Innovating Innovation

Another year another challenge. Or challenges in the case of the Management Innovation eXchange (a collaborative initiative run jointly by Harvard Business Review and McKinsey). A couple of this years proposed challenges caught  my eye, including this one on innovating the innovation process within organisations. Essentially the question is this…what is stopping businesses from innovating well? Could it be the innovation process itself?

What problem is this challenge solving?

There seem to be a lot of ways organisations can block innovation. Here are a few obvious ones:

  • Requiring a business plan before any action is allowed to take place
  • Using internal panels of experts to assess and reject ideas that probably won’t work
  • Using an innovation pipeline that takes more than a week to get from one end to the other e.g. the time from submission to green light
  • Using popularity,  votes or likes to determine which ideas get funded
  • Keeping funding in the hands of a few
  • Setting up a suggestion box (rather than having the direction of challenges or customer problems that need solving)

All of these issues seem to be quite good at either (i) sucking the life out of ideas through incredibly long and painful processes stuffed full of submission and funding requirements, or (ii) putting the fear of God into innovators who worry about what others will think of their ideas. Innovation is supposed to be fun. Nobody ever had any fun writing a business case for their new game. People have fun by trying things out straight away. We want immediate feedback and some latitude to make mistakes.

How might Innovation be Innovated

There are a number of factors which influence innovation. Time, money, emotion, risk, and situation (see here for an article on this framework) are a useful starting point:

  • Time: innovation involves a number of different stages as we define our customer needs, explore the problem space, create ideas and work up a scalable solution. This means we need to be able to capture innovation at different points, and allow for interactions that span different time spaces from jotting down notes to collaborating and building prototypes.
  • Money: there is a lot to be said about necessity being the mother of invention but we do need some resources to experiment. Finding a happy balance between free access to resources and no access to resources should be a priority for any reinvention of the innovation process.
  • Emotion: innovation works best if people care about the idea, and enjoy working together as a team. It also seems to work better when people are able to see their ideas to completion (rather than handing them in to be marked)
  • Risk: innovation should be focusing more on customer development and less on product design. If it did, we might have less risk in our business cases (because we would already have validated them with our customers)
  • Situation: physical spaces, time to relax (or be productively stressed), and the bringing together of people, can all contribute strongly to the effectiveness of any stage in an innovation life-cycle

What Next

I’ll be watching this space to see how challenges progress. If you are interested, you should join up and contribute too.





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