When Small Minds Squash Big Ideas

Today's challenging business environment and pace of change leaves no room for mere incremental improvement year over year. Companies of every size are required to constantly innovate or risk becoming irrelevant. Unfortunately, I am seeing a painfully pervasive trait across a multitude of companies: small minds are squashing big ideas.

First somebody somewhere, inside or outside the organization, comes up with a truly revolutionary idea--the next iPad, or the next Uber. It is an idea that fundamentally challenges the status quo within the organization and potentially the whole industry. It calls for a radical reinvention of where we've been, what we've done, how we've done it.

Then Legal gets hold of that idea. Or heaven forbid, HR. Or worse yet, IT. What was once a groundbreaking idea becomes, "let's move this pencil from over here to over there." Meanwhile that company's leaders have just taken 100% of the wind out of the sails of everyone involved. Is anybody likely to recommend a new idea, or even approach having one, after that? You reinforced that this is NOT a culture that welcomes bold thinking, a culture that's unafraid of retribution, willing to take prudent risk. You have in essence made the company's mission statement, "we are about incrementalism, not real innovation."

Am I advocating that you run with every hare-brained idea that somebody comes up with? No. But there is a reason companies like Google have their "20% time" policies that encourage employees to work on projects they find of interest. You don't have to be Google to encourage people to think. You don't have to have a Silicon Valley address to be comfortable balance performing with learning. Rather than letting small minds squash big ideas, companies that make innovation a core value are constantly nurturing multiple ideas so the best ones can foster, grow, and get commercialized.

Fundamentally, market success in today's dynamic and every competitive economy means build a brand and a culture, that is willing to commit to balancing learning and performing. When we approach new ideas from this foundation, we create the conditions for ongoing innovation.

Of course every company needs a margin of safety. We all have to execute, earn results, control revenues and expenses. But how do you set aside what my wife calls "mad money"--that portion of resources, of money, time and effort, to test new ideas and approaches? How do you ensure that you are monitoring and measuring the results of your efforts? This is where dashboards showing real-time performance come in. This is where a group of independent of advisors contributes value. You don't have to take their advice, but you do need outside perspective on what's working, what's not working, to accelerate your learning and growing from that process.

When you balance performing with learning, you try a lot of different things! I am practicing what I preach. This month, the Nour Group is testing a direct mail strategy by sending out 40,000 postcards. We are doing some online campaigns. We are much more aggressively rolling out our strategy visualization services, with a number of engagements already committed. I am planning a relationship-centric diagnostic assessment and an online video training and development platform. Am I 100% certain any of these are going to achieve the expected results? Heck no! But I've learned that if you don't try new initiatives, how will you ever learn? How will you grow? Now it is on me to monitor these experiments and in time, figure out what worked, what didn't, and what we've learned from the process. As a mentor often likes to say, "if you're not failing, you're not learning!"

If we want to stop small minds from squashing big ideas, we need to learn from the growing edge of innovation. I'm coaching my clients, particularly the large ones in mature industries (where innovation is a lost art), to go spend a day within a startup incubator. Spend time watching people who live and breathe agility. Watch the nimbleness with which they do their work. I predict you will find a culture tightly focused on getting tests into the market.

As Guy Kawasaki said, forget about the PowerPoints; focus on prototypes! How do we create a model of an idea quickly and get that in front of our target audience? Not friends and family--they love you, but they are not going to write you a check for your innovation. There is only one cure for small minds that squash big ideas: getting that prototype into the experience of an audience that will care, that will recognize the value, in what you are trying to create.

Nour Takeaways
  1. To survive in the new economy, companies must have a brand and culture that actively encourages innovation.
  2. To prudently manage the risk in innovation, companies need to three things: a portion of resources devoted to testing new ideas and approaches, monitoring of results as close to real-time as possible, and advisors who can contribute an outside perspective.
  3. Get to the growing edge of innovation and see how nimble startups deploy prototypes that allow the target audience to experience value.


David Nour has spent the past two decades being a student of business relationships. In the process, he has developed Relationship Economics® - the art and science of becoming more intentional and strategic in the relationships one chooses to invest in. In a global economy that is becoming increasingly disconnected, The Nour Group, Inc. has worked with clients such as Hilton, ThyssenKrupp, Disney, KPMG and over 100 other marquee organizations in driving profitable growth through unique return on their strategic relationships. Nour has pioneered the phenomenon that relationships are the greatest off balance sheet asset any organizations possess, large and small, public and private. He is the author of nine books translated in eight languages, including the best selling Relationship Economics - Revised (Wiley), ConnectAbility (McGraw-Hill), The Entrepreneur's Guide to Raising Capital (Praeger), Return on Impact (ASAE), and the 2016 forthcoming CO-CREATE (St. Martin's Press), an essential guide showing C-level leaders how to optimize relationships, create market gravity, and greatly increase revenue. Learn more at www.NourGroup.com.