Helping Your Innovators Innovate
I was at a conference the other day 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 around suitcase-sized phones) the concept of corporate personnel dedicated to the innovation function, is a recent concept.
Classic texts like the Innovators Dilemma discuss the effects of not innovating and disrupting yourself, and in most corporates, innovation is expected of employees (but typically not compensated outright). However, unless you have personnel dedicated to fostering and facilitating innovation within your organization, then there is little chance that you will innovate unless it has been baked into your corporate incentives from the beginning.
Most people feel that innovation is essential, however, they expect innovation from everyone, in addition to their regular jobs. When I ran my first very successful innovation program at a major corporate, we were shut down in the ninth rolling layoff, about 5 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.” However, as I said earlier, without the incentive to innovate, very few did. Plus, they all had their “day jobs” to do.
You always have those free radicals within the organization, brilliant individuals who are serial inventors and will always push the company to try new things. However, in most organizations, especially in tough times, these people tend to be muted and told that they must be focused and heads down on the problems of today, not the innovations of tomorrow.
If these free radicals are being suppressed, imagine how your typical employee with a great idea feels.
It is, therefore, essential that you have a dedicated team of personnel, either employees or contractors, who understand how to and are focused on capturing, reviewing, and possibly implementing ideas generated by employees within your organization. A few brave souls who can set up a safe space for your employees to invent new things, come up with new ideas, make sure that they are vetted, reviewed, and properly managed.
In fact, someone, somewhere deep within in your organization, could right now, at this moment, be coming up with your next billion-dollar business, and it’s likely that you are completely unaware of it.
Let play this out. Look at your current organization. Assume that you are the CEO (if you aren’t already) or at the very least, on the senior leadership team. Assume that someone, somewhere, out there in your company, has come up with an incredible idea, which, if properly executed, is valued at a billion dollars, in revenues or savings. Maybe they are in a mailroom somewhere or some remote sales office. Maybe they saw something in one part of the world and tweaked it for a global market. Maybe it just came to them in the shower this morning. Let’s also assume that they aren’t very entrepreneurial, so they are not that interested in developing the idea on their own.
You have an employee somewhere with a billion-dollar idea, or maybe the beginnings of a billion-dollar idea once expanded and enhanced a bit. What do they do with it? Do they have somewhere to put it? Is there a safe place for them to reveal their idea? What would they do?
If you don’t have a way to collect those ideas, then it probably won’t go anywhere. They may tell their manager about the idea, but unless it specifically pertains to their current role, it’s doubtful that it will be given a proper vetting.
If you do have a way to collect those ideas, what happens to the idea once it’s collected? Does it go into a black hole, from the perspective of the inventor, or do you have an effective review and communications strategy to communicate with inventors? If the inventor were to submit the idea to the process, would it get a fair hearing from true forward thinking innovators on a review board?
Maybe most importantly, how does this idea get to you: the CEO, who when viewing the idea, understand its value? How often do the ideas from these far-flung employees within the organization hit your desk?
If it’s all the time, then great. But if not, then you likely need a dedicated program, and dedicated personnel, to make sure that happens.
As I mentioned earlier, 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, but essential if you are interested in innovation, expanding your set of products, enhancing your IP portfolio, or simply seeking massive employee engagement.
Dedicated innovation teams are as essential to the future of your organization, as your marketing, sales, and corporate strategy teams, none of which you would touch in hard times. If fact, in some cases, they are even more essential to the future of your organization.
Why would you neglect your innovators, just when you need them most? Get that team in place to educate, capture, facilitate and unearth all of those great ideas. You will never know what you’ll find.