Move over, BHAG. According to several speakers on day two of the ASAE Great Ideas Conference, sometimes the best path to innovation is to set aside the big, hairy, audacious goal and go small instead.
Your next big idea may be a small one. Or you may be able to make big progress with a few small steps. Adopting that mindset can make innovation a lot less daunting, according to speakers at ASAE’s Great Ideas Conference on Monday. Some advice to think on:
Concentrate on challenges, not goals. “Our goals get us into trouble,” said Greg Roth, a creative consultant and principal at the Idea Enthusiast, and one of three morning keynoters. “We can’t always imagine the future.”
Consider the difference between a fitness program that promises total physical transformation in 12 weeks and a 21-day fitness challenge, with small steps for getting on track to better health. “Maybe we don’t need big, hairy, audacious goals all the time. Maybe sometimes we need to find the challenge, that thing we’re willing to do now, in the meantime,” Roth said.
Challenges are “just micro-experiments. And the best challenges are three things: simple, repeatable, and meaningful,” he said. “Simple enough that you can do it, repeatable enough that you keep doing it, and meaningful enough that you want to do it, that you love doing it because eventually it will change who you are.”
He cited Ben Franklin’s “13 virtues”: Franklin famously tracked his performance in one virtue per week. “He came up short all the time, but he never looked at it as pass-fail. It was simply an exercise in improvement,” Roth said. “It shaped his ability to solve problems that he didn’t have immediate answers to, and I think his record as an experimenter and an inventor speaks for itself.”
Pilot a promising idea before going all in. When an idea has big potential but would also require big investment, it’s time for small-scale experimentation. That’s how Stephanie Holland and her sales team at the American Chemical Society got the ACS BrandLab custom content studio up and running, driving $400,000 in new advertising revenue in the first year and $1 million in year two.
Holland “used a series of small tests to get to the point of a thriving business,” said her co-presenter, Krystle Kopacz, CEO of the digital content marketing agency Revmade, which helped ACS get Brand Lab off the ground. “It wasn’t that she had to make this huge case to the board and hire 10 people right off the bat. [ACS] was able to do it on a small cost basis and build it over time.”
Holland said she started with “a guinea pig” client, and that early campaign’s success drew more interest in the program. As the business grew, the ACS internal marketing team began supporting the sales team in developing content ideas that might interest sponsors—a collaborative approach that Kopacz said allows for fast experimentation.
“Take those ideas to market. Test them. If they sell, do them. If they don’t sell, don’t. And then at the success point, you scale them all day long. You just do it again and again.”
Take small steps to overcome resistance to change. While fear of change can be a big obstacle to innovation, small activities that engage resisters can break through it, according to HR consultant Mary Ellen Brennan and change management consultant Beth McDonald. Activities that allow skeptics to provide input can “bring a stakeholder from being totally in the dark about this change that’s happening to being fully prepared and able to adopt the change,” McDonald said.
When you ask for input, “you’ll start to hear the questions people have. You might even start hearing things that you didn’t think about that you might need to change in your plan,” she said.
Peer involvement adds a layer of credibility that can seal the deal with resisters, McDonald added.
“People will feel brought into a change if their peer group is brought in,” she said. “If you say, ‘We spoke to a handful of senior architects, and here’s what they told us,’ most of the senior architects in your organization will feel like, ‘OK, at least they talked to the architects.’ Whatever that group is, the point is that people really do feel brought in through proxy.”