Most of the people reading this blog will have active execution ceilings as well as active innovation ceilings. You’ve likely got someone outside your office door telling you that you need to be more creative, that you’ve got to do more to move the needle and innovate.
In addition, you’ve probably got someone else (or the same person, which is even more irritating) reminding you to watch your budget, keep staff numbers down, and mind the conservative board members when you are coming up with new ideas. Hello rock and hard place, nice to meet you!
So what do you do? How do you get free from the Proximity Paradox™ and create the distance you need to reach for your innovation ceiling? Well, you can start by closing your office door (if you are lucky enough to have one). Then you can break the problem down into smaller stages so you might have a semblance of hope in trying to solve it. Because let’s face it, it’s not easy. And we’re not all going to be able to institute Skunk Works teams or Innovation Colonies in our workplaces.
Here are a few ways to separate execution from innovation within your own mind. You’ll feel more in control of the outcome, and you might even get better at wearing each hat.
Acknowledge Your Limitations
The first step in letting your brain change and adapt to two conflicting realities is acknowledging that they exist. This one might sound really simple, but unfortunately, it’s not. Countless marketers I speak with beat themselves up over this – they feel like they are idea killers when they really are quite passionate about good ideas.
They resent the agencies they work with because they are constantly told “No,” and, “That won’t work because…” And, they also feel like they are failing as marketers because they can’t juggle innovation and execution while still feeling creatively fulfilled and getting work out the door efficiently.
If this is you, you are not a bad marketer, you are not an idea killer, and you’re more than capable of coming up with game-changing work that will give your company the ROI it’s after. You can be the person to spearhead creative and marketing evolution in your organization and get everyone else to see the light.
Start practicing this habit: At the outset of a conversation, brainstorm, or meeting, ask the group whether you are having an innovation/creation conversation or an execution/delivery conversation. Share your own expectations with the group. As much as you can, try to separate these two lines of thinking.
To take it one step further, schedule two 30-minute meetings and devote one to innovation and one to execution. You’ll be more effective in two short, focused meetings than one hour-long meeting where you bounce back and forth between the ceilings.
Hold a Disruptor Brainstorm
Once you’ve acknowledged that you are not useless and that your current marketing predicaments are more a symptom of your proximity to the challenge than they are of your own potential, it’s time to try a few things to create some distance between your execution and innovation ceilings.
Try a Disruptor Brainstorm. If you think about disruptors, they rarely come from inside the industry. They have little-to-no marketing experience and brainstorm from very different perspectives. In this exercise, you want to think like a disruptor. Ignore the execution constraints that you’ve wrestled with, dial back your industry knowledge, look at your company at a surface level, and think about the game in a different way. In other words, step back and look at your business not from the perspective of a marketer who already works in it, but instead as an outsider from an entirely different space.
Set aside two hours (even better if it’s three) and gather your team together, ideally in an offsite location. You are going to spend time together brainstorming ways to improve a company just like yours. For the sake of this exercise, it’s better to choose a different name so that you don’t bring the same constraints to the table. If your company is called ACME, change it to BACME for the sake of the exercise.
There are three “what would it look like” scenarios below. Spend 35 minutes blue-sky thinking on each of them. Be willing to challenge your current assumptions, and try to imagine a totally different world in which your hypothetical company exists.
The goal here is not to develop concrete ideas that you can execute tomorrow, but to free your mind and explore the reaches of your innovation ceiling at work.
What would our company look like if:
We got rid of marketing altogether and had to rely on other methods to grow our business?
We marketed and structured ourselves like a totally different industry? For example, if you are a B2B, explore a B2C model and vice versa. Choose an industry before you start brainstorming, and do a bit of research to gain a high-level understanding of how it operates, its markets, operating budgets, etc.
Our marketing budget tripled in size tomorrow and the nay-sayers in the company all said ‘Yes’?
Separate Concept and Execution Teams
On an upcoming project, try separating your team into two group: a Concept Team and an Execution Team. The first group will be responsible for creating the idea or concept for the project. The second group will bring that concept to life. Keep the teams separate until the Concept Team has solidified their idea, otherwise, the Execution Team may raise flags that limit their freedom of thought.
Get the Concept Team to develop an idea that excites them, has few limits and boundaries, and fulfills the project objectives. Make them present the concept to you, and then present it to the Execution Team together. Work with the executors to develop a plan to build and launch the campaign, product, or initiative.
Recognize that some elements of the concept may have to change, but challenge the Execution Team to do their very best to make it work.
For the next project, switch up the teams. Changing responsibilities will keep everyone motivated and fresh. The simple separation of the idea creation and execution functions can help your people recognize their proximity to challenges, give them a chance to create some distance from them, invite more creative thinking within your organization, and significantly improve the quality of your output.