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Embracing a culture of continual Innovation

All companies should have a portfolio of innovation projects – a series of activities with varying risk and reward which present short, medium and long term growth opportunities.

One of the questions we get asked most often is “how do you continuously innovate”. The straightforward answer to this is to embed a culture of innovation within your organisation and mindset – one where you don’t only think creatively when the need arises, but instead, at every opportunity you have. Explore what is possible, and what is not – and find whether there are ways to turn these ideas into reality.

A major pitfall that companies make, is to have “brainstorming sessions” when a need arises, but not to encourage creating thinking outside these sessions. This allows the company to develop the mentality that when they’re not in a specific creating thinking session, they don’t have to think creatively. Our last blog touched upon the need for a corporate Innovation Leader and distributed Innovation Practitioners – these people ensure that the company is always developing and implementing new ideas, and the thought generation – realisation process is something which is recognised as an ongoing process within your organisation.

This is the main reason that it’s important for your company to have a portfolio of innovation projects – a series of activities with varying risk and reward which present short, medium and long term growth opportunities. These projects draw in various people from the company at different points, utilising the entire skill set within the organisation.

We firmly believe that once as organisation has the basic infrastructure established (i.e the Innovation Leader and Practitioners who understand the rules of Innovation) very little external support would be required. Networks are essential, but an organisation shouldn’t be dependent upon the support of consultants – more often than not, the majority of the information they require to identify, solve and implement solutions resides in the experience and knowledge of their workforce.

One of the best companies we visited which demonstrated this has a great system for developing ideas within the workforce. Every month, the MD would stay behind for an evening in the office. He would invite two employees, and ask them to each bring two other people (non-employee family or friends). The company would pay for pizza and a few drinks, and they would talk about the business, identify an area for improvement, and brainstorm a series of ideas. This built on the suggestion that technical naivety often questions in-house assumptions and can present revolutionary ideas.

The next morning, the MD would review the suggestions from the night before with his management team. If there were any they liked, the two employees would be given a budget and resource to progress the idea further. This was a great way to develop new ideas but also draw the workforce in to the philosophy of continuous growth through innovation.

The challenge with innovation is that there’s no specific right or wrong way to do things. While there is a system of rules and procedures to optimise the process, the balance and trade-offs depend on various factors within your organisation. In most cases, there needs to be a period of experimentation to get to an ideal system – and even then, you’re always learning and improving the efficiency of your innovation systems and portfolio.

The only wrong way to innovate, is not to try at all. The likelihood is that you’re innovating already, but you don’t know it, and you’re not doing it in the most efficient manner. Take some time to learn the rules of innovation – and your growth journey will amaze even the greatest of doubters!

Richard Harrison