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.!

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Making Good Use Of Institutional Failings

Normally we tend to diagnose institutional failings and then combat them with remedial programmes that often dismantle and then rebuild certain aspects of the organisation. Note that these characteristics are independent of the individuals that work within the organisation.

A well publicised example of such a failing was the accusation of institutionalised racism that was leveled at the Metropolitan Police here in the UK. No one individual was accused of being racist but the structure, processes, distribution of power, expressions of vision and beliefs was deemed to be supportive of racism.

So what might some of the characteristics of an institutional failing be and how can they be used to help us? I have alluded to one or two already but here is a short list:

    • Strong beliefs and a mechanism for communicating them
    • Well or clearly defined structures and processes
    • Power centred on a few individuals
    • An active ‘grapevine’ for informal communications
    • Well aligned communications, trust and advice networks
    • High degree of focus (not necessarily concern for) on people

This is not an exhaustive list but is representative of many undesirable institutional failings. Our natural tendency is to remove such characteristics through one or more change programmes and possibly staff development of some sort. For a large organisation the changes must be far reaching, difficult to plan (and control) and of course expensive. Had we been looking at undesirable furniture or waste paper then we would automatically think of recycling. Why not recycle these unwanted organisational characteristics and use them for a positive purpose?

One possible idea might be to create ‘institutionalised creativity’, a type of creativity that is inbuilt and pervades every part of the organisation in such a way that employees do not consciously think about it. Lets make use of a strong beliefs system (but change the beliefs), take advantage of clearly defined structures (but turn them into looser frameworks), use the company grapevine (as part of this process), be focused (but change this slightly) and make use of the centres of power (but make these sponsors of creative or innovative behaviour).

Such a programme may not be easy, but is it better than turning a whole organisation upside down?

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What Recession – reasons to be cheerful

The recession may have touched us all but it is not nearly as bad as the pundits and commentators would have us believe. One or two businesses have gone under but I am here and you are still here reading this. We are all still ‘in the game’ so we have some of the skills and resources necessary to survive. We must at the very least be capable of examining our external environment and reacting to it in a positive manner. We are flexible, adaptable, resourceful and understand our own competencies.

A downturn is a good time to plan and watch what others are doing. Take a look at your competitors, visit their shops and trade stands or use their services. See how your competitors are handling the bad times, take on board their good ideas and learn from the bad ones. In short be ready to beat them when the time is right. Use this slack time to review your own business, something you will not have time to do in the busier times ahead. Now is also a good time to woo new clients even if they are not going to buy from you right now. Understand them and listen to their woes. We are experts in our field.

We know that things are cyclical and so we can safely assume that after the crash will come a period of growth once more. We cannot say for sure what the timescales will be but we know that it will happen. We have demonstrated our flexibility in surviving initially and then been cunning in our approach to observing our competitors, creating a plan and acquiring resources. We have a business that will thrive when the time is right. In the meantime, leverage your expertise and assist your customers to save money or add value for existing customers (without charging them extra). We thoroughly understand our customers and our marketplace.

So you:

  • are flexible, adaptable, resourceful and self aware
  • experts in your field
  • thoroughly understand your customers and your marketplace

Congratulations, you are now innovating!

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