Make Innovation Happen

To make innovation happen takes time. I don’t mean the time it takes for your innovative ideas to mature into their full revenue-generating glory. I mean the time it takes employees to develop insights, generate ideas, and elaborate and test business models.

Many companies that list innovation as one of their core values expect that innovation will somehow just “happen” in employees’ increasingly limited moments when they aren’t busy addressing the immediate demands of their job or “putting out fires”. Innovation requires dedicated time – significant blocks of time to “get into the zone,” to focus and concentrate. Is it realistic to add another 20-40% of work on someone that is already 100% loaded and expect that innovation will happen?

If you are just starting your innovation journey it requires a core group of dedicated people to make innovation happen. Recruit a team with passion and drive. Isn’t putting some dedicated resources on developing ideas for the company’s future at least as important as battling the urgent issues of the present? The membership of the core group of innovators can and should rotate over time to distribute the innovation skills and mindsets throughout the company.

In recent years the focus has been on creating highly efficient organizations that apply lean principles to both management and operations. We recognize it has become very hard for many companies to allocate time and resources to make innovation happen. But fortunately there are ways to make innovation more efficient. Here we describe 4 simple things you can implement.

  1. Develop a plan and schedule for your innovation project – and manage it as a project. Innovation should be a structured process; not a free-for-all. The sequential steps of insight development, idea generation, idea elaboration, and experiment design can be managed using a variety of tools. This means providing clear objectives, tools and instruction, and setting intermediate milestones.
  1. Recognize that innovation is a social process. Innovation is more likely to result from structured group discussions than from solitary independent work; try to schedule lots of face- time for generating, elaborating, and reviewing ideas. Some tasks, like insight research and interviews can be done independently, but bring the team together to synthesize and discuss the collected findings.
  1. Schedule “Events” to incorporate the ideas and expertise of a wider group of employees. Events can allow the Core Team to make rapid progress in many of the stages of innovation; especially in the idea generation phase and in elaborating business models.
  1. Provide a realistic way for your Core Team to dedicate some meaningful fraction of their time to innovation. Encourage the innovators to assess their priorities and workloads and to find ways to eliminate low priority tasks and to delegate other tasks to co-workers. Provide formal “performance review” recognition for the innovation work. Make it clear to employees that innovation is their work and they will be recognized for doing it.

Finding time for innovation has been a real challenge at a lot of recent clients that Strategos has worked with. Like anything else that you consider important for the success of the company, innovation requires dedicated time – to focus, to reflect, to review and improve. Our research tells us that most company executives believe innovation is key to growth. In my experience, companies that believe they can “layer on” an innovation program without dedicating time and people are likely to be unsuccessful and disappointed in its results. But there are ways to make innovation happen efficiently, and applying these four approaches that will allow more companies to take on realistic innovation programs and achieve results more in line with their expectations and ambition for the company.