Written by Janice Francisco
I recently attended an Intrapreneurship Conference that provided a forum for intrapreneurs to share their experiences about how to improve innovation. I was surprised at how closely their trials and tribulations mirrored those of our own clients. This blog addresses three things you can do to increase your chances of success.
How to do innovation better
If you're wondering how to improve innovation in your company, there is much we can learn from intrapreneurs - those courageous and dedicated staff working to promote innovation in their organizations.
We've found that many organizations struggle with the same things: the level of leadership involvement in innovation; getting caught up in the desire to act, rather than truly be, innovative; and the erroneous belief that innovation is all about ideas.
I tackle each below.
3 mistakes to avoid
1. Avoid delegating innovation
Most organizations identify innovation as a key organizational strategy. And many leaders think they can delegate innovation. If they say they want it, they'll get it. In fact, it doesn't work that way.
Let me be clear - leaders, you can’t delegate innovation. Nor should you attempt to become more innovative by relegating innovation to the side of the desk.
To achieve innovation success, leaders must be actively engaged in making innovation happen in their organizations. Engaged leaders create engaged people. You want to fix your engagement issue? Lead innovation and get your people involved in helping you. Don’t talk about it or hope that it will happen. It won’t. You gotta walk the talk to make it happen.
2. Don’t be tempted by “Innovation Theatre”
You’ve seen staged “innovation events,” I’m sure. You might have been invited to one of these events or participated in one; you may even have led them.
I’m talking about events styled after Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank, or using suggestion boxes and idea tracking software to gather ideas that aren’t tied to a specific problem. Innovation theatre also encompasses innovation labs that have no clear function in the organization, and—I’m going out on a limb here—highly promoted training events that promise to teach something about innovation where there’s no accountability, support, or understanding about how to actually use it in the organization.
All these events might give people an experience around innovation, but they do nothing to change behaviours or innovation outcomes. In fact, they’re more likely to disengage and disenfranchise the people invited.
These events were not so nicely referred to as “Innovation Theatre” by many speakers at the conference. You see, when an organization’s focus on innovation is all about the show and not about the act, that’s not engaging in innovation—that’s pretending to be innovative.
Stop it right now! Cancel the production!
Real innovation is not about staging events. It’s about changing how you think, how you behave, how you work and what you do. And it takes dedication and time to do it.
3. Stop emphasizing ideation
A concern that organizations are emphasizing ideation too much was raised frequently throughout the conference. Often heard was the opinion that ideation is not an event, and it was never meant to be a track and field day.
This criticism is rooted in the fact that many organizations see ideation as a way to enhance employee engagement, to find opportunities for continuous improvement, and as a way to show that they’re supporting a culture of innovation. So, they stage ideation days or programs where everyone is asked to contribute ideas. The ideas get captured on post-its or logged into ideation software and no one really knows what happens to them.
While ideation sessions can get people involved in the short term, innovation is a marathon, not a sprint, and there are many other ways to engage people in the innovation process. Clarifying the challenge for which the ideas are needed is one way, and engaging people in the process of developing and implementing ideas are others.
At BridgePoint Effect, we teach our clients a four-step problem solving process for innovation called the FourSight Thinking System. It provides a process, tools and protocols to guide how to engage employees and stakeholders throughout the process. And it helps you run far better ideation sessions.
If your company is mainly focused on using ideation sessions as a large part of its innovation strategy here are two things you can do to emphasize process in your ideation sessions.
Be clear about process and context
When we ask people to give us their best thinking, we need to be clear on what we need and how we’re using their thinking.
It’s disrespectful to ask people for ideas without letting them know where you are in the innovation process, and how and when you’ll use their ideas. They need to know what problem you're solving for, and why, and how you'll keep them informed of the results of their efforts. A well formulated challenge statement, clarity around roles and responsibilities and a process map go a long way to establishing trust and getting people excited to join you on the innovation journey.
Use rules and thinking guidelines
There is a right way and a wrong way to engage in ideation, or brainstorming for ideas.
The right way involves explicit use of rules and thinking guidelines. These are necessary to create the psychological safety for people to contribute and to ensure you get the novelty in thinking needed to drive innovation.
Brainstorming and its rules for engagement were invented by Alex Osborn of BBDO over sixty years ago. Since then, the effectiveness of brainstorming using these guidelines has been well researched; they're proven to make a big difference to idea production and quality.
When you do it right, brainstorming involves moving through two distinct thinking processes, divergent thinking followed by convergent thinking. If you are leading ideation sessions and you’re not explicitly separating these thinking steps and using their associated thinking guidelines, you won't get what you need—novel ideas—and you will eventually turn your people off from participating.
Not familiar with these guidelines?
How to improve your efforts at innovation
In summary, if you're working to answer how to bring innovation to a company, here are three things that will make a difference:
- Avoid delegating innovation or relegating it to the side of your desk
- Cancel “innovation theatre” events
- Stop over-emphasizing ideation over innovation process and results.
- a practice that integrates and aligns innovation to corporate strategy
- a consistent way to define, measure and teach innovation so that the topic of innovation and its performance goals are not ambiguous or implied
- an innovation framework that helps you balance context, process, and people with the products of your efforts.
About BridgePoint Effect
Doing business in an evolving, dynamic environment brings unique, never-before-seen challenges for business leaders.
We have a framework that helps leaders and their teams to know what to do when they don't know what to do. We help teams discover and deliver innovative solutions so they can achieve their goals.
A boutique consulting firm located in Toronto, Canada and doing business globally, BridgePoint Effect provides innovation and strategy consulting that helps teams win.
Our services are delivered at your-site, our-site, virtually and in blended on-site and virtual formats.