Seven ways to innovate like a farmer

CEO at Planbox and author of the Future-Fit Manifesto. I help organizations build a sustainable culture of innovation.

Farmers are resilient people with a long history of innovation. The slightest fluctuation in the environment can drastically alter the nature of their work, so anything can happen at any time. To overcome such uncertainty, creativity and adaptability are essential, which is a key lesson for anyone playing a critical role in managing innovation.

Here are seven practical ways to put yourself in a farmer’s shoes to create fertile ground for innovation to happen in a sustainable way.

1. Don’t shout about crops.

In his book, The Intrepid Organization, Professor Amy C. Edmondson says, “But for jobs where learning or collaboration is necessary for success, fear is not an effective motivator.” Psychological safety is an essential trait of a truly innovative culture and a fundamental tenet of the forward-looking organization.

Failure is inevitable; what can to be avoided, however, is the reaction to such failure. Falling hard when projects fail can crush people’s morale, leading to a sterile work environment. Instead, leverage inclusive systems like knowledge forums where lessons learned are celebrated. Amazing things happen when people are encouraged to express their creativity without apprehension or retribution.

2. Don’t blame crops for not growing fast enough.

Ideas take time and attention to turn into something doable and actionable down the line. There are plenty of examples of good ideas that were thrown out too soon too soon because they didn’t come to fruition on time.

No two ideas are created equal and therefore each will have its own development process, evaluation method and implementation timeline. This is especially true for high-growth opportunities that are disruptive in nature, which require additional tinkering over a long-term horizon, according to McKinsey’s three-horizon model.

3. Do not uproot crops before they have had a chance to grow.

Shorting the life cycle of an idea does not unlock its value any faster. It can actually cause fundamental damage that kills innovation, effectively preventing it from reaching the commercial stage. A promising idea can become a great idea and possibly a disruptive idea if you give it a chance to grow and thrive organically.

Leverage tools like a collaborative business canvas to really dig into an idea and shed light on its assumptions, costs, risks and more. Think of it as a snowball effect where the wisdom of the crowd will naturally help your idea blossom. By welcoming a diverse set of perspectives, you can expect to deepen your initial understanding and uncover areas for improvement.

4. Loosen the soil before sowing the seeds.

The natural instinct of many innovators is to try to identify the next best idea, an approach that does not necessarily fit with a strategy for the future, as it lends itself to a reactive culture rather than a proactive one. . Instead, innovators should spend more time plowing the ground in search of the right problems to solve. Effective innovation is about creating the future or anticipating what lies ahead – it’s not about chasing the next big thing. This simple shift in perspective is what separates incremental innovation from disruptive innovation.

Problem solving can generate the highest impact opportunities because it addresses the untapped needs and wants of stakeholders. However, the bigger the challenge, the more resources it requires, which will likely require outside help to avoid disrupting core business operations. This means adopting an integrated ecosystem strategy that engages your wider community to make collaborative problem solving as sustainable as possible.

5. Irrigate and fertilize.

Nurturing a culture of innovation is an ongoing process that requires tender, loving care. You need to make sure you have a gamification strategy.

Gamifying innovation means leveraging the right reward and recognition mechanisms for the right challenge. But any game can become mundane if it always uses the same plan. To maintain participation and keep ideas flowing, you need to continually change things up and, most importantly, make it fun. A proven practice is to plan a range of activities, such as “shark tank” business competitions and idea jams.

You also need to go beyond the standard social media approaches of commenting and liking ideas. A Kickstarter approach to a challenge, for example, might use a virtual investment currency voting method or a head-to-head judging method, both of which force a choice between selected ideas, bringing more concentration and meaning to your activities.

6. Remove weeds.

Opponents, anti-sponsors and resisters to change always abound. After all, it’s much easier to close things than to build them. Don’t be discouraged, however. Instead, harness that negative energy to challenge promising ideas so they don’t die on the vine. This is an opportunity to address any weaknesses in your concept that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. Ultimately, removing all obstacles from the start can help your idea thrive.

Overcoming this resistance is easier said than done, but remember the big picture and leverage the positive traction your idea has gained. As you might expect, you’ll face some pushback along the way, but you can eliminate negativity by focusing on your audience as much as possible.

7. Remember: you will have good and bad seasons.

A farmer cannot control the weather, but he can be ready for it. In innovation, you can guarantee that your bets won’t always pay off, especially as plans change and strategies evolve over time. With so many fluctuations to manage, understanding the innovation climate you operate in will give you the upper hand.

Typical cycles of innovation span different time scales. You can expect to build positive momentum and realize quick wins through continuous improvement and incremental innovation efforts. But real and impactful change takes time. Adjacent and transformative innovations, on the other hand, can take years to emerge. There will be bumps in the road until you can achieve a return on investment, so make sure you’re prepared to stay there for the long haul and have the executive support to get you through the bumps. coldest days and darkest times.


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