Originally published on MichiganRadio.org

The creative, the visionary, and the just plain out there.

That’s the goal of Michigan Radio’s new project, The Next Idea.

The on-air and online project will focus on creativity and innovation and ideas to move Michigan forward.

We’ll be featuring this project here on Stateside and we will look to you and ask for your ideas.

Here to tell us more is the Next Idea’s executive producer Joe Linstroth, and Jeff DeGraff, a clinical professor of Management and Organization at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.

Listen to our conversation with Linstroth and DeGraff below:

DeGraff says, to him, innovation means having the ability to make something better and new. He’s interested in seeing how people make an inquiry into problems.

Linstroth, talking about The Next Idea, says what he’s looking for are people with ideas – people with the passion and ideas to change the status quo.

The big question for Linstroth and DeGraff is “How do we move the state forward?”

It’s a question Linstroth says needs to be broken down into more manageable sections.

For help, the project will recruit contributors from across the state and from a variety of backgrounds –including from big corporations and academia, incubators and non-profits — simply anywhere someone has a potentially revolutionary new idea to make Michigan a better place to live and work.

Linstroth and DeGraff say they plan on rolling out the project in the beginning of December.


The biggest myth about innovation is that it is done only by geniuses who work alone. The truth is that innovation happens when ordinary people learn to work together. The key is to find individuals who don’t think like you, who can fill in your blind spots and make up for your weaknesses.

In order to encourage effective collaboration within your organization, you need to find people who are good talent-scouts. These are the teachers, coaches, and connectors in your world–the people who have a natural eye for talent, who have the skill of finding and nurturing creativity. They know who needs to sit next to whom when it comes to building effective teams.

Talent-scouting takes time. It is a long-term kind of growth that emphasizes the cultivation of new knowledge and the building of a dynamic organizational culture. If you’re looking for systematic, reliable outcomes or guaranteed short-term payoffs, then talent-scouting is not for you. The pace of talent-scouting is unpredictable. But once you do assemble a diverse team of high-performers, the culture you establish will be sustainable into the future.

Talent-scouting can help you achieve any of these desired outcomes:

  • Finding, developing, and retaining the best people
  • Establishing a set of shared values
  • Creating a collaborative work environment where people are encouraged to learn from their mistakes

Before you bring in the right people, determine your needs: assess the strengths and gaps represented by your current team. Then, start looking for people who:

  • Work in an environment with values like yours
  • Have successfully been a member of another group or team
  • Have had to teach others how to do what they do well
  • Are currently customers who are passionate about your products or services

Next, test for the right abilities: as part of the evaluation process, ask each candidate to spend some time working or meeting with the team. Be sure to orient your new hires adequately. This means apprenticing them to advisers who exemplify your company’s values and practices.

Give your new hires slack in terms of time, space, resources, and the opportunity to improvise. The goal is to encourage them to cross boundaries. Promote risk-taking and avoid imposing control structures that deny high-potential hires the experiences they need to grow. Remember that the most essential people on your team are not the best innovators–they’re the people who know the best innovators and know how to bring them in.


designThe fastest way to build something is to deconstruct it. Think about all those companies that produce complicated things on an insanely large scale: Toyota, McDonalds, Boeing. If you want to build enough cars to move the entire world or sell a trillion burgers or create an aircraft with millions of moving components, you need to first prototype the final product and then systematically divide it into its individual pieces. If you look at each part separately, you can develop a product faster and more flexibility. I call this process modular design and development: breaking down complex systems into parts that can be developed and tested independently.

This strategy works best on products or processes that are highly complex and contain identifiable subsystems. For example, think of the intricacies of a new surgical methodology or the construction of a eco-tech water filtration system. It also works best in situations of high volume or scope–when you want to take your product or service to scale.

Modular design and development can help lead you to any of these desired outcomes:

  • Methodical development of products and services with reduced risk
  • Outlining of clear methods for designing quality
  • Adapting and customizing products or services to keep up with a changing marketplace
  • Reducing wasted effort by avoiding reactive behaviors

Modular design and development is not about radical innovation. It’s about efficiency and reliability. It’s excellent for those who desire incremental innovation, essentially building off existing sciences, technologies, or systems. Testing early and often is crucial to eliminating bugs on individual pieces before they are integrated. With this technique, you can experiment with numerous variations to find the optimal design with the lowest risk.

Be methodical when you perform modular design and development:

  • First, clearly define the current specifications of the product.
  • Next, create concrete standards for development.
  • Then, estimate and assign time and resources.
  • Build prototypes, models, simulations, and proofs of concept.
  • Identify and communicate lessons learned from experimenting with these variations.
  • Finally, return to the first step and begin the next iteration of the product.

The goal is not to avoid failure but to accelerate the failure cycle with low risk of impact. Most early simulations and prototypes will inevitably fail. But these will move you closer and faster toward the product that will work.

Jeff’s Books