I define innovation as an “organization’s ability to adapt and evolve repeatedly and rapidly to stay one step ahead of the competition.” A culture of innovation, when done right, gives you a competitive edge because it makes you more nimble with an increased ability to sense and respond to change.
A culture of innovation has less to do specifically with new products, new processes, or new ideas. There are of course discrete innovations such as the iPhone or a battery that is powered by viruses (MIT has developed this). These are valuable and necessary in order to create a culture of innovation.
But a culture of innovation is more than new ideas. It needs to be repeatable, predictable, and sustainable. This only happens when you treat innovation like you treat all other capabilities in your business. This means having, amongst other things, a defined process.
An organization’s innovation process must achieve three things. It must:
- focus on the “right” challenges
- find appropriate solutions to those challenges, and
- implement the best solutions.
These translate into three “portfolios” an organization must create:
- A portfolio of challenges
- A portfolio of solutions
- A portfolio of projects
Let’s take each one at a time.
A Portfolio of Challenges
All companies have challenges. They can be technical challenges on how to create a particular chemical compound. They can be marketing challenges on how to best describe your product to increase market share. They can be HR challenges around improving employee engagement.
An organization’s ability to change (i.e., innovate) hinges on its ability to identify and solve challenges. Challenges are sometimes referred to as problems, issues, or opportunities. But at the end of the day, they are all just various forms of challenges. I will use these terms interchangeably here.
Where do you find these challenges? You can find them anywhere – from customers, employees, shareholders, consultants, vendors, competitors, and the list goes on.
Let’s face it, companies have no shortage of challenges.
And guess what, some of the most important challenges to solve are hidden due to organizational blind spots and assumption-making.
The “meta-challenge” for all organizations is to find which challenges, if solved and implemented, will create the greatest value. Given that organizations have limited resources and money, prioritization is critical.
My favorite quote (used many times in this blog) comes from Albert Einstein – “If I had an hour to save the world, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute finding solutions.” Most companies spend 60 minutes of their time finding solutions to problems that just don’t matter.
Therefore, the first step in creating a culture of innovation is to surface, identify, and codify challenges. And then you must become masterful at valuing, prioritizing, and framing these challenges.
Think of your innovation portfolio much like you would handle a financial investment portfolio. You want some safe bets (incremental innovation) and some riskier investments (radical innovation). You also want a variety of innovations ranging from technical challenges to marketing challenges, and service challanges to performance improvement challenges.
Once you have the right challenges to solve, the next step is to find solutions.
A Portfolio of Solutions