Thursday, February 03, 2011

Obstacle to Innovation #2: Practical limitations – “We don’t have the time, staff, budget, etc. to do that”

This is especially true in our industry. Overworked people at health, science, and technology companies of all sizes often push back against suggestions of ideas they might take to improve their brand’s chances of success.

They protest, “I’d really like to do that and I know I should, but I don’t have time.” But what’s the real message? Let’s see what the refrain of “But I don’t have time!” might really mean.

Here are some comments you might hear from the R&D and Brand Managers.

“But I don’t have time to hold a retrospective,” declared the manager of a recently failed product launch when we suggested an N-of-8 to address what went wrong before they launched a follow-on campaign. You could realistically interpret this message as, “We must get started on the next project immediately because it will take us so long to recover from those previous mistakes.”

I know a very successful executive who built his entire career by studying the “lessons learned” repository when taking on a new position, then he charted a course based on the missteps of those who went before. A brand manager who doesn’t have time to peruse the lessons learned has opted instead to suffer with some of the same problems that previous managers have experienced – and risk the same failure.

You might have heard a manager say, “We don’t have time to write a project brief.” This person is relying on a mind meld to substitute for oral and written communication. The translation might be, “We need to start creative development immediately so we have time later to change it.” This never seemed efficient to me.

Now, what about objections you hear from Product and Brand Designers.

“I don’t have time to do a performance feasibility evaluation,” argued the harried industrial designer. What he meant was that he would find plenty of time to re-architect the design later when he couldn’t satisfy the performance requirements. I get nervous when I hear an art director say, “I don’t have time to do a bunch of design concepts. I need to get something out right away!” Amazingly, she’ll always have to make time to reverse-engineer the design and requirements when the clients require a change.

What shall we think when we hear a medical writer say, “But I don’t have time to put this through q.c. right now”? Does the writer believe that he’ll need the time he saves by skipping the proofreading to fix the errors that the editors will ultimately find in his copy? Odds are he’ll need many more hours for re-writing than if he had subjected his copy to the scrutiny of some colleagues before unleashing the clients’ reviewers on it.

And there are more objections you could hear from anyone on the Brand Team.

They may not think you have time to spend on creative process improvement, but everyone wants the benefits of improved innovation that can come from changing the ways we work.

In one seminar I spoke at recently, the audience complained that they were being asked to do more work with fewer people. When I asked what the organization was doing to enable this outcome, the reply was “Nothing.” There’s never a convenient time to take the actions that we believe will pay big dividends. But the inconvenience of later fixes generally comes back with a vengeance. All you’re doing is passing the inconvenience along to the customer, and then back to your organization when the complaints roll in.

To save time and money, you can beef up your creative development practices with N-of-8.  You will be investing in more thorough upfront research, you will be iterating faster on your product and brand designs, and you will be accelerating the review of your ideas.

In essence, you will be doing all those things that people erroneously argue take too much time.

And if someone debates the importance of these N-of-8 activities, you can respond, “But we don’t have time to cut corners.”

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