OWNER'S MANUAL

Make Your Team More Innovative, Instantly

All you need is 10 minutes--and some very thick skin.
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Trying to be innovative feels, at least for most people, nearly impossible.

Don't believe me? Try it. Go ahead. Be innovative. Think of something amazingly new and different. I'll wait.

Give up? (Don't feel bad. I gave up before you did.)  Most of us don't have a "creativity switch" we can turn on and off at will.

Our employees don't either. Gathering your team in a room and saying, "Okay, we really need some innovative ideas... what do you have?" never works--unless you play "Kill a Stupid Rule."

Kill a Stupid Rule is one of the tools described by Lisa Bodell, the founder and CEO of futurethink and the author of Kill the Company.

Playing Kill a Stupid Rule is not only easy, your employees will think it's a hoot. Here's how it works:

1. Gather a group of employees.

Then break them down into two-or three-person teams.  If possible, pair up people from different functional areas.

2. Give the smaller groups 10 minutes to answer one question:

"If you could kill or change all the stupid rules that get in the way of better serving our customers or just doing your job, what would they be and how would you do it?"

3. Then sit back.

And make sure your skin is particularly thick that day, because many of the stupid rules employees will want to kill are your stupid rules.

"At the 10-minute mark the teams will be begging you for more time," Lisa says, "not because they're coming up empty but because 10 minutes isn't nearly enough time to write everything down. So don't stop them. You'll rarely see employees get as engaged during team meetings. Giving them more time shows how serious you are about the exercise, which is important for building your team's trust in you and in the possibility that things will actually change."

4. Ask everyone to write their "favorite" stupid rule on a sticky note.

Then have each place his or her rule on a whiteboard grid that has two axes: Y is ease of implementation, and X is degree of impact.

Your grid will then have four quadrants: Hard to implement with low impact, hard to implement with high impact, easy to implement with low impact, and easy to implement with high impact.

Some people will automatically assume eliminating their favorite stupid rule has tremendous impact even if it doesn't. That's understandable.

5. Talk about the results.

Some of the same rules will show up multiple times. Some will be rules only one person follows. Some won't be formal rules, falling more into the, "But that's how we've always done things," category.

And some won't be rules at all: Meetings just for the sake of meeting, reports that no one reads, multiple sign-offs for purchases or approvals....

6. Let the group pick a few easy to implement/high impact rules--and kill those rules on the spot.

Prove you're willing to listen. Prove you're willing to change.

Prove employee engagement is a verb, not a noun.

7. And don't stop there.

Some rules you can't kill on the spot. A few might require first changes in process or workflow.

No problem. Make the necessary changes; anything you do that streamlines a process and frees up employees to do real work is time well spent. Then let everyone know when those rules are killed. That way you reinforce how seriously you take their input and how important it is to make positive changes.

8. Then keep listening.

When employees know you take their input seriously, you won't need to try to flip the innovation switch by holding brainstorming sessions to solicit ideas.

As long as you're listening and acting on what you hear, your employees will bring great ideas to you.

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Jul 5, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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