In recent posts, we’ve been talking about how our knowledge transfer tools can help innovators be more creative and present their ideas in a way that helps them be truly heard. Another one of the skills of innovation is providing feedback or critique to somebody else’s idea. For example, many of us hire new blood into our organizations to bring their perspective. But when they do, well, let’s just say there are ways to do that well, and ways to do that very, very badly. For example, sometimes, we ask existing employees to critique each other when that wasn’t part of the culture before.

One of our clients, a global footwear manufacturer, wanted their footwear developers to do just that. These were 15-25 year veterans whose job function hinged on headquarters sending them a design for a prototype. Their job was to simply and faithfully execute the prototype. What headquarters now wanted them to do was to have an opinion about whether that prototype was manufacturable at a reasonable price.

These employees were now told, “Don’t just send back what they asked for. Instead say, ‘Well, if you made this minor modification, we could save 10 cents a shoe in manufacturing costs.’” That was an example of how they could participate in innovation. Sometimes innovation isn’t about having a new idea, it’s being creative about improving on somebody else’s idea.

You could imagine that the 20 Test Questions would really help with that. For example, if the skill is to “Give feedback on a design before prototyping it,” then the apprentice could learn how to do this by asking some of the test questions:


Test Question #3: The top 3 things that often go wrong when someone is learning this skill.

The answer might include timing the feedback. Picking up the phone rather than sending an email. Providing metrics to back up an opinion, or getting a second opinion to validate the feedback before sending. Each could make a huge difference in how well the feedback was received.


Test Question #8: How to identify and define a “problem” vs. a “crisis” in this area.

This could be guidance when you have to give feedback (an expensive looking “crisis” in the design) versus when you might give feedback, (a small “problem” in the design or one that is more of an opinion). This could provide an impetus for a shy or reluctant developer to speak up.


Test Question #13: How to recognize quality work.

Sometimes the feedback can be in the form of education. With 20 years’ experience manufacturing shoes, the feedback could be guidance on how to design with a quality product (not just a pretty product) in mind.


Test Question #19:  What is the relevant history of the topic?

Innovation often happens because the innovator is not held back by history, but that doesn’t mean history isn’t important. Twenty years of experience can often be used to give very helpful feedback

Summary: Giving and receiving feedback is critical to a culture of innovation, and there is much to be learned about how to do it. Deconstructing the way well-regarded people provide feedback can take the mystery out for everyone else and make the whole process much more practical and comfortable for all involved.