My vacuum cleaner sucked, badly.

By which I mean, it hardly sucked at all anymore. Years ago when I bought it, it was amazingly strong and picked up everything. Now it could hardly pick up crumbs. Over the years, performance just dropped over time.

I could have bought a new vacuum cleaner (I dread to think of how many people would have done this).

Instead, I got a new filter. To see what was going wrong, I opened it up and saw that the filter had become completely clogged with all of the minute dust and grime you don’t see when you empty the machine.

Now it works again like new.

What does this have to do with innovation and leadership?

Over time, we don’t notice how our own company filters are getting clogged up.

Processes for prioritising work and reviewing progress which a few years ago could easily be done by a single person in a few hours, now take entire teams months to complete?

How can this be?

Because as part of every organisation, there are parts of the process where someone needs to filter. Spend time comparing what is coming their way against what should go through, and stop the rest.

Like a well-oiled innovation pipeline, which allows certain projects to proceed and others need to be removed.

At least, that’s how it should work in theory, or how it worked years ago when the organisation was smaller and the number of things which needed to be reviewed and filtered was 0.1% of what it is now.

As teams and companies grow, the amount of information which needs to be filtered can grow exponentially. This might be because:

  • The team grows, producing more information
  • As the company “matures”, stricter processes are put in place requiring information to be checked and assessed against standards which previously were more relaxed
  • As more work is data and knowledge-based, there is exponentially more information which could be reviewed.

This may result in the process of filtering just taking much longer as the workload increases, or it may sometimes overwhelm the filter to such an extent that it becomes completely clogged and nothing gets through. In situations like this, it can feel like no progress is being made because bureaucracy is too slow, when in fact it might just be that something which previously worked has exceeded its limits.

For innovation projects and idea pipelines, there is also another, potentially worse issue. Some ideas which were attempted to be filtered out just refuse to leave or die! These are often called Zombie ideas, which keep clogging the filter because nobody knows what to do with them, whether they are active or not, or because someone who first suggested them won’t admit that they should stop.

If you have projects like this clogging your filter, it is time to clean them out (which means stopping them permanently).

Are there any other types of filters in business you have come across? How did you unclog them? I look forward to hearing your replies.

Did you know that scientific evidence shows your creativity decreases over time

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Creativity & Innovation expert: I help individuals and companies build their creativity and innovation capabilities, so you can develop the next breakthrough idea which customers love. Chief Editor of and Founder / CEO of Improvides Innovation Consulting. Coach / Speaker / Author / TEDx Speaker / Voted as one of the most influential innovation bloggers.