Originally Posted on LinkedIn Here
What is innovation really? The answer to this question differs from person to person and therefore the material on the subject covers a very wide spectrum. Innovation at its basic level is doing something different. Obviously, most of us want this something different to be better but that is not always the case. That is why many get stuck and end up making no decision at all.
There has to be a way to test innovation and navigate your way to the best possible end result. Going all in is not really an option because when you are making a decision at the onset you have the least amount of information. This may seem counterintuitive because from the surface it would appear different in highly innovative companies. But that is not the case. Highly innovative companies have found a way to charter unexplored waters in a way that is both safe for the crew and effective at getting them to the destination, which may even be unknown at the time.
This mindset is a foundational principle for innovation. It is a leadership quality that is so apparent and captivating that everyone follows suit. That is where innovation starts and for many organizations, this is also where it ends. Unfortunately, there are so many different opinions on the subject that understanding it can be quite difficult. This is where I believe we should take a different approach. We need leadership but we also need a guiding framework from which to operate that puts us in the best possible position to be more innovative.
Leadership and Innovation
If you look at organizations with good leadership you will often see a high degree of innovation as well. Leadership is a very big part of innovation but it is only the beginning. As I mentioned above, typically we want innovation that is better in some way then the way you currently do things. Highly innovative companies with no direction or process will often innovate themselves into irrelevance.
In my book, the Innovation PACT (www.InnovationPACT.com), I cover this in great detail but I want to provide a brief look into the topic here. There are two additional components to innovation that are also important. I call these the Innovation PACT and the innovation strategy. Let’s take a look at each.
The Innovation PACT is exactly that – a pact. It is also an acronym that outlines the four key components I have identified for creating an environment that fosters innovation. Let’s take a look at each:
- Persistence: Just about anything worth doing requires persistence. Being innovative requires that you stick to it.
- Advocacy: Innovation requires change and that is not always the easiest thing for most. That is why it is important to have advocates that are promoting, supporting and holding people accountable on innovative projects.
- Culture: This is the biggest one and mostly applies to leadership. You have to create a culture of trust and inquiry so that trying something new becomes the norm.
- Technology: Understanding the current trends and potential impacts of technology should not just be left to the technology folks. Having a tech savvy work force and leaders who embrace technology for the right reasons is extremely important.
The Innovation Strategy is your vision and operating procedures around innovation. It is not the act of innovation itself, but instead a framework for innovation to thrive in. I want to be clear that this is not a strategic “plan.” Strategic plans are often counterproductive to innovation because they lack the adaptability required to navigate an innovative project. You will not find a list of projects anywhere in this document. Instead, your Innovation Strategy should include the following:
- Innovation Goals: High-level goals for you innovation initiatives. For example, better customer service, improve employee morale, increase operational efficiencies/effectiveness, etc.
- Pain-Points: This takes a deeper look at the goals to determine why they are a priority. What are the specific pain-points you are experiencing that makes a goal a priority. For example, if better customer service is a goal, what are the reasons? Is it because you receive low customer service scores or are losing customers because of bad service? By identifying the actual pain-point, you can build innovation initiatives around the specific challenge you are facing.
- Ideation System: The ideation system is for formal innovation initiatives. Organizations should support both organic and formal innovation, but formal innovation gives leadership a little more control. The Ideation System will outline the process of identifying challenges (around pain-points), gathering ideas, selecting an idea and implementing the solution.
- Budget: The budget should focus on how innovation is funded and who is in charge of the funds. I do not advocate putting actual numbers in the strategy but instead setting up a process for getting innovation funded.
- Working Documents: It is a good idea to have someone or a team in charge of your innovation efforts. These are the innovation advocates and they will be in charge of keeping track of all the innovation initiatives. The working documents provide a system for monitoring innovation and keeping it moving forward.
Innovation does not have to be difficult. It does not have to be mysterious either. We can approach it similar to the way we approach many challenges. To make it simple I have outlined the approaches here.
- Identify a Challenge or Problem
- Identify Possible Solutions
- Test Solutions in a Controlled Environment
- Review results and Determine the Best Way to Move Forward
- Identify a Better Way to Perform a Task or Service
- Hypothesize the Outcome
- Test the Hypothesis
- Review results and Determine the Best Way to Move Forward
Combine the processes outlined above with changes in leadership philosophy and the adoption of an Innovation Strategy, and you create an environment where innovation stands a high likelihood of occurring. Keep in mind that most big innovations happen in small steps and you are well on your way to achieving great things.