Originally posted on LinkedIn here.

Contrary to popular belief, innovation can be easy. However, it all depends on the approach. If you are only focused on generating ideas then success will be limited. If instead, you focus on building the systems to support discovery and flexibility, you can really improve your odds.

Most organizations take a counterproductive approach. They throw everything they have into a single idea and it typically leads to one of the following outcomes:

  • A Complete and Utter Failure
  • A Never-ending Money Pit
  • Beat the Odds and Experience Success

Some organizations beat the odds but most spend time in the first two. Either the project completely fails and they scrap it, subsequently leading to them writing off innovation, or they keep extending resources and lowering expectations until the project is “complete”. This is not practical and it does not have to be your reality.

Sustainable innovation only happens in organizations that enable and systemize it. This requires that you adopt a formal Ideation System and implement a process for organic innovation.

The Ideation System is for top down and large scale innovation. It is typically structured as a challenge put on by the organization to solve a specific problem. It gives leadership a certain level of control over what to focus innovation on and reaches a wider audience.

The Innovation Process is a less formal system but still provides a framework for innovation to operate in. the goal is to provide an environment for organic innovation to flourish in. It provides a framework for ideas to be tested, validated and funded so that organic innovation is not limited to only small incremental changes.

Each of these systems have a default structure that is a good place to start. Let’s take a look at each.

Typical Ideation System

  • Define Challenge: Organizational leadership defines a challenge
  • Open Challenge: The challenge is presented to the intended audience
  • Gather Ideas: Individual submit, discuss, refine and rank ideas
  • Select Ideas: The best and highest ranked ideas are selected for implementation
  • Implement Ideas: The top idea or ideas are implemented
  • Monitor: The project is monitored and reviewed for status and impact
  • Learn and Celebrate: The entire process is reviewed and successes are celebrated

Ideation System

Typical Innovation Process

  • Hypothesize: Identify a hunch and determine what you think the outcome will be.
  • Test: Test your hunch and see if it matches your expectations.
  • Learn or Discover: If the outcome does not match the hunch, evaluate why and start the process over. If the outcome matches the hunch you have a solid foundation to move forward.
  • Repeat: Keep repeating the process while scrapping the bad and implementing the good.

The process above was outlined by Rob Shelton, the global innovation chief of PwC in an interview with Business Insider. Read more here.

In an innovation process typically individuals will be allowed to test hypothesis in a controlled environment and minimal resources. They can then test there hypothesis with a small project. If the test does not match the hypothesis, they learn from it and repeat. If it does, then they request additional resources and expand the test. It is an incremental approach of hypothesizing, testing, learning and discovery. This type of approach allows us to pivot more quickly and respond to unexpected results, instead of reacting to them.

Use Both

Innovation taking place organically is typically lower risk. They do not always provide the big returns but some do and they keep innovation moving forward even when you are resource strapped. Innovation taking place through your ideation system are typically higher risk. They have a huge upside but also have more volatility. By using both of these types of innovation it helps balance things out and produces more sustainable results.