By Chris Music, director of technology solutions, Starr & Associates
Having a successful innovation program is more than just simply crowdsourcing ideas, more than a sophisticated tool to manage it, and it’s more than throwing money at something and expecting great things to happen. It’s more than process improvement and it’s more than simply trying to squeeze money out of a mature process or product. Innovation is different…It looks different, feels different, acts different, and sounds different. It requires limitless creativity, broad-mindedness, open-mindedness, the ability to unlearn and then learn again, risk aversion, fearlessness, passion, and an artistic ability at its very core. It needs separation from political egos, and the freedom to challenge norms and defy limits.
Innovation does not necessarily mean more complexity. Great ideas are often simple concepts with a slightly different perspective. New technology, which often is complex, has certainly given us new tools, but how we apply them could be completely revolutionary. Information technology, for example, is expanding so rapidly that it is seemingly impossible to identify the countless opportunities. Whether it’s creating an entirely new technology or pairing with old technology, the combinations are endless. Large companies will be the ones to suffer as they will be slower to create and adopt new technologies, ideas, and models due to their inability to recognize the need for innovation. Their failure to deploy an effective innovation program can result in them falling victim to smaller, more nimble disrupter companies capitalizing on their clumsiness.
So, whether you think your program is serious about innovation or you’re looking to fill that widening void, here are a few indicators or traps to avoid:
- Your innovation program is just another budgetary line item. Sure, everything should be measured in this day and age, but innovation is so new that we haven’t fully discovered all there is to measure. Don’t pigeonhole your innovation program like you do all your other programs. Let it be free to evolve and flex like the ideas that it encourages.
- Your innovation team is composed of mostly managers instead of innovation leaders. We all know there is a big difference between managers and leaders, but in innovation, it takes forward thinking leaders to get things rolling. People who can motivate and inspire as well as recognize great ideas and talent will drive the creative engine of your program. Don’t get me wrong, great managers will be critical to bringing ideas to fruition, but your programs ‘heartbeat’ should be that of a leader.
- Your words are speaking louder than your actions. So, your program is branded to the hilt… cool name, attention grabbing logo, fancy catch phrases, and one-liners. That’s all fine and dandy, but who is delivering the message, who is beating the drum and who is in for the long haul? Culture shifts don’t happen overnight and change aversion is more common than not with us humans. How are you breathing life into innovation every day to keep ideas and creativity at the forefront of your business? Like I stated earlier… that message could look significantly different from anything you’ve done in the past.
- Your “experts” are your filters. I use the term experts loosely since while they may be experts in how the current systems operate, they are most likely NOT experts in innovation. Maintain a diverse filter team and don’t be quick to dismiss ideas that aren’t deemed worthy just because there is a majority agreement.
- Human nature will constantly try to take over. Be on the lookout for conformity. It will sneak in and infect an innovation program like the plague. Humans seek acceptance from the majority which often leads to people pleasing and falling in line. Be on the lookout for these tendencies and keep your team stocked with rebels and disrupters who aren’t afraid to stand out.
If your innovation program is truly going to be innovative and successful, then your innovation program itself must first learn to be innovative. Innovation programs have the potential to change the course of your business, this country, and even the world—we just need to get out of the way.