A 6 Step Blueprint for Creating a Culture of Innovation

February 6, 2013  

Here is today’s Wednesday Work Wisdom

The question I get most often from my Fortune 500 clients: “How do we create a culture of innovation?”

Although there is no simple answer, here’s a blueprint I’ve found useful to get things started and build momentum.

  1. Ask employees for ideas – Most organizations start here with the corporate suggestion box.  Let’s call it idea-driven innovation.  This step is useful for getting people engaged. It also helps capture low hanging fruit and incremental innovations.  However, after a period of time, the ideas become less practical and less valuable.  The “noise” (low quality ideas) increases.  And sadly, even the good ideas often have a difficult time finding a home (sponsor, owner, funding, resources), so they wither on the vine.
  2. Ask top execs for their most pressing challenges – We now move from idea-driven innovation to a more useful approach: challenge-driven innovation.  Find the people with money, power and resources in your organization, and ask them for the  most important challenges that they need solved.  Don’t call it innovation. Think of it as problem solving. This step gets the executives engaged as they start seeing direct value.
  3. Ask employees to solve these challenges – Once you’ve identified the top executive challenges, it is now time to get the employees working on finding solutions. This is done via internal crowdsourcing. Instead of asking everyone for their  suggestions, ask them for solutions. This keeps them engaged, reduces the noise, and provides a much higher ROI.
  4. Ask employees to identify challenges - This step is designed to get everyone to realize that the mantra, “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions,” is wrong. Teach employees that if you bring bigger and better problems, there are many ways to find better solutions. Ask employees to submit good challenges. This steps requires proper education/guidance to avoid being inundated by poorly defined challenges.
  5. Go externally for solutions to challenges – Use alliances, outsourcing, and external crowdsourcing/open innovation as a means for discovering solutions to exceptionally pressing solutions. Or use “tech scouting” in order to find off-the-shelf solutions to meet needs of less strategic challenges. Some organizations do this earlier in the process, starting here before asking employees for solutions.
  6. Go externally for identifying challenges – Most organizations struggle to identify the right challenges. They are too close to the business and therefore have reduced peripheral vision. Therefore, it is useful to partner with trend monitoring organizations, universities, think tanks, and experts to help identify the challenges that might be in the organizational blind spot.

This process is not sequential. Some steps are done in parallel at times. And sometimes they are done in a different order.

If your objective is to accelerate the way you innovate, this model is extremely useful. You will find that less time is spent on innovation with better results.

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