Imagine an awards ceremony where your long-winded award acceptance speech is punctuated with repeated “requests from Miss. Sweetie Poo: "Please stop. I'm bored.” This is one of the running jokes at the Ig Nobel awards.
Ig Noble is a parody of Nobel prize honoring improbable, unusual and trivial research. They are awarded to research that first make you laugh and then make you think. These awards have been around for almost three decades. Most participants are apparently more than ready to go all the way to Harvard to accept this honor. The absurdities make you smile, and they make you wonder about the possibilities.
Trivial research often leads to breakthroughs. In fact, Andre Geim who won the Ig Nobel went on to win the Nobel prize in Physics in 2010.
Maybe there is a thing or two we can learn from Ig Noble.
The right kind of crazy
By thinking differently, you create a climate for innovation.
Companies are typically interested in running their day-to-day activities to yield profits for the short term. Balancing routine operations with disruptive, sustainable changes can be tricky. But change being the norm of business, management is necessarily integrating a well-designed innovation portfolio into their business models.
If there is one precondition for innovation to be successful, then it is being open to the unorthodox. A lively imagination is no longer seen as a flaw. When you revere Einstein, then you should pay heed to what he said as well: “You can recognize a great idea by the fact that it seems impossible to realize.” It is time to stop categorizing and letting skewed perceptions bias you. To be a true innovator, you need to shed “old think” and bin embedded beliefs. People may have laughed at Gary Dahl when he sold rocks to people as pets, with an instruction booklet, but in 1975, he was a millionaire. (“I am in love with my Pet Rock.”)
· Fail your way to success is the key takeaway from most famous innovation stories. Think Lego and Haier. Letting your employees know that daring to dream is the first step. For example, Indian giant, Tata Group, awards the best-failed idea every year. “The category recognizes and rewards novel, daring and seriously attempted ideas that did not achieve the desired results,” said an official from the conglomerate in an interview with The Hindu Business Line in 2014. This a great lesson for any business. If an idea fails, go back to the drawing board. But to spark innovation, being risk-averse isn’t going to work.
Not giving into the herd mentality could be just what the doctor ordered. Instead of groupthink which kills innovation, think collective intelligence. Trying to achieve consensus and minimize conflict don’t always make the best business decisions. Huddling around the status quo will lead to a scary lack of responsiveness to changes. So, what’s in an innovator’s DNA? Sure, the genetic endowment may have a huge role to play, but what about the environment that subtly molds you? You must think differently and seize opportunities. Dealing with tremendous opposition from a thriving group of naysayers is never going to be easy. Did you know that the ubiquitous Automatic Teller Machine is a result of a few Citibank employees thinking differently about long queues at the teller window in the 1970s?
“Good ideas are always crazy, until they are not”
You aren’t going to be the one to contradict Larry Page now, right?
A year ago, at a Los Angeles Venture Association meeting, Salman Ullah, Google's director of corporate development, said, “Google looks for ideas that are ‘really crazy’ when sizing up potential purchases. We look at everything very carefully. The really crazy ones do really well.” He added, “The crazy ones mean they ignore the usual restraints of investment levels required or design parameters or ‘Gee I need more servers than anyone ever thought was possible’. When you free yourselves from these constraints, you create crazy, cool things.”
Although every company may not be able to be so laissez-faire while deciding to invest resources in unconventional ideas, it is imperative that they give them a fair hearing. Let your employees think inside the box; constraints will fuel innovation like nothing else. You’ll see those who scoff at the impossibility of a situation strikeout, while the determined ones often score a home run. At the ideation stage of innovation, there is no bad idea or criticism, and there is no validation until you get to the execution stage.
Believe that no idea is too crazy, consider failure as a stepping stone to better times, and dare to dream!