Innovation isn't always pretty. It's messy and tough, often frustrating, and sometimes even infuriating. That's why most businesses avoid it, or only approach it haphazardly or reactively. But that's why most businesses are most businesses. For the businesses that want to be changemakers, an innovation process is a necessity. And to accomplish it, you need a roadmap. That is one of the 7 Immutable Laws of Innovation: the Law of Process.
Do Some Self-Reflection
Your innovation process should be as unique as your business—there is no one-size-fits-all manual for how to innovate. Start by doing a deep dive into what makes your organization different, so that you can develop a process that works seamlessly with who you are.
Look at the people on your team. How do they work best? Would they benefit from more structure or do you just need to let them loose? A very specific and detailed innovation process with plenty of checkpoints for accountability might help to keep people on track. On the other hand, your team might feel stifled by strict guidelines.
Dig deep into every aspect of your organization. Talk to the executives, the managers, the individual team members. Someone may have a great idea that they’ve just been waiting for an opportunity to share.
Don't forget to consider your goals and vision as an organization. These ideas are what lead you as a company, so they should also lead in the design of your innovation process. What are your core values? Who do you serve? What does your ideal world look like?
But proceed with caution: don’t get so attached to any aspect of your business that you can’t see what’s coming next. Kodak assumed that if they just kept making high-quality film—the centerpiece of their business—the company would continue to grow. They ignored calls within their own organization to embrace digital, and by the time they realized their attachment to the past was misguided, it was too late. Don’t make the mistake of confusing core products with core values, or your innovation process will never get off the ground.
After you've taken a good look in the mirror and gotten an idea of how your workforce works best, start looking at other organizations. Each company’s process will be different, with some aspects that might work and some that won’t in your own quest for innovation.
Make sure to look at organizations both within your own industry and in other industries. It might surprise you, but sometimes what works for a big box retailer can also work for a small web design company.
Always keep your own organization in mind while doing the research. How might a given strategy work for your team? Is there a way to adapt broad principles or specific processes to your unique needs?
You can discuss and research and discuss some more, but until you pick an innovation process and put it into action, nothing will get done. If, after looking at your own organization and doing a little research on potential innovation processes, you still feel unsure, use my FIRE framework to help guide you. I've been using it successfully for years, and it can easily be tweaked and re-formatted for use in any industry or company.
As you are following the steps of your new innovation process, analyze it. Compare how your current innovations stack up against past ideas and products. Keep a detailed timeline and precise notes. Get feedback from your team and customers.
When you have completed your first round through the innovation process, start tracking specific metrics. Innovation is notoriously difficult to measure. This is mainly because the success of innovation could be based on profitability, increased efficiency, increased employee satisfaction…the list goes on and on. These are not always quantifiable, and they are not easy to isolate from other factors. Measurement is possible, however. Here’s a good place to start.
Keep in mind that before you pick a metric, you need to first define your objective and intended results. Some of your objectives might include:
- Higher quality ideas
- Higher quantity of ideas
- Faster implementation of ideas
- Higher execution rate of ideas
- Increased workforce participation in ideation phase
- Increased ROI from ideas
Once you've analyzed your first trial run with the innovation process, you can identify its strengths and weaknesses. Even if your innovation metrics have improved from before, change or add something to the process. You may be surprised at how effective you can make your process as you continually strive to make it better.
Bring in someone who wasn't involved in the innovation process and have them look at it and at the results. A pair of fresh eyes will see things differently. They will be able to make suggestions that an individual who was immersed in the process would never have seen. In addition, go back through this five-step approach to creating an innovation process. Take a second look at your organization and at other organizations' processes. You've experienced organized and strategized innovation now, so you'll have an entirely new perspective.
Innovation will never not be scary and new, but a process can help boost your bravery. Innovation is the constant improvement of processes and products, and the process of innovation itself is no exception. For help creating an innovation process for your organization, contact me.