Although our focus on disruptive innovation means that we have the tendency to believe that innovation is all about the lightbulb moments and startup mentalities, in fact innovation is more often a long, evolutionary process which requires planning, perseverance and longevity.
Yet with any long-term process come the questions, how can organisations put the necessary steps in place to build this process of innovation? How will you know if this process will work, or indeed measure whether it has worked? How can you build upon the successes and limitations of your process to ensure that it delivers better results next time?
These are all questions which must be answered when crafting an innovation process. Here are 3 tips for beginning this procedure and ensuring that innovation becomes an integral part of your organisational culture.
CREATE A METHOD OF PRIORITISATION
According to a recent article by Harvard Business Review (HBR), when organisations do not have a formal innovation process they tend to rely on ‘well-intentioned, smart people sitting in a committee to decide which ideas are worth pursuing.’ This often means that these decisions are subject to being swayed by who has the best pitching style or lobbies the hardest for their idea, rather than focusing purely on the potential and scope of an idea.
HBR suggests that in order to combat this phenomenon, organisations must implement ‘a self-regulating, evidence-based innovation pipeline [which] helps innovators and other stakeholders to curate and prioritise problems, ideas, and technologies.’ Implementing this kind of prioritisation means that those innovations that are followed through ‘will already have substantial evidence — about validated customer needs, processes, legal security, and integration issues’ which can help ensure that only the most effective and promising innovations are pursued.
HBR suggests using McKinsey’s Three Horizons model to fuel this prioritisation and for the review process to be carried out by the innovation team themselves, rather than a committee of executives, before continuing work the idea or project.
KEEP PACE WITH TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE
One of the biggest challenges facing innovators is the fact that the constant development of new technologies and shifts in existing trends means that the goalposts of innovation are repeatedly being moved. For projects that can often take months or even years in the making, it is essential that an organisation’s innovation process takes account of these technological changes and developments in order to remain competitive.
Although according to business.com innovation is necessary for any business, ‘intentionality is critical, particularly when it comes to digital transformation.’ Arguing that ‘rapidly changing technology makes the rate of failure higher than usual’, organisations often fall prey to ‘"zombie projects" – dead ideas that are holding you back because no one thought to ditch what wasn't working.’
One of the key lessons to take from business.com’s article is that even with a strong process in place to keep up with the pace of change, organisations must create a fine balance between embracing new trends and simply buying into digital innovations for their own sake. Arguing that with ‘so many technologies on the edge of exploding right now – the internet of things, virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence - it's easy to move full steam ahead with the first "fun" idea that comes to mind.’ Building a process which allows you to recognise which developments offer most value to your organisation is crucial if your innovation is to be carefully targeted and your energy conserved for the ideas with the most potential for ROI and ultimate success.
GENERATE A REPEATABLE PROCESS
One of the biggest benefits to creating an innovation process is the fact that once an effective process has been built, this can then be implemented time and again and tweaked according to the specific idea or project in question. Although creating an innovation process may seem like a lot of work, it is the longevity and far-sightedness inherent in this process-building which really offers value to organisations looking to entrench a culture of innovation among their teams.
For Forbes contributor Tendayi Viki, ‘every company needs a repeatable process for turning creative new ideas into profitable businesses.’ While acknowledging that very few companies are devoid of innovation, often intrapreneurs have a long and difficult process trying to pass innovations through the company bureaucracy, and therefore lack ‘a clear and repeatable process in the company that employees can follow to explore their idea, test key assumptions and take successful products to market.’
In order to build such a system, or ‘innovation ecosystem’ as Viki calls it, senior executives must remove the obstacles facing those team members willing and able to innovate, provide resources and guidance from early on in the idea generation phase, and allow the time and space for ideas to mature in order to understand their true value.
Viki’s belief that ‘in the current business environment, sustaining innovation is key to survival’ is a poignant one, and should act as motivation enough for organisations large and small to invest time and effort into building a coherent innovation process that consistently delivers results.
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