Can Innovation be measured?

Innovation MeasurementThe answer is of course yes! The problem comes when your definition of Innovation and mine do not coincide!

Many people will trot out a list of KPIs that are just modified version of standard production/manufacturing indicators. These could include number of ideas generated, number of ideas actually turned into products, time from conception to production etc.

What I am interested in is the behavioural aspects. What actually is there that will allow a business to innovate? Its a bit like the voltage in a battery. The battery may not be doing any work if its not inserted into a device, but what is its potential to do some work? How can you measure the potential of your organisation to innovate?

For details of the Innovation Equation you can visit my website or send an enquiry and ask for details of Innovation Measurement. In a nutshell, the Innovation Equation is a model, the components of which are Innovation Output, Creativity, Knowledge and Maturity. These can be assessed via surveys to give a detailed picture of the organisation.

Surveys can be taken with demographics recorded such as location, function, job description etc. The resulting data will allow scarce resources to be targetted at the appropriate parts of the organisation rather than trying to pass every employee through an Innovation Programme. You will also find out where the barriers are.

Results are given via an easy to read target diagram and a colour coded traffic light system. More detail is there if you wish to have it.

 

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Measuring productivity – is it healthy?

Having recently embarked on some work for a well-known household name I have felt the effect of some very rigid and somewhat unhelpful tools for measuring productivity. There has also been a huge outburst in the media here in the UK about Sports Direct and their draconian monitoring of the productivity of warehouse workers.

We now have the ability (but more worryingly the desire) to see how fast our employees walk, how long their toilet breaks are and how many widgets they can carry per hour. This sort of measurement focuses only on actions that the employer has previously determined will help the business, not on actions that the employer has forgotten about (productivity failure there for the board) or on problem-solving and thinking.

What should happen if an employee takes the time to stop and think (and possibly find an improved way of doing things) in a warehouse? What if he or she could suggest moving the racks  of widgets so that they and their colleagues do not have to walk so far in a day? Potentially an employer is removing the likelihood of the business becoming more productive!

So productivity tools do not measure the usefulness of thinking!

There are many bad things about measuring productivity, enough perhaps to write a book about but here are a couple more to get you thinking.

In order to foster a culture of innovation we need to embrace ambiguity and we often have to perform non-standard activities – we need to take risks. Activities such as prototyping or research are often unplanned with uncertain outcomes. Our productivity measurement machine would not like this. Do you think this is helpful to our innovation efforts or will most employees conform because it maximises their pay at the end of the month?

Core features of innovation are killed by productivity tools!

Innovation is a team or perhaps company-wide activity but our monster measurement tools are usually looking at what individual employees are doing. This does not recognise the fact that individuals contribute in different ways or more importantly that when an employee has an off day his or her colleagues can rally round and help. No, we must let poorly performing individuals drown apparently.

Productivity tools are looking at the wrong things! 

These are just a few ideas on why such tools may not help. If you use any tools to help measure productivity or the performance of employees please take the time to think about what you want to achieve, and why. More importantly think about what these tools could be stopping you from achieving (thinking, team working, less stress, innovation …).

Oh, and I forgot to say that simply introducing such a system introduces an overhead anyway (not good for productivity is it?).

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Creativity Cannot Be Managed – What Rubbish!

I was recently taking part in an online discussion about Creativity and Innovation when one of the contributors posted something that just stopped me in my tracks. There were a few words about how Creativity and Innovation are not the same (about the only thing we did agree upon) and some very logical and left brained words about how Innovation can be managed and then the line “Creativity cannot be managed”.

How come you cannot manage Creativity, but you can manage Innovation (which contains Creativity)? The rest of the article led me to believe that the author did not have a realistic grasp of the situation. As the person was obviously keen on following manuals to the letter, I had to agree that there is no manual for Creativity (one of my slogans as it happens), but we know enough to be able to manage creative and idea generating processes very successfully indeed.

There is much documentation on creative techniques for solving problems, generating ideas and making decisions. We know which ones work best for different types of working, and there are many guiding principles to help us set up our environment and ensure that creativity is nurtured. We know the best ways to capture ideas and share them, we can calibrate idea generation pipelines and we know the ideal characteristics for creative team members, creative teams and of those who try to manage them.

Better still we know how creativity fits into the process of Innovation as a whole, so how can anyone claim that Creativity cannot be managed? The answer lies in perspective. Many consultants and advisers think that Innovation is something that you do to a system i.e. you apply it by turning a handle and following the book rather than a framework and a set of behaviours that help you to innovate. Thus they get stuck when it comes to Creativity, you cannot just do it, there is no step by step guide to the whole process yet the principles I mentioned previously can be applied (within your individual context) to create a measurable and hence manageable system.

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Calibrating your idea generation pipeline

Do you have an idea generation pipeline? Most large organisations talk about their ‘sales pipeline’. Without knowing all of the details we understand that a) the pipeline should produce a stream of sales b) the pipeline should ideally be full. Linked to this we also understand that to produce a certain volume of sales we need a given number of contacts, sales appointments or exhibitions to go to. To increase sales we simply tweak our pipeline and hey presto, something happens.

When it comes to ideas we are not quite so methodical. Ideas are random and come along whenever they feel like it, right? Well yes and no. A large number of random ideas will at some stage begin to feel less random but the actual ideas (or quality) might still be so.

Imagine a business based on ideas. DIY suppliers such as tool manufacturers consistently seem to be trying to catch our eyes with drills, screwdrivers, unbreakable gardening implements etc. Your sales and marketing department may tell you that to keep ahead of the competition you need to have 5 new products each year in production and ready for distribution. Now let us work from the other end. A typical idea generation session might generate say 1500 ideas of which 150 might be worth considering and 15 worth trying to mock up or create prototypes. This might lead to only 1 product. At least you know that you might need to run 4 such sessions or create over 6000 wacky ideas.

Then you must allow for some sort of customer feedback, production set up etc which means that your year timeframe has now become 6 months! At least if you can calibrate your processes you can actually plan getting an idea from conception to customer, and with feedback built into the system you will get better at it. Then, when your Sales Director says ‘we need a new product for this market, now’ you can estimate the effort and cost required and tell him how long he will have to wait. Remember, miracles we can cope with but the impossible takes a little longer!

The same concept can be applied to services although the ratio of wacky ideas to actual services will be different. Also, because there is little manufacturing involved, services can be brought to the market place quicker.

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Do I need to be creative?

Do I need to be creative? The answer to this question is ‘No’. Refer to the Innovation Equation and you will soon understand why. An Innovation System is desirable from the point of view of developing new products, services or processes but it takes a wide variety of skills to make such a system work effectively. The only real requirement is for you, and those around you to have an open mind and be open to the possibility that the way you have run your company up until now may not be the same as the way it needs to be run from now onwards. This applies even if you currently run a successful business.

So the answer is ‘No’ but what should you be aware of? Well you will need to take a look at the staff you have and see what their strengths are and fill any gaps. They may need to be reorganised, either logically or geographically. Employees may need some sort of training but they will almost certainly require your ‘permission’ to behave and think in new ways.

If you are not one of the creative people yourself then you might need to widen your leadership and management skills. How would you react to the following?

  • Drastically changed working patterns
  • Having you decisions questioned
  • More testing and trialling
  • The business not being ‘lean and mean’
  • Requests to but things that are not core to your business

These are just a fraction of the things that could occur and which you will have to be ready for. Don’t panic, there will be other people in the same situation. The good thing is that by using tools such as the Innovation Equation, the whole process can be managed successfully so that you have control over it.

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