Like any good managing director, I regularly watch what the competition and others in our field are up to. One thing I have noticed over recent months is a tendency to turn corporate innovation into a highly complex system involving numerous processes, approaches and models.
Such systems are being promoted by consultants who, not surprisingly, charge by the hour for implementing and teaching their systems. Unfortunately, when firms decide they need to implement an innovation strategy and meet with such high priced consultants, the firms are scared by the complex systems that must be implemented. When different consultants preach different systems, it only makes matters worse.
The problem is, corporate innovation need not be horrendously complex. Indeed, highly complex systems can actually stifle creativity. And since innovation is the result of successfully implemented creative ideas, it is clear that systems that stifle creativity are not going to maximize innovation. Quite the opposite.
As I have written before, medium to large organizations already contain many internal creative thinkers: the employees; and many external creative thinkers: the customers. All that is needed is…
- Trust: to make people comfortable about sharing their ideas with the organization. They need to feel they can make mistakes without suffering undue consequences.
- Management buy-in: management must demonstrate their commitment to innovation through internal and external communications media. Management must also demonstrate being creative themselves; as well as a willingness to try out creative, yet risky ideas.
- Budget: is necessary to implement highly creative or disruptive ideas, which by nature are more risky than less creative ideas. Money must also be found for investing for tools (see below) that facilitate idea sharing and development and training in the use of those tools.
- Tools: such as an idea management tool for soliciting, capturing and evaluating ideas from the employees. Used well, an idea management tool is the best on-going tool for idea capture. Also useful are creative project teams, brainstorming sessions, mind-mapping tools and other items which facilitate creative thinking and collaboration.
- Evaluation methods: are necessary for evaluating ideas generated by the tools. Many tools, such as idea management systems, include evaluation components. Note: one must be careful not to over-evaluate an idea. Too much concern about risk can lead evaluators to discourage creativity in order to minimize risk (see article Too many evaluators spoil the idea).
- Facilities: including meeting rooms, other spaces where people can meet and share ideas, white boards, post-its, pens and other things which facilitate creative meetings and brainstorming.
- Rewards: whether recognition, small gifts or granting special privileges, some kind of fair reward scheme motivates people to share their creative ideas with the organization.
- Time: employees need time to be creative (see second article below).
How all of these components come together will vary from firm to firm. What is important is that these components exist, that there is flexibility and that ideas are implemented – nothing spoils a great idea management system than not implementing ideas that are generated by the system.
Of course the above components of corporate innovation are highly simplified. Nevertheless, they provide the backbone of a corporate innovation plan and can quickly be elaborated to provide a more detailed structure. For more details on a simple, but effective organizational innovation strategy, see the Corporate Innovation Strategy Plan.
So, don’t let the expensive consultants fool you. An innovation strategy is relatively easy provided you have the commitment, the desire and the budget. Moreover, the strategy should be designed to fit your firm with minimal disruption.
Jeffrey Baumgartner is the founder of jpb.com, makers of Jenni innovation process management software. He also edits Report 103, a popular eJournal on business innovation. Contact Jeffrey at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.jpb.com/