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Over the last few weeks at work, I’ve had reason to revisit thinking on how to promote innovation – both at a specific event, and over time.  Some people will say that innovation needs to be let to run free like some kind of hippy spirit.  But does it? Is that ‘good’ innovation?

A friend and particularly bright colleague of mine suggested to me that when innovating, people should be continually challenged to verify the collective thinking. The suggestion being: if innovative thinking is too blue sky, it will crash and burn.

This isn’t such a bad idea. Next time you run some kind of ideas generation meeting , perhaps install one person (or several) in a ‘devils-advocate’ role, to challenge everything. No point inventing a ‘robot that can talk and stuff and do everything’. Let them argue about everything, even when to have breaks and lunch.

A related thought therefore is – why bother letting innovation run free? Does it matter if we bound it? I.e. please think about how to improve a letter box, but don’t think about the postal service?  The logic of bounding would seem obvious – you’ll get much more focus on the granular aspects you need and focus people in. On the other hand, if participants aren’t allowed to take their thoughts on a circuitous journey, maybe you won’t get the spark of the next big thing, or just a sideways yet hugely beneficial way to improve letter boxes.

So, new ideas can and should be challenged, broken down and re-assembled. That’s part of the innovation process, but restricting thought in order to try to focus, just isn’t a good idea.