Innovation: The Dumb Mistake People Make!

Puneet Bhatnagar

Creativity & Innovation trainer | Co-Founder Creativity Mission India | Brand & Advertising Mentor| Marketing Innovation

Why idea boxes remain empty? Everyday in magazines we read about other organizations coming up with breakthrough ideas, our sales people report that competition is adopting disrupting strategies. But in our own case those ideas are missing. Why? Where is the missing link?

Ramanathan was puzzled, he was doing his best to push the innovation initiative in his organization but people were just not able to create great ideas.

He asked the Guru, "What can I do more? I have got idea boxes in every nook and corner. Our ad agency made a brilliant logo. We designed beautiful bulb shape containers to put ideas in! I gave the money everyone wanted for the scheme...like Google and other new age companies I even gave people time off for idea creation...but..."

Guru smiled, "Let me tell you the story of the diamond diggers!"

Ramanathan put his diary down on the mat. Fixed his gaze on the guru. He didn't want to miss any insights.

The Story Of The Diamond Diggers!

"Ramanathan! There was a king. But except the crown, he never felt like a king. Because the empire was poor. The treasury was empty. The days were stressful and he was unable to sleep well at night. During one of those uneasy nights, old king of yore, one of the illustrious forefathers appeared in his dream and whispered a sweet secret in his restless soul -

'Dear Son! You are not poor, but rich. There are diamond mines in our empire. Get those shining diamonds out and soon you will be so rich, neighboring countries will envy you!'

Next morning the king instructed his ministers, 'It's an order from the heavens! From today, all citizens must dig for diamonds. Those who will come with diamonds will be amply rewarded'.

Soon all citizens - young and old, even women and kids - joined in. After a grand prayer and ceremony they all took their spades, shovels and trowels, and began digging. From morning to the evening people dug. They dug the soft soil in their fields, they dug in river beds, they broke hard rocks, uprooted the trees and dug underneath, to find the diamonds promised to them by the old king in the divine message.

For months it went on...and on. But no one found a diamond! On a few occasions it seemed they succeeded. They cheered. But alas! Those were only shining pieces of mirrors!"

Guru paused for a while. Took a deep breath and asked the disciple. "Why am I telling you this story?"

Ramanathan said, "Yes, I can see the parallel. We are doing every bit possible for our innovation efforts but our idea boxes are empty! And when sometimes we get ideas, they are really not good enough ideas!"

Guru smiled, "You think people digging for diamonds were not motivated? They were not honest? They were not digging deep enough?"

"The way you narrated the story, they were more than motivated, they were obsessed with the quest of diamonds. Specially because there was a heavenly assurance, those people must be doing their best".

Guru was smiling as he played with his beard. "Then why no one found a diamond?"

Ramanathan didn't know. So he waited for the answer.

"Because, all these poor people didn't know what a diamond looks like in raw form! They were digging for the shining things. But a raw diamond looks nothing like a diamond. In fact sometimes poor buggers got the diamond in their hands and they threw it away, thinking it was a stone! Now you know why the idea boxes are empty?"

"I am getting a sense, but please you elaborate!"

"Ramanathan, the secret is, like those raw diamonds, ideas also don't come to you in their full glory. Ideas in their raw form are all rough and edgy, unlike what you anticipate them to be. It's only after working on them that you get the shining ideas you see on the magazine covers and patent sheets. You will never find that next big breakthrough in your idea-box!

And the irony is, in those ceremonies and pep talks everyone speaks about the shining examples. The case studies of Apple, Google, Linkedin, Ideo and the likes. We tell our people that we too can do it.

And then, when our people get a potentially good idea, they don't put it in your idea box. They don't present it in a meeting. They compare their own raw ideas to other people's shining innovations, the award winning breakthroughs on cover stories of glossy magazines. In comparison their own teeny-weeny uncut idea looks quite inadequate! They throw it away".

Ramanathan nodded his head vigorously.

Guru finished the lesson, "We need to define what our Idea-diamonds are? Train the team members to recognize potentially good ideas in their raw form. Encourage everyone to share their unshapely ideas. Create a culture where they can talk about them without fear of being laughed at. My friend! You will have many winning ideas in your boxes. And then we can get our experts to polish them to their true potential- The breakthrough solutions!"

Guru smiled ear to ear, "Then your Ad agency can create the sound bites for you and the idea champions. Your PR guys can come in to make it a cover story".

Ramanathan folded his hands in gratitude. He knew once again he received a real diamond from the Guru.
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