Shots on Goal: How Ideas in Quantity Can Help Companies to Score Big

By Shawn E. Quinn

In my previous blog this week, we talked about Jim, who was a leader of a large company until it was sold at the end of last year/start of 2012.  He took over a struggling business and through a lot of trial, error, and success, he and many others throughout the organization started to turn things around.  We discussed one action he took to spread good ideas and to help people act in new ways.  Today we will discuss one action he took to enhance the innovation in his company.

I have a colleague named Jeff DeGraff who is an expert in innovation (www.competingvalues.com) and spent some time with Jim’s senior team.  Of the many principles Jeff teaches, and the one that stuck with Jim the most, was the idea of shots on goal.  The more you take, the more goals you are likely to score.  There are many large organizations that focus on a couple of key projects and give large amounts of resources to those projects.  If things don’t go well, they try to fix the project rather than drop it because they have invested so much.  But Jeff took another approach: He encouraged this leadership team to try a lot of things with minimal resources and slowly add resources to the ideas that showed the most promise.  His mantra? Be comfortable with “failure” and letting things go.

I have watched Jeff teach many senior teams this concept.  It seems so simple, but I see very few people implement the idea.  It is interesting to listen to these and other principles on innovation, but people wait for someone else to own innovation in the organization.  Jim told every member of his team that he or she had a few weeks to present their best new idea.  He gave them each $10,000 if needed to help develop the idea.  If any of the ideas showed enough promise, he would give them $100,000 to further proof the idea.

One of the senior team members came up with an idea that would allow people to come into their local office and look at the houses for sale virtually.  They could walk into each room and see exactly what it looked like and what it could look like.  They could move furniture around, change paint color, and do other things to help them determine whether it was the right house for them.  This team member also had the idea that a partner in another state could go into the local office and, through the technology, could be standing in the same virtual room seeing the same things as his or her partner.  Jim didn’t have a lot of resources to work with through IBM consulting or some other large group.  Instead he went and hired gamers, who used current electronic game technology to develop this capability.  These two gamers finished the project in eight weeks and at and within a very reasonable budget.

The size and current economic situation of your company will determine what a reasonable amount of initial spend is.  You could give your company of 20 employees $100 each; or a company the size of GE may give groups $10 million for an initial idea that is interesting.  The amount is less important than starting the process of taking more shots on goal.  The key is to allow people to break free from solely focusing on the day to day and the next quarter and have some time and resource to create future growth and improvement ideas.

What can you do to help your organization or team take more shots on goal?