Innovation is Hard Work

There are no innovation shortcuts.

I was reminded of this when I ran across the Crispin Porter + Bogusky Employee Handbook. Here is what the 2004 version looked like:

The firm has been reasonably successful, and the Handbook makes it sound like a pretty good place to work, at least to me.

Here are some of the quotes that struck me:

We havea strong culture that we all are very proud and protective of. It is the reason why it’s easier to do great work here than at the majority of other ad agencies. Doing great advertising is not complicated. In fact, it’s simple. Extremely hard and time consuming, but simple. The hard part is removing the complications and obstacles that get in the way. We do everything we can to minimize the things that block the creation of great advertising, but the reality is, there will be many days when advertising feels like a hard punch in the gut. It takes a special person to succeed here, one who has a passion, confidence and work ethic to believe in their ability to come up with more great ideas if and when their original great idea dies.

There are several important points in this paragraph:

  • Being successful usually results from hard work, not complex ideas. That’s why when they way that doing great work is “hard and time consuming, but simple”, it really resonates with me. When people look for shortcuts, they are trying to find some secret that no one else knows. The fact of the matter is that in most cases, we know what it takes to succeed. But we’re often reluctant to do the work that success requires.
  • Good management is about removing obstacles. One of the biggest mistakes that I run across is the belief that management is about telling people what to do. It’s not. It’s about hiring good people and then spending the rest of your time protecting them from the things that prevent them from doing great work. Management is a support role, not a directive one.
  • You have to select ideas to succeed. Innovation is a process, and selecting ideas is a critical step in the process. This means that ideas that you think are great will get killed. One key to successful innovation is being able to have an idea of yours get killed, and then coming back with an even better one.

Here’s another quote:

We don’t talk about it or have a meeting about it or e-mail each other about it if we’re not going to do it. Brilliant thinking not executed is literally worthless. No amount of PowerPoint presentations can substitute for work not done. People who do things are the people who change the world.

There’s not much to add to “Brilliant thinking not executed is literally worthless.

A good idea can come from anywhere, from any person in any department at any level. If you’ve been here a long time, if you’re overdue or if you’ve worked on that account longer than anyone, that doesn’t matter. And just because a person’s title is associate creative director or management supervisor doesn’t necessarily mean their ideas are automatically weighed more toward the good end of the scale.

Most of us are working in the knowledge economy now. To succeed there, we need to be using the best ideas. If your decision making process gives extra weight to rank, status or history, then you’re not going to be using the best ideas.

Building a culture that rewards idea quality is hard work – again! But it’s the kind of work that you need to put in if you’re going to compete on ideas.

And these days, who isn’t competing on ideas?

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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