Beyond The Obvious by Phil McKinney – Innovation – FIRE Method: Focus, Ideation, Ranking, Execution

Today’s hyper-competitive, global marketplace demands organizations continually play their A game, whether it concerns their customers, products and services or operations. New, viable ideas are key to reinvention and capturing your competitive advantage. Yet, generating ideas can seem like a chaotic process.

Phil McKinney is the author of the new book, Beyond The Obvious: Killer Questions That Spark Game-Changing Innovation. He’s an innovation expert who has served as Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for major technology companies and also leads innovation boot camps.

McKinney advocates using his Killer Questions and FIRE method (Focus, Ideation, Ranking, Execution) to produce strategic order to the innovation process.

He says that knowledge is becoming a commodity. Today, your competitive advantage is borne of your desire to continually access and use your creative abilities to help your organization address its challenges. He also admits that creativity is hard work.

McKinney’s FIRE method is simply structured and applicable to any size business. It’s flexible enough to deal with the challenges of generating ideas. It helps identify the most important ideas to work on to improve your chances of translating those ideas into successful killer innovations.

The FIRE method works because it addresses the innovation gap and delay that all organizations face. The innovation gap is the difference between the need for great ideas and the actual supply of them. “All organizations can use a supply of more and better ideas,” says McKinney. FIRE gives you a system that improves the quality and quantity of ideas. The innovation delay is the time lag from selecting an idea for execution to getting a product to market.

Both the innovation gap and delay are caused by several factors: corporate antibodies (naysayers); assumptions about how your organization should operate; viable ideas; and who your customers are.

FOCUS. It’s not about limiting the idea search, but using a systematic approach to ensure all relevant areas are covered.

Any innovation effort needs to explore three areas to cover all the bases:

  1. Who is the person or organization you sell your product or service to?
  2. What is the product or service?
  3. How does your organization create, deliver, and support your product or service for the customer?

McKinney finds that most companies focus on the customer (who), and the product (what). They tend to ignore everything else the organization does in order to function (how). Examine all three areas and you’ll capture your competitive advantage. Examine them individually, but cover all three areas eventually to eliminate potential blind spots. Focus should be a never-ending process of cycling through all three areas.

IDEATION. McKinney’s Killer Questions are used in the Ideation phase of FIRE. The Killer Questions keep you focused on a specific area of your business, whether it is your customers, products or operations. They also keep you searching for expansive ideas within that area. The Killer Questions help you view problems from perspectives you hadn’t previously considered. They also keep you enlightened to potential answers that fall outside of your existing assumptions about how and why you do the things you do.

McKinney negates the assumption that ideas can only come from a certain person or department within your organization. It’s critical to believe that a great idea will come from a seemingly random place.

RANKING. The innovation process typically leaves decisions to senior-level managers. But, they’re not always involved in the process of creating and selecting the best ideas. Ideas they like may be heavily influenced by personal preferences and biases. The chance of their ideas selected at becoming killer innovations will be low. A defined ranking system helps people set aside their biases and look at ideas from a bigger picture perspective.

McKinney says that it’s a myth that the ranking process for best ideas needs to be a complex set of analytics. His system uses questions to determine which ideas will have significant results, and align with your core capabilities and expertise. The team scores five questions for every idea generated in the innovation workshop.

When designing a ranking system, realize how important it is to eliminate biases and influence in the voting phase. ” Anonymity significantly changes the group dynamics, so it’s critical to keep people unaware of how the other people are voting,” says McKinney.

EXECUTION. McKinney’s motto is “Ideas without execution are a hobby, and I’m not in the hobby business.” Execution is a risk. It requires commitment, money and manpower. Successful execution is a balance between pushing your organization to take a risk, and pressing your case so hard that you scare the corporate antibodies into retreat.

The execution phase of FIRE uses a “gated funding” model. It ensures good ideas get a chance to prove themselves, while guaranteeing your organization isn’t overexposed to risk in the event an idea doesn’t work.

McKinney believes that innovation requires a disciplined, methodical approach. It begins by addressing your industry and company assumptions, managing the inevitable jolts and neutralizing your corporate antibodies. Master these three preliminary steps; and incorporate the FIRE method and gated funding model to advance toward true innovation.

For a list of the World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies, as ranked by Fast Company, visit: http://www.fastcompany.com/most-innovative-companies/2012/full-list.

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