What would we do without systems?

You live in the country and it’s dinnertime. Could you even imagine cooking without an oven or microwave, the systems created to make cooking faster and more convenient?

You live in London and work in the city every day. Could you even imagine getting to work without the tube, the system that was put in place to help you get from point A to point B faster and easier?

Yes, of course, you technically accomplish your task without those systems, but how painful would that be? So why do we resist creating similar systems for innovation?

Let me make the example more pointed and innovation related.

Let’s assume you work for an organization and you have a killer idea you’re excited about. It’s a big one, a leap for your company and your industry. It’s not like anything you’ve done before, but it’s still completely relevant to your business and your customers. So it’s time to get started.

You identify the biggest Death Threats and realize you need to talk to some experts.

But wait, are you allowed to talk to people on the outside of the company? What can you say? Do they have to sign something? Could you get in trouble for this?

You identify the biggest Death Threats and realize you need to get a technology.

But wait, how do you find it? And if you do, what are you supposed to do? Does legal get involved? But what if you just want to talk? Do you have to talk to procurement? What if they want to talk money – how do you do that?

You love the idea, but there are probably others in your company that know more and could help.

But wait, who would that be? How would you find them? What if you don’t even know them and can’t get on their calendar?

At least you know you have something that’s really unique. You’ve heard that it’s important to protect it, so maybe you could start there.

But wait, what would you file? Is that through legal? Would you do a patent or a trade secret? What exactly is a trade secret? Can you even do anything or is that someone else’s job?

Ok, there has to be something you can do quickly. Math! You can build the math model for what it might cost or earn the company.

But wait, what do we normally get? How much of your target group can you reach? How much do you sell of related things? How would you find out?

Alright then, feedback. I could at least get some feedback from customers to see what they’d think of my idea.

Oh now wait a second. I’m pretty sure that’s a definite no-no. Where would you get those customers? What if they don’t like it and you tarnish the company’s good name?

As you get going, you realize that even though you’re excited about the idea, the wind has officially gone out of your sails. Forget the idea being hard. Just getting through the mire of your own organization is nearly impossible!

If you really want to get innovation going in your organization, you have to do more than just help create ideas. If you REALLY want everyone to be enabled to do it, you have to grease the wheels.

If you want to SHIP innovation, and do it quickly with less resources, then you have to build systems to help.

You need collaboration systems that make it effortless for people to reach out to others in the organization. Plus to set up entities outside the organization that can help and that don’t require strings and signatures to get even the simplest thing done.

You need clear intellectual property systems for how to handle it, how to get it, what to do with it.

You need clear research systems that make it fast and easy for people to get feedback on ideas. Plus completely transparency on finances so staff can make fast calculations on ideas.

You need clear management systems so you can quickly move your idea forward and you know the next steps and key milestones you should hit.

You need great education systems so people know how to do innovation and use all the inter-related systems to help them.

Because, you see, SYSTEMS enable us to do more with less.

But the work of putting them together is tireless and never easy. When we talk to companies about building these systems, immediately eyes avert and no one wants to take up the charge. The job is fraught with frustration, bureaucracy, plenty of experimentation and often very little glory. But once the system is built, imagine the things you can do to get those cool ideas shipped even faster.

So today, let’s give a little glory to those system visionaries that made such a different for us.

Props to Percy Spencer, inventor of the Microwave oven, for creating the system that enables microwave popcorn. (P.S. If you haven’t read about Percy’s journey, it’s worth some reading.)

Props to Charles Pearson and his ‘trains in drains’ vision that led to the Underground in London that carries millions of people a day across 253 miles of passageway.

And props to you if you carry on to work on the systems that can enable your company citizens to easily make those killer products, services and ideas a reality.