1904. The World Fair. St Louis, Missouri.
Syrian immigrant Ernest Hamwi is selling zalabias (hot, round, Persian waffles). It’s a hot day so nobody is buying.
A few meters from his stall, Arnold Fornachou, the ice cream man, is doing a roaring trade – so much so that he is running out of tubs.
Ernest notices Arnold’s problem. He takes his now warm, unsold, hardening waffles, slits them, rolls them into cones and sells them to Arnold as containers.
The ice cream cone is born.
Within 10 years, a third of all ice cream sold globally comes in a cone. Hamwi not only survives; he creates a new category.
The lesson from this story is not that Ernest had a genius idea. Many people have genius ideas. The lesson is that Ernest did something with his idea. In the words of advertising giant David Ogilvy, Ernest demonstrated that innovation is not invention. It is “applied imagination”. Innovation is the process of bringing ideas to life by turning them into something that creates value.
In honour of Ernest I like to call to use the acronym ICE to describe the process of moving from Idea generation to Creation and Execution.
The question is how do you stay alive in a rodeo that needs you to ride these three wild horses at once?
The answer can be summed up in two words: Collaboration and leadership.
In most businesses the ICE elements have been carved out between different functions. R&D takes care of ideas. Marketing packages them into products and services. Production executes. Given value is only realized when they come together and you to have to make your divisions add up. That’s collaboration.
Even if you are lucky enough to work for a start up or a small team with responsibility for the three elements of ICE there are three reasons you will still require collaboration:
The best ideas come from the reconfiguration of other ideas. They come from scanning the environment and rethinking the world. They come from witnessing and experiencing the frustration of other people. They come from the relationships you have that enable you to discover new possibilities. That’s collaboration.
Creating a product or a service is about being able to draw on all available resources to balance the needs of your stakeholders inside and outside your organisation (customers/clients, suppliers, employees and the financial community). Co-creation is collaboration.
Flawless execution relies on the alignment of your people and processes in a way that avoids the pitfalls of marrying, what management author Art Kleiner famously called, the culture of hype of a sales function and the culture of craft of the production function. That’s collaboration.
The mistake is to imagine that all these things happen by magic or luck. They don’t. Collaboration happens when leaders create the conditions for it to emerge. That’s why leadership matters. So whether you are an entrepreneur, an intrapreneur or just someone with an idea, ICE demands that you see yourself as a leader.
Your job as a leader of innovation is to help your team answer three questions.
Where is collaboration appropriate? You need to help others identify the opportunity for collaboration. You need to be clear about where collaboration is important and where it is a waste of time. To simply say “you need to collaborate more” can lead to paralysis. It can quickly become a waste of time and resources. If you are clear on the collaborative vision others will be clear on the collaborative mission.
Are we ready to collaborate? If it is appropriate then how do you do it? Do you have the tools and processes necessary to collaborate? Does everyone know what is expected of them in the effort as well as the expectations around quality and speed.
Are we predisposed to collaborate? Do your people share their value or do they fear that by doing so they will have to share the rewards? Do they believe that if you want to do it well and fast you have to do it yourself, or do they know that you can go faster as well as further when you collaborate appropriately? It is only when you create a culture where people are open about their fears that you will get a culture where people are open about sharing their value.
Your job is to craft the culture that will result in an intuitive understanding of when and how collaboration adds value so that you both optimise each of the elements of ICE as well as the way they work with each other.
If you want to innovate you will need to discipline collaboration. This means that if you want to innovate you will need to lead.
Written by Emmanuel Gobillot
Emmanuel is one of Europe’s most sought after speakers, best selling author and consultant on leadership and organisation effectiveness. His latest book ‘Disciplined Collaboration’ published by Urbane is available now.