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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

Fueling the future: How to ignite innovation catalysts in your organization, part one 

Innovation is tough, but capturing and catalyzing opportunities is critical to the growth of organizations both big and small.

Fueling the future: How to ignite innovation catalysts in your organization, part one 
[Vasyl/Adobe Stock]

What will inspire innovation in your company and organization? Is it a new technology, product, service, problem, or solution? How can you spark the ideation process across your organization?

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As the world advances exponentially, so does the demand for innovation and invention. Innovation is tough, but capturing and catalyzing opportunities is critical to the growth of organizations both big and small, from startup stars to global innovators. For global brands, innovation is a must, but how can organizations ensure they are setting up their innovation teams for success?

In this series, I’ll discuss 11 ways organizations can support and fuel innovation catalysts and creativity in their organizations. We will dive into the first five in part one of this series.

1. FOCUS ON COLLABORATIVE LEADERSHIP

The command-and-control ways of working are no longer effective. They are too constraining, take up too much time, and don’t get to the root of real open thinking and problem-solving. Some of the best talent might be misplaced in the sea of matrices, creating a team of “me” instead of a team of “we.” Create a culture of collaborative leadership—it’s all about where “we” are heading as a team. Collaboratively exploring, creating, testing, and learning are far faster ways to work and create compelling business growth opportunities.

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2. CREATE A VISION WITH ATTAINABLE GOALS 

Clearly identify your overall mission, vision, and goals. Empower the entire organization with something to rally around. People need to have freedom in a framework, to be empowered, to be supported, and to know that they can get what they need to succeed.

Embrace and align on the “right” measures of success. One of the biggest pitfalls organizations make is moving the measuring stick and not informing their teams. Successful companies establish a vision with attainable goals and ongoing communication, so everyone is aligned in lockstep, like a dance squad learning and improving their steps together.

3. HAVE (AND ACT ON) A PLAN 

Having a plan is critical. This is where some organizations get stuck. They spend too much time making a plan and not enough time moving fast or vice versa.

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You do not need a long thesis of a plan with everything worked out. However, create a go-to reference outlining your mission, vision, and objectives. This should include the problem that you are solving/business challenge, the current market and competitor landscape, how and why what you are offering is different or compelling, and a broad road map for product development, marketing, partnerships, and funding.

4. INCLUDE DIVERSE PERSPECTIVES

Ensure that cross-functional leadership and skill sets are included, such as design, technology, and strategy—a balance of art, science, and grit. Sometimes the best contributors do not come from a formally trained background or top companies; they are entrepreneurs—creators with vision and gumption who will bring real-world perspective to the mix.

Establish a process with clear roles and responsibilities, from initial ideation to launch and ongoing optimization. It does not need to be overly rigid. For example, identify everyone’s strengths and let them own their area of expertise throughout the project with regular check-ins and communications that work best for the individuals and team.

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From a recruiting standpoint, avoid recruiting from the same competitive companies, schools, and recruiting pool. Diverse people, backgrounds, and experiences drive innovation and growth at every level of an organization.

5. EXPLORE THE UNKNOWN, NEW TECHNOLOGIES, PARTNERS, AND EXPERIENCES 

Oftentimes, organizations want to explore the unknown, uncover new trends, or design new ways to drive innovation in their organization. Consider bringing an outside-in perspective through innovation accelerator platforms, such as Merkle’s NXT Intelligence or dentsu’s id8, to rapidly explore, evaluate, and evolve ideas and business growth opportunities to aid in this discovery. Support nonprofit accelerators, such as MassChallenge, to team up with early-stage startups rallied around a specific technology or sector that aligns with your business innovation growth plans.

Additionally, work collaboratively with partners to curate specific opportunities, determine the right partner fit, and design pilot programs that provide test-and-learn opportunities before making a heavy investment.

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Reveal megatrends and explore, evaluate, and evolve ideas that align with your strategic goals and growth. Scout the globe and curate new technologies, discover innovators for potential collaboration, and uncover opportunities with an outside-in perspective that may not have been realized otherwise.

This is just the start. Check back for part two of this series to learn more about how to drive innovation within your organization, including the importance of embracing creativity and measuring success.


Director of Strategy, Product Innovation uncovering cultural trends, designing next-generation product innovations and connected experiences

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