The other day, I went to a conference on innovation, and one of the panelists said something very interesting. She said that while innovation itself has been around forever (without innovation, we would still be swinging from trees, riding horses, and lugging suitcase-sized phones around with us), the concept of corporate personnel dedicated to the innovation function is recent. This struck me as very interesting.
In venerable works such as “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” authors explore the repercussions of failing to innovate and upsetting one’s industry; meanwhile, innovation is practically a prerequisite for employment in most large corporations (but typically not compensated outright). On the other hand, if your company does not have staff members specifically tasked with encouraging and facilitating innovation within the company, then there is a very small chance that your company will innovate unless innovation has always been a part of the corporate incentive structure.
The vast majority of people believe that innovation is significant, and as a result, they anticipate innovation from everyone in addition to their typical responsibilities. We were shut down in the ninth rolling layoff, about five years into the program and with a new CEO, with the communication that “we no longer need dedicated personnel focused on innovation, since EVERYONE should be focused on innovation.” This happened when I ran my first very successful innovation program at a major corporate entity. However, as I mentioned earlier, very few people innovated since they lacked the incentive to do so. Plus, they all had to perform their duties at their “day jobs.”
There will always be free radicals working within the organization; these are the creative people who are constantly coming up with new inventions and will always encourage the company to experiment with new things. However, in most businesses, and particularly when times are difficult, these people tend to be silenced and told that they must be focused and have their heads down on the issues of today rather than the ideas of tomorrow. This is especially true when circumstances are difficult.
Just try to put yourself in the position of a regular worker who has a brilliant idea while these free radicals are being squelched.
Therefore, it is necessary that you have a dedicated team of professionals, either employees or contractors, who are focused on recording, reviewing, and maybe putting into action ideas that are generated by employees working for your firm and who understand how to do so. A handful of courageous individuals who can create a secure environment in which your staff can invent new things and come up with new ideas while also ensuring that these inventions and ideas are verified, approved, and appropriately handled.
Someone deep within your company might be conceptualizing your next billion-dollar business right now, and you are probably utterly oblivious to this happening.
Let’s see how this turns out. Take a look at the organization you have right now. Imagine that you are already the company’s Chief Executive Officer, or at the very least, that you are a member of the senior leadership team. Assume that someone, somewhere, out there in your organization, has come up with an excellent concept that, if correctly executed, is valued at a billion dollars, either in terms of revenues or savings. What would you do if you found out about this idea? Perhaps they are hiding in a mailroom or a sales office in the middle of nowhere. It’s possible they observed something in one region and then adapted it for use in another region’s market. Perhaps they were in the shower when the idea struck them this morning. Let’s also assume that they are not particularly entrepreneurial, meaning they are not particularly interested in developing the idea on their own.
You have an employee somewhere in the company with a billion-dollar idea, or perhaps the beginnings of an idea that could become worth a billion dollars once it is developed and improved. What applications do they find for it? Do they have a location where it can be stored? Is there a place where they won’t be judged if they discuss their idea? What are they going to do?
If you don’t have a mechanism to compile all those thoughts, then it’s unlikely that this will go anywhere. They might discuss the idea with their manager. Still, if it does not directly relate to the responsibilities they are currently performing, it is unlikely that the concept will be evaluated appropriately.
What happens to the concept once it has been collected, assuming you have a mechanism to collect those ideas in the first place? From the inventor’s point of view, does it go into thin air, or do you have an efficient review and communications strategy to communicate with the people who invented the thing? If the inventor were to submit the idea to the procedure, would those truly forward thinkers who serve on the review board give it a fair hearing and a chance to innovate?
Possibly of the utmost importance, how did this idea make its way to you, the CEO? Do you, when viewing the idea, appreciate its value? How frequently do you find ideas from employees in other parts of the company arrive at your desk?
If this happens constantly, that’s fantastic. If this is not the case, you will require a dedicated program and dedicated employees to make this a reality.
As I mentioned, a team dedicated to fostering and facilitating the generation of new products, services, business models, and intellectual property is a relatively new concept to most organizations. However, it is essential to have such a team if you are interested in innovation, expanding your set of products, enhancing your IP portfolio, or simply seeking massive employee engagement.
Your company’s dedicated innovation teams are just as important to its long-term success as the marketing, sales, and corporate strategy teams that you would never consider disbanding, even in the most trying economic circumstances. There are circumstances in which they are even more crucial to the continuation of your firm.
Why would you ignore your most creative employees when you could most benefit from their contributions? Establish that team as soon as possible so that they can educate, record, facilitate, and discover all of those wonderful ideas. It is impossible to predict what you might uncover.