Are you staying competitive in these times of change, do you have an innovation culture?
Innovation Doesn’t Work Here
[box style="quote"]INNOVATION DISTINGUISHES BETWEEN A LEADER AND A FOLLOWER.
-Steve Jobs, Apple, Inc.[/box]
Innovation holds the promise of kick starting the economy, creating jobs, wealth and delivering economic growth. In this tough economic times governments and organisations focus their attention on the need to innovate but there seems to be a disconnect between strategy and implementation. Despite a raft of books on open innovation, design thinking, idea management…which all point the way to innovation as a practice; organisations are floundering at making it a core part of their strategy.
Innovating is a problem; trying to make it a process within the structure, culture and practice of normal operations seems to fail; trying to ‘manufacture’ it doesn’t work. Innovation isn’t a simple thing – it doesn’t just happen; it needs to be cultivated and given priority.
So What Are the Problems
Many of the problems stem from how innovation is approached: it is often seen as a strategic quick fix rather than a focus on developing a long term capability. Some of the problems:
- The organisation is aligned to serving the shareholders and so the regular focus is on achieving the results (short term).
- Hierarchical management (control and top down management practices) produce siloed and protective behaviours e.g. if challenged on improving people will defend their area of responsibility
- The culture and drive is that of the machine: efficiency, process, policies, plans, targets – as opposed to innovate, create, think, lead, change, ideas, opportunities
- The paradigm of fitting innovation into the round hole of the existing strategy – the existing strategy might be an obstacle in itself.
- Innovation is given the same boundaries and is managed the same way as the rest of the business (see above)- “innovation factory” – not surprising innovation efforts do not get off the ground.
- Emphasis is placed on one person with limited resources – even if this is at senior management level they will be isolated (others fear an idea could change, structures, change positions or cannibalize existing revenue streams as part of an innovation).
- Innovation is not fed – ideas are produced without any customer insight or customer understanding e.g. sitting in a room and being told to come up with ideas in a two hour session with no preparation or information provided (sound familiar!).
Do We Need To Be Creative Or Innovative?
While creativity on its own does not lead to innovation, it is the seed from which ideas grow, and whilst a few may go to the wayside, many lead to innovative products and services fuelling revenue and profit growth.
Taking an idea and implementing it into a tangible and profitable product or service (in whole or in part) is the true measure of success. But it is important to recognise that some great ideas take time to nurture and transition before they can finally bear fruit. The set backs are just as important as the success itself: the invention of the light bulb failed before it succeeded.
What is clear though is that ‘collisions’ or people coming together to formalise ideas and build upon each others ideas are happening faster as a result of the massive increase in social technologies, allowing people to easily collaborate, share and learn together.
The 5 Key Points in Developing Innovation
Companies like 3M , W L Gore, P&G as well as 21st C companies such as Google, are shining lights of innovation that businesses can learn from. Innovation needs a long term focus and sustainable approach requiring cultural change, tools and processes that facilitate sharing and learning and a meritocracy that recognises successes.
Resources & Culture
[box style="quote"]We know from our history that while promotions may win quarters, innovation wins decades. P&G CEO Bob McDonald[/box]
Without resources (money, time and people) ideas will stagnate. The most innovative companies put money behind the innovation and they do simply cut this budgets on a whim, they are long term investments in their future. The culture of the business embeds creativity and the principles of innovation. Culture involves understanding the political environment, power and theatre of the organisation recognising it is about people not machines and aligning and empowering people at every level. Open social communications allow people to easily identify people with required skills, interests and post up their own projects (like Google). The theatre is the celebration of successful projects, recognising contributors and building and helping others.
[box style="note"]Put some resources behind innovation and make it symbolic statement e.g. monthly company meeting…that this is long term commitment[/box]
P&G for instance have traditional management structures but have ‘systemised’ the process from idea incubation through to pilot projects. It is essential that innovation is embedded into ‘how we do things around here/the day to day’ at every level of the business (not just at the exectuive level). It is needs to be a strategic mandate and given priority.
- not all ideas start big – many are small and are just as important to improving products and services
- big projects can often be developed into pilot projects and then evaluated reducing risk and enabling broader number of projects to be instigated for a given resource pot
- open and transparent systems enabling small but often significant contributions can turn an idea from being good into brilliant
Learning and the Customer Focus
Learning is at the heart of innovation it is how ideas move forward as another piece slots into the jigsaw to form the picture. To often organisations hold onto assumptions about customers, produce strategies isolated from customer research or without understanding the problems that customers are facing. These problems and how they change can be uncovered through using social technologies to listen to the customers, participate with them to co-create new solutions.
Accelerating how people learn though is a fundamental part of the innovation process, requiring organisations to dissipate learning so that relevant areas of the business can harness and use information.
[box style="note"]Place a strategic importance on learning and innovation as part of your customer focus. Use social technologies to build in how you can harness data and insights about your customers.[/box]
Structures and Strategies
The popular series of dragons den has sparked the imagination of many people and given rise to new ventures and sparked the imagination of the younger generation through schemes such as the Young Enterprise. People understand from watching the programme the need to secure funding, give structure to their ideas and demonstrate the credibility of it as a business model worth investment. As with dragons den, venture capitalists (VC’s) assess risk and build a portfolio of investment projects that yield a return. This process of assessing risks, managing portfolios of projects and using this to fuel innovation are rarely visible in organisations. The VC process reviews teams and skills as well as whether the opportunity is viable. Good teams might comprise of a mix of people from different departments or business units; outside of traditional structural boundaries.
[box style="note"]Develop a process to assess projects/opportunities; help people understand the process and if they don’t have all the skills then enable them to understand who can help them; make innovation open and transparent.[/box]
Learning to Fail (safely)
We learn though our mistakes not from theory alone. It is in the transition from idea into practice that we learn, adjust, amend and move forward. This requires determination to see things through and requires resilience to the troubles and frustrations that often arise. Encouragement and not fearing failure are critical to enabling the sweat and hard work turn into a beneficial result. Even projects that fail have their benefit in the experience the teams attain, their ability to work smarter the next time and avoid traps.
[box style="note"]Share learning and experiences of what works and doesn’t work; foster a positive and safe environment for people to be honest and care about their mistakes.[/box]
[box style="quote"]In times of rapid change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists[/box]
We are at a time of unprecedented social, economic and technological change. The motivation for change may have seen as unimportant, but these times will force many to change, it is better to change on yuor terms and be prepared than to have it forced on you.
Although large organisations are perceived to be more able to innovate because they have the resources, this is changing as smaller businesses (which are vital the economy) now have access to low cost tools and technologies that previously only enterprise level businesses could use.
Work environments will change and become better environments for creativity and innovation (aka Google) and others.
I also believe that people are far more creative than they think; what do you think?
How are you going to develop an innovation culture?