Year: 2014

4 Steps To A Productive Innovation Environment

Much information exists about the creation of an innovation environment or system, some of it good and some of it worse than bad. Hopefully I have managed to distill some of the good into four easy to understand steps.

#1 Find Sponsors And Partners

Any innovation initiative needs powerful and supportive sponsors. If you are going to deviate from the norm you need support that will allow you to do so as well as giving you the resources and manpower. Within a company this could be the CEO or another board member. Beware if your sponsor is simply a head of department. These people are subject to the whims of the board and organisational politics like the rest of us. If possible ensure that they too have a mandate from a higher authority.

If you are going to move quickly then as a company you will probably not have all of the technology and skills necessary. Seek out complementary partners. If your innovation programme is not on such a grand scale then your partners might in fact be other departments or project groups. Seek out those who are a good fit or the correct people within them. When working internally it can pay to identify ‘boundary spanners’ those who sit within more than one group. This helps with both organisational politics and knowledge transfer.

#2 Create A Common Language

Even within the same company, certain words or phrases can mean different things. Either adopt a common language/terminology  and persuade those who use a different language to adopt it or create a set of definitions of your own. This might include terms for project manager, project plan, review and even engineer. If you you come across someone saying ‘whats that’? then you have identified a possible extension to your language. The aim is to promote clarity, avoid ambiguity and enhance knowledge transfer and the sharing of ideas.

#3 Create Awareness And Action

If you have a number of people to mobilise then awareness is what you need, and lots of it. Not only do you need to ensure that employees (and partners/sponsors) know what is going on (and what is expected of them) but these people also need to be aware of what others are doing (transparency).

Creating awareness could take the form of seminars and workshops or perhaps interactive sessions where people can play with the tools that they will shortly be using so that they become familiar. Also posters, signs, bookmarks, intranet, videos etc can all be used.

Aside from awareness you need some action. Without this any innovation strategy or programme is doomed to failure. It is all too easy to have endless meetings in a boardroom or other comfy place but unless someone actually does something you will never succeed.

#4 Evaluate Continuously

There is no need to have men with clipboards and white coats wandering around measuring everything but you do need to gather information about what is going on and how it can be improved or be made more effective. This is easier said than done since we are talking about a fairly abstract concept – ‘the environemnt’. However you are trying to create an enviroment in which innovation will flourish so try asking a set of questions such as what could we do better, what could we do more of, what could we do less of, what could we add or takeaway. Once you get started then you will soon find your own ways of gathering feedback. The only catch is that it needs to be carried out continuously.!

Is Creativity Geographically Dependent?

Is creativity dependent on geographyThis was inspired by a recent article in The Telegraph which took a good look at what was happening in a number of European cities. It does, however, have global implications. The centres of some cities are becoming sterile as the super wealthy and merchant banks install the signs of their wealth. We see fairly sterile streets, shiny glass buildings and supercars everywhere. The street cafes, bars, shops and small galleries are moving outwards away from the centre and the Creativity is moving with them. The question is will London retain its quota of creative people or will they end up in Birmingham or Manchester?

On a global scale will there be a creative brain drain? Will creative people feel alienated by sterile sky scraper filled cities and be drawn elsewhere, perhaps to Africa or South America? What is the problem and can it be fixed?

The problem here is money. Those with piles of it can (and frequently) do anything they want. Unfortunately this does not involve enhancing the creative environment in which they live, just parading the trappings of their wealth. In other words they will hang paintings on their walls whilst those that create them move gradually further away.

Another issue is the policies being created by our politicians. In major economies governments are eager to attract wealth and be recognised as major financial centres at any cost. This all leads to our cities become very dull areas indeed. Creativity of all forms requires variation in people, buildings and environment to name a few. Museums and art galleries are merely windows onto culture, not culture in itself. Should we change policy and bring creativity closer to us all? Will this inspire both ourselves and future generations and what will happen if this is not the case?

Everyday Innovation – 3 Good Habits To Aid Success

Learning 3 good habits for everyday innovation

Innovation depends heavily on ideas but ideas come from  learning and reflecting as out of the blue. How many of us take the time to learn? What do we actually consider learning to be? To many of us it is simply reading journals or scouring the internet and these can often be discarded when time pressures build up. Take a look at your desk and those of your colleagues and see how many copies of Computing or New Scientist are balanced on the edge!

So what is a good way to do this on a daily basis? The answer really is anything that can become part of a habit. Depending on your working environment why not share workday experiences. This is easily done in a lab but can be done around the water cooler or coffee machine. I have seen people run up to team leaders and middle managers on the factory floor just to pass on a useful piece of information or idea about a production process. You can learn from anything – people, conferences, billboards, customers …..


Learning is all very well but we need to grab hold of what we have learned so that it can be recalled and used later. Individuals should make a habit of having a method of recording anything from ideas to feed back and useful snippets of information. As a group why not consider a Wiki, blog or other shared system for capturing thoughts? Articles can be tagged in useful ways e.g. feedback, failure, improvements. The only requirement should be that everybody can contribute, feel safe in doing so and that the knowledge captured is in a form that can be useful in the future.


This is not hard to think about doing because it seems so sensible but in practice it is the hardest habit of all to cultivate as an organisation. This is because much of what we call reflection is seen as time wasting or daydreaming by management. Once knowledge is captured we need to revisit it for our own purposes to see if a) it is complete b) if it jogs our memories. Also it is useful for it to be seen in a different light so showing it to people who may be colleagues but who work in a different department or on a different project. Often this may cause further information to be captured.

Each of these 3 things will help us understand what we do well and what requires improvement if we just record details of our own projects but if we scan further afield we also gain valuable knowledge, fuel for our innovation processes.

Innovation – The 3 Big Mistakes To Avoid

3 big innovation mistakes to avoidIn today’s economic climate the only way to grow your business is via Innovation. If you think otherwise you are either doomed or you have a large pile of cash to burn to see you through to better economic times. If the route you favour is Innovation then there are many pitfalls, however here are 3 of the major mistakes that you might like to avoid.

Innovation Mistake #1 Searching for the ‘Big Fix’

Many of us have done this. We sit with colleagues around a big table and try to find the one solution to all of our problems. This approach is not Innovation but is an extension of the current thinking within a business. Management want to try something new but also to minimise risk but in fact they are increasing this by being over confident in the one solution that they do have. What happens when this approach fails?

Useful (and fruitful) Innovation projects or programmes will have ways of generating multiple ideas which may be tested, combined, modified or even thrown away. They maximise the possibility of creating something new (and successful) by exposing it to many different people, departments or customers. The one possible downside might be cost although even this is not excessive. Failure does not occur since the modification of ideas is part of the process. Many people talk of an Innovation funnel, however it is really a funnel with feedback, a recycling machine!

Innovation Mistake #2 Searching for the ‘Quick Fix’

There is nothing bad in having a ‘Quick Win’, an objective that can be quickly achieved to create confidence and demonstrate success but your Innovation programme should not be a series of  Quick Wins.

Consider a business entering a marketplace for the first time. Competition may very well force the company to buy into (expensive) technology to get up to speed, or to talk to suppliers and customers that are also being courted by competitors. You are now no longer being innovative but have fallen foul of ‘me too’ behaviour. Some blinkered souls may call this best practice but whilst it might earn you a living for a while it is not going to beat off the competition.

In order to beat the competition you need to understand the marketplace, the drivers of cost/technology/business models etc. If you have a new product or service, how long until it is ready to launch, how will you recoup your costs, will the competition be able to copy it? You must plan carefully hence a quick fix is not an option.

Innovation Mistake #3 Searching for the ‘Money Fix’

This does not sound quite right but I wanted 3 mistakes with the word ‘Fix’ in!

A common mistake is to throw money at a particular problem or project and hope that it will generate a winner. The problem is, if that were the case then all your competitors could spend their dollars in exactly the same way. The key thing to remember about Innovation is that depending on exactly the course you follow, you will create something that is not too easy for your competitors to copy.

If you created a new design for a product but manufactured it in a new (cheaper and faster) way then the competition may be able to copy the design but might be baffled as to why your price is cheaper and your quality higher. But how do we do this? Simple we rely more on the things that cannot be copied – the skills, attitudes and behaviours of your staff. So the most important areas to focus on are not securing funding (although you will need some) but securing, motivating and rewarding the right staff.

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