Innovation is often seen as purely creative, however like all things in life you need processes and disciplines to foster, capture, harness and enact innovative ideas. An idea may be exciting but is ultimately worthless unless it’s delivered upon. Here are a few tips learned on the job at EmpireOne which we know will help:
‘Culture eats innovation for breakfast lunch and dinner’
This is a popular expression in the academic world. The reason is obvious – just like seeds, ideas require a rich and nurturing environment in order to germinate, grow and ultimately flower and fruit. Therefore, you should foster a culture for innovation (which is easier said than done). A few hints – encourage freedom of expression, contrarian experimentation, teamwork and personal growth. In this environment innovative ideas will likely see the light of day and flourish.
Ensure people have the freedom to fail (and learn from failure)
This must become a core value in your organisation. I can’t stress this enough, it is critical. Furthermore, it’s really, really hard to embrace because after all none of us really wants to fail. Nothing stymies creative thought more than the fear of failure. Remove this barrier and new ideas will surface. Even though we do learn from others, mostly we learn from personal and collective failure. Lessons from failure are generally poignant, vivid and enduring.
Collect ideas from everyone without exception
‘Still waters run deep, shallow brooks babble the loudest’ is an expression which rings very true. Make sure those that have the least ability or opportunity to contribute or who are naturally quiet are heard. Open lines of communication, keep your door open (do people still work in offices?), chat to the cleaner, the taxi driver or the pizza delivery guy (they probably have a PHD in something!). It’s kind of a numbers game and the best ideas will be stumbled upon when least expected.
Collect ideas from everywhere (a corollary to collect ideas from everyone)
Find ways to encourage and capture ideas from suppliers, customers, partners and competitors. Just like your staff these people often see important things you don’t or can’t.
Ensure ideas are captured in their original form…
…Not translated, filtered, enhanced, interpreted or butchered in any way. You want them in their raw and potentially most confronting or challenging form. People are very bad at sharing, have vested interests or often just mis-translate information. We’ve all played that game where a message is passed verbally from person to person and loses all semblance of its original meaning very quickly – so do capture ideas at their source. Which is another reason why you should personally speak with everyone (see above).
Establish a process to rapidly evaluate and test these ideas
Almost always the market is the best (if not only) measure of success (or failure). Getting a prototype built quickly so it can be tested by real customers is optimal.
At EmpireOne we call this ‘rapid fail’, not because we’re negative but because it is desirable to be able to test and realise failure quickly and inexpensively. This way you can test lots of ideas quickly and when you find the one winner, you won’t have burned all your precious capital. The EmpireOne incubator program is a really good way of testing ideas for free and is worth checking out.
Be clear about what success, failure or other signals look like
At the risk of sounding like a ‘suit’, have a think about the Key Performance Indicators (KPI) of success in your business. For example, how many pre-registrations of interest do you need to encourage further development cost? While I don’t advocate writing a multi-page business case, it might pay to have a crack at a ‘back of envelope’ business evaluation. What is your point of difference, who are the competitors, how big is the potential market? etc…Moreover, if a project is clearly a failure you need to cut and run quickly so you can start the next thing. Sometimes your data might indicate the need to pivot. If so, do it rapidly.