Eight corporate innovation questions answered
Practical answers to practical matters.
As an Innovation Strategy & Governance curator at Innov8rs unconference I help answer many questions regarding corporate innovation. Below are my answers to:
- What is innovation and from where does it arise?
- How can you make innovation easier?
- How do you respond to challenges brought by top managers who dismiss innovation and attack it incessantly but without valid arguments?
- How to increase buy-in from leadership along the journey?
- How I can learn to sell innovation at the company?
- How to educate leadership on what is really innovation?
- Innovation takes time; how to make deciders understand that innovation is not a cost center with no outputs?
- How to define innovation strategy in line with strategic questions/challenges?
What is innovation and from where does it arise?
There are many good definitions of innovation. My preferred one is: "innovation is creating something new that creates value." "Something new" refers to it being new to the innovator and recipient, and "value" must be bi-directional, i.e. both the innovator and recipient have to benefit somehow. If it's new but has no value (at the moment), then it is an invention. If it's not new but is valuable, then it's probably some sort of improvement.
In my experience, having alignment on shared definition in your organisation is MORE important than having the "best" definition. Your R&D, sales, marketing, and other functions, will inevitably clash if they all have different views on what innovation is.
If we take a processual view of innovation, then we might say it's about transforming ideas into positive outcomes. Ideas don't materialise out of thin air. In fact, some of the best ideas appear at the intersection of personal experience and noticing something few others have. In other words, innovation arises in your context; organisation; the world you are in. It doesn't exist in a vacuum. It requires personal experience and a little bit of insight.
How can you make innovation easier?
By removing what makes it difficult.
Cheekiness aside, innovation will always be uncertain (otherwise it wouldn't be innovative, right?), but there are some things you can do to make it a bit easier:
- Remember that your idea is business and vice-versa.
- Innovators innovate, customers validate.
- Understand your own product life-cycle so you can assess the maturity of your own idea. Match the work to the maturity.
- Always tackle the biggest risk first.
- First-hand data reigns supreme.
How do you respond to challenges brought by top managers who dismiss innovation and attack it incessantly but without valid arguments?
- Perhaps their arguments are valid. Innovation success rates are just horrible, and perhaps there is a history of great failures in the organisation.
- Recognise that top managers have much to lose by supporting the "wrong" project.
- Argue for the big picture, ask for funding for the smallest possible next step.
- Argue for first hand-data.
- If innovation is something you thirst for, and you did everything you could to get off multiple innovation projects of the ground, then consider leaving the organisation. Life is too short to waste it on arguing with others.
How to increase buy-in from leadership along the journey?
Innovation is uncertain, therefore make sure to extract value out of everything you do.
For example, document experiment learnings well, and actively disseminate them in your organisation. Perhaps someone from another department might find them valuable.
Communicate progress regularly. Be honest. Give leadership a "real time view" of the ongoing process. Explain your decisions and what are they based on. Always be clear about the next step. Give them options to decide on. Promise them that you'll immediately inform them when the project should be stopped.
How I can learn to sell innovation at the company?
In order to get attention, you will have to build trust, explain urgency, and communicate value:
- Trust. Who are you and why should they trust you? Where is your idea coming from?
- Urgency. Why this idea, now? What might happen if we don't act on it immediately? What might happen if the idea is ignored?
- Benefit. What would this idea mean to our business? Our customers? Our ecosystem?
You might find following two articles useful as well:
How to educate leadership on what is really innovation (vs R&D, vs a buzzword, vs the thing to get rid of as soon as we need to cut the budget)?
Keep repeating what innovation is and what isn't. Don't be condescending. They are most likely to positively react to an outside executive telling them the exact same thing as you did.
Innovation takes time; how to make deciders understand that innovation is not a cost center with no outputs?
Create tangible outputs.
How to define innovation strategy in line with strategic questions/challenges?
By answering "How will innovation contribute to this specific strategic question/objective/challenge?"
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