Continuing with our discussion of how to build a strong and sustainable innovation culture and program, here are some of the foundational elements that must be addressed to achieve the transformation from accidental innovator to high performance innovation leader. While I will discuss each of these in more depth separately, at a summary level the key factors which must not be ignored (I call these the five pillars of sustainable innovation practice deployment):
This is a concept that cannot be overstated. It all starts at the top. Unfortunately, many CEO’s don’t seem to understand what this means and the importance of this to there mission of building corporate value. All too often, the battle cry of innovation rings out, but the top brass fails to follow up with highly visible and tangible involvement in the innovation initiative. The assumption is made that once the priority is identified, it will take care of itself. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In order to take root, the innovation program requires constant care and feeding from the top of the organization.
One of the great tragedies in innovation is the widespread belief that innovation just happens—somehow some bright person gets an idea out of nowhere. What a crock this is, but this is what many people believe. The reality is that innovation is a process. It is a process that can be learned and mastered. Organizations need to understand this and develop the training and resource development programs to build innovation process skills as a core competency in the product research and development teams.
Another interesting aspect of the innovation process is that it can be influenced environmentally. By this I am referring to two things in specific. The mastery and correct application of the process can be greatly aided by the use of an innovation platform that reinforces the application of innovation best practices. Also, great innovations happen when the insightful domain expert meets with the confluence of relevant knowledge and it thus able to synthesize something new. With this realization, it should be apparent that the proper use of information technology to help place the innovation worker at the apex of relevant and actionable knowledge when and how they need it is a powerful way to drive the success of innovation efforts.
Network for Innovation Mentoring & Facilitation
There are many aspects to innovation best practices. There are many types of innovation problems. Different problems yield more readily to different solution paradigms. Some types of innovation tasks are performed frequently. Other innovation tasks are only undertaken occasionally. Each innovation worker has a different role to play in the organization. This variability leads to the conclusion that organization über-process must recognize that innovation skills will not be uniformly distributed in the organization. This means that innovation leaders must be leveraged within the enterprise to help knowledge workers bridge the gap between personal innovation skill level and problem solving skill need. An organizational structure to maintain and optimize the leverage of a mentoring and facilitation network is required.
People need to see that the efforts of the enterprise are having a meaningful impact. Designers want to know that their efforts are making a contribution to the corporate goal. Executives need to see the return on the investment in innovation. These and other messages of enfranchisement must be constantly communicated and reinforced. A properly executed internal marketing campaign will go a long way to maintain momentum in the innovation program and foster champions of innovation across the enterprise.
These are the critical success factor I have seen that make a difference across a wide variety of industries in successfully deploying an innovation culture. What have you seen?
Next time, we’ll dig a bit deeper into the topic of executive leadership.