Hands Up, Who Wants To Be An Innovator?
Back when I started my career (or when dinosaurs ruled the earth) there was a very different perspective of innovation and innovators.
They were an elite group of secret, almost mythical, creatures toiling away in labs far from the prying eyes of competitors or even colleagues without a C-suite designation. As a lowly advertising guy, you never saw these folks until your client was prepared to unveil the fruits of “Project Thunderstruck”. Another sign o’ the times - innovation projects weren’t funded unless they had some kinda quasi-military-superhero name.
That’s all changed.
Today every corporate press release, LinkedIn profile and company blog isn’t complete without innovation, innovative, innovator in every second sentence.
The perceived norm for innovation has moved from top-secret skunkworks to open and crowd-sourced, from the company-knows-best model to a consumer-collaborative one. Today all your employees are expected to be innovation engines and storied organizations like Lego, DeWalt and DHL actually want us, the general public, to weigh-in on their projects.
However does all this innovation talk really reflect a true sense of the market? Has innovation, like other popular phrases such as "creativity" and "transformation", really seeped into the bloodstream of organizations.
Might I suggest these questions could help determine your real appetite for innovation;
Do you have a well-understood definition and expectation for innovation?
Innovation, like Strategy, is an amorphously-defined word by many executives.
Are you looking for “big I” Innovation that will redefine your business and category or “little I” innovation where you’re polishing and refining processes, products and services incrementally? Simplistic as it may seem, if there isn’t a universally-understood definition of what innovation in your company, category or sector means, how can you expect your people to know what’s innovative or not…and then act accordingly?
Do you have a culture that’s conducive to innovations and innovators?
I’m not talking the trappings of innovative or creative workplaces like beanbags, open concept offices and bring-your-dog-to-work-Fridays but a real cultural environment to foster innovation. Are your employees encouraged to tinker, play, build, question? Is that tinkering, playing, building deliberate, unexpected or unstructured? Do you have a process or framework that purposefully moves innovation from ideation to development and deployment? If you’re really committed to this innovation thang, it requires deliberation and purpose. Innovation happenstance makes for great scenes in a movie, not in the workplace.
Not all organizations can be Innovation legends like 3M - that's why there are brilliant innovation consultancies like Idea Couture, IDEO and Fahrenheit 212 - BUT you can't expect innovation to take hold if your Culture - and your organizational design - don't allow for it. When you're Head of Innovation isn't lockstep with