Six Essentials to Make Innovation Happen
- Anyone can innovate if they’re engaged and working with a good innovation system
- There are six actions you should take to drive innovation within your organization
- These six actions are: Radically clarify the problem, assemble your innovation team, do the research, generate big ideas, do the math, and fail fast/cheap
Organizations are realizing the need for innovation to harness change for their benefit, but teams and individuals are hindered by believing they are not innovative. The truth is, you don’t need to be Steve Jobs to make it happen. If a person is willing, they can innovate if they have the right system to work within.
Here are six essential actions that can drive innovation within your organization, and six actions to avoid.
1. Radically clarify the problem
- Marry an idea if it isn’t solving a real problem or aligning with the overall mission
- Resist changing an idea in light of negative feedback
- Vaguely list problems and throw suggestion boxes on walls
Always start with a mission. Clearly identify a pressing issue that you have immediate control over. A good way to start is to list every possible problem your organization is facing and then rank them in order of importance. These can be internal systems issues, or they can be problems that customers are facing that need to be solved.Also, give clear parameters to this mission. What is the backstory as to why this is important? What are the resource constraints? What types of ideas are you not interested in? What types of ideas are you interested in? This will help set your team up for success.
2 – Assemble your innovation team
- Assemble teams from a single department to solve a problem in that same department
- Rely only on R&D or product development employees to come up with ideas
- Assume that large teams are better for more input
Instead, try this:
Think about interest. Who is, or could be, passionate about this project? Think about diversity. Employees from different departments, levels, and backgrounds will increase the potential for innovation.
Think small. A project team should have 6–8 people maximum. This is the right size for an innovation project to ensure the project stays on track and everyone can stay focused.
3 – Do the research
If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.
– Henry Ford
- Research only on what competitors are doing (local or worldwide)
- Consider only customer interests
- Look for information to confirm their biases
Instead, try this:
Focus on the problem you are solving. Have the project team spend an hour or two collecting information from a variety of sources to inspire fresh thinking. Consider:
- Market mining: Find information about direct and indirect competitors
- Insight mining: Use the voice of your customer
- Future mining: Find out about future trends and predictions
- Patent mining: Explore patent databases
- Wisdom mining: Look at academic research
- Unrelated mining: Look at trends and developments in industries unrelated to your
4 – Generate big ideas to solve the problem
- Run classic brainstorming sessions or “brain drains” where participants only dump what is already on their minds
Use stimulus and diversity to generate meaningfully unique ideas. Pull elements of your research into a presentation to get your team’s brains buzzing with information. Then, leverage creative tools such as mind mapping and others to push the boundaries of your current thinking!
5 – Do the math
- Assume that finance will build the math model later
- Invest in ideas, only to find out the numbers don’t work
Instead, try this:
Start with napkin math right away. Put together some rough figures as a starting point to find out if your idea is worth spending even one more day on.
Provide educated estimates about the idea’s potential revenue, savings, or other metrics that will lend credibility to your business case. Your napkin math will absolutely be wrong—but it will be useful! The key is to state your assumptions about every number that you use. That way as the project moves along, we can validate those assumptions and make our math stronger.
When working with innovation project teams and individual innovators, we always say, “Math is the gas pedal. No math = no project.”
6 – Fail fast, fail cheap
- Study ideas to death causing “analysis paralysis”
- Fail to make decisions because lack of perfect data
- Fall in love with any one idea
Instead, try this:
List all the “death threats”, roadblocks that could kill your idea. Then run Plan-Do-Study-Act cycles of learning on each death threat. The key here is to start with the biggest threat and tackle that first. That way we don’t waste time tackling smaller ones if a bigger one will kill the idea later.
The goal is to get just enough information to decide if we can get past the threat or not. If we can, great—on to the next death threat. If we can’t, then we need to either pivot our idea in a new direction or kill the idea and start working on our next favourite idea. We need to stay mission-focused, not idea-focused. Accept that not everything you try will be a success. In this process, failure should be considered as learning and not a loss.
Whether you are a business owner, leader, or team member, you can take these six actions to begin unleashing an innovative culture in any organization.
Want to learn more about our proven process for innovation and how to implement it within your organization? Download our free guide “Innovate with Confidence” to get all the details.