Top Down Versus Bottom Up Innovation

Innovation at work happens differently depending on which direction you’re approaching it from. 

If you want to innovate on how you drive sales, talk to your best sales people and focus on what they do (not just what they say they do, they’re sales people after all). 

If you want to innovate on how you execute on the post-sale process, talk to your best operations people and ask what and how their work could be made more efficient. 

In the words of Stephen Denning, 

Innovation that happens from the top down tends to be orderly but dumb. Innovation that happens from the bottom up tends to be chaotic but smart. 

The successful salespeople are doing obvious networking/communicating things we can observe and leverage. The innovation will seem so obvious its dumb, and the execution can be orderly (or in many cases, more orderly at least).  

The successful operations people are doing highly technical firefighting. Their innovation will be way smarter because there is information and shortcuts only they know. To an outsider it will appear chaotic, but to them, they hold the keys for how to fix the gears inside the clock IF we can get them talking in a bigger picture.