My advice: stop evangelizing and start doing. Use a proven innovation method on a mainstream issue or product and let the results speak for themselves. Don't ask permission. Don't call it innovation. Don't preach the "..see, I told you!" message. And then...do it again. I take advice from Thomas Bonoma's classic HBR article from 1986, "Marketing Subversives."
Which is easier to learn: innovation or leadership? That is one of my favorite questions to ask during keynotes and workshops, especially to groups of accomplished leaders. What amazes me is the answer I get back: overwhelmingly, groups of executives say that leadership is easier to learn than innovation.
Technology improves our lives in many ways, but overreliance on it can cause us to "dumb down." Technology has a tendency to fill in or take over certain tasks for the consumer, relieving us of cognitive activities that we once did ourselves. These cognitive activities get weak or atrophied. We get lazy and dependent on the new technology to do our work for us. We become dumb.
Mitch Ditkoff notes a common misperception regarding bad ideas: "One of the inevitable things you will hear at a brainstorming session is something like "there are no bad ideas." Well, guess what? There are plenty of bad ideas....The key for aspiring innovators? To find the value in what seems to be a "bad idea" and then use that extracted value as a catalyst for further exploration."
I agree. Good ideas usually start as bad ideas, an insight I learned originally from the folks at S.I.T.. But the question is: how do you extract the value from a bad idea to transform it? I offer three approaches.
The question is not who owns innovation, but rather who owns innovation competency development. I see more companies moving in this direction. Some place this within a process excellence group while others move it right into a functional department such as marketing or R&D. Still others have dedicated resources such as GE and Diageo, two members of the MSI Innovation Roundtable. Build innovation competency and the question of who owns innovation becomes moot.
How do you innovate a business model? You can create new products and services within the current business model to drive growth. Or you can create a new business model and open up a whole new world of possibilities for the firm. Either innovate within the current game, or change the game. But how?
Innovation is a skill, not a gift. Top organizations drive growth by nurturing and investing in innovation as a competency. One way organizations make it real is by including innovation within formal competency models.
Professor Rodney Rogers of Portland State University defines a competency as a persistent pattern of behavior resulting from a cluster of knowledge, skills, abilities, and motivations. It is the persistence of those behaviors that matter most and help your organization succeed. Competency models are a useful way to formalize that behavior and make it persistent. They help describe the ideal patterns needed for exceptional performance. They are a blueprint for the type of person needed for a specific job. And they help diagnose and evaluate employee performance. It takes a lot of work to develop one, but it's worth it.
The best Fortune 100 companies see innovation as an ongoing capabilty, not a one time event. These companies work hard to build muscle around this capability so they can deploy it when they need it, where they need it, tackling their hardest problems. Companies do this to keep up with the ever changing landscape both inside and outside the firm. What does it mean to build innovation muscle? I think of it as the number of people trained, the frequency of using an innovation method, and the percentage of internal departments that have an innovation capabilty. Call it an Innovation Muscle Index: N (number of trained employees) x F (number of formal ideation events per year using a method) x P (percent of company departments with at least one employee trained in an effective innovation method. IMI = N x F x P
Web 2.0 social tools are swelling all around us, and the Fortune 100 are embracing them for two purposes - managing and engaging the internal employee base and managing and engaging the external customer base. Wikis, blogs, mashups, and social networks will improve productivity, connectivity, knowledge transfer, and ultimately profitability if deployed correctly.
What about innovation? Can the Web 2.0 environment increase, enable, accelerate, and deepen innovation within companies? I am impressed with the emergence of tools such as Wridea and others that have taken on the challenge. But I have yet to see one that works effectively. I am trying to figure out why. Are these applications using the wrong innovation tool or process? Do they have an effective innovation process, but deploy it incorrectly? Or, are people not using the application in an optimal way?
There is an inherent bias against innovation despite the enormous value it holds for organizations. Corporate executives know that innovation is the only true long term growth engine for their firm. Yet innovation carries with it a certain stigma, a perception in the minds of executives, that it is "soft" and frivolous compared to other hard core business activities like productivity, quality, and demand generation. This stigma deters executives from taking risk and investing in serious innovation initiatives.