The pressure to innovate has rarely been more intense. Fierce competition is rife, businesses are still wary of a repeat of 2008’s crash and challenges continue to present themselves, so organisations large and small are continually looking to innovation as a way to remain competitive and agile.
Yet the question of how to implement, and indeed maintain, innovation is more problematic. What works for one organisation may not work for another. A method that worked for an organisation five years ago might not be the most suitable to take them forwards for another ten years.
For this reason, many look to process as a way of ensuring that innovation remains a constant in their organisation. Yet others caution against process, claiming it will stifle creativity and limit room for divergent thinking, and push for an adoption of innovation principles. How can you decide what is best for your organisation? Often striking a balance is the best way to go:
WHAT’S THE PROBLEM WITH PROCESS?
One of the biggest problems associated with following an innovation process is exactly that it is controlled, limited and potentially restrictive.
‘the moment that innovators hear the word process, they start rolling their eyes. Process as a management concept has a bad reputation. Rigid processes have been accused of stifling innovation, and in my experience this is true. Corporations tend to stifle creativity when they manage innovation using the same processes they use to manage their core products.’
Viki emphasises that the main problem with this is that organisations seek to apply the same processes to innovation that they use for other elements of the business. He explains that because ‘traditional management processes are based on faulty assumptions about the stability of the world,’ most processes are generally non-responsive to change. With change such a fundamental element of modern business and arguably at the heart of what drives innovation, applying these static processes to innovation can therefore limit the capacity to be agile and responsive when necessary.
CAN SOME PROCESSES WORK FOR INNOVATION?
Yet not everyone agrees. In a recent Forbes article, Alastair Dryburgh interviewed Josh Valman, CEO of RPD International, on this topic and found that some processes from other elements of an organisation could be helpful in an innovation context.
Entitled ‘how to make innovation a predictable process’, the article suggested that by adapting measurement and conversion processes, organisations could establish a more positive relationship with innovation. Valman told Dryburgh that when his organisation works with big companies on their innovation processes,
‘one of the most interesting things we do […] is to categorise a pipeline. So in the same way that you think about sales with a conversion pipeline, you've got a big bucket of leads and you qualify them.’
Valman explains that once you have established how many fresh ideas you have to work with, you should then ask how many of those should ‘go into prototyping and validate positively, then how many of those things go into a more consumer friendly test, then how many of them go into an early market test?’ By deciding in advance how many ideas will pass each stage you are better able to measure a conversion rate and move away from scenarios like saying ‘this year our organisation will spend ‘100 million dollars on innovation and 99 million dollars go off into things that are not innovation.’
One of the biggest advantages of employing a process is therefore that it mitigates some of the risk inherently associated with innovation. Valman believes that creating process allows you to better measure the trends that arise from your innovation efforts and better calculate your return on investment (ROI) per each innovation.
STRIKE A BALANCE
As the above two examples show, there is no agreement among innovators on a single process that leads to innovation. Some processes that work in another context are not necessarily suitable for innovation and could in fact lead to stifling ideas and restricting agility. Yet others could help to limit the risks involved with innovation that often leave organisations reluctant to invest in innovation.
The key here is to strike a balance. Some process is required in order for innovation to be successful, otherwise your efforts will resemble striking out blindly with no aim in sight. The question of which process is trickier to answer, but is ultimately the key to your organisation’s success in innovation. Viki sees principles such as embracing startup culture as a method for managing uncertainty, crafting viable and profitable business models and making evidence-based decisions as being of central importance when building an innovation process that works for you.
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