Innovation can take place at many levels of an organisation and on a variety of scales, from the minute and incremental to the wholescale disruption of an entire industry. Quite often ideas begin small, yet as time goes on and organisations grow, scaling up an innovation is necessary if you are to continue pushing the rate of change and ensuring that your idea does not lose momentum.
Although there are many ways to scale up innovation, here are three ways that can be employed by organisations large and small to great effect.
1. UTILISE CONNECTIVITY
For Forbes contributor Adi Gaskell, ‘connectivity is key for innovation to scale.’ Pointing to a study by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research conducted earlier this year, which found that innovation was not only getting harder and harder but it was also costing a lot more money, Gaskell suggests organisations must innovate more effectively.
A number of studies from MIT and The Alan Turing Institute have ‘highlighted the importance of connectivity to research success’ because it provides a number of benefits to organisations looking to innovate. Connectivity allows collaboration with overarching bodies like the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT) that foster relationships between organisations and can provide access to funding, new markets and shared knowledge that are essential if innovation is to be scaled up.
Askell concludes that ‘with successful innovation increasingly not only a collaborative affair but an international one, it seems networks such as EIT might show the way for new technologies striving to make their way in the marketplace.’
2. THINK SCALE FROM THE START
One of the challenges associated with scaling up innovation is the question of when it is the right time to do so. Too soon and you might risk destabilising your progress and the capacity for agility and efficiency that smaller scale allows, but too late and you risk missing opportunities and impending stagnation.
One way to tackle this problem is to think innovation from the start and wait for the right time to act upon this attitude. According to an article by The Guardian, ‘many times people think, first I'll get it right, then I will think about scale’ but in fact ‘you have to go the other way, think, how big do I want this to be?’ By considering these questions from the outset you are better able to design for scale from the start, using data to focus limited resources and staff hours until the time is right to grow.
According to innovation foundation Nesta, ‘this approach requires focus - not trying to solve too many problems at once’ and is best understood as ‘incremental, rather than system-wide change.’ Although using incremental change to generate scale may seem paradoxical at surface level, there are clear merits to thinking big but employing small steps to reach this end goal.
3. UNDERSTAND WHEN YOU NEED SCALE, AND WHEN YOU NEED MORE INNOVATION
Innovation and scale are two terms often used interchangeably, yet as with many buzzwords this lack of clarity is unhelpful. Unpacking these terms can help organisations to understand when they need more innovation and when they need scale.
According to an article by the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR), in the context of social innovation ‘the greatest impediment to solving these problems is not a lack of innovation, rather, it is our inability to scale up solutions that we know work.’ It is further argued that many sectors are overly preoccupied with constantly generating new ideas, rather than building upon, streamlining and perfecting existing ideas that have shown some successes.
SSIR also argues that all too often organisations ‘fund an innovation, publish data on its effectiveness, and hope that little elves will magically appear to—presto!—transform our evidence-laden innovation into scaled-up programs that lead to positive social change.’ In the social innovation sphere political and funding challenges can often be obstacles to scaling up ideas, but SSIR suggests that through a change in culture and better understanding of when innovation and/or scale is necessary, organisations can better direct available funding and energy into the correct strategy for the job.
Whatever the context within which your organisation works, having strategies to scale is both a necessary and desirable objective. Using the three insights above, innovators can begin to push their ideas into larger arenas and make sure their initiatives do not go to waste.
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