Innovation is rapidly becoming a key strategic driver for organizations as we enter the second decade of the 21st century. However, most organizations seem to struggle with understanding what it is, what’s stopping them from being more innovative and how to move forward on their journey into innovation.
Being able to look at current trends and see where they will take us is an interesting and thought provoking exercise. It can give us a much needed competitive edge to move ahead of the pack.

Through our continuous, extensive global research studies, we have identified a number of key trends that will have a positive impact on organizations and how they manage Innovation over the next decade.

Here are seven (7) key future trends in innovation that can help you and your organization gain a competitive edge.

1. Organizations will define what “innovation” means in their environment.

Most individuals have read about innovation, heard about innovation and maybe even tried to be innovative. But few understand what exactly innovation is. Organizations are beginning to recognize that innovation is not the result of a lone genius; rather it is a collaborative process where people from many different parts of the organization contribute to the creation and implementation of new ideas.
The first trend for organizations is that they will define what innovation means in their own environment. Is it about products or services or processes or customers or all of these things? Once they are clear on what it is for them, they will be ready to implement the second trend, building the strategy for innovation.

2. Organizations will create a Strategic Innovation Plan to ensure innovation becomes a strategic imperative.

If you get the environment right, a culture of innovation will easily fall into place and the business side of your operations will be that much easier. Many organizations spend time on strategic planning and business planning but rarely spend time on building their culture, the development of values and principles and the type of reporting relationships that will support the new culture.
Organizations will now start to create strategic plans that include innovation as one of their key strategic imperatives. This is the requirement to get the innovation engine started. They will develop the actions required to successfully implement the strategic imperative and they will gain organization support through their communications of this important initiative.

3. Organizations will create the culture for consistent innovations to reduce the ad hoc approach to innovations.

Organizations will engage everyone at all levels in the process of identifying their definition of a culture of innovation. What makes it an innovation culture? What is needed to create it? And what risks must be understood and managed in order to create the engine to drive innovations? One of the initiatives some organizations are beginning to undertake is to create teams to delve deeply into these questions. They are recognizing that this is not merely a management imperative, rather, it is a cultural change that requires the on-going input at all levels within their organization.
Organizations that begin re-shaping their cultures around innovation will become focused on both theirs and their customer’s needs and opportunities. They will achieve and maintain profitable operations. These organizations will be constantly looking for ways to reinvent themselves and constantly introducing new varieties and generations of products and services. They will constantly be working on the environment which encourages the development of innovations.

4. Organizations will focus on longer-term strategies required to support a culture of innovation.

Organizations often struggle with the on-going trade-off debate between growth and earnings, short and long-term goals, etc. They spend too much time discussing how to cut costs in order to meet monthly revenue targets and too little time talking about the longer-term opportunities and how the short-term decisions are likely to impact these.
Organizations that are focused on the strategy of innovation are starting to realize that their growth will be better met if they focus on the longer term objectives of innovation and customer focus.

5. Organizations will re-shape their values and principles to ensure they support a culture of innovation.

Many organizations have clearly articulated values and principles. They sit on posters and on employee’s desks. But these organizations don’t really know whether or not these are the “right” values and principles. Nor are they certain whether or not their leaders and staff act and behave in a manner which embodies these values and principles.
As organizations re-shape their cultures to support innovation they will also re-examine their values and principles to ensure these are the “right” values and principles that correctly reflect the ‘new” culture. They will add to each value and principle clear behavioral descriptions. These will identify the actions and disciplines everyone will demonstrate to show their on-going understanding and embodiment of these values and principles. Then everyone will know whether or not their communications, reactions, actions, etc. are in keeping with or contrary to the values and principles.

Organizations in the future will alter their hiring practices to ensure that they hire the type of staff who can live these values and principles because they align with their own principles. Through these efforts they will know their values and principles are contributing to the fostering of a culture of innovation.

6. Organizations will create clear processes for innovation.

Innovation doesn’t just happen. It must be everyone’s responsibility. There has to be no constraints. There are so many models of great organizations that reached this level and continue to evolve. Think of W.L. Gore, Google, Honda, and Apple to name a few.
Many of the world’s most successful innovators, from Thomas Edison to choreographer Twyla Tharp, concede that innovation cannot be forced, but it can be developed. That is, we can enhance our capacity to generate ideas, innovations, and adopt what Tharp calls the “creative habit.” Developing the understanding and practice of these creative habits is the foundation for a contemporary process that fosters innovation in the workplace.

Organizations are beginning to recognize the innovation is a collaborative process where people from various disciplines within the organizations come together to generate innovations and to take these from vision to reality. The innovation process will be taught and incorporated into everything that everyone does. Many organizations will begin to set aside time for their staff to innovation. Google and Microsoft do this. It is part of their culture. It is expected that everyone spends time not only on their job, but that they devote time to innovate.

The process that organizations will be implementing ensure that everyone knows how to work in a diverse team, accept conflicts as mere differences of opinion, understand how to capture innovations, generate alternatives, research possibilities and create the actions needed to bring them these to reality. It doesn’t just happen. It is a process.

7. Organizations will recognize the impact of generational differences in the creation of innovations.

Part of creating a culture which supports innovation is to understand the generational differences so apparent in our organizations today. At no time in our history have we seen so many different generations working alongside each other. It affects our culture, our work environment, our work relationships and consequently, the innovation process. Why? Because each generation has different approaches to working individually vs. collaboratively, how they generate ideas and so on. Not to suggest that there is only one way or preferred way; rather, to be aware of how to use an understanding of these generational differences to build the innovation culture.
The development of a culture of innovation in our organizations now considers not only the existing organizational culture but the generational differences as well. Recognizing these factors will ensure organizations create the right environment that fits into the uniqueness of their organization.

Concluding Remarks

Many of you will read these trends and believe that you are not “senior” enough in your respective organizations to ensure these trends are effectively implemented in your organizations. This is not at all true. One of the great strengths of leaders is their ability to use influence and critical thinking skills to bring about positive change. Each of us can choose to be either a leader or a follower. We must decide. Our organization’s future may depend upon the right decisions being made today. Hopefully, knowledge of these trends will help you stay ahead of your competitors and help you contribute to your organization’s future success.

Michael Stanleigh

Michael Stanleigh, CMC, CSP, CSM is the CEO of Business Improvement Architects. He works with leaders and their teams around the world to improve organizational performance by helping them to define their strategic direction, increase leadership performance, create cultures that drive innovation and improve project and quality management. Michael’s experience spans public and private sector organizations in over 20 different countries. He also delivers presentations to businesses and conferences throughout the world. In addition to his consulting practice and global speaking he has been featured and published in over 500 different magazines and industry publications. For more information about this article you may contact Michael Stanleigh at mstanleigh@bia.ca