Tortoise and hare

The Tortoise and the Hare in Innovation – Go Slow to Go Fast

The Tortoise Award for Innovator of the Year - The benefit of a go slow to go fast approach!

Aesop’s fable of the Tortoise and the Hare is well known from our childhood. The braggartly Hare spent his time gloating about how fast he was until the Tortoise finally had enough and challenged him to a race. Laughing at the slow Tortoise the Hare happily accepted the challenge. When the race started the Hare sped off and looking back yelled: “How do you expect to win this race when you are walking along at your slow, slow pace?”

As we remember the Hare found himself so far ahead that he stopped to rest and take a nap and fell asleep. Slowly and steadily the Tortoise continued in the race and won the day while the Hare was caught napping.

It’s a familiar story, but for some reason we seem to have forgotten the message when it comes to business and in particular Innovation. The moral that Aesop shared was “Don’t brag about your lightning pace, for Slow and Steady won the race!”.

Ready… Fire… Aim!

Having worked with close to a hundred companies on their Innovation approach I have regularly seen the “more / faster” approach to Innovation as the default. After all, Innovation is supposed to be fast and agile right?

One of the problems with the “more / faster” approach is that companies fail to understand the foundation required to create sustained success in Innovation. In most cases “more / faster” results in confusion and an uncoordinated approach to the work. Ready… Fire… Aim!

I think Monty Python actually captured the result of racing ahead without a sense of direction in their skit:

As hard as it is for many Entrepreneurs or corporate leaders to accept, it is critical to go slow to go fast when you are introducing major Innovation programs (or any cultural change).

Go Slow to Go Fast

Before you start innovating you first need to make some foundational decisions and spend some time communicating with your organization. Building the story of your Innovation approach and clearly articulating it across your organization, engaging the right people in your Innovation activities, and aligning the culture to accept failure and trial and error builds the critical foundation required to be successful in Innovation.

Let’s break those components apart quickly:

The Innovation Story

Before you can start to be innovative you need to decide why it is important to your organization. As Simon Sinek outlined in his TED Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”, you need to Start With Why.

Creating a compelling story for your Innovation approach and aligning it clearly to the organizational strategy allows everyone to quickly understand what is meant by Innovation at your organization. They know what fits and what doesn’t and the general frame for your approach.

If you tell a compelling story you create alignment and avoid the Monty Python effect.

Engage The Right People

In “Good to Great“, Jim Collins makes a clear argument for why having the right people on the bus in your organization is critical to business success. The same principle applies to your core Innovation team. Aligning the right mix of people to your Innovation efforts creates an environment where:

  • Creative tension rules the day
  • Diverse experience and lenses are brought to every problem
  • Unique tools and approaches can be applied
  • People can be constructively uncomfortable in the work

I have shared my thoughts on building a diverse team in the past in “The Art of Thinking Independently Together” and those thoughts are most critical when you think about Innovation. Building a team that challenges each other, has unique backgrounds, has experience from diverse industries, and who range in experience with the company creates a healthy tension around the aligned goal. This discomfort significantly increases your chances to discover great new ideas.

Finally, look for ways to engage the entire organization and keep them aware of your Innovation efforts. Ideas often come from unexpected places so keeping the entire team engaged will maximize your chances of success.

Accept failure

This is the most difficult one for most of the leaders I have worked with to accept. Most try to find positive terms to spin failure into something less negative. It is uncomfortable to tell people that failure is OK because they have always worked with success as the goal.

The challenge is real, but in my opinion there are two different types of failure as I outlined in “fail to Avoid Failure“. Little-f failure is the good kind that you want to encourage in the organization. In fact, making small bets that might not work out to learn new things is critical to being innovative. By creating a culture that accepts and learns from little-f failure every day, you reduce your chances of BIG-F Failures. As an added benefit that “fail to Avoid Failure” approach will spread to all areas of your business!

Accept failure. Embrace failure. Avoid Failure.

A Strong Foundation Creates Speed Later – Go Slow to Go Fast

If you take the time at the beginning of your Innovation journey to build a strong foundation you will find that you have a much better ability to accelerate your efforts later. While your competitors are running fast in many directions and generating very little Innovation Value, you will slowly and steadily pass them and leave them in your dust.

As Aesop so clearly pointed out:

Slow and Steady Wins The Race

About Tim Empringham, MBA
Tim Empringham is a passionate advocate for Innovation in organizations of all sizes as a mechanism to drive growth, create uncontested market space, create new customer value, and drive efficiency into the internal organization. His focus is on disruption of thinking and markets through integrative thinking, structured Innovation frameworks, and leadership development of Innovation and Change leaders within the organization.

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