From our interviews with innovators from around the world and scientific research, we’ve distilled six innovation Building Blocks. They’re essential when you’re starting or revamping an innovation program in your organization. Together, they provide a disciplined approach that helps you avoid common pitfalls and reach your goals faster.
Becoming a more innovative company does not mean that everyone in the organization needs to be innovative in the same way. Some people thrive on ambiguity and big picture stuff. Give them a big task, and you set them up for success. Others have a wealth of knowledge about customers because they work directly with them. Give them a smaller task, and you set them up for success without scaring them away. Your organization’s structure needs to make space for new ideas and limit fear of failure. It’s vital to create an environment of trust where everyone can express their opinion and know they’ll be taken seriously.
Encouraging innovative ideas means handling people differently, and even highly standardized corporate processes, such as budget allocation, should follow different rules from the rest of your organization. You need to give innovators room to breathe. Provide broad direction to facilitate collaboration and exploration but do not impose strict guidelines. Design learning based KPIs rather than revenue or profit-based KPIs. This will leverage your team’s passions and natural inclinations rather than putting people in boxes where they will feel stressed about achieving something that’s ‘good enough’, rather than doing the best they can.
To innovate, you need to do things differently from other people, often in ways that have not been proven yet. But by testing quickly, you can validate all assumptions and learn. It’s about weeding out bad options rather than waiting for everyone to come on board. Accept that innovation is cumulative and you might only recognize it after it’s happened, so be open to ideas that you might not find innovative straight away, especially if they require few resources. Try to validate them quickly. Be very proactive in creating a circle of people to whom you can talk freely and don’t hesitate to tap into their years of experience.
Too much emphasis on what competitors or innovators in other industries are doing can lead you to forget that innovation is about implementing something first – and that it happens when ideas from different domains intersect. Also, methods to understand what customers want today don’t guarantee that they will want the same thing a year from now, when your new product and service is ready. So you need a different approach to understand what customers want before anyone else, especially what they will want in future. To start sensing, we recommend monitoring cultural and technological trends, especially in leading cities from around the world, as well as leading academic research institutions.
Much of the latest trends focus on user centricity. This has benefited companies that want to fix something broken or develop an incrementally novel product with respect to their current offering. However, you can develop more innovative products when you couple user research and focus groups with deep understanding of cultural factors. That is, you become a creator of new meanings rather than products. And new meanings are more difficult to imitate as creating them combines many more resources and takes longer. They also last longer.
Innovative ideas don’t sell themselves to internal and external stakeholders alike. They don’t sell by getting people in a room and faking a brainstorming session. Often, senior leaders see things in one way – what they’re used to. They may be too familiar with the business, or too detached from day-to-day work, to recognize an innovative idea. By helping them see possibilities rather than problems, you can stop them from killing ideas too soon. When you present an idea that changes the path of an organization and that requires new resources, capabilities or partnerships – or supersedes existing ones – you’re asking stakeholders to take a big leap of faith. Build consensus in steps. Don’t sell the idea in the same way to different kinds of people. The story you use to convince finance people, engineering people and marketing people should not the same. Meet them where they are.