We often think of innovators as people with behemoth intellect receiving brief, isolated flashes of insight during chance encounters. But with proper structure and practice, we can systematize those chances so that innovation becomes a product of gathering the best talent and working together in the best way, in an organizational structure most conducive to individual and collective flourishing. When the process is systematized, innovation becomes the regular rather than a heroic occurrence.
It’s important to understand that sustained innovation is a journey, not a destination, meaning that an organization doesn’t stop innovating after attaining one goal. Innovation is a continual process of invention, reinvention, and discovery, and for this reason leaders must always set their sights on long-term goals.
Balance sheets alone don’t measure success, and operating based on quarterly returns or short-term goals usually does not work for achieving sustainable innovation.
It’s one thing to wish for long-term change, but a very different story to practice sustained innovation throughout an organization. Leaders need to create the culture and the process to realize sustainable value. And that requires the ability to:
Listen broadly for ideas through external networks. Listen to the customer. Listen to the front lines in your organization.
Understand who your actual and potential customers are, what they want and need, what they will need, and why those needs have not yet been met.
Organize the innovation team to include those with a stake in the innovation, organize the innovation program, and organize the resources and investments needed to address the problem.
Create an environment and capability for innovation by giving the team the ability to fail. Create many alternative solutions by leveraging the cascaded innovation lifecycle.
Experiment and learn from failure. Conduct many experiments in parallel. Use prototyping and other iterative, feedback-driven techniques.
Listen again to the customer to help them imagine. Use prototypes to elicit feedback. Listen to customer acceptance and buying criteria. Listen to what could go wrong, but don’t let the devil’s advocate take control.
Design the concepts to address customer-centric values like cost, intuitive use, ease of change, and sense of enhancement.
Implement the final go/no-go decision. Consolidate or eliminate competing alternatives to a manageable number. Send concepts back for reinvention, retesting, or redesign. Implement the second stage of the innovation lifecycle: manifestation.
Discipline and innovation are not opposites, but complements. Establishing an innovation culture consumes a great deal of organizational energy in overcoming the forces of inertia and entropy. But once an idea has been successfully commercialized, respected champions emerge to drive new sources of the energy, creativity, discipline, and resources that sustain and grow an enduring culture of innovation.
Successful organizations manage innovation from concept to commercialization so that good ideas not only get created, but also continually find their way into the products and services portfolio.
If an organization simply stands pat on its processes and products, it runs the risk of becoming obsolete. Worse, the absence of innovation means that an organization will lack any new offerings for when its current output reaches market saturation.
Adapted from Everything Connects: How To Transform And Lead In The Age Of Creativity, Innovation, And Sustainability (McGraw Hill, 2014). Copyright (c) 2015 by Faisal Hoque. All rights reserved.