Ten ways to boost innovation
Paul Sloane, Director Magazine, July 2007
Want to boost innovation in your business? Here are some practical suggestions.
1. Have a vision for change
To be innovative your team must know the direction in which they are heading. Innovation has to have a purpose. It is up to the leader to set the course and give a bearing for the future.
You need one overarching statement that defines the direction for the business and that people will readily understand and remember. For example, Biolytix vision is to be the supplier of the best solutions in wastewater treatment systems around the world, being technologically superior, as well as robust and cost-effective.
Great leaders spend time illustrating the vision, goals and challenges. They explain to people how their role is crucial in fulfilling the vision and meeting the challenges. They inspire people to become passionate entrepreneurs, finding innovative routes to success.
2. Fight the fear of change
Constantly demonstrate the need for change. Innovative leaders say, “We are doing well but we cannot rest on our laurels, we need to do even better.” They explain that while trying new ventures is risky, standing still is even riskier. They must paint a picture that shows an appealing future that is worth taking risks to achieve. They help people embrace change.
3. Think like a venture capitalist
Venture capitalists (VCs) use a portfolio approach and balance the risk of losing with the upside of winning.
They like to consider lots of proposals. They are comfortable with the knowledge that many of the ideas they back will fail. These are all important lessons for business leaders who typically consider only a handful of proposals and who abhor failure.
4. Have a dynamic suggestion scheme
How do you tap into ideas from the people working in your business? Great suggestion schemes are focused, easy to use, well resourced, responsive and open to all. They do not need to offer huge rewards. Recognition and response are generally more important. Above all, they have to have the whole-hearted commitment of the senior team to keep them fresh, properly managed and successful.
5. Break the rules
To achieve radical innovation you have to challenge the assumptions that govern how things should look in your environment. Business is not like sport, with its well defined rules and referees. It is more like art and is rife with opportunity for the lateral thinker who can create new ways to provide the goods and services customers want.
6. Give everyone two jobs
Give all your people two key objectives. Ask them to run their current jobs in the most effective way possible and at the same time to find completely new ways to do the job.
Encourage your employees to ask themselves—what is the essential purpose of my role?
What is the outcome that I deliver that is of real value to my clients (internal and external)?
Is there a better way to deliver that value or purpose?
The answer is always “yes”, but most people never ask the question.
Many CEOs see collaboration as key to their success with innovation. They know they cannot do it all using internal resources. So they look outside for other organisations with complementary skills to partner with.
8. Welcome failure
Encourage a culture of experimentation. To be truly agile, you must give people the freedom to innovate, experiment and to succeed. That means you must give them the freedom to fail, too. Thomas Edison tested over 3000 filaments before he came up with his version of a practical light bulb.
9. Build prototypes
“Don’t debate it, test it”. Try the new idea at low cost in a section of the market and see what the customers’ reactions are. You will learn far more in the real world than you will in the test laboratory or with focus groups.
10. Be passionate
Focus on the things that you want to change, the most important challenges you face and be passionate about overcoming them. Your energy and drive will translate itself into direction and inspiration for your people. It is no good filling your bus with contented, complacent passengers. You want evangelists, passionate supporters. You want people who believe that reaching the destination is really worthwhile. If you want to inspire people to innovate, to change the way they do things and to achieve extraordinary results, then you have to be passionate about what you believe in and you have to communicate that passion every time you speak.