Always-on innovation is key, but is it always easy?

A flow of small but powerful ideas is often the dream when organisations talk about increasing innovation. But creating ‘always-on’ business innovation isn’t as simple as telling everyone in your organisation, brand, or marketing agency to ‘be innovative’! What happens if everyone puts forward a raft of credible ideas? What do you do with them all? What should the ideas be focused on? And how should they be evaluated? Which department pays to implement the ideas?

For many of our clients, the theory of driving fresh thinking is a very attractive one as it creates amongst other benefits, a competitive edge, new revenue streams and optimised ways of working. However, the art of innovation management is a relatively new one, and simply employing a Head of Innovation or tasking an existing department with the responsibility of driving new ideas won’t deliver these big benefits.

The practicalities of practising innovation

There are two aspects to successfully embedding innovation within a business: creating the culture and creating the structure.

Creating the innovation culture

Ideas can come from anyone, at any level, in any department, at any time, so it’s important to embed a culture where fresh, innovative thinking is actively encouraged and all ideas are accepted. (At the ideas stage, no idea is a bad idea, and there should not be an arbiter of ideas.)

It is incredibly empowering for the entire workforce to be ‘allowed’ to think creatively. In doing so, employees feel like they add value to the organisation and invest more of themselves in ensuring the success of the business. It is also important that people see their ideas being acknowledged, rather than simply going into a locked box never to be seen again. Some organisations achieve this with award ceremonies or ideas walls for all their peers to see.

Creating the innovation structure

To support a culture of innovation, there must be a robust structure for managing the ideas and a formal process for converting ideas into successful implementations.

First the organisation needs a way of gathering and storing ideas which is easy for team members to in-put new ideas into. This database will later need to be easy to search and easy to evaluate ideas too. Most organisations start with a spreadsheet and soon upgrade to an online ideas management tool.  

How do you get the ideas out of the store?

Innovation is best managed by a team of dedicated people who hold the authority to make decisions, to assign budgets and to affect workflow. When an individual or team is faced with a new challenge, they need to be able to approach the innovation team and receive a step-by-step ‘journey’. By which I mean that when they have a challenge, the innovation team should be able to:

  • search the ideas database for relevant ideas
  • write an objective-focused brief, not a broad-brush ‘innovate something to solve our challenge’
  • put out an organisation-wide call for ideas or arrange a taskforce to focus on solving the challenge
  • effectively evaluate and refine ideas
  • co-ordinate research if needed
  • have the authority to ringfence budget and resource for creating the resulting innovation(s)
  • dovetail the innovation into the current ways of working.

As you can see, building a culture and structure for always-on innovation isn’t always easy. But it is worth it! From the classic examples of Apple and Google to our clients like National Grid and Sellafield Ltd, these companies use continuous innovation to keep their products, services, ethos and ways of working optimised.

We believe business innovation is the responsibility of the whole organisation, so we provide cross-organisation support, from team training workshops to unlock new ways of thinking to the expertise to help companies identify strategic challenges and the management of innovation to solve it. You can find out more about our services here.

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