Striking a balance between structure and spontaneity in your innovation strategy

Original ideas are all about spontaneity and creativity but how can innovation strive without a structure or processes in place to capture and curate these ideas?

Owen Hunnam
by Owen Hunnam
Innovation strategy

It is a widely held belief that when it comes to an innovation strategy, spontaneity beats structure. Innovation is inherently about risk, disruption and a rebellion against the status quo. Creative problem solving can only thrive when the shackles are off. Groundbreaking ideas will only emerge when employees are given the freedom to invent and innovate. Ideas will only receive backing when management is not afraid to step away from a ‘safe’ space.

Although this may all be true, a total disregard for structure can be dangerous, even within the context of an innovation strategy. It may seem like a paradox to suggest that even spontaneity needs structure but you can be certain that without some form of system in place to capture the innovation output of your organisation, an innovation strategy will likely fail. On the one hand, innovation will only thrive when structures are overruled, but on the other hand, ideas cannot be efficiently captured without such structures.

“Accenture found that companies with a formal system in place are 75 per cent more likely to define their innovation strategy as delivering a competitive advantage, twice as likely to introduce a new business process or model, and 35 per cent more likely to say they are typically first to market with new products or services.” – Accenture Study

So where do you draw the line? How can an organisation strike an appropriate balance between spontaneity and structure?

Separating creativity and innovation

Creativity and innovation are often taken to be synonymous. Indeed they are intrinsically linked, but failing to separate them could be responsible for a confusion around structure. The process of being creative is the more ‘unstructured’ aspect of the innovation process, free from boundaries and limiting frameworks. Creativity should have no limits, as ideas can appear in the most unlikely of situations – making a cup of tea, taking a shower, halfway through a skydive descent. Yet it is exactly this freedom of thought that requires an efficient system to cultivate ideas. Take Idea Drop for example – we created it exactly so that people can drop ideas whenever and wherever. In other words, our system facilitates spontaneity.

The act of being creative needs no structure. However, the process of converting this creativity into innovation presents the need for a different approach. Without a system in place for curating these ideas, your innovation process will fall at the first hurdle. Firstly, ideas must be aligned with business objectives to ensure relevance and an appropriate direction. Secondly, there must me a way of capturing these ideas, or they risk getting lost and buried. Finally, only the best ideas should be put forward for implementation and there must be a system for making this decision.

Implementation needs structure

It can be easy to forget that innovation is not just about the creative light bulb moments. When innovation is considered purely as a creative process, it is clear to see why the common consensus is that spontaneity beats structure. However, generating and capturing ideas is only the beginning; carrying these ideas through implementation is the real challenge.

Facilitating new ideas and ensuring a smooth integration cannot be achieved without structure. Goals need to be set, a timeline established and a clear set of stages determined. Although a clear structure is important here, it does not mean that spontaneity and creativity must be simultaneously stifled. The door should still be open to new input and iterations of the idea. This is why it is important to adopt an agile innovation strategy, as this approach ensures structure whilst facilitating adaptation.

Turning structure into culture

Ultimately, having a structure in place will ensure that innovation actually happens. The trouble with a completely unhampered innovation process is that, in reality, employees probably won’t bother. A system or idea management platform provides the foundations on which staff can build their ideas, providing the motivation they need to dedicate some of their valuable time to innovation.

A structured innovation process does not have to mean the end of spontaneity. This is about providing a framework within which creativity can thrive whilst maintaining direction and relevance. Over time, these systems should become so ingrained into the very fabric of the business, that they are no longer viewed as a ‘structure’. This is the ultimate goal of any innovation management platform or implementation structure: that eventually they will become part of the workplace culture and the corresponding processes will become second nature.

Key Takeaways

  • Remember that innovation is not just about the light bulb moment; separate the stages of an innovation process and recognise that each requires a differing level of structure.
  • An agile innovation strategy will help to maintain the balance between structure and ongoing creativity throughout the implementation process.
  • Any structures surrounding the innovation process should be designed and integrated so that they eventually become part of the workplace culture.

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