probably make a better decision to kill or further vet their idea than you will:

1. They are more intrinsically motivated and excited about their idea.

2. They have personal connections and interests, and belong to organizations that are more in touch with their potential customers and suppliers.

3. They have a better understanding of the state-of-the-art technologies.

4. They are closer and have a better focus on targeted customer segments and their market pain.

5. They see things differently than you do and are willing to challenge the status quo.

6. They can be more nimble when it comes to doing the end around instead of relying on staid, bureaucratic pathways.

7. They are willing to take more risk.

8. They are more creative about identifying and mitigating risks.

9. They are in a better position to kill ideas for less cost early in the development process.

10. They act like evangelists and champions of the process when it works

The role of innovation leaders is to create a vision, set some broad standards, create a transparent process that innovators can use to self-direct their product development ideas, and get out of the way. Innovators should vet their ideas, not managers.

Hail Caesar. "Ave, Imperator, morituri te salutant" (Those [ideas] that are about to die salute you.)