Companies used to stay competitive by being reliable. They provided the tried and true. Customers valued companies that reduced the risk in their lives. But the technology boom turned that completely around. Now almost every industry must contend with the need to innovate. Customers want products and services that are high quality but also the latest and newest vs. the tried and true.
This demand for innovation has sent companies and their leaders into a tailspin trying to figure out how to make innovation happen. I’m often brought in to help them try to solve this dilemma. But the hardest thing for them to hear is that you can’t make innovation happen. There, I’ve said it.
So now what? Well, actually, there’s a lot that can be done. But the focus isn’t about making innovation happen. It should be on making innovation probable. And there’s quite a bit a company and its leadership can do for that.
Some key opportunities, that range anywhere from the simple to the complex, include the following:
Take the risk out of risk taking. One of the biggest challenges companies tackle is their fear of failure and mistakes. A great way to do that is to put it right out in the open. From the CEO to the frontline employee, creating a dialogue that tackles that fear head on helps demystify what it takes to make risk taking work for their culture and goals.
This includes sharing lessons learned, clarifying priorities, encouraging a growth mindset and focusing on the value from lessons learned.
Make risk taking more predictable. When leadership discusses how to mitigate risk it helps set a clearer path on how to navigate all the gray area of risk taking. This includes sharing a method for how to propose new ideas, build a business case and conduct low risk trial runs. When people get to take the risk out of sharing their ideas, they are more likely to focus on the risk of genuinely out of the box thinking vs. avoiding rejection or having their reputation ruined.
Get people sharing ideas. Imagination tends to have a fantastic domino effect when shared with others. One out there idea begets another out there idea, until you end up with a genius idea. This is often attempted through the act of group brainstorming. It’s a great concept, in theory. But where it often falls apart is in the execution. Too often the brainstorming sessions become a one or two-person show. Original ideas can get stamped out by group think and seeking approval.
One solution is better facilitated brainstorming sessions. Another option is leveraging collaboration software. Software tools make collaboration independent of time and place, and they also help focus and guide the collaboration to be more productive towards what the company is trying to achieve. Viima Solutions is an example of that kind of software. They focus on providing tools that help facilitate sharing of ideas wherever and whenever.
Measure what’s working and let go of what isn’t. Part of what makes innovation so elusive is people sit around assuming they’ll know what’s innovative or not. But what separates an interesting idea from a truly innovative one is the level of impact it has on the company’s bottom line. If customers don’t care about your idea, then does it matter?
If you know what to measure for, you will be better prepared to gauge whether the issue is the quality of the idea or the readiness of the customer. The latter calls for a phased approach, looking for early adopters and building momentum. The former calls for a post mortem and return to the drawing board. Key things to consider measuring include the effectiveness of collaboration efforts, impact on brand differentiation and consumer behavior.
Have a holistic approach. Though Viima Solutions makes their bread and butter on companies that use their software, they’re the first to admit that the biggest mistake is to think that innovation is easy, or something that can be achieved with a couple of quick superficial projects like introducing a new software tool or organizing a couple of idea challenges. These kinds of tools and methods are essential for driving sustainable results within the organization but won’t lead to innovation in and of themselves.
What’s ultimately needed is a holistic and determined effort that combines all the key aspects of innovation management: strategy, culture, structures and capabilities. The right tools certainly help across all of these factors, and in putting it all together, but you’re still going to need to put in the work to get all of those different aspects right.