Written by: Janice Francisco, Founder & Principal Consultant, BridgePoint Effect
The question of how to bring innovation to a company is certainly something I've spent a lot of time helping leaders and their teams do over the past 15 years.
In this blog, I share six common mistakes many companies make when they're unsure how to bring innovation to a company and five things you could do instead.
6 Mistakes to Avoid
Here are the six most common mistakes companies make when they launch innovation.
- No definition of innovation
- Lack of clarity around what they're innovating and why
- Failing to appreciate how change and innovation go hand-in-hand
- No innovation framework
- Implementing ideation software or sessions without explicit use of creative thinking
- Being hard on yourself
How do I know this?
From first-hand experience over the past 15 years working with business leaders and intrapreneurs in Canada, the US, UK, and Israel; as an Advisor to the Conference Board of Canada's Council of Innovation and Commercialization and through a global research study we recently completed to assess "Who are the innovators in organizations?" and "what are the hidden factors that cause innovation to stall out?".
So, how do you avoid making these mistakes? Read on to find out more.
How to bring innovation to a company
Below I outline five ways you could bring innovation to a company.
1. Define and measure innovation
If you're wondering what we found was most obviously missing when people try to bring innovation to a company - here it is.
A definition of innovation.
Believe it or not, most companies talk about innovation in very general terms, like everyone knows what it means.
While you, like many others, might be tempted to assume you know what innovation is, and you can "google" a definition, what many people don't realize is that innovation is contextual.
So, even with the same standard definition of innovation, what one company needs to do to innovate could be completely different than another.
But wait – there's more!
Also missing was innovation's sidekick: key performance measures and an innovation framework.
Most companies implement innovation without the benefit of an innovation framework to guide these aspects of innovation - the people, products, process, and environment needed – think ecosystem and culture for innovation, who and what they'll do, as well as how they'll resolve the inevitable challenges that come up.
How can you do something if you don't know what it's supposed to look like, never mind how you'll do it and what it's supposed to achieve?
If bringing innovation to a company is the goal, you need to put a stake in the ground, contextualize and define innovation, target it, and describe the actions and behaviours you want from your people in the process.
And for good measure (sorry, the pun was too tempting), share how you'll measure impact so that you know you're getting results on those actions and behaviours.
If you're wondering how to measure innovation, you might want to take some advice from a recent study conducted by the Conference Board of Canada's Centre for Business Innovation. They found the sweet spots for innovation measurement and demystified the process. You can learn more about it by clicking here.
Here's why you want to avoid making the mistake of no innovation definition and no innovation measures. Typical stats on innovation project failures run above 80%. You take unnecessary risks with results, and it impacts engagement. Some people will be working hard, wondering if what they are doing is "innovative enough" or on target. Others won't bother trying because, let's face it, what doesn't get measured, doesn't get done.
And here's why you don't want to implement innovation without an innovation framework. Teams typically form focused more on what they'll do, not how they'll get it done. As a result, when they run into problems, as is so often the case with innovation, they don't have a process to work creatively through their problems or collaborate effectively across functions and, as a result, get stuck, frustrated, and have difficulty advancing their goals.
2. Balance new with improved
Many people are under the impression that innovation is limited to introducing new products and technologies – something known as "revolutionary innovation."
Many people in organizations think that if they aren't involved with bringing something revolutionary to market, they needn't be bothered with innovation - which is far from the truth.
And quite frankly, it's not inclusive. It limits innovation to a select few in the company, and it is a missed opportunity. You need everyone in your company focused on solving your business problems creatively to find innovative solutions.
An excellent way to bring innovation to a company is to make it a practice to find new and better ways to do your work – continuously. It's called incremental innovation, and it's something every organization needs to be doing. Incremental innovation involves smaller internal changes that result in value for the organization, its people and its customers. For example, revolutionary innovation might include creating new technology. On the other hand, incremental innovation could involve adopting a new technology that results in substantial productivity increases in the company - think automated accounts payable, electronic funds transfer and digital signatures on documents requiring approval.
How do you find opportunities for incremental innovation? Look for opportunities in places where something bugs you and you wish it were different. Look for:
- That business process that keeps tripping you up,
- Handoffs to other teams that never seem to go well
- The rework or missed deadlines because something isn't efficient
- The customer who isn't happy
- The stuff that leaves you shaking your head and wondering, "Why do we do that?"
When you find these places, ask yourself "How might we do this better, faster, more simply?" These are the places that will help you build innovation skills in your employee base, and they're great opportunities to improve your efforts at diversity and inclusion in the company. Everyone can identify opportunities for improvement, develop solutions, and make the changes necessary to get the bottom line and customer-facing benefits.
Here's why you want to avoid making the mistake of not having clarity around what you're innovating and why. It doesn't go so well; you don't get the benefits innovation should produce, and you leave yourself more vulnerable to market changes and disruptive, unanticipated events - like those from pandemics, competitors, customers and supply chains.
3. Use innovation to respond to change, uncertainty, and constraint
Innovation changes things. And while many people who are engaged in innovation often fail to appreciate how much innovation changes things, there's a flip side to innovation that is often unrealized.
We live in a VUCA world, let's face it – more so recently than in the past.
We've all become much more aware of the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity in our corner of the world.
Whether by choice or by chance, change is a constant reality. And as organizations figure out how to deal with these changes, they must navigate uncertain outcomes and constraints on people and other resources.
Many of our clients realize that status quo responses and old working methods don't cut it when faced with change. They need new strategies for getting existing work done and for adapting to unique circumstances and work requirements.
In other words, it's the perfect time to bring innovation to a company.
There are opportunities to find new and better ways to do work, uncover and let go of work that isn't effective or valuable, and learn how to do new work efficiently and with greater productivity.
It's critical to build resilience to change and respond to the challenges it brings creatively in a changing work environment. We've found that one of the best ways to do this is to teach people creative problem solving as a process for innovation and set them to work on solving your business problems. We give our clients tools and training through our ThinkUP Innovation Framework™ and teach the FourSight Thinking System™.
4. Improve how you get and develop ideas
Many companies have invested in idea management software and use it to run idea challenges. Others use in-person engagement to generate ideas, typically in brainstorming sessions. Regardless of how you go about getting ideas, it's not as simple as asking people for their ideas.
There are two things you need to make an ideation session a success:
- An idea protocol that includes explicit use of creative thinking; otherwise, you get ordinary, obvious ideas that lack the novelty necessary for innovation, and
- Clarity on the decision criteria you'll use to evaluate and prioritize ideas.
How do you know if your company has an idea protocol?
Let me ask you this:
- Are ideation sessions framed as problems to be solved using open-ended questions starting with phrases like – how to or how might? No question or a question beginning with the words "how can" won't set you up for success.
- Do participants in the session know their role and expectations of them in session? Do they know what will happen to their hard work of generating ideas, who owns the challenge and who will be making decisions on which ideas will advance?
- Is the process of generating ideas separate from the process of evaluating and developing ideas?
- Are people given explicit guidelines for thinking creatively?
- Is it safe for people to contribute ideas? Or are their ideas aren't debated, discounted, ignored, maimed, made fun of or otherwise killed?
- Can 6 – 8 people generate and record 30 to 50 ideas in less than 5 minutes?
If you answered no to any or all of these questions, you don't have an idea protocol. You might want to check out our toolset mini-course on The Care and Feeding of Ideas or our Essential Creative Thinking Workshop, or our blog on How to develop innovative ideas.
5. Lighten up
And finally, I'm going to suggest you lighten up. You should yuck it up a bit if you're working to bring innovation to a company.
Here's why. One thing we often hear about innovation is this:
"Innovation is the hardest work you'll ever love."
The job of an innovator is never easy. It takes a lot of effort and faith to keep moving forward when the outcome is uncertain. Eventually, it is rewarding – either through a eureka moment, the silver lining of an unexpected result, a quick win, or a win that was a long time coming.
The creativity researcher Goran Ekvall uncovered ten dimensions that contribute to a creative climate necessary for innovation. One of these dimensions is playfulness and humour – the need for spontaneity and fun.
Given that innovation is so hard, you can easily imagine the importance of some silliness, playfulness and fun in the process.
So, if you want to bring innovation to your company, remember to be playful in the process, take time to celebrate wins, and incorporate humour, spontaneity and fun as a way to blow off steam.
If you need help bringing innovation to your company, we understand the pressures you're facing. Here's our simple plan to help. Schedule a consultation call. We'll listen to what you're doing, build a customized approach, and guide you through its implementation. You won't have to feel alone and stuck in doing this, and you'll feel confident as you put a winning program in place.
About BridgePoint Effect
BridgePoint Effect is a boutique consulting firm with a bold vision to transform the way leaders and their teams collaborate, innovate, and deliver outstanding results.
We empower leaders to unlock their team's brilliance and creativity through effective collaboration so they can achieve more.
We offer a framework, practical toolkit and high calibre coaching that gives you the structure, skills and support needed to build an effective team.