Innovating is difficult, not because creating something new is always hard but because, all too often, organisations are pretty much hard wired to prevent it from happening. Practices and cultures can be deeply embedded and there can be vested interests that mitigate against automation or new working practices. Sometimes opposition or even sabotage is conscious but often it happens without people really knowing that their reaction to creativity is putting up barriers. Teams and leaders hate ‘mavericks’ who get access to senior decision makers in a way that they may not. The traditions of educations also tend to be unhelpful. We’re taught that it’s undesirable to be wrong and we therefore try not to be or to hide it when we are. In fact, getting things wrong is an essential part of learning how to get them right in a way you can repeat.
Yet a willingness to create the space and the permission to act differently is essential if we are to take ourselves into new territory. And leaders need to appreciate that sometimes it may be a long time before the return on investment is realized. The problem is, as organisations like Kodak found out, innovators own the future and that always turns into the present.
So how could you think about your own approach to innovation, whether you are a leader in a business or whether you’re the generator of a new idea? Here are some thoughts:
- Innovation doesn’t just mean inventing the electric light bulb, the iPhone or a warp drive though the latter would be impressive it has to be admitted. There are different kinds of innovation and these descriptors, drawn from the Horizon 2020 programme (sorry UKIP and the Daily Mail, that’s the EU) capture them nicely
- Product innovation: OK, that really is about new stuff so the warp drive would fit the bill here
- Process innovation: this is where there is a significantly improved production or delivery method. The introduction of bar codes is a good example of process innovation.
- Organisational innovation: that’s about a new way of doing something or building something that improves the quality or the volume of what you create . Think about the development of the production line to understand what’s meant by organisational innovation
- Marketing innovation: that about finding a new way of packaging a product or a service or placing it in the market place. An example might be the way Ferrero Roche have achieved success through the way they packaged and presented their product.
- Social innovation: that’s about new ways of meeting both social and environmental needs. So ethical banking, crowdfunding, ‘Boris’ bikes or car-share schemes might be examples of that.
Innovation is probably best thought of as an organic process. In order to grow new ideas need the right conditions, the right structure and the right attention. Innovating organisations know that and they create the right balance between encouragement and permission to experiment and the rigour of testing, challenging and adapting new ideas at each stage. Setting agreed tests and gateways for innovative projects prevents time and money being wasted on something that isn’t going to work, practically or economically.
So if you are serious about encouraging innovation make it fun, put a structure in place to test the validity and deliverability of the idea at key points and make sure that people have support from others with expertise they lack. Although it requires commitment from decision makers it can be an enormously rewarding and valuable part of your organizational culture. And it might even save your business from obsolescence.
If you feel you could or should do more to create an innovative culture in your organization and would like to talk that through, contact Mojo and we’ll see what we can do to help you.