Innovation is a collaborative process through which organizations abandon old paradigms and make significant advances. Innovative ideas come from several sources, including: unreasonable demands, goals and time pressures. An organization must cultivate innovation and link it to their business improvement strategies to realize benefit from innovation.

There are many blocks to innovation. Innovative ideas must be tested and implemented. Otherwise, the innovators will not generate more ideas. Innovative ideas require work to implement. The perfect solution is often there, as a vision, a thought, a dream or just a wish. But it is often far too complex for an individual to take it into reality.
There are many examples of individuals who have great ideas but do nothing with them. Their organizations do not even know of these concepts. Unfortunately these ideas die. They die because the creator kills them! Why? Perhaps the innovator recognizes that the idea may negatively impact his or her job or the job of co-workers or, because the innovator does not know how to explore the idea to take it from a vision to a reality. Furthermore, the innovator may be too quick to discard the idea because they think that no one would ever agree on how to structure the concept or pay for it.
Just how many innovative ideas in your organization regularly go nowhere? To protect innovative ideas, organizations need to create a forum for the Innovation Process and link innovative ideas to overall business improvement strategies.

What Is Innovation?

It is not:

  • The result of a lone genius inventor.
  • Just about ideas (The problem is that people often do not know where to go with ideas or how to implement them, which is sometimes a problem with suggestion-box systems).
  • About individuality in thinking (which is what suggestion-box systems tend to focus on).

Rather it is:

  • A collaborative process where people in many fields contribute to implementing new ideas. Teams are very important to the process.
  • About products and processes, both future and present.
  • Involving people who will challenge the status quo. The person who moans and groans and complains the most may be the source of the next great innovation.

Where Does Innovation Begin?

It begins with an idea, which comes from nowhere—such ideas usually die unless a fertile ground exists to develop them, or a goal—an outlandish or unreasonable demand or goal, one that a continuous improvement process will not reach. Either situation will often may spark innovation.

How Do You Get These Ideas?

  1. With time pressure!
    Being under the gun, with a deadline, adds a sense of consequence to the task and a purpose to spur it.
  2. By facing a challenge…seemingly unreasonable!
    Studies show that positive thinkers rise to a challenge. The more they are likely to face defeat, the more they want to beat it.
  3. By abandoning old paradigms!
    Abandoning the status quo, like rules, policies, and set procedures. Only when you leave the rules behind, can you be free to create. This is critical to successful innovation.

The Innovation Process…From Vision to Reality

1. Capture the Visions and Ideas
Individuals brainstorm answers to broad-based questions such as “What is impossible to do in your organization, department or business today, but if it could be done, would fundamentally change what your organization/ department/ business does?” Questions such as this are often driven by the customer or an unreasonable demand or a goal.

The individual answers to these questions help to see the boundaries of a new organization! Responses are usually recorded on sticky notes. Generally there will be one idea/vision per yellow sticky. That is where innovation begins.

2. Create the Innovation Team
Assemble a cross-functional team with members that are able to be responsible for exploring and implementing the innovations. It is important to include both creative and practical individuals. This creates a nice balance in the team since you’ll have a mix of people who keep challenging and asking “why” combined with those who will keep challenging and asking “how”. Sometimes those who will be impacted by the innovation are included on the team. These may even be the customers.

3. Develop the Innovation Statements
Begin by recording all ideas and visions, reviewing the entire list and then organizing the ideas that are similar into groups. From this grouping of ideas develop statements that represent the ideas in each group. The team will then need to agree on which Innovation Statements to explore further and then try to quantify the benefits of each statement of ideas.

4. Identify the Benefits of Each Innovation
Now is the time to examine each Innovation Statement in depth and to explore the benefits of moving forward with each one. The team may want to give consideration to how each Innovation Statement fits with the organization’s strategy, mission and objectives as well as the overall business potential for each innovation and impact on the customer. Essentially the innovation team is beginning to detail the appeal of the innovations without concern for current thinking, policy or procedure.

5. Identify and Overcome Innovation Blockages
Identify the blockages and barriers that might stop the organization from implementing each innovation. This may require the innovation team to review their basic assumptions about the way things are currently done that must change.

Once identified and recorded, the team will need to identify possible options and solutions to overcome the blockages to implementing each viable innovation. At this stage of the process expect a large list of possible options and solutions. Through the next step, however, the team will cut them down to a select few or one.

6. Prioritize Implementation of the Innovations
The best innovations can be identified by either multi-voting, as a team, on all identified options and thereby reducing the list to those core areas that everyone agrees are the best ones to use to implement the innovations, or by completing a more detailed analysis of each option by using a priority evaluation process.

It is also possible to reduce the number of options or solutions through multi-voting and then to apply a priority evaluation process to this reduced list. This will help to identify the key options or solutions, which if implemented, will ensure the innovation is successfully implemented.

7. Develop the Business Effectiveness Strategy
Now that innovations have been assessed and selected for possible implementation, the team is ready to develop a high-level implementation plan. At this stage, they will determine who will hold responsibility for the implementation and how much time they will require to fully implement. The team will also need to do some research to identify budget requirements, determine measurement criteria and compare their findings with the innovation benefits they had identified at Step 4.

8. Create Breakthrough Events, Processes, Structures and Strategies Through the Innovations
With an implementation plan developed, the innovation team is ready to develop a project plan and identify their sponsor. The sponsor will provide the support, required resources and budget to implement the innovations. There may be some change requirements for the staff and customers. There must be a communication process to the staff and customers to gain their buy-in and support during the implementation of the innovations.

9. Start Again….
In time, it often becomes obvious that what was once an innovation no longer fits. Continuous improvement of the existing process, product, or service is no longer of value; perhaps the former innovation has now become outdated or outmoded. It is time to let it go; abandon the existing thinking, and set a new goal to start the innovation process once again. It is time for new innovations in response to external pressure for change.

Innovation & Organizations

Every organization undergoes innovation or else it is not successful. It is just a matter of degree. The essence of innovation is discovering what your organization is uniquely good at, what special capabilities it possesses, and how it can take advantage of these capabilities to build products or deliver services that are better than anyone else’s? Every organization has unique strengths. Success comes from leveraging these strengths in its own service or product market place.

Innovation & Globalization

Today, many organizations operate globally. They find that innovation can occur anywhere, in any country or culture. Traditionally, innovation has been a local issue, not transferred to other corporate locations. But today, innovation teams, similar to improvement teams, work on innovation surrounding a product or service and then develop a centrally planned roll out. For process innovations, the local organization implements them and then, because of enhanced communication, the innovation moves from location to location. This is accomplished by using the technology available today, including the worldwide web, teleconferencing, and video-conferencing.

Take Action!!

Innovation is an action. To encourage yourself to take action, let me leave you with some famous words of hope from George Bernard Shaw:
“You see things and you say, why? But I dream things and I say, why not?”

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