By David Crosswhite
In today’s world of disruptive technologies and business models nearly all organizations want to drive a steady cadence of meaningful innovation. Many if not most organizations are not satisfied with their level of performance on this front. This is understandable and can be attributed to a couple of intersecting factors.
First, organizations achieve the results they are built to achieve. Innovation is by definition about doing something new, meaningful, and different. It should be no surprise that organizations which are built to be so good and efficient at what they do achieve have trouble when it comes to achieving something rather different in a rapid-cycle timeframe.
Second, in today’s world of digital disruption and new business models abound, strategy life-cycles are more than just shortening. New models are under assault by the time they even get to scale. As strong as the case for continuous innovation has been in the past, it’s doubly the case now, if not more.
A similar set of issues often arises that impede organizations from achieving their desired goals and outcomes: No shared view of a definition of innovation – i.e., the results we seek. No shared view of what the results should look like for us. And multiple others. In building an innovation agenda and system, an organization needs some guiding principles for what makes it work, and what makes it “stick”. While the specifics of the implementation will vary for any organization, a few important guiding principles can inform your efforts, and make them effective and sustained.
Here are a few keys to success:
Define innovation clearly, then actively use the definition. Develop a collective view of what you are looking for and what it constitutes for your organization. What best serves you and the particular agenda you need to achieve? Is it all about disruptive innovation? What does that look like? Will a series of incremental innovations suffice? Do we want both? How will we know it when we see “it”? Is it all about product innovation? What about go-to-market or other levers within the business model? What specific criteria will we use and apply in our work and leadership decisions? All this is easier said than done – just ask any organization that has grappled with developing a shared definition. But there’s no avoiding the issue. It’s best to take it on up front and save yourself the many cycles of spinning that will otherwise occur.
Innovation results from new learning. If no new learning, then don’t expect much innovation, nor organizational alignment behind new potential innovations and business models. The same old inputs will get you the same old outputs. And conducting little or no effort to infuse new perspectives will likely conclude with a dearth of new answers. What has your organization done lately to garner truly new perspectives that would inform new ideas or new potential models for going to market?
Strategic innovation sticks. When you think strategic innovation, think growth platforms filled with multiple iterations of ideas that build upon each other, fulfilling a central mission or value proposition. It’s an organized agenda, not a set of one-off ideas. It drives toward an important need or value proposition your customers would like fulfilled, whether they currently realize it or not. Creating a process for yourself that deliberately drives strategic innovation vs. “one-off ideas” is more interesting, exciting, and sticky for the organization. They can see the big picture and accretive value of the work, which creates more affinity for both resources and management attention.
Frame the innovative work as end-to-end. If it is about realizing valuable new ideas in market, then the work must be viewed in an end-to-end manner. It can’t just be deemed as “front end of innovation” and then hand the ideas off for implementation, nor isolated instances of “back end of innovation” prototypes and experimentation. The most productive way to frame the work of innovation is that of insights to ideas to business models to experimentation to launch, as well as tooling up and organizing for scaling the concepts. Innovation systems or approaches that stop at the ideas stage usually fail. Innovation systems that are only about agile implementation with no up-front insight typically underperform. And innovation without the capability to scale them is not impactful. It’s a thoughtful and integrated combination of all these steps that drives meaningful results.
Apply “open” both internally and externally. Tap the “whole brain” of your organization and of the ecosystem you operate within. Using the whole brain of your organization means seeking new insights, ideas, and opportunities broadly and smartly from within. Tapping the intelligence of your ecosystem allows you to do the same from the relevant outside world – be it your industry, framed in broad terms, or via wide-ranging IP or tech scans, or through a multitude of other mechanisms. This approach goes hand-in-hand with the new learning principle, and offers up one, but one very important path for doing so.
Organize for ongoing innovation. Don’t treat the work as a one-time event or a few infrequent episodes. Use the appropriate organizing levers to set up a system that can act as an ongoing flywheel of innovation. Design systemically, using all the available organizing levers such that they’re acting in concert. For example, don’t ask for breakthrough innovation but then set up measures that only measure this year’s innovation results. Don’t contradict yourself. Set up such that you can innovate because of and not despite the organization. As noted with defining innovation, this is easier said than done, but is entirely doable, with many different models already in play to learn from.
Of course, one can articulate even more principles, and the specifics of the implementation of each will vary and will matter a great deal. That is a topic for another day. Focus on realizing these six principles and you’ll have raised your innovation quotient substantially. It’s no small task, but well worth the ROI.