Innovate Your Innovation
By Jeffrey Baumgartner
The common complaint I hear from innovation managers is that they collect lots of ideas but implement few of them. Part of the problem is that an innovation manager is typically empowered to collect ideas and launch innovation initiatives, but she is not empowered to implement ideas or redesign processes for implementing ideas. This is rather like enabling salespeople to devise sales techniques and pitches, but prohibiting them from interacting with customers: lots of great ideas, but few if any useful results.
If you are an innovation manager, do not despair. There is hope. You simply need to innovate your innovation process and optimise it for implementation rather than idea collection. Then you'll need to sell the concept upstairs. But first, let us see how to redesign implementation processes to be more innovation friendly.
Start with a Crazy Idea
You need a really crazy idea for this. It does not need to be viable, practical or realistic. It needs to be crazy-creative, but relevant to your business and in line with strategy. For example, if your company makes high-end sports shoes, an idea for an innovative ice cream scooper would not be relevant. An idea for shoes with retractable wheels, for when you want to go skating, and a GPS based navigation system built in to prevent you from getting lost would be perfect.
In the unlikely event you have such a crazy idea in your suggestion collection, use it. If not, run an anticonventional thinking (ACT) session or any creative thinking session that focuses on originality of ideas rather than quantity of ideas. Or contact me. I'm usually good at coming up with outrageous ideas. I'd be happy to give you one with my compliments.
Plan the Implementation
Once you have your idea, work out what steps you would have to take to implement it. If these steps are not clear, get a bunch of paper, ideally in small sheets. Write, "You are here" on one sheet and put it at one end of a table (or workspace). Write the crazy idea on another sheet and put it at the other end of the table. Think about what steps you would need to implement the idea. Write each step on a sheet of paper and place it between "You are here" and the crazy idea. Keep at it until you have a complete set of steps. Once you are satisfied, compile this into a document.
Review each step. Identify what could kill the implementation, what could damage it and why. With each potential threat to the idea's implementation, apply some creative thinking. Ask yourself how you could you overcome the threat. In many cases, the answer will be easy conceptually, but difficult to apply in actuality.
Compile all of your threats and solutions into a document and then work out the best way to package it. If overcoming the threats is not difficult, draw up a list of recommendations for idea implementation and create an innovative idea implementation guide.
In the more likely case that applying your solutions would be difficult to achieve, design a comprehensive and streamlined implementation process for potential breakthrough innovations. Be sure it addresses all of the threats and offers viable solutions. Now comes the difficult part! You need to establish your streamlined implementation process in your organisation. In the unlikely event you have the wherewithal to do that, go for it! Otherwise, you will need to sell the concept to your organisation's decision makers.
On one hand, this may seem like you are back where you started from: trying to implement creative ideas. But bear in mind that, if you sell this idea, future creative ideas will be much easier to realise. So stick with it!
Very likely, different kinds of ideas go through different approval processes in your place of work. Implementing a product improvement is seldom the same as implementing a big change in hiring practices. So, once you have completed this process with one idea, start again with a completely different idea.
Not Easy but Worth It
I appreciate it is a lot easier for me to write about this than it is for you to do it. That's one reason I write! Nevertheless, if big, bold creative ideas are never implemented in your organisation, then you need to change the way you implement ideas. Otherwise, the big ideas never will be implemented by your organisation.
The good news is that once you put into place streamlined implementation processes for breakthrough ideas, you create a virtuous circle. Creative people will see that such ideas really can happen in your company, so they are more likely to develop and share such ideas − which feeds your innovation process and guarantees an innovative future.
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