A Fresh Look at Innovation

by Tim de Jardine

This report is different
This report is a high-level overview of some strategies that I believe are necessary to drive an effective innovation program in your organization regardless of its size. This report describes an approach that combines a systematic and creativity method to facilitate innovation. While this report is not a complete, can serve as a guide to start implementing a successful innovation strategy. If these principles are applied you will soon start to innovate; your business will thrive.

The Big Idea:
Innovation is not a decision, it cannot occur at a specific time or in a set period. brainstorming sessions and days of retreats are not effective methods to drive innovation. Innovation happens at best through osmosis. In order to become innovative you must capture your most creative peopleʼs ideas when they occur at any time. Then use a systematic milestone based model to implement the ideas with the best ideas becoming your innovation. A gated approach to implementation will mitigate risk and ensure you can quickly move on from a failed innovation as soon as possible. This way you will achieve innovation and reap results.

What is innovation? Ask the average punter on the street this question and they will most likely link it to some sort of process where a new idea or invention is created. While this is true in a lot of cases, the fact that innovation is a process resonates with most of the market. This is actually false. Another way of looking at innovation is: Innovation is a response to a number of questions where in time your brain tells you the answer.
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A Very Recent History of Corporate Innovation Since the mid 80's and early 90's innovation has been a buzz word that managers and corporations were pushing on their employees. During this period we saw a boom of innovation, facilitated creative thinking, planning and workshops aimed at “teaching” innovation to corporate employees. After these workshops your company became “officially” innovative. So we thought...

The Current Problem By condensing innovation into small sessions or yearly retreats/think-tanks you may come up with many forced ideas, most of which are not touched or discussed after the retreat. But what about future ideas? Should they wait till next year, or at worst be forgotten once an idea is chosen? Innovation cannot be taught in one day, it cannot be forced. You cannot force innovation or dictate and control when and where it happens if at all. Innovation is a cultural movement that exists within an organization. The problem with the approach in the 80's & 90's is that innovation at its highest level is a tick in a box. Its is part of a due diligence process and nothing else. Much like purchasing insurance on a car innovation is brought and sold in todays corporate environment. Innovation in Companies Today Ask any CEO about innovation and their response will be something muffled like they are open to and encourage it or want to see more innovation. The trust is that today innovation is in turmoil. With our quick fix mentality and instant results, innovation life cycles very rarely exist. Innovation is classed more like an event that occurs in time and happened on a date; not much has changed. We are still living in the 80ʼs and 90ʼs model of innovation and with todays market conditions, this does not work in our favour. The approach of innovation in the early 80s and mid 90s and today is a very analytical approach to creativity. The analytical approach suited analysts who wanted to tick innovation in a box on a due diligence sheet. Analytical and creativity is an oxymoron. Today, true innovation does not exist in most businesses. Innovation today neglects a key group of people who know your business and can change your organization

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Creatives: Big picture, big thinkers. Creatives love to work in abstracts with little information. Creatives know how to use their minds as a tool to generate solutions. Creatives see gaps everywhere, in your products, your company, your goals, your employes, your mission, your vision EVERYTHING and they have solutions! The only problem is creatives are not driving innovation, they are commonly being left out of the innovation picture and in the end this will hurt your company. Creatives are the people who are going to change your organization and drive you forward. The Creative Economy With the rise of off-shoring, outsourcing and downsizing the job market for the west is changing. More common than not jobs are becoming commodities. They are essentially a bunch of skill sets with decision trees. Some examples: Surgery is outsourced to India; computer programming in Brazil and you can even file your taxes overseas. In the offshoring scenario often the contract goes to the lowest bidder making the whole process ubiquitous. When skill is not an issue it is price. In a sense the demand for local talent in the west for these common roles will diminish. What is on the rise is the creative class, people who can think “outside the square. Creativeʼs know how to use their imagination, think differently and most of all they innovate. The creative class will have the ultimate skill in our economy. There is no doubt traditional economies are changing, the focus on analytical skills will shift towards creative skill-sets as analytical jobs are off-shored. Ideas as a Currency There was the gold rush in the 1800ʼs now we are in the midst of an idea rush. These ideas will bring innovation and innovation will propel your company into the future, with better revenues. The rush is to get the smartest and most creative people working for you. These people will create ideas that will be turned into innovations then to products giving you a competitive advantage. Ideas create new products, improve operations, change strategies and re-invent your company. Ideas cannot be forced though. To make this succeed we must work with the creatives.

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Key Concept: Creativity Cannot be Forced Innovation is often looked upon to be a generic process. This would involve steps like identify ideas through a brainstorm, then plot a plan and execute. While the plan itself has systematic elements to it the actual creation of ideas cannot be forced, defined or systematic. Ideas are created through osmosis, they appear randomly during your own time. Have you ever given you brain instructions and within a few days or hours suddenly received an answer? This is how your brain works and this is the most effective way to innovate. Your Brain as a Tool Think of the brain as an stimulus and response mechanism. You ask a question and get a response. The catch is you will not know when the response will occur. If history tells us anything, the solution will come when you least expected it. Your brain is working for you at all times, while taking a shower, going for a walk or even dreaming. There are many famous examples beyond this report where inventors have had their moment of clarity. It all happened when they were not trying to think about anything. These inventors will say that the idea “popped up” or “a light went on in my head”. Therefore we need a better approach to innovation that allows for creative people in the innovation process and does not just focus on analytical brainstorming sessions. How often do innovation groups, think of an idea and then stop thinking of more ideas? Its almost like we decide on one and forget we have the ability to create an unlimited number of ideas. Innovation should be a continuous process that happens regardless of settling on an idea or deciding to pursue a project. My approach does not call for ridged structure, or retreats or “sessions”. Under my approach, innovation cannot be forced, it happens. The focus is on capturing it, testing it and using it when it does happen to your advantage. New Innovation Strategies De-centralize innovation instead of driving it centralized from a focus group. Create channels to allow ideas to flow from many directions at their own pace, naturally. Web companies in particular are at the forefront of de-centralized innovation. Something as simple as a feedback button on an application or a heavily focused community web site allows users (customers) to give instant feedback or suggestions about a product or service. Capture innovations from all employees, everyone has a voice as you never know where your killer product or strategy will come from. Those typically not asked or drafted into an innovation “meeting” may hold the key to your killer idea. Companies are now leveraging outsiders to contribute to innovation. Often we are too
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close to our industries and someone with a different perspective can be a great source of innovation. These resources will look at your business from a distance to see what can unlock new doors and provide insight. It simply makes more sense to de-centralize innovation.

A New Approach
2 disciplines A new approach to innovation calls for two disciplines this is where creativity and structure meet and this will suit all types of innovators. The creative part of innovation involves the generation of ideas at all times/places in a continuous flexible flow of innovation. The structure is how you deal with the ideas once they are created. To successfully harbor innovation it needs to be encouraged, lived and experienced within the culture of your organization. Go ahead and announce this to your employees then follows through with incentives backed by an effective system and you have a good start. Commit to innovation as a continuous process. Set innovation cycles, innovation days and innovation missions. Show your people you are serious about innovation in your organization, innovation is not a management fad, you expect to see results! Encourage innovation in all products, new products, old products, defunct products, services, images, brand recognition, employee health, employee happiness, customer services and any other areas you can think of.

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Capture Ideas The capture phase is a repetitive and continuously cycled within your company. One of the best methods of doing this is to have a many capture systems. The system that collates all ideas into a pool of ideas and categorizes and ranks the ideas based upon category, type, timeframe and description. This allows the ability to sort and prioritize ideas when there is a need to review them. The best systems dont just capture ideas, they get innovators thinking and acting on the ideas. When do you get ideas? A key aspect behind structured innovation to identify for yourself is when you are most creative, inspired and most likely to get ideas and inspiration? Encourage your employees to find their own thinking place and let them be. For me it is running where I get all my ideas. I find that without any effort they come to me. My focus on the task ahead (running) clears my mind of thoughts and allows innovations to flow naturally with little effort. This alone will dramatically increase the volume of ideas. How to Implement a Personal Capture System: A system I have found uses a combination of technology and manual systems, that all eventually end up in a centralized location: For out of office I use: •mobile phone (always in pocket). •moleskine notebook In office I use: •laptop/computer

Once a week I email myself a list of the ideas that filter to a specific folder in my email account. I have created a reminder to review my ideas once a month in my calendar.

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Review Ideas and Move on New Ideas should be reviewed every few weeks by you with your team. This is where your innovation team sits down and sifts through the ideas. Discuss the ideas and find the top 3 ideas for innovation. File the rest of the ideas away in a database so that if they appear again you know this is a re-occurring idea and possibly useful. Of those top 3 start a dialog with the person/group who suggested the idea. Talk to them and really dig deep into their thinking and motivation for coming up with the idea. You will then have a good indication as to whether to proceed with any implementation plan. Repeat this process every few weeks to encourage continuous innovation. Make it fun and create excitement and encourage as much talk as possible within your organization. Thank all participants for suggesting an idea and participating in review sessions. When discussing ideas make the conversations as open as possible. This way any potential project stoppers are taken down early on.   Make the meeting raw, hold nothing back. Give everyone a voice. Follow this formula: attention + intention + contention This means that everyone one at the meeting is contributing, they are paying attention to others when they speak and most importantly there is a debate happening that will further full proof your idea (contention). This method may pave the way for the Real intelligence of your organization, as there are no top down filters to filter out the great ideas. Get Employees Involved in Ideas Early Google engineers are allowed to use 20% of their time to pursue any project that they desire. This creates buy-in as employees do not feel pressured to moonlight on an idea by which could leave to their resignation. By getting buy in Google is supporting their engineers. This is the type of encouragement you should give. Give your employees “day dreaming” or “creative” time and you will see your innovation increase.

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Plan the Execution of your Ideas When planning to implement your ideas an effective approach is to adopt a gated process. Use a project management tool to Setup milestones that allow you to approach the implementation of these ideas with clear goals/outcomes and a go/no go decision at the each of each stage. (excellent free project management solution is at basecamphq.com) Examples of a gated approach include: Validate the market •does the product exist? •what is the value of this market? •how large? Customer validation •test your idea/s on 1 customer (your most loyal/likely customer) •does this idea solve specific pain/problems in their life? •Iterate the idea till the customer is satisfied •does the innovation eliminate pain for them? Limited trial or test •Form a test group of trial customers to test the software and provide feedback •If you have enough positive feedback from a group of test people that you feel confident to launch to the general public then proceed. Full Launch •A full launch is making the product available to the consumer. This is the real go or no go stage where you decide that this innovation is worth the investment. As a great innovation teacher Phil McKinney said:

ʻideas without execution are hobbiesʼ

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A Clear Strategy to implement A common mistake companies make is to get all enthusiastic about innovation but when it comes to execution, procrastinate. Why do we do this?  I guess we lose focus.  I have seen countless great ideas gain momentum only to lose momentum due to low prioritisation. Avoid this like the plague. It is essential that you have a concise and clearly defined strategy to implement your idea, this can not be emphasised more. A concise strategy includes goals for your gated approach as well as regular meetings, clear allocation of accountabilities and responsibilities and an above all means of commitment and focus. How do you remain committed? •Set clear and measurable goals •Hold regular meetings •Accept full accountability for your actions and responsibilities •Be very firm when someone steps out of line •Build accountabilites for deliberables into performace measurements for •employees Create Clear specific goals Write clear specific goals achievable goals. “Gain 100 customers by 01/01/2009 or “achieve 90% satisfaction from the test group of 100 people” are far better than “find customers”. Give the goals a purpose, date and measurement.

Keep the Team Size Small Innovation does not have to be on a massive scale that includes hundreds of people to a single team. Keep the teams small, 3 is the magic number. Google typically allocates 3 engineers to a new project for prototypes. Team size can be increased if you launch on a full scale. Why 3? because the magic number of 3 has an aspect to it.  With 2 you can argue all you want and have a stalemate, with 3 you can broker a deal!

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Kill Ideas that do not Work It is important to discuss the killing of ideas. this will happen, its bound to and you need to kill off ideas that do not work. Do not hesitate, if the ideas do not meet the goal stop working on them, you will be better off and focus on your new innovation or new ideas. This way the risk is reduced from taking on an idea. If the idea is not working, simply move on to another.

Remember: Never Stop Innovating Innovation is a continuous process. No matter how many products you decide to pursue remember this: Your brain has the capacity to create an unlimited numbers of ideas.

About the author: Tim de Jardine is an entrepreneur, futurist and catalyst who runs a consulting business on innovation and its implementation in businesses like yours. Tim can be reached on his website at timdejardine.com or tdejardine@gmail.com Recommended Reading: •Dan Pink http://www.danpink.com •Kevin Kelly http://www.kk.com •Seth Godin http://www.sethgodin.com •Chris Anderson http://www.thelongtail.com •Phil McKinney http://www.philmckinney.com •

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