3 Key Components of an Innovation Culture
by Jeffrey Phillips
Good artists borrow and great artists steal. Today I am a great artist, and stealing from another.
At a recent speaking engagement which I attended virtually through a Twitter stream, Rob Shelton described an innovation culture as being made of vision and metrics and motivation. I thought this was an excellent summation of the attributes of an innovation culture, and I’d like to tell you why. I’ll also tell you one other component I’m sure Rob talked about but isn’t explicitly in this list.
Even the order of the attributes is important. Vision is first. Vision in this definition describes some strategic goal for the organization that can be linked to innovation. This is where many firms fall down. Vision is such an ephemeral thing that we often skip right past it. Then we are left using innovation as a one time tool, rather than an ongoing capability. And as we’ve discussed here before, innovation is simply too risky and too uncertain to do well once. To define an innovation culture, you need an overarching strategic vision that is then linked to innovation goals and outcomes. No vision, no innovation culture. And if you can’t get your management team to document a vision, create and publish one of your own. The absence of a vision from above does not excuse the absence of an innovation vision and strategy at your team level.
I’d argue that in precedence order motivation comes next, and I’d describe motivation as composed of what people WANT to do, what they are COMPENSATED to do and what they’ll eventually be EVALUATED on. Note that these can be very different. I may want to innovate, but I am compensated based on the evaluations I achieve doing my regular job, creating a significant conflict. Part-time innovators are very familiar with this dilemma. They want to innovate, but their advancement and pay is based on the work they do in their “day jobs”, not the work they do in innovation. This is often very de-motivating.
Rob’s last attribute was metrics. We all know the old saw “what gets measured gets managed” and innovation, for it to become the consistent process we want it to be, needs to be quantifiable at some level and demonstrate regular, measurable results. I’ll argue that in the early stages of innovation we need different measures and metrics than we’d use in more traditional projects, but also that eventually we need to demonstrate a measurable return on the investment.
So, if I can create a consistent, sustained vision for innovation that links to strategic goals, and appropriately motivate my teams to innovate, understanding their need for clarity around compensation and evaluation, and I apply the appropriate measures and metrics, will I be able to create an innovation culture? You are certainly on your way, but there are two other things that are necessary. The first is simple. Can you sustain this effort for more than a quarter? Culture is created over time – you can’t wish it into existence in a matter of a few weeks. So a sustained commitment is important.
The second item is the one I wish Rob had included explicitly, and that is communication. While most employees in most firms feel inundated with messages from their management teams, I honestly believe you can’t communicate enough about innovation. Here’s why: innovation is risky and uncertain and ambiguous. People don’t like to work in those conditions. To lessen these issues, clear, consistent communication helps tremendously. Hearing the messages from the executive team, and the everyday management team, that innovation is important, sustains the team and reduces the ambiguity. Seeing the work rewarded, publicly, helps sustain that communication channel.
Your firm needs a culture that encourages innovation at the least, embraces innovation at best. Examine the aspects that Rob noted and I have detailed. Which one of these attributes is missing from your culture? Start with the most strategic – vision and strategy, and work your way through motivation and metrics. Once those are defined effectively, start communicating and sustain the effort. Your culture will shift, slowly at first, more quickly over time, to a much more eager embrace of innovation.
An Ideaspace for Young Entrepreneurshttp://www.facebook.com/plugins/like.php?href=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.unleashingideas.org%2Fblog%2Fideaspace-young-entrepreneurs&layout=button_count&show_faces=false&width=65&action=like&colorscheme=light Share http://api.tweetmeme.com/button.js?url=http%3A//www.unleashingideas.org/blog/ideaspace-young-entrepreneurs&style=compact&b=1
Ideaspace Global, a site aimed at connecting and supporting young entrepreneurs around the world through a dedicated professional, educational and social network, launched its advanced registration site today to coincide with GEW 2010 – reaching out to 10 million young people, at 40,000 events in more than 100 countries. The full service site will follow in Spring 2011.
Ideaspaceglobal.org will provide practical tools, knowledge and networking to enable young people to turn their ideas into reality. Next year, members will enjoy one-to-one mentoring with experts, a dedicated social network, access to a free international library of entrepreneurship and enterprise development media, a personalized workspace to create, edit, save and share documents and a trusted environment to meet, collaborate and develop ideas.
Whether you are a graphic designer in Rio, a DJ in Moscow or a nano-technologist in Mumbai, Ideaspace Global will give you the practical help and advice to get your idea off the drawing board and into a real world start-up.
Ideaspace Global aims to be an online extension of Global Entrepreneurship Week, an initiative that since 2008 has introduced 10 million people around the world to life-changing entrepreneurial experiences through thousands of activities each November.
Universities, business schools and institutions from around the world are supporting Ideaspace Global by donating their knowledge and expertise, putting the site on track to being one of the best international resources for enterprise and business building materials.
Todd Porter representing Impact Japan, TEDxTokyo and GEW Japan comments, “I can’t wait for the launch of Ideaspace Global! It will be particularly valuable for people to have such a resource they can go to at any time. In working with the TEDx and GEW movements, we have been focusing on the ongoing ecosystem beyond events needed to turn passion into action. We have lots of high potential people here to send to Ideaspace Global as soon as it opens.’
Ann Francke, MD Global Customer and Product Strategy at BSI Group says, “BSI is delighted to support this innovative global enterprise initiative which unites young entrepreneurs around the world in a sustainable way and encourages them to share best practice and learning”.
Idea-improvement needs special effort in most companies. People with ideas may not have the business sense to see its potential or limitations, or the idea may lack data and clarity so no one sees its value when presented to management. An ‘Idea-Enhancement Innovation Program’ minimizes these problems by providing idea-people with the means to develop and evaluate their own idea before presentation to management, and by enabling management to make informed decisions about the idea.
These innovation programs solicit ideas, enhance them, and then persuade management to support the idea with resources. Such innovation support systems help idea-people to become involved in the identification and early development of ideas for new business opportunities through new technology, new products, and new processes.
In other words, these idea-enhancing programs enable people to dress up their idea before review by senior management who provide the resources for further development.
CORPORATION A: Employees submit an idea to one of the full time ‘innovation idea-helpers’ at each company site. This person works with the idea-proposer to help develop and enhance all technical and business possibilities of the idea. This includes market research, patent searches, even some preliminary research. The program then sends the proposal to experts within the company to evaluate and enhance the idea further. The purpose is to overcome snags and “improve the idea and make it work, rather than kill it,”
Then, a team of volunteers from technology, marketing, and manufacturing work on the idea under a company policy of allowing people to spend 10% time on bootleg activities. Finally, the volunteer team and the idea-proposer publicize the idea, and persuade someone in management to sponsor and provide resources for the idea’s development into a commercial product. On average, the process takes about a year.
The program also fosters an innovative environment through a newsletter, bulletin boards, speakers, videos at lunch, and leads creativity sessions when requested to solve a major problem.
CORPORATION B: The manager of the Office of Innovation told me that his company wants to dramatically speed up the development of new ideas and turn them into new businesses. “We need to develop new products, as well as new uses and new markets for old products,” he said.
The Office of Innovation helps the idea-person find seed money, resources, and guidance within the company, frame a presentation, and research the marketplace for the proposed idea. A telephone call starts the informal process, which lacks forms or fixed procedures. The Office of Innovation has substantial funds for research, training, and seed grants and brings in consultants for team creativity training.
Ideas without a ‘champion, the person who pushes the idea and turns it into reality, will probably die. So the Office of Innovation encourages people who send in ideas to become idea-champions by helping them perfect their idea. It directs idea-champions to people and resources within and outside of the corporation who will help improve the idea. It brings in business development and market research people to provide guidance on how to develop a business concept proposal.
When well developed, a screening committee decides whether the corporation should provide funds for further development. This committee can fund further development or it can form a business concept team. If the idea turns into a new business, the idea-champion can climb aboard, or return to the old job.
CORPORATION C: The Center for Creativity & Innovation has three major thrusts. First, to educate people in advanced creative thinking techniques. Second, to apply these creative thinking techniques to important business and technological problems. Third, to help managers create a climate conducive to creativity and innovation.
The Center exposes people to internal and external experts who teach creative thinking techniques; it fosters networking between people interested in creative thinking, and it arranges creative problem solving events that tackle important business and technological problems. This last strategy is essential to impact the bottom line and show the value of creativity & innovation.
I asked the Director: “How did a scientist-administrator get involved with creative thinking and innovation?” He said: “I started reading and attending seminars on creative thinking, and realized there were good resources and workshops outside of the company that would help us be more effective.
“I circulated memos on what I learned, and they stimulated other people. I started a discussion group within the corporation that is now a large network of hundreds of company people in many countries.
“Eventually, the bottom line successes of applying creative thinking techniques to business and technological problems prompted corporate management to ask me to spread creativity & innovation throughout the company…”
Apply these innovation concepts to your business. Make a list of ways to solicit new ideas in your company for new markets for existing products, and new products for old and new markets. Describe how idea champions can be encouraged to develop and pursue ideas with which they have fallen in love. List ways resources can be found and provided to
Idea-champions to turn raw ideas into thriving new businesses.
Please contact me through my website: http://www.creativitybook.net