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Give your team a compass, not a map

Creativity and Innovation

I just had a great discussion with Kaiser Yang (look out for the upcoming podcast interview), and he told me about the value of compasses for innovation teams.

As a leader, sometimes you may encounter team members who look to you for the exact answers. They are effectively waiting for you to tell them exactly what they should do, and are afraid of doing things on their own without your permission.

Much like they do not know where to go, and they want you to give them a map which shows them exactly which route to take.

Unfortunately, you will not be able to give them an exact answer.

Nobody knows exactly what to do next in an innovation project, because often the end goal is still being developed, or it might even change throughout the journey.

Instead, as a leader you should learn how to give your team a compass.

A tool which shows them in which direction you should all go, and then have the permission to go on the journey themselves.

They can then use the compass to see if they are on the right track or not.

This allows all teams involved in the innovation process to work proactively and independently, and prevent situations where everything needs to be discussed and decided by committee.

What is a good example of an innovation project compass?

I would say that a compass can be as simple as a single page document which describes the following:

  • What is the specific aim for the innovation project (is it to solve a specific named challenge / deliver a specific outcome…?)
  • How does this fit into the overall innovation strategy and which criteria are the goals for success?
  • How and how often will progress be validated?
  • Which member of the team has which responsibilities?

If you can communicate these points, then each member of the team, and entire teams, can use it as a compass to judge their own work as part of the journey.

After all, the first explorers also only had a compass when they were venturing to places where no maps existed yet.

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