Thursday, August 13, 2015

How Should You Structure, but Not Stifle Innovation?

Innovation per se is like composing a symphony, a lot of planning, but the music will come from the musicians, not the director.

The gap is growing between the need for innovation and many organizations' capacities to learn how to do it. It's harder and much more painful to define your innovation constitution than to define the structures, and the formats used to make innovation happen. Although there’s no magic formula for innovation success, people, structure, and process are all important factors. More specifically, how should you structure innovation, or what are the principles, processes, and practices to manage innovation more effectively and systematically?

Inclusiveness, Democratization, Multi iterations, Multi-viewpoints: If one of your employees came up with a new initiative to start an ideation process on a certain question, where would he or she take it? That's the problem of today's innovation programs. Many of them are organized the same way as the traditional staff idea and improvement box. Innovation is so much more. You need to know how to involve employees, and how to frame the question to get the best ideas. The business knows what good ideas are, what has been done before and can evaluate the ideas. Also upfront (pre-ideation), you need to agree on the next steps and who will be responsible for the follow-up. Fill the driving seat. Have designated staff to run, manage and curate your ideation processes. Try to include a diverse team of participants in your ideation processes as possible. Look out for curious people with a broad knowledge base, a hands-on attitude, and good analytic and social skills. Make your creative processes available to everybody. Don’t let individual minds ruin your innovation setting. Promote ideation near to the customer frictions. Frontline workers, close to the market, usually have plenty of ideas. However, ideation is not innovation. Keep idea generation processes separated from the rest of your innovation program. No process without a briefing, make sure no ideation process is conducted unless it is clear what creative challenge exactly you need ideas for. Ideation is not innovation. But it's still crucial. Without that constant source of ideas, innovation will not sustain. Make sure that your ideas are collected, and elaborated over at least two methodological iterations. Design your ideation processes in a way it allows you to consider multiple viewpoints in a creative challenge. Get rid of unnecessary hierarchy and politics. Politics is defined as a reflection of power balances when someone wants something, and someone else can help/block. Organizational politics can be helpful and can be a blockage, but it can't go away. It's part of relationships in human life, in and out of work. Make politics discussable and point out how people can use their power. The collaborative innovation teams are responsible that there are tools, processes, and best practices in place, that the business can use to innovate.

Senior leaders have power and influence, so use these productively: They must give visible support to the end to end innovation process, including any technical support. They can also coach and mentor team leaders and speak publicly about the need for innovation. Most organizations say they have no problem with idea generation, but they under-support idea testing and wider adoption. This is where senior leaders have a role. The problem is that too many leaders do too little! Top leaders need to build a culture of innovation with the structured process in catalyzing, not stifling innovation, they have to think innovation as one of the most significant elements in business strategy and manage it effectively. Team leaders have a key role because most innovation happens in teams doing real work. And besides the C-level sponsorship for the program and the innovation focus areas, every ideation campaign also has a related middle manager sponsor to show the crowd there is actually someone behind the question in order to increase the trust the ideas will be picked up. Train these leaders to develop ideas from concept to implementation testing. What typically happens is that companies, after stating innovation as one of their core values, designate accountability to a Head of Innovation and feel they've done their duty. The same thing happens with knowledge management and diversity. Many heads of innovations see themselves as the actual source of innovation. That's one group. Other heads of innovations see their role facilitate the corporate ideas and suggestion box in a rather passive manner. Ideally, Head of Innovation needs to find creative ways to tackle the innovation potential lying in an enterprise and to provide the necessary tools to unleash this creative force and to develop these tools further, with the goal to maintain the idea and innovation pipe of the company filed at any time.

The structure is one of the three levers, along with policies and programs, that managers can use to drive innovation. Remove any of the three, and you're liable to fail. Innovation is a culture more than anything, and it occurs of its own volition and often on its own timescale. A defined structure is essential to managing innovation in a corporation, but there's no single structure that will work in every organization. More precisely, you don't structure innovation. You apply principles of approach and vary the resource and tool mix by the ever-changing environment, day to day through the year to year. By default, trying to apply structure applies limits. If the structure is meant in a methodological sense, of course, the structure is needed. Many corporate innovation programs serve individual careers, not content. Ideas are crucial to an innovation program. You need to make sure, that your company has a steady flow of fresh ideas floating in your innovation pipeline, and, therefore, you need a methodological mainframe that allows you to do that. The process to support the creation of sustainable, systematic innovation can be structured, but innovation per se is like composing a symphony, a lot of planning, but the music will come from the musicians, not the director.

Some highly innovative organizations fail to capitalize on their great ideas because there was no structure in place to manage the ideas. Keep the hierarchy as low as possible. Cut the politics. The rigorous innovation structures are supported by the right policies and programs. There are times fostering a culture where creativity thrives really helps to drive innovation that can fit into an existing business or process. That's what innovation gurus would call routine, ongoing, or core innovation. The challenge comes with determining how to fund, commercialize, foster, protect, and focus investments in innovation that could require distinctly different business environments to prosper.


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