Innovation is easy! So says management guru, Tom Peters, in his seminars. He elaborates by stating, “Hang around with weird and thou shall become more weird, hang around with dull and thou shall become more dull, it’s as simple as that.” The fundamental point is to change thinking and action in the direction of new perspectives, remarkable goals, and aspirations. Innovation is not a ‘nice to have’ but a business imperative in today’s economy. In a world where ‘me too copycat’ business is on the rise, the only way to stand out and to be preferred and recommended in the eyes of consumers, is to think differently and to innovate around the challenges at hand. Yet so many organizations seem to struggle with the concept of Innovation. The simplest explanation for this is that Innovation is not a ‘one size fits all’ concept. You cannot just copy another organizations model, apply it to your own and expect success. Innovation, like its namesake, is not just another plug and play strategy. This article aims to help readers understand the areas to consider in establishing, enabling, and sustaining innovation within their own organizations.
First Things First
Innovation has become a buzzword that is so overused and at the same time so misunderstood. The first challenge in any organization looking to establish innovation is to clarify what innovation is, and what it implies for the organization in terms of taking action. There are many definitions of Innovation in the literature but not many are concise and effective. In their wonderful book, Innovation Training, Ruth Ann Hattori and Joyce Wycoff define Innovation as “People implementing new ideas that create value”. The highlight of this definition is on four areas:
o New ideas
o Value creation
To succeed in innovation, organizations require people to be inspired, energetic, and motivated to think up, develop, and implement new ideas. Collaboration and learning are essential. The challenge is unique, because it requires getting people to WANT to get involved and work together and not only because they HAVE to. Energy and inspiration are fundamental catalysts and without them, the process will fizzle out quickly. Establish idea sharing platforms and systems that allow employees at all levels of an organization to contribute ideas and share them with the appropriate parties.
Truly unique ideas are not that common and organizations looking for them would benefit greatly by providing employees with training in creative thinking and problem solving. Training in thinking and problem solving tools, helps employees work better and more effectively at Innovation challenges. Visible leadership that supports the drive for innovation is a definite must and will add much more weight to the long-term success of an innovation initiative.
It is often easier to implement an innovation framework in small and medium businesses if they have the appetite for it. However, larger organizations, which have locations, spread across multiple regions face a tougher challenge. Spreading the word of innovation requires the establishment and support of champions at a local level as well as a supportive communications department. Involving the organizations HR and Learning units is highly advisable. The classic saying goes “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” this holds true for innovation as well. In light of this, it is important to hold Innovation Champions and Business Units playing a role in innovation accountable in terms of performance contracts and strategy respectively. Allowing for Prototyping and testing of new concepts and ideas in safe environments is essential for successful innovation. It is not only useful but in some cases a must, to stay ahead of trends and future predictions in the market and macro environments.
Innovation is certainly a challenging initiative but the rewards and successes that can be achieved far outnumber the costs. Innovation and entrepreneurship are the driving forces of a successful and productive economy. Seth Godin, management guru, makes a comment in one of his seminars that by being remarkable you do not just change things but may very well change economies. The challenge in the South African context is taking the first step. So are you up for it?
1. Establish a clear definition of innovation and how it pertains to the organization
2. Create communities of thought and practice – to create conversations and momentum
3. Develop a clear process for innovation (e.g. how to progress ideas to execution in the organization)
4. Align Innovation to the organizations vision, mission, values, and key strategic objectives
a. Establish Innovation in the organizations strategy and balance score card
b. Get top leadership to buy-in and support innovation through visible commitment, rewards, and communication
5. Develop a system for inspiring, capturing, shaping, evaluating and sharing ideas
6. Dedicate budget to Innovation
7. Establish Innovation enablement and project (prototype) support functions
8. Establish and support innovation champions throughout the organization that:
a. Create a local community of thought and practice in their own sphere of influence
b. Communicate the need for innovation within their sphere of influence
c. Help employees communicate and shape their ideas into relevant concepts
d. Create a positive energy within the business unit and encourage team work
e. Help get the right people involved
f. Help take ideas forward from concepts to projects
9. Leadership at all levels need to visibly celebrate innovation successes and failures
10. Train everyone in creative thinking, problem solving and provide support tools and materials
11. Encourage experimentation, testing and prototyping
12. Establish clear measures for innovation success
13. Be aware of trends and future prediction in the local and global market
14. Create a culture of learning and collaboration in organization
15. Have fun!
CEXINO CONSULTING focuses on customer experience innovation, creative leadership, remarkability, creative and collaborative teams, and innovation enablement. Organizations that have customer centricity and innovation at the forefront of their values will thrive in the coming market economy – they will not only thrive in it but also lead it. If your organization is not about acquiring and retaining customers, it still needs to solve problems and challenges regularly. Enabling an effective thinking, problem solving, and innovative workforce is necessary to this effect. The great outcome of all this is a culture in an organization that is aligned, focused, creative and disciplined for success.