Innovation doesn’t just happen out of nowhere. To create the right conditions for innovation to thrive, start with these steps from senior research fellow Kumar Mehta.
By Kumar Mehta
If you’ve outsourced innovation in your organization to a peripheral department or external lab or agency, then your organization will never successfully innovate. Without the correct approach, innovation efforts are just shots in the dark. Follow these seven steps to build a sustained environment where innovation thrives, a culture where breakthroughs are expected, not simply desired.
Step 1: Commit
Your organization’s leadership must make visible commitments to innovate in both words and actions. Only then will the rest of the organization believe that innovation is the essential activity that will allow the organization to sustain relevance in an ever-changing marketplace.
This commitment results in a shared belief that every person can play a role in innovation. Making this commitment pushes boundaries in every activity. Yes, there will be misses, probably more misses than hits, but this is the only way for a company to get started on a path to creating the world-changing innovations.
Step 2: Stop chasing shiny objects
Get rid of the misconceptions and fallacies that haunt your organization. You will not be successful chasing the next big thing, because it is simply not out there waiting to be plucked.
The breakthrough idea you are looking for comes from doing a number of small innovative things, and doing them all the time. It is only through this constant experimentation that the breakthrough idea will appear.
Innovation is the multiplier effect of many small things, rarely the result of one big bet.
With innovation, quantity leads to quality.
Step 3: Understand foundational elements of innovation
Innovation only happens in the presence of the right set of conditions. Just about every innovation throughout history has the following conditions in common:
• Continual thinking and expert knowledge of the problem you are trying to solve. Innovation happens only when ideas percolate in your mind for a long time (coupled with expert knowledge in the area you are working on). Also, innovations happen when you least expect them to.
• An environment where seemingly implausible ideas are accepted. Rejection by others is the number one reason innovation fails.
• Collaboration with others and applying developments made by others to solving your problems. These developments may come from other disciplines, so you need to be open to ideas from anywhere.
• Providing a cluster of value. Very rarely is an innovation just a single offering. Innovations become breakthroughs when they are supported by a set of elements that enhance their utility and value.
(Teasing out these principles is a big part of my book, The Innovation Biome)
Step 4: Choose your innovation type and toolset
There are different types of innovation activities, including those designed for creating incremental innovation, breakthrough innovation, and transformational innovation. Each of these types of innovation is just as valuable as the other.
There is a common misconception that incremental innovation is less desirable, but that is simply not true. Incremental innovation is the essence of an organization; without a culture of continual improvement, big breakthroughs are unlikely to occur.
Each of these activities requires different tool sets and approaches. Matching the tools to the activities is essential, or else innovation efforts will be for naught.
If you’ve outsourced innovation in your organization to a peripheral department or external lab or agency, then your organization will never successfully innovate. The innovation metrics need to be simple, transparent, and something you can track. The leadership of the organization needs to own the responsibility to deliver on these metrics.
Step 5: Find the Experience Delta
Innovation is about altering experiences. The Experience Delta—or the difference between today’s experience and a new experience developed through an innovation—is the currency of an innovation, and a consistent way to determine which ideas get commercialized and which ones do not.
The bigger the Experience Delta, the more impact the innovation will have.
Systematic innovation development requires the articulation of the Experience Delta, which becomes the vision and driving force behind the innovation effort. As organizations get in the habit of creating Experience Deltas, the process of innovation will become more habitual. Eventually, it will be institutionalized as an innovation biome, a key part of the organization’s culture.
Step 6: Find the right talent
Ensure that every dedicated innovation initiative is staffed by people with the right skill set. Simply assigning high achievers or people showing high potential to innovation activities can backfire. Innovation is most likely to happen with people who have expertise in their domain, a set of relevant creativity traits, and the right level and type of motivation.
Innovation requires an environment conducive to creativity. For any dedicated innovation activity, the team must be selected solely based on their ability to create new value.
Step 7: Define your metrics
Finally, the right metrics need to be in place to track progress on your innovation strategy.
There is no need for complex dashboards tracking a range of activities that may or may not result in innovation.
The innovation metrics need to be simple, transparent, and something you can track. The leadership of the organization needs to own the responsibility to deliver on these metrics.
These steps are based on the science of innovation as presented in my book, The Innovation Biome.
Kumar Mehta, a Senior Research Fellow at the Center, is the founder of Bridges Insight, an innovation think tank.
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January 31, 2019