Innovation is a term that gets tossed around a lot in business, but is rarely implemented or put to use in a way that is beneficial to companies. Why is that? At its core, innovation is about creativity. It’s about doing things in different ways, seeing things through a new lens, breaking down the status quo and building up the status “pro”. It is, in many ways, immeasurable.
Unfortunately, innovation is rarely (but not never) conducive to the types of business metrics and KPI’s that executives need to deliver in order to please their stakeholders. Instead, most executives see true innovation as being deleterious to their own incentives and short-term goals, because of the time that it takes to gather the information, think creatively, and implement the innovative change. Most executives are, for good reason, more interested in maximizing their own needs (that is, their own performance), in lieu of maximizing the long-term performance of their company, since that company is likely to live on much longer than their own careers within it. This is particularly true in large, well-established corporations, where processes are very much ingrained and rarely change, and innovation is seen as a waste of time in the short-term.
Of course, we all know what happens when companies fail to innovate. There are far too many examples to name. When it happens, most often, it’s simply too late for the non-innovating company to start the innovation process and catch up to its competitors. You snooze, you lose, as they say.
So if you are an executive and are wondering how your company can embrace innovation in a way that still aligns with your performance metrics, or you’re an employee who is trying to appeal to your bosses on the need for innovation, but aren’t sure how to get the message across, here are some pointers on how to make innovation happen in your company:
1. Look for problems by uncovering “pain points” in your business.
This might sound like a no-brainer, but it takes a bit of digging to really tease out where these frustrations are happening, to whom, and why. These frustrations could be happening to you, to your employees, or to your clients. Do surveys, run focus groups, and make a list of the most prevalent or pressing pain points.
2. Enlist a group of peers, coworkers, or underlings to help you brainstorm on these issues.
Specifically, reach out to the most diverse group possible. Ideally, you’d like the group to include people from different departments, different levels of seniority, and perhaps even people from outside of the organization as well. The more diverse the group, the better the creativity will flow.
3. Use the brainstorming sessions to come up with creative ideas around how to solve these pain points.
The brainstorming sessions should revolve around how best to solve these pain points in creative ways. Choose one problem and make that the core focus. Encourage group members to think beyond the status quo for ideas. How? Ask them to come up with the most wildly outlandish ideas possible in order to solve the problem at hand. Tell them that no idea is too crazy. Then ask other members of the group to piggyback and extrapolate off these ideas. Encourage everyone in the session to think beyond “the common solution”. Ask them to think about what a company in another industry would do to solve this problem, or a company of an entirely different size, or with an entirely different target market. You will be amazed at the types of creative thought that can emerge once people start to think about applying solutions from “other types of businesses” to the one you’re currently operating in. Once the group has come up with a few top solutions, vote on which one would be the best to actually (and realistically) implement in the company.
4. Determine ways to ensure that this solution can be tied to measureable results for the company.
For example, if the pain point is that employee engagement in the company is low, and an idea is brought up by the group to use wacky rewards to encourage employee morale, then figure out a way to tie this rewards system to a system that measures their yearly performance and lack of absenteeism. Then link these measures back to company costs and/or revenues, so that the solution can have an impact in a real and quantifiable way.
5. Using this quantifiable approach to your idea, demonstrate your solution to decision makers or stakeholders with a results-focused pitch.
Always remember to think about the incentives that drive decision-making behavior. If your idea ultimately helps to make these incentives more attainable for decision makers, they will be all the more willing to adopt them.