Embedding Innovation into Your Organization

by Michael Graber

Embedding Innovation into Your OrganizationIt takes two factors to make innovation real at an organization: concepts and culture. Work on both at the same time and the rest will emerge as a by-product of the process.

If you outsource your innovation efforts, you will end up with concepts that will not be accepted by your existing culture. Some concepts might be potent enough to generate a lot of sales. Others will be even stronger, allowing your company to reframe what a category means to consumers and positioning you as the leader—think of the famous examples: Swiffer, iPhone, and Tesla.

However, you will not allow such radical concepts to launch without changing the mindset of the culture itself. Without working on the culture while generating concepts, new thinking and new value-generating concepts will be rejected by the preset filters and default thinking of the organization.

On the other hand if you just work on the culture, but do not produce concepts that resonate in the market, you have created no new value.

Rather, you inspire the high-potential or bored troops, give them a format to bring their best to the organization—and then boom; they crash, as there is no method for producing concepts, which gives form to the dredged-up now-awakened creativity. They will leave as soon as they find a place where they can take what you awakened in them and give it form.

Necessary Compliments

Work on culture and concepts must be undertaken at the same time as part of an innovation journey that will assure a positive outcome. You have to work on the people in the business (culture) and on the market ideas (concepts: products, services, business model changes, initiatives, etc.), the inner and the outer, to transform into an organization that drives new results.

Like muscle memory, you have to work on culture and concepts each week for at least 90-days to begin to embed innovation.

How to Start?

Many prospective clients fret about how to start an innovation journey. They know they are missing out on creating new value—and allowing competitors access to the runway to outpace and lap their growth.

Our advice is simple: do exercises and training to change the culture and work on concepts that are consumer- or customer-insight based.

Don’t worry about larger implications such as which department innovation will exist within, metrics for innovation, or how innovation will dovetail with the existing new product development process.

For the first 12-to-18 months keep the approach simple. Host a series of workshops to initiate the culture. Teach your people the methods and mindset of innovation, as tools for complex problem solving. Pick a small, multi-disciplinary team or two to work on a few projects. Generate new concepts that arise from market insights. Repeat.

Then, the right structure and definition for innovation for your company’s unique needs will naturally emerge.

Above we have explored the corporate psychological journey that happens to accept the fact that a once-leading brand needs to be transformed and re-launched.

Now we will walk you through how to do it.

Allow me to be clear. I am not discussing refreshing a logo or crafting a new tag line, but rather a Reboot means a radical and transformational change to the business model and every facet of the business itself.

Here are ten steps to walk through:

  1. Choose a multi-disciplinary team. When they first gather, encourage them to think fresh. Go through a warm up exercise wherein the brand has been newly acquired and they are there to rebirth it.
  2. Now, go through an Orthodoxy exercise to make all inherent bias explicit. Then, run a Business Model Canvas exercise on the existing model.
  3. Examine the orthodoxies and structures of the current business model. Doing this work liberates the team to not see their current practices as reality itself, but instead as just one mental model that can be changed for a greater return.
  4. Then, arm the team with stories of other companies who have made a similar leap. Have team members research and report at least one company who have rebooted themselves for hyper growth and also at leader one company that disrupted an industry. You’ll notice how these stories will be quoted for inspiration throughout the project cycle.
  5. At this juncture, create some guardrails, criteria for a new model. Here are some possible points: must be new in the market, must 5x the business in two years, must disrupt the current category, etc.
  6. Now you are ready to generate five to ten new business models for the brand that are radically different from one another. Then, run a pro and con exercise for each model.
  7. Have the team choose the two or three models that best meet the criteria.
  8. Create a Strategy Brief and Opportunity Brief for each of them. Armed with these briefs, sketch out the new concepts in low-fidelity hand-drawn sketches that convey the concept, the value proposition, the core benefits, and unique features.
  9. Hold several consumer feedback sessions where you listen deeply to members of your target audience. Learn from them and include their insights in the next version of your concept sketches.
  10. Take the one or two concepts that tested well and draft a formal business case for making this epic brand pivot.

Now comes the easy part. Present the concepts to the executive team. After you pass this hurdle, pilot the concept in one market as a learning phase. If viable, scale accordingly.

Remember it takes more courage than foreknowledge to reboot a brand. But, you’ll learn as you go.

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Michael GraberMichael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an innovation and strategic growth firm based in Memphis, TN and the author of Going Electric. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.

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