The Three C's of Innovation

The Three C's of InnovationDuring the monthly sales meeting, Arnold, a new Business Development Executive and something of a gadget freak suggested: “you know those hand-held devices the delivery people at UPS use to confirm receipt of your parcel? Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a device like that so we could take clients’ orders immediately and send them to production people? It would make it so much easier to make orders, there would be fewer mistakes and production could begin sooner!”

Steven, the Sales Manager smiled. He was used to outrageous ideas from the sales people. “Do you have any idea how much it would cost to equip the entire sales team with gadgets like that? Not to mention install the infrastructure for taking orders!?”

In less than a minute, Steven has not only rejected Arnold’s idea, but has also ridiculed it in public. Steven has sent a very clear message to Arnold and his colleagues: this sales manager is not open to new ideas.

Yet, the scene described is highly commonplace and almost every creative thinker who has been employed in a medium to large firm has doubtless experienced it. Many of us, if pushed, will even shamefacedly admit to having been in Steven’s place

Ironically, people like Steven work in companies that describe themselves as innovative and people like Steven often believe they are supportive of creative thinkers. But a couple of criticisms like the one described and the salespeople will be well trained to keep their creative ideas to themselves. So much for creativity and innovation!

How might Steven have handled the same situation better – and been more receptive to ideas? He could use an approach I call the “Three Cs”: Consider, Compliment, Challenge.

First C: Consider

In the example, Steven did not really stop to think about the idea suggested by Arnold. He gave it a quick analysis, found a flaw and rejected the idea. Such thinking, I believe, is partly the result of too many managers going through MBA courses which train students to be overly analytical and risk averse.

But analyzing is not the same as considering an idea. The latter involves envisioning the implementation of the idea and how it might work. Analyzing is more of a score-sheet which gives a pass-fail mark. And if it fails, it fails.

Second C: Compliment

Compliments are wonderful things! I try to use them all the time. Compliments make people feel good about themselves and what they are doing. Compliments motivate people to continue to be deserving of the compliment. As a manager, I prefer people to act in the hope of being complimented rather than in fear of being criticized.

Having considered the idea, the manager should compliment it. Ideally, the consideration will generate the compliment. In the case above, “I’m glad you are looking at ways to make the sales process more efficient” would be a good, relevant compliment. But, if nothing else, saying: “that’s a good idea.” or “it’s good you are thinking creatively” are useful standbys.

Third C: Challenge

Having considered an idea and complimented it, the final step is for the manager to challenge the idea suggester to improve the idea. In particular, the manager should look at the issue that wants to trigger criticism. In the example above, it would be the cost of implementing the idea. Then twist that problem into a creative challenge.

In Steven’s case, a far more effective response would be to think for a moment and then say: “Thanks, Arnold. That’s a terrific idea and I especially like the fact you are looking at ways to streamline the ordering process. But, the cost of custom making hand-held devices for a relatively small team like ours would probably be way too high. Can you think of ways we might accomplish the same thing but with a reasonable budget?”

In this second scenario, Steven has complimented Arnold in front of his colleagues, has indicated to everyone in the meeting that he is open to ideas and has challenged Arnold to think about his idea in more detail and solve problems that might prevent its implementation.

In a group environment, the Sales Manager might even invite everyone in the room to think about the challenge. And by starting the discussion on a positive note, the manager encourages team members also to take a more positive approach.

Of course, Arnold might find that there is not a viable solution or he may simply not be motivated enough about the idea to take it further. But even if that is the case, he has been motivated to continue being creative. And that is critical for companies that claim to be innnovative.

The Three-Cs is a simple, yet remarkably powerful method of establishing an innovation friendly environment in any organization. Indeed, I have over the years delivered this as a short workshop or a component of a larger training event on several occasions – and the results have always been impressive.

What else are they saying about 'Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire'

Jeffrey BaumgartnerJeffrey Baumgartner is the founder of, makers of Jenni innovation process management software. He also edits Report 103, a popular eJournal on business innovation. Contact Jeffrey at or visit

Jeffrey Baumgartner




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No Comments

  1. Rob on September 19, 2011 at 9:31 am

    Hmm. A hand held device. I bet he has one. It’s called a smart phone, it’s own little wi-fi hotspot. Oder goes in on the phone, as an -email, to the production process and/or sales computer.

    I work construction, and my mind says these tools are cheap. We have 8 guys. I haven’t examined the cost closely, but if the boss equipped everyone with this tool a couple of things would emerge. First, when a carpenter runs into a problem, they can either phjoto or video the problem area and and send it to the necessary recipient. All at once. Not flowing up the chain of redundancy as it were. Me – supe – project manager – back to supe- back to me. The up-side to this is that it could save the supers from having to drive around putting out fires when they can look at it and respond from where they are. Also, it adds a layer of information, I can see the problem. I can send what I see instead of necessarily counting on a verbal description of the problem.

    Secondly, it adds a layer of connectivity. Instead of the administrator having to call every guy on the crew to make sure they get their time cards in on Friday instead of Monday, one over the net e-mail covers that problem. Information then that needs to flow down can flow to all over one system as opposed to the several we need to access right now.

    Third, it makes sure that every one has an ability to make an emergency call. I had to buy my own phone for that, which is still the case. My caveat with this is that most smart phones I have seen could not take what many carpenters dish out unless we innovate a new way to carry them.

    In the article example, the sales guy would need to send it to the sales manager, who would likely send it to production after reviewing it. So another “C” would be culture, in that the sales manager feels his turf threatened and that’s really his objection. Another “C” that the sales agent mentioned is “customer.” Yes, it will cost some install a system capable of reading the device, but the office better well be computerized by now anyway! But what cost is customer service? “I told him what I wanted, he pulled out his phone, and 10 minutes later he gave me the date on which he was told it would be shipped and arrive here.”

    Thanks fore the article! Great ideas!

  2. Jeffrey Baumgartner on September 19, 2011 at 10:22 am

    Hi Rob,

    Thanks for the feedback and the excellent example of applying a similar idea in your own profession!

    All the best,


  3. Terry Wilcox on September 21, 2011 at 1:12 am

    Did this for a sales team over 15 years ago before smart phones were even invented .. some sales guys absolutely loved it and really used them to increase their customer service levels; some hated them and continued to use order pads keying their orders in late at night when the got home. Now its standard stuff.

    The important thing is that Innovation is just one element of evolution and needs to be viewed as such -part of a bigger picture.

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