For organisations needing to balance strategic innovation activities (on a longer-term horizon plan) with the tactical here-and-now imperatives of actually keeping afloat and maintaining business-as-usual, the watchwords now are: participation, coordination, simplification, and acceleration.
Hence it’s show-not-tell time … with speedy iterations of innovation-into-pilot and into-production essential to build an appetite for adoption that keeps the cultural landing zones clear for the next innovation. And the next one after that.
Innovations start with ideas.
It pays to engage with both a variety of audiences (across the organisation, and externally — if possible) and through a range of activities (to capture a well-rounded perspective and reduce the risk of introducing biases).
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s simply a numbers game.
Yes, generally speaking, the more ideas you pull into the innovation funnel the better, but consider where they came from and how they were surfaced … what is that information not telling you (or where are ideas not coming from)?
Are gaps because the people involved in particular segments of the business are blissfully happy with their lot and have no complaint (or could conceive of no improvement)? Or are they so disillusioned and disengaged that they didn’t feel like it was worth them speaking up? Or maybe they didn’t feel comfortable with whatever process was available for them to do so?
Look out for a form of survivorship bias creeping into your crowdsourcing initiatives too, lest you end up reinforcing and rejuvenating the products and processes that were just the most vocal … not those in the most needed areas.
Any innovation initiative likely to survive “in the wild” needs sponsors and champions on all affected teams, and at multiple levels, in order to sell its adoption with plenty of positive “what’s in it for me” stories along the way … making innovation everyone’s responsibility.
Wider workforce engagement can bring benefits both for employees (being recognised for contributions — not just the originator, but also those who have a hand in stewarding an idea to fruition) and for employers (real staff involvement in the future of the business can be a great recruiting and retention tool). But it has to be authentic: faux engagement is worse than no engagement.
Gamification techniques also have a part to play in widening participation during early-stage ideation processes — incentivising real engagement and recognising contributions. They can range from the awarding of badges and “experience points” to more sophisticated approaches like “stock markets,” where idea pitches invite the backing of participants using virtual currency a way of people spreading weighted support across multiple worthy recipients, not having to go all-in with a single vote.
A well-rounded innovation programme combines both formal (e.g. an Innovation Office of dedicated staff, formal protocols, etc.) and informal (i.e. more peer-led, community engagement) approach, but both should be well-defined, repeatable and evaluable. Don’t mistake informal for invisible, though. It still needs some recognisable structure to enable information flows to be properly managed, for learning to be disseminated, and for deliverables to be fed into the wider process.
The case for a formal innovation function is pretty easy to make — it’s hard to run a serious programme without adequate funding and a formalised structure that sets out clear organisation-wide roles and responsibilities. It’s unwise to do so without proper governance, oversight too.
But also bear in mind that a formal function, whilst necessary, is not sufficient (on its own).
It’s important to pair such an approach with more informal ones so innovation isn’t just seen as “someone else’s problem” (e.g. the preserve of the Innovation Office or lab; and their sole responsibility to get right and get embedded/adopted without help).
Just as leadership-without-funding is a recipe for frustration and stagnation in any serious innovation programme, conversely, funding-without-leadership is also problematic (for other reasons).
A lack of “top cover” from senior stakeholders will leave innovation initiatives exposed. Without advocates to amplify success at the highest levels, it will be difficult to maintain organisational commitment to the cause. Never before has time-to-value actually been such a pressing metric as now. Any new initiative has to deliver tangible benefits quickly (and be seen to have delivered them too — hence the need for metrics that properly convey contribution to top and/or bottom lines).
And although guerrilla innovation may flourish at the fringes (like shadow IT), it won’t — on its own — drive organisation-wide (or ecosystem-wide) change. It won’t necessarily be cognisant of developments elsewhere, align with wider strategies or survive outside of its niche. And without proper coordination, support and exposure to outside elements, even potential “winners,” can fail to be noticed for wider appropriation.
So it’s sanctioned, sponsored, managed innovation that the organisation must ultimately be prepared to stake its (now scarce) funding –— and potentially its reputation — on. And that isn’t something that people can continue to work on in their spare time.