Ultimately, innovation must be defined by the new value it creates for an organization. Sure, there are many innovations that create nominal value by shaving costs at various points of the value chain. These incremental product or service adaptations are a positive by-product of having an innovation discipline. Sights need to be set higher to really change a category for the better and create a sustainable leadership position in the market.
Other tangible and valuable benefits often get short thrift when metrics are applied and valuations placed on an Innovation Program, most of which are internal. Here are several benefits of fostering an innovation discipline inside your organization, if you are on the fence about adding this discipline or its value.
1. It’s the most inexpensive way to tap employee engagement. For the cost of a few days of focus, sticky notes, lunch, sharpies, expo markers and whiteboards, you can train an army of innovators inside your organization. During this “bootcamp,” you can train with the basic methods of innovation (Lens Smashing, Wicked Thinking, Design Thinking, Opportunity Mapping) to inspire new thinking and a possibility mindset with your team members. This type of training is a potent form of Leadership Development and Collaboration Training. What is this training worth to you? Your best people with have a formal way to take on new challenges, experiment with concepts, invent and test, and be entrepreneurs and problem solvers of your behalf.
2. Solve a vexing market or customer problem. For training purposes, you can use an as-yet unsolved problem vexing your venture as the Project Challenge of the workshop. This way you get fresh perspectives, guided via a problem solving methodology, on your Achilles’ heel without making it a formal project or hiring a bloated consulting firm to solve it for you. At the end of the bootcamp, the problem will have been explored deeply, defined better than before, solved hundreds of ways, and co-created with real customers to optimize the value of the experience for them. Yes, in two days, while you are training your people, a double win. How much is solving this problem worth to you?
3. Retain your talent. People leave an organization to pursue new ideas, new learning, new opportunities, as well as a sense of making a difference in an organization. Having an Innovation Program would help you retain those who are on the fence, looking over the fence at greener grass. The war for talent has never been greater. By offering growth and nominal investment in employee’s ideas, you retain the most ambitious and naturally inspired employees, the high-potential ones. As well, you will end up with a pipeline of prototypes and concepts that could galvanize your business. How much is retaining talent worth?
4. Collaboration as a team sport. If your team practices a collaborative process, learn the value of working together to solve a vexing issue; trust gets built. These abilities to collaborate and establish the golden bonds of trust add the highest returns of team productivity. How much are trust and collaboration worth to you?
So, the costs are a few days, some markers, and at worse some travel and testing incentives. For this meager investment, you get repaid with more robust employee engagement, solving of a critical problem, retain your key talent, and let them build real trust and collaboration skills. Other arguments could be that your organization will be more adaptive and more innovative, crafting a culture of high growth. These are just four of the many internal benefits of practicing innovation.
If you add up the top three alone, the value far exceeds the nominal cost. In fact, it just seems like a thick-headed, wrong move not to implement as soon as you finish this column.
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Michael Graber is the co-founder and managing partner at Southern Growth Studio, a Memphis, Tennessee-based firm that specializes in growth strategy and innovation. A published poet and musician, Graber is the creative force that complements the analytical side of the house. He speaks and publishes frequently on best practices in design thinking, business strategy, and innovation and earned an MFA from the University of Memphis. Follow Michael @SouthernGrowth