All too often organisations prioritise innovation yet fail to properly plan and execute a coherent innovation strategy. For years our largest organisations have been investing in innovation hubs, business incubators, tools to interrogate customer data and yearly offsite summits to uncover those brilliant ideas.
The end goal in all of these activities is to create the breakthroughs we are so desperately looking for to achieve above system growth and manage the risks that come with a world in which our traditional business models are more at risk of disruption than ever before.
This failure to turn intention into sustainable action; or in many cases any action at all, has been highlighted in a number of surveys including recently through Singularity University’s Exponential Innovation Assessment which demonstrated that 70% of organisations treat innovation as one of their top strategic priorities yet only 34% have a documented action plan for implementing an innovation strategy.
But determining whether an innovation gap exists is the easy part. Understanding how to bridge the gap and begin to make meaningful and sustainable progress on innovation is where the difficultly begins.
So, what can undo even the best of innovation intentions? There are three typical areas where organisations fail:
1. Reliance on the wrong tools; It is incredibly tempting to use a butter knife to tighten a loose screw when it is all we have available to get the job done. We are regularly presented with problems that leave us caught out without the right tools. When we persist, we end up with a screw that isn’t tightened like it should be and which will likely need tightening again sometime soon. In the worst-case scenarios, we even do more damage to the object we are trying to fix in the first place. Sometimes the damage is superficial but other times it will end up completely broken.
The same scenario applies when it comes to innovation. We see something that needs fixing, all we have access to is Word, Excel, PowerPoint and a project management tool like Trello or Monday, and we get to work. Just like the butter knife these tools are wonderful at doing the job they were intended for but they are simply not designed to facilitate innovation. They are simply not enough on their own, and even combined, they’ll unlikely bring about innovation success.
These days we have access to platforms like Nectir to facilitate innovation. At their best they create open innovation, leverage diversity, foster innovation culture, measure progress and create meaningful business cases ready for executive decisions. They take a systemic approach that captures all interactions in one environment and they enhance corporate memory. But above all they provide a system of record that can be drawn upon to foster and support sustainability in our innovation strategy.
2. Failure to understand what innovation is; Many people struggle to define innovation, most get stuck assuming that it means invention or that it is synonymous with a high-tech solution.
But to assume this misses the point completely, innovation is, in fact a process. Once that is cyclical and has no predetermined end point. To adequately understand innovation is to understand that we must continually observe and we must empathise with our people, community and environment. In more traditional terms it starts with observation and leads to research.
From this point we must continually look for solutions to the problems we uncover, and we must put these solutions together for feedback before refining our hypothesis and starting again. In doing this we complete an innovation process loop - a loop that when understood clearly can be followed, measured and adapted to meet our longer-term innovation goals.
3. There is no culture of innovation. Innovation is as much a mindset as it is an activity. Truly successful innovation occurs only when cultures exist to support it. This is perhaps the biggest challenge for organisations to overcome. In the absence of the right tools to support it, it may in fact be virtually impossible to achieve.
Traditional organisations are structured in a way that does not provide much room for failure. It is unreasonable to think that any team member would step outside organisational instructions and take a chance on a new method or idea. Especially when failure will almost certainly result in punishment or loss of career opportunity.
Mature innovation cultures have key characteristics which mean innovation is almost inevitable let alone desirable. In these organisations measured risk taking is encouraged, failure is treated as valuable learning, ideas are sourced from all parts of the organisation and decision making is not the sole domain of a small handful of executives.
Creating sustainable and meaningful innovation does not have to be difficult but it does need to be systemic and deliberate in its approach. When boards and executives go to lengths to address the three areas that stifle and kill innovation, they stand the best chance of reaping the benefits that come with it.