10 Innovation Lessons From The Economist


Illuminating account by Andrew Carey of lessons learnt in an innovation project carried out at The Economist in 2006 (Project Red Stripe). The article is a good read and the 10 lessons in summary form are:

Lesson 1 – Team Selection: Consider carefully whether it’s better to bring together a team who already know each other, share a common professional language and have skills in common – and then buy-in extra skills as needed. Or do you prefer a broad knowledgebase but allow extra time for team members to get used to each other?

Lesson 2 – Team Selection: Recruiting team members who want to return to their old jobs at the end of the project ensures that you don’t just get people who are bored with their work. But loyal employees are not necessarily the most creative. The angry and disaffected may have some of the best ideas.

Lesson 3 – Crowdsourcing: Think very carefully about who is best placed to identify the best innovation for your organisation. Is it you and your team? Your customers? Experts? Or the world at large?

Lesson 4 – Freedom: Be realistic about how much freedom you can give an innovation team. Otherwise, it may turn into a millstone.

Lesson 5 – Freedom: “Thinking big” is necessary for a major innovation project, especially as it’s notoriously difficult to get people to think outside the box. But giving people the freedom to try and change the world may leave them dazed by the enormity of what they might achieve.


Lesson 6 – Risk: Do a risk assessment. Is the sponsor organization under sufficient pressure to want to run with whatever idea the team comes up with?

Lesson 7 – Teambuilding: The moments in a team’s trajectory when you most need to run team-building exercises (later on, when the team is under extreme pressure) are, almost by definition, the moments when you haven’t got time to run them.

Lesson 8 – Drifting: Drifting aimlessly can be creative, but can also be scary. Participants (and finance directors) may want something more regimented. Rules and guidelines can offer direction or serve as blinders. It may be important to have some clear guidelines in place before the innovation project begins.

Lesson 9 – Consensus: Consider whether you should opt for ideas that excite everybody or simply for ones that command a majority. If you can’t find an idea that excites everybody, for how long should you keep looking?

Lesson 10 – Markets: A deserving market may be motivational, even inspirational. But it doesn’t necessarily make for good business. The team may need guidelines for how to value a commercial priority against an ethical one in business.

Picture credit: Der Spiegel


One Response to 10 Innovation Lessons From The Economist

  1. PM Hut says:

    Crowdsourcing (#3 in your list) is currently a big subject in Project Management.

    I have published a short article on crowdsourcing and project management a while ago, take a look and let me know what you think…

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