Unfailing innovation at SXSW Ignite

By Gigi Kalaher

A few weeks ago, I did something that was new, exciting, and a little uncomfortable. And no, I’m not talking about the tiny house that I stayed in while I was in Austin.

I’m referring to the talk I gave at SXSW. I spoke on an Ignite panel called “By Design.” In Ignite, each speaker has 5 minutes to deliver 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds. It was no easy feat to communicate something meaningful in that time, and there was so much I wanted to say.

Since I’ve worked in three design firms (as an embed at IDEO and as an employee of both gravitytank and frog), as well as at three corporate innovation efforts (the T-Mobile Creation Center, the Bank of American Center for Future Banking, and now Fidelity Labs) I’ve seen a lot that works well and also a fair share of failure.

As I edited my talk to fit within 5 minutes, I had a guiding principle. I thought, “If I had to leave my job at Fidelity Labs today, what would I tell people to watch out for? What are the most important signals that your innovation efforts are on the wrong track?”

There’s a lot out there about success enablers and blockers. What did I have to add to that conversation? I was thinking about the space in between those two ends of the innovation spectrum. In other words, is there a way to tell early enough that you are on the road to failure that you can do something about it?

Admiration Stagnation

Admiration stagnation occurs when you don’t hear about or have crushes on other people’s work.

The causes of this and the other signals can vary. You could have admiration stagnation because people aren’t really producing anything special. Or it could be because you have a ton of people with gigantic egos who don’t think anything someone else makes is worthy. Regardless of the cause, this signal is important because if you don’t have people who get excited by the work around them, they aren’t going to push each other and collaborate to make something special or market-changing.

Tryout Dieout

Tryout dieout is when you don’t have a culture that encourages active experimenting. Instead, your company focuses on explaining ideas or getting everyone to agree before trying something out. If you’re not experimenting freely, you aren’t going to develop the muscles to take bigger risks.

High Dry

If you have a lack of adrenaline hits at work, you’re high dry. If your emotional highs are too spaced out or not big enough, your innovation effort is going to feel like a grind instead of a startup.

Scattered plots

Scattered plots refers to having radically different narratives about what is happening with your projects. If your team doesn’t have a common thread in the stories you tell yourselves and others, you’re not in the same reality enough to make something great.

Having one or even all of these signals does not mean you are doomed to fail. It just means there are things you need to address personally and systemically to keep yourself from that path. These flags are the first step to turning things around and heading back toward success.