Innovation is hard. If it were easy everyone would do it. But why is it so hard. Managing innovation is what is difficult. Creating a culture that supports innovation is certainly difficult. Then nurturing an idea into a product or services that people love is hard. Innovation is hard because there are so many myths about innovation and consultants are selling snake oil.
Innovation can be approached from several sides. It can be approached as a process, a strategy view, and an organizational structure or even as a toolkit. Each approach can be a little different. What works for one organization may not work for another. Creating a culture that encourages and promotes innovation is easier said than done. Developing a culture within an organization that encourages innovation takes time and many organizations have the will but lack the time. Those organizations need to look externally for help. Bringing an organization together overnight in order to translate product and service initiatives into sustained results is tricky. But here are 5 quick tips:
1. Challenging Assumptions.
This is a very difficult thing to do. Why? Because we make so many assumptions and they are so ingrained in our psyche we do not even recognize them as assumptions. We believe them to be facts. Most of them are correct but a great many are incorrect. The problem is we do not know which ones are right and which ones are incorrect. If we knew which ones were incorrect we would change them immediately. So the first step to effectively challenging assumptions is to identify them. Start with the question, “What else would have to be true for this to be true.” More often then not you will discover that your idea is not a fact but an assumption and therefore something to be challenged. No good ideas will be seriously looked at without overcoming the assumptions that are held by an organization or industry. These exist in service industries such as banking, health care and hospitality as well as products industries such as, consumer electronics and personal care products. It is usually easier to start challenging your own assumptions by looking at industry level dogmas. Challenge everything!
2. Involve the End User.
The purpose for any business or organization is the customer. If an innovation fails eventually to provide value to the end customer then the innovation fails. Any organization that believes it can provide value to a customer without involving the customer in the process is deceiving itself. Most consumers are intelligent and can contribute much to the creative process. While it is true that often times people may not be able to verbalize their needs and desires in a manner that makes sense to you, your job is find creative ways to understand their needs, values and behaviors. The best and easiest way to figure figure out the customers needs is to involve them.
3. Be willing to Take a Risk.
At the executive level innovation requires guts. Not everyone is cut out for it. But without executive support the needed resources will never materialize. Businesses that are vibrant yesterday may not be vibrant tomorrow. So the executive must be courageous enough to take dollars away from yesterday’s businesses and give them to tomorrow’s businesses even though they are as yet untested. That takes guts. The majority of executive just are not capable of making innovation happen.
4. Build an Innovation Team
The innovation team needs to be made up of people from across different functions and business units. The team needs people not only with a range of skill sets and temperaments. In addition to the natural instinct to put people on the innovation team who are idea people i.e. those who are abstract thinkers, the team will need those who study the facts carefully, people who are strong organizers, and finally those who have strong people skills. Start with a small team and gradually expand to add more people.
5. Innovation is a Business Process
As with any business process innovation efforts should be managed. It cannot be done in a box. Develop metrics to tack the activities that make sense. I would warn against metrics that measure only results. Innovation is a process and as such you want to insure the process is active. The effectiveness of the process can be measured by the desired results. When you do get either a big or small win, ensure you communicate it across the organization. Innovation is a team sport. And every team needs it cheering fans.
6. Utilize Techniques to Improve Success Rate
It is not uncommon to hear people claim that innovation projects have a failure rate of about 98%. That is most likely because they are not approaching it in a systematically. Define a system that is sustainable with in your organization. Should involve problem identification and definition, and early communication. Utilizing techniques and tools such as open innovation and your success rate should be much higher. It is true that failure is part of any innovation process, but improving the chances of success is also part of an innovation strategy.