I recently made a short guest appearance on the Thriving At The Crossroads podcast. Hostess with the Mostest Amber Christian set the table with some great questions for me and Scott Jancy. Transcribed below, for better or for worse, is everything that tumbled out of my mouth.
AMBER: I have Paul Modderman with me, technology evangelist and author. If you haven’t read any of his stuff, you should go follow him on LinkedIn. I think you’d really enjoy it. Paul, tell us today, what one question do you ask yourself to spark innovation on a new project?
PAUL: Here’s what I do, and I wish I could remember to do this every time, but whenever we get the chance to actually sit down and do this, here’s the thing that gets that innovation actually happening. I ask people, if you had no constraints whatsoever, time wasn’t an issue, money wasn’t an issue, technology wasn’t an issue, how would you accomplish this thing you’re trying to do? What that does is I think it clears barriers to people thinking creatively about what they’re trying to do in their project. I’ve been there, I’ve totally been there. I’ve worked at a big company. I know how it can feel like it’s not your job to be creative, it’s your job to get your stuff done. Having the encouragement to be creative and think without practical limits, I think it gets people moving on actually being creative.
A lot of times, here’s what happens, I ask the question and then people fumble around a little bit and then somebody, and sometimes it’s me, but somebody will say something that’s actually off the wall creative and crazy. What happens then is other people feel encouraged to do the same thing. All of a sudden, you’ve got weirdo, random ideas flying around and stuff going on. Then in the middle of that, there are actual good ideas being laid out. You won’t think so because it’ll sound crazy in the moment, but they land on the table and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, that’s the perfect thing right there.”
Let me give you an example. I was working with a customer, a big huge commodities company, and they have a mining division. We were working with them on how we can help some of the folks who works deep, deep underground in the mines do things to enhance how they report problems with their mining equipment, because there’s ton of equipment down there. We were ideating the stuff and one idea flew out and the guy said, “If I just had a copy of SAP in everybody’s pocket this wouldn’t be a problem, right?”
To him it sounded absurd to say that because we were in that absurd idea phase. But given some of the newer technologies out there and what we can do with them, that whole thing is not as crazy as you thought it was. Because we can do things like offline data in the apps and have copies of all their different materials and equipment that’s on the phone. Even if these guys down the mine are not within a mile of a WiFi axis point, they can actually still do the work because the data is on their device. The guy had the chance to drop a crazy thing out there and then we actually got 85% of the way to his crazy thing with a real thing and then poof, great solution. It was just clearing creativity barriers from people I think is the value of asking that question.