What kind of innovator are you, and maybe more importantly, what kind of innovator do you want to be? I would like to encourage you to think about this not just in terms of you the person, but to also think about it in terms of you and the organisation in which you work and seek to innovate. Whether you are a founder, company executive, board member, part of the management team or an employee, how would you answer this question?
I first explored this topic in my contributor role with Fresh Business Thinking and am reposting this for the TFS community with some edits and additional thinking. I am passionate about the Wazoku philosophy of EveryDay innovation, and the assertion that innovation needs to permeate every part of the organisation, transcend every role, every day. I have shared best practice examples such as Becoming an EveryDay Innovator as well as other pieces on this site and beyond. The challenge facing organisations seeking to build a culture of innovation is: How can you truly make innovation a part of everyone’s job, in every team, at every level in your organisation? It is a serious challenge to organisations and one we must heed. The world around us is changing rapidly and uncertainty is the norm. It is essential that businesses of all sizes, in all sectors are intelligent, collaborative and agile. Implicit within this is an understanding of your innovation DNA as a business.
In order to unpick this question a good starting point is to run an innovation maturity assessment. The best of these assessments will drill down and really help you get into the business at a granular level and begin to understand the innovation drivers within your business. Once you have your benchmark maturity level and understand the innovation status quo, you can assess this against where you expected to be and work on the deltas. In this article I wanted to explore what the DNA of an EveryDay innovator organisation might look like, the Mr or Mrs Perfect DNA, or at least some of the key components of it.
- You have a clear, organisation-wide definition of innovation
Most organisations really struggle with this, but it is the most fundamental piece of the innovation jigsaw. In his book, Building a Culture of Innovation, Cris Beswick draws on a SatNav analogy, paraphrasing this he posits ‘you wouldn’t set off on a trip without knowing your destination’ and the same is true here. How can you unleash an innovation strategy and focus without first establishing your language, definition and objectives around innovation. We all too often jump in with both feet and then wonder why our innovation efforts do not meet the expectations our leadership had in their head when they set the innovation ball rolling.
- Innovation is a long-term strategy
In a recent webinar I participated in we explored the topic of Innovating through uncertainty. In kicking this off I explored the highly correlated relationship between innovation and economic business cycles. As businesses we tend to prioritise innovation in the good times and de-prioritise it during the down turns; my co-presenter referenced a few of their clients who as a result of volatile oil prices and recent uncertainty are significantly scaling back their innovation activity. It is ok to scale back and assess the things you are doing, but organisations must not disrespect their innovation pipeline and culture, it is not something you can turn on and off at will, the repercussions of doing this are significant.
- Your core innovation efforts address known customer problems, wants and needs and you can empirically back this up?
As organisations we need to become much more intelligent. In many of my keynote speaking engagements, I will challenge my audience to tell me honestly how well they know their employees, customers and suppliers. The reality is we are a long way from being smart and intelligent organisations, and we do not, in any meaningful sense, know anything beyond the superficial about those who work for us, those who supply to us and those who buy from us. With this context, it can be tricky to know with confidence that we are addressing known customer pain points. However, we are getting smarter, we are learning more and we can iterate and continue to build on this. More collaborative and agile working facilitates this, allowing for rapid testing, learn fast and iterative models to come to the fore.
- Leaders show a consistent commitment to innovation and are true innovation champions and mentors
Aligned to the earlier point of innovation being a long term strategy, it is vital that as leaders we show consistency and vision in our innovation message, actions and activities. Innovation is still a boardroom friend and foe. When it goes well, leaders will champion the great culture and processes that fostered success. When it doesn’t go well…..
There is typically not a great deal of true innovation experience and capability at the leadership level in business. I don’t mean to say that leaders haven’t done innovation or been involved in it during their careers, but building innovation as an embedded and integral part of the organisational culture involves a lot more than most leaders have experienced, and the world around them keeps moving so fast. It is essential, that leaders recognise this and seek to build their own capability and knowledge, but also support others across the business in becoming truly enabled and empowered innovation champions.
- Innovation is seen as a part of everyone’s job
The EveryDay innovation mantra. We have tended to overly complicate what innovation is and as a result have alienated innovation activity from the day to day. As a result, we tend to become overly siloed and narrowly focused. Innovation is often about seeing something working well in one area or sector and having the open-mindedness to take that use case or application and adapt it to drive value in other areas. We all need to think more innovatively and can apply this innovation principle to our working lives every single day. Forward looking organisation must be fostering an open culture, where ideas are pervasive and encouraged, where challenges are shared openly and innovation then truly becomes a part of the way people work.
- The right tools for the job
It is important to invest in the right tools to help supercharge your innovation efforts. In considering innovation at scale and as an everyday activity, it is important these tools are accessible to all, provide clear structure and traceability of the inputs, throughputs and outputs, drive engagement and facilitate measurement across the innovation activity in your business. It is critical that tools are seen as enablers and facilitators of innovation activity; they alone do not contribute to your innovation DNA, but they can help to cement and reinforce the innovation culture and activity beyond the usual suspects to engage a far wider army of innovators and a far more meaningful data set for the business.
So what is your innovation DNA? I would love to know what people think. Where are you on the innovation readiness curve and what aspects of the above or others do you think make the innovation magic happen in your businesses?