Over the past 30 years, we’ve worked with 100’s of international companies. We’ve seen that the most innovative companies drive innovation at the individual, team and organizational levels. They enjoy two benefits. First, they are more successful at creating and implementing new ideas. Second, their employees are more engaged. This means that they are more productive and committed to the organization.
So, what’s their secret? In this article, we’ll share our top 10 innovation drivers.
1) Make Everyone Responsible for Innovation (Individual)
Make innovation part of everyone’s job. No matter where they work in your value chain, they can contribute to new value creation. To do their job well, they need the skills and tools for innovation. Provide that training. When they use these skills, they need to be supported. Even when they fail! Think of innovation as productivity. Everyone strives to be productive. They are taught skills and tools to be more productive. Managers evaluate them on their productivity. Treat innovation the same way. When everyone is responsible for innovation, innovation happens.
2) Develop Innovation Processes that Everyone Can Use (Process)
Innovative organizations have processes that drive innovation. Their individuals and teams use a structured creative process. There are many out there, such as Lean Six Sigma, Design Thinking, TRIZ. We find the most robust process is the Universal Creative Process. Its seven steps help you choose the right problem to solve, generate lots of ideas, improve those ideas, prototype the best ideas, create a plan for implementation, and monitor progress. Also, innovative organizations have processes to select and fund new ideas. You can learn more about how to select and fund innovation. When there are processes to develop, select and fund new ideas, innovation will follow.
3) Go Beyond Developing Products (Offerings)
BIG innovations are more than products. Big innovations transform services, processes or channels. For example, the iPod was more than a cool-looking gadget that allowed you to buy and load music. It was the relationship between Apple and the music industry that made the iPod a big innovation. It transformed how people consume music. So, if you want to drive innovation, you need to look beyond just product innovation.
4) Create Teams that Support Innovation (Team)
While individuals are responsible for innovation, they cannot do it alone. People need to be part of an innovative team. Being an innovative team is hard work. Everyone must remain curious, humble and tenacious. If someone is not following these values, they should be called out. People need to accept feedback from others on the team. This is not easy, but there are tools and methods to make feedback non-threatening and an integral part of the work flow. Highly performing innovative teams make feedback part of their iterative process.
5) Welcome New Ideas (Psychological Climate)
When you welcome people’s new ideas, they will generate more ideas. Now, this does not mean that all their ideas are good. That’s ok, great solutions start with generating lots of ideas, then evaluating and picking the best. Innovative leaders understand how to evaluate new ideas. We find the most powerful way to evaluate ideas is using the tool POINt. This tool teaches people to start with praise first, which helps deflate any defensiveness. You’ll find other ways to evaluate ideas in our tools library. Do this and your team will more quickly create innovative solutions.
6) Leverage Diversity (Geopolitical Climate)
Every individual, team and organization have strengths and weaknesses. Embrace these. There are things that we can learn from each other, but first we must seek to understand each other. Take time to understand other individuals and other groups. Innovation leaders ask: “What strengths can I leverage? Also, what differences might make collaborating more difficult? A good tool for working through these opportunities is Assisters and Resisters. Once you answer these questions, innovation will accelerate.
7) Build a Culture of Innovation (Enterprise)
Creative people and teams need to be part of a culture of innovation. Innovation cultures support individual and team creativity. Our research and experience show that there are four dimensions to a culture of innovation. They are people, processes, policies and climate. When an organization supports these four dimensions, people have the right ecosystem to innovate. Learn more about building a culture of innovation in our ebook, Demystifying Innovation Culture Efforts.
8) Show that Innovation is Important (Organizational Culture)
It’s not enough to say innovation is important! What leaders say is often drowned out by what people know is really going on. Invest in your employees. Here’s a few ways to show that innovation is important:
- Train all employees in creative problem solving skills
- Give them the time to explore new ideas, even when they fail
- Train managers on how to lead innovation
- Reward employees, managers and business units for innovation with accountability measures
When you do this, everyone will know that innovation is important. They will be motivated to improve their skills, support innovation, and create new solutions.
9) Design Spaces for People to Be Creative (Physical Environment)
People need to work in a space that fosters creative collaboration and innovation. This doesn’t mean companies need to invest in couches and coffee bars. In fact, there is no ideal environment for innovation. But, creative spaces have some things in common:
- It’s easy for people to get together to share ideas and build solutions
- People have space to escape and think in peace and quiet
- There’s room to spread out and dig into information to create solutions
When people work in the right space, they can more easily collaborate and get into a creative mindset to drive innovation.
10) Fund Innovation Even During Tough Times (Economic Climate)
It’s easy to support innovation when the economy is strong. But, innovation leaders fund innovation even when the economy is weak. They can do this because when business is good, they set aside money. When budgets are tight, they use this money to fund innovation. Research shows that organizations “in distress” can be the most innovative. This makes sense because the pressure creates focus. When a company is in distress they need to innovate to survive. So, companies that support innovation even during the lean years can make great changes.
Every Organization Can Be an Innovation Powerhouse
Regardless of your company’s size, industry or location, it can be an innovation powerhouse. It won’t be easy. This list is a guide to get you started. If you’re interested in learning more, let us know. We’d love to help.