Innovation: Starting with the Basics


Building a foundation for innovation starts with the basics. In Robert’s Rules of Innovation™ the imperatives to Create & Sustain “NEW” in Business, number one is Inspire and Initiate. Innovation and ideation are pointless without buy-in from top management, and the support of your team. Engage the senior leadership team, employees of organization, and key external stakeholders in the development of a shared vision and the path forward.

Do you have an innovation culture?  How do you quantify it?

One of the first steps to creating a solid foundation for innovation is to define the desired culture. Quantify your goal, whether it’s a sales figure or number of new products you hope to achieve, and this will help justify the resources to be allocated. Create a mantra like, “one new innovation idea a week”. Develop “core attributes” as in, attributes which will form the foundation on which your company functions and conducts itself.

What are the beliefs and practices that make your company, your company? What is the essence of your organization?

Once you set your innovation core attributes, it is easy to bring your team on board and empower your company to create successful, sustainable innovations. The common saying goes, “people support what they help to create”

Phil McKinney CEO of CableLabs (previously vice president and chief technology officer of the Personal SystemGroup at HP) suggests asking the following 4 questions:

1) What does your team believe your innovation culture to be?

McKinney suggests asking a number of people in your organization what they believe is the essence of what the organization stands for.  “If you get different answers, that points to lack of clarity which then means each person is projecting what they think.” In order to create a sustainable culture of innovation, you want all members of your organization on the same page.

2) How is your organization similar or dissimilar to other organizations in the same industry?

According to McKinney, “If you are generic, with a generic culture, then innovation is NOT part of what you are about.” Reach past mundane product extensions, and the “me-too” business models of competitors. Remember that developing core attributes of innovation is not a one-size fits all glove. Your attributes need to be unique to your company and your culture.

3) What are the common traits of successful people in your organization?

What are the abilities or traits that get someone promoted? Different individual skillsets and mindsets are needed at different stages of the Innovation process, but when you know what works and has worked before; harnessing the abilities of your team becomes much easier.

 4) What are the characteristic of the missed opportunities and failures of the organization?

Chances are, you won’t like every idea brought to the table, and not every idea will pan out. Rather than view failure as inherently bad, successful innovation requires that executives and teams commit to learning from each experiment gone bad – and incorporate those teachings into the next endeavor. “On every campaign our clients do, easily 30 percent of all the contributions are absolutely nonsensical,” says Luis Solis, president of innovation software firm Imaginatik. “Another 30 to 40 percent might not be properly timed. But what we don’t know is whether the first chunk inspired the best remaining 30 percent.”

For a more in depth look at how to inspire and initiate innovation in your company, *see “Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival.”

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