A Process For Innovation

Innovation always begins the same way. Not with a piece of new technology, but with a person having an idea. We are all capable of having new ideas. Innovation isn’t a talent only some are born with. It’s a skill that we can all practice. Here’s a process;

  1. Look out for problems. Whenever you find something in your business that isn’t working perfectly – a clunky system, something a customer complains about, an unproductive meeting, something that frustrates you – take note. There is an opportunity for innovation there.
  2. Find out more. Before you try to solve a problem, find out as much as you can about it. Why is it happening? Is the cause technical, psychological, logistical, or a combination?
  3. Think. People often complain that great ideas for solving problems and taking advantage of opportunities never come to them, but often that is only because they never spend time trying to think of them. Stare out the window and think. Not all day, but for a part of every day. Ideas will come.
  4. Get the blinkers off. We have two VW’s and their keys are identical. I found it really irritating not being able to work out which was which. I searched all over the keys for a distinguishing mark but found nothing. My daughter looked at me like I was an idiot. ‘Put a piece of tape on one’.
    It’s so easy to get caught in patterns of thinking. In my mind, I had to find some difference in the appearance of the keys. My daughter was flexible enough to realise I could create that difference by adding tape.
  5. Value ideas. No one knows whether a new idea is any good at first. There only way to find out is to grow and nurture it.
  6. Be smart with resources. Don’t throw lots of time and money at an idea just because it looks cool. Be evidence based, use the different skills of people in your organisation to develop the idea, do small scale trials and then assess. Do the results justify using more resources to further develop the idea? If yes, go for it. If not, move onto the next idea.
  7. Don’t try and do it all yourself. Some leaders think it’s their job to have all the ideas. The best leaders, however, understand that good ideas can come from anyone from the CEO to the receptionist. It is often those down the ladder, who deal with customers and use systems every day, who know what’s working well and what isn’t, and where improvements are needed.

Every organisation’s biggest resource is the space between their people’s ears. No one knows your organisation, and how to improve it, better than those who work in it. There are two key ingredients in creating an innovative culture;

  1. Make it clear that it’s part of everyone’s job to think of better ways of doing things.
    Us humans are motivated by two things, sticks and carrots. We get up and go to work because (hopefully) we get some enjoyment and satisfaction from our job (carrot) but also because if we don’t we might lose our job (stick). To encourage people to keep thinking of better ways of doing things use both.

    CARROT. Giving employees permission to think of better ways of doing things is empowering. It adds a new, creative dimension to their work.

    STICK. But it’s also something extra, and if there’s no accountability for this sort of innovative work, it will continually be bumped to the bottom of the pile, to be done after everything else. This often means that even those with good intentions won’t get around to it, because they are too busy doing all their other work.

    Many organisations treat innovation as an optional extra, as icing, rather than as an essential ingredient of the cake. If you want your people to be more innovative, make them accountable for that work in the same way they are for their other work. Consider making innovation a KPI. For example, every month everyone has to pitch one idea to their boss. It doesn’t have to be a great idea, but it does have to be something. If you get people started, then every time they come up with a new idea, it will build their skills and confidence.

  2. Create a system.
    Too often innovation is ad hoc. Someone has an idea, then has to run around trying to work out how to cobble together some way of growing it. Much better to create an innovation pipeline, not unlike a sales pipeline, that all new ideas are fed into. The ideas go through various stages, most are knocked out along the way, but the best emerge and are implemented.How do you setup an innovation pipeline? Work out;

    • Who do people pitch ideas to? (You can pitch any idea in 2 minutes, or on one page)
    • Who judges ideas?
    • What test do they use to decide whether to allocate resources to grow a new idea?
    • Who is responsible for growing and trialling new ideas that have potential?
    • Who assesses the results?
    • What is the time line?

Innovation is exciting work. In our rapidly changing world, it is also essential.

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