The World’s Best Approach to Innovation
Having read a lot about creativity and innovation; having worked with companies big and small on five continents; having talked with innovation managers, consultants and other doers in the field; and having written extensively on creativity and innovation, I finally feel I can present to you right here and now the very best way to boost high level innovation in medium to large companies: an autonomous innovation team.
You simply need to form a relatively small team, empower it with autonomy and a fast lane process for implementing ideas. Then let the team get on with it. Although members need to be aware of the long-term strategic goals of the company, they should be given a great deal of freedom to devise and experiment with solutions that fit with that strategy. They also need to have the freedom to fail. The team should be led by one of your more rebellious employees; someone you know will fight for what she believes in, but who understands the strategic direction the company needs to take over the medium and long term.
The team leader should be given the opportunity to learn more about the creative process through training, reading and trial and error. In particular she should be introduced to the anticonventional thinking method, that is ideal for this kind of innovation group. Anticonventional thinking is all about taking a purposely unconventional approach to developing creative concepts and trying them out, which is exactly what the team should be doing.
The innovation team ought to comprise diverse people in terms of background, expertise and education. Cultural and national diversity would be ideal, but is not always possible.
Reasonable Expectations for the Short Term
Don’t expect much from the team in the first year. They need some time to settle in, develop a collaborative style and discover that they really can experiment and this is not another meaningless scheme management is playing with.
One person, running such a team, told me that his company expects a team project success rate of only one in ten. That seems like a good goal. However, he told me he has failed and is perhaps not being creative enough. “Many more than one in ten projects is succeeding, spectacularly,” he explained.
The innovation team should still be a part of your company, but needs to distance itself from headquarters so as to ensure members feel free. A space designed for collaboration and play is ideal.
In addition to working on their own ideas, these teams can occasionally be thrown audacious challenges, the challenges that you know will not be solved by the usual methods and approval procedures in your company. Do you want to build a car with no wheels? Fine! Ask the innovation team to do it.
Experiment with Innovation Methods
In addition to trying out new ideas, these teams can try out new ways to collaborate, develop ideas and implement ideas. This last point is important. While many companies are adopting approaches to encourage and collect ideas from the workforce, they are failing to develop processes for implementing the more creative ideas. By giving the teams power to implement ideas and then watching how they work, you can implement similar processes at the corporate level.
Finally, there is no need to limit your company to one innovation team. You can have several focusing on different areas of the business. And if you do have more than one team, encourage members of each team to meet up and share ideas from time to time.
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