Supercharging your Innovation Capabilities

Have you ever tried to build an innovative organization, or wondered how to make innovation happen?  If so, you'll know it's difficult because innovation is about releasing the potential in your leaders and teams. Unlike traditional management, the role of the innovation driven leader is not to set vision and motivate others to follow it. Instead, it’s to create a community willing and able to innovate. The challenge is to build an organization capable of innovating again and again.

INNOVATION versus INVENTION

Innovation is the introduction of something new or a better way of doing something that adds value. It is generally linked to positive changes in efficiency, productivity, quality, competitiveness, and market share. It differs from invention in that it uses a better but not necessarily new process, device, or method to generate novel ideas or processes with social impact, life-changing advances, and economic value. An invention, on the other hand, is a unique novel device, method, composition, or process. It is the creation of something that has never been made before and is recognized as the product of unique insight which extends the boundaries of human knowledge, experiences or capabilities. 

INNOVATION ENABLERS

Case studies confirm that an organization’s persistent dedication to innovation is what sets great companies apart. Findings also point to the complementary role of organizational culture and key enablers facilitating innovative thoughts into actions that improve organizational performance and gain market competitiveness. The following are some key enablers of innovation: 

Innovation Driven Leadership Within an innovating system, innovation driven leaders provide a source of inspiration that produces energy for seeking challenging, exploring, and risk-taking. They also reinforce the right behaviors and correct the wrong one in their teams. They ensure that individuals at all levels are able to work effectively as a team member within and across functions. Innovation driven leaders understand the innovative thinking methodology, how an innovating ecosystem works, and how to correct elements of their organization and culture that do not effectively support innovation. Such leaders expand and sustain organizational innovation capacity by drawing out the genius in each person and assemble them into innovations that represent a collective product. Most critically, innovation nurturing behaviors, build trust, and open communication, are comfortable taking risks, and provide a sense of protection, safety and care. 

Organizational Culture And Values   An organization’s culture is the combination of spoken and unspoken rules that define how members should behave to be successful.  Some of the most important elements of culture that support innovation include trust, open communication, openness to and respect for people’s ideas, teamwork across functions, risk tolerance, technology support, recognition, and diversity of thinking styles and backgrounds.  Research shows culture enables people to innovate.  An innovative culture defines identity and market, and encourages the workforce to ask questions, share ideas, and engage in dialogue.  It strengthens an organization’s capability to collaborate and encourages research and experimentation through quick pursuit, evaluation, creative resolution, and adjustments.  Innovative culture also captures commitment and ensures organizational health, standards, stability, and adaptability. 

Collective Identity   Members of innovative organizations generally have the skills that allow them to accomplish their role in their innovating systems.  In such systems, interactions among members are critical for turning an idea into a process, product, and/or service.  Everyone applies innovative thinking to solve complex business problems they face.  As a collective, they are a community with a focused innovation strategy and a purpose for why the group exists.  Purpose makes people willing to take risks and do the hard work inherent in innovation.  As each team member applies innovative thinking to solve complex business problems faced by the organization, they not only contribute to the organization’s identity but also build the organization’s framework for innovation.  Hence, being a member of such an organization confirms purpose and creates meaning for work. 

People, Willingness, And Ability   If you’re trying to build an innovative organization, you must first understand only individuals and teams innovate.  Willingness among organizational members to innovate is necessary but not sufficient for innovation to flourish if the ability to do so is not there.  Organizational culture is a critical foundation for innovation and people’s willingness to innovate.  However, organizations, cultures, technology, and processes as independent entities do not innovate.  They support, facilitate or inhibit the people who desire to innovate.  Hence, it is critical for organizations to train their people to innovate, think about how to create value for customers, and understand that an organization’s future depends on innovation.

Preparedness   Innovation doesn’t come from organized plans.  It comes from stakeholders’ preparedness to address challenges and problems.  Training and development are thus fundamental to ensuring that leaders, managers, and individuals have the knowledge and skills necessary to innovate in the right place and at the right time.  To prepare and transform one self and others into creatively-innovating individuals, one needs to reduce individual innovation constraints by

  • Asking, watching, experimenting, learning, and trying

  • Treating idea generation as an exploration, not just a search

  • Learning to reformulate problems through problem-framing and problem-solving strategies.

  • Networking and answering four very basic human centered design questions: “What is?”  “What if?”  “What wows?”  “What works?

  • Accepting ambiguity and becoming risk tolerant

Organizational Agility Finally, agility is key in people-centric, innovative organizations. Simplified operations and an agile workforce are critical to an innovative ecosystem. Being an innovative organization requires well-thought out organizational practices and strategies that stretch beyond just challenging the status quo and creating value. The entire organization, including the executives, human resources, finance, training and development, and information technology must be agile for it to become a forerunner of innovation in its industry. 

Now that you know what it takes to foster an innovative organization, you’re ready to start planting and nurturing innovation enablers without worrying about where to begin or how to build an innovative organization. 

About: Alice Fong, Ed.D., R.D. is a Senior Consultant with the Dilan Consulting Group and has over 30 years of experience designing and building innovative organizations in the Federal Government.