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Reject The Urge to Perpetually Innovate

One of my guilty pleasures is binge-watching South Park.  So many innovation concepts can be gleaned from the show - some of which we will surely discuss at a later date.  For now, the one that seems most relevant is the method used to produce an episode.

Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone write, direct, animate, and do all of the voices for a single episode in only a week.  Some episodes are funnier than others, but all are consistently entertaining even twenty-one seasons later - an eternity in fickle Hollywood. 

So what are they doing right?  

Trey and Matt are using the pressure that comes from constraints to tap deeply into their creativity.  Having a hard deadline forces them to prioritize, minimize, and get shit done.   

Reject the urge to perpetually innovate: tip your scale towards delivering

We’ve all been there as designers and innovators, in a never-ending hunt for a better idea than the one in front of us, or forever iterating on an idea.  We can’t help ourselves.  It’s this curiosity and the near-fanatical search for better and better ideas that make us great innovators.   

But it is also our greatest weakness.  We can get tunnel vision, lose track of the mission at hand, go down idea rabbit holes, or keep adding features to our existing idea.  Meanwhile, the clock is ticking, the cost meter is running, and the practical innovator next door is about to out-innovate you.

This is where the management of innovation as a business methodology becomes important.

1. Use the constraints of time and resources to force brevity and produce.

2. Make sure your design team has an effective leader that can balance the need for innovation against the business’ need to deliver to the customer.

3. For every creative on your team asking, “What if?”,make sure someone else asks, “When?”.

4. Have a clear transition point from ideation to execution.  Once you are in execution, make sure you have the right people (ideally, different from the ideators) in place.  

5. Avoid innovation creep like the bloodsucking, cost-increasing plague that it is.  Resulting delays affect revenue and rob you of the opportunity to hear valuable customer feedback.  You’ll also place yourself at risk for arriving too late to the party, and fall short of offering customers the value they seek.

Take it from Trey and Matt – turning out something that serves your customers is more important than working and reworking an idea til it reaches perfection.

InnovationSean Carney