Building a sustainable innovation process

Innovation may begin with an idea, but this spark is basically useless if you have no idea what to do with it next. Bringing great ideas to life requires three other key elements: a culture that encourages individuals to contribute, a system for sorting, sharing and setting a focus, and a sustainable innovation process made up of practices that can reliably see ideas through to implementation.

Andrew Tolson
by Andrew Tolson

If you are a Chief Innovation Officer, or responsible more broadly for innovation within your business or department, it’s vital that you learn, practice and share the techniques needed to embed a sustainable innovation process into the culture of your business. This relies on designing sustainable processes and making sure that everyone is on the same page. By having a system, removing any obstacles, and ensuring your entire team is onboard, you’ll soon see innovation flourish.

Enabling an Innovation Culture

The first step to building a sustainable innovation process is creating a culture where innovation thrives is by openly acknowledging that everyone needs to participate. For this to become an embedded habit, you need engagement from across your team: CEOs to new starters. If you want to create a workplace where creativity thrives, and individuals want to contribute their thoughts, then you need to openly ask for, and then emphatically reward, this behaviour.

Using an idea management software is a great way to let your people know that there is a place for each and every one of their ideas – no filter needed. In many industries, the most valuable insights happen in the moment and on the ground, so the process of logging these needs to be simple, fast and centralised if it’s going to become habitual. Idea management software, such as Idea Drop, lets you broadcast challenges, collect ideas, and then deliver feedback. Once everyone realises this is a genuine expectation, they are much more likely to participate.

When trying to introduce a new behavioural pattern, the best place to start is from the top, by ensuring your leadership are open and honest about sharing struggles and complexities. By establishing that each and every individual is able to contribute to collective problem solving, you not only gather more and better ideas, but clearly establish that innovation is a symptom of teamwork.

Challenges to Creating an Innovation Culture

The fact is, innovation is not one size fits all. In fact, in most cases establishing your innovation process is your first act of innovation: and you should treat it as such! In the recent past – particularly in light of economic depression – the main strategic focus for many businesses has been on creating operational excellence. While this focus on optimisation has helped to drive out unnecessary costs, it also created a culture of risk aversion, which now needs to be undone if you want to see real, lasting and impactful change.

Part of this is coming to terms with the idea of failure. While it’s not about taking constant risks at every level, it is about understanding that flexible, creative thinking requires a certain degree of risk-taking, particularly in the early stages. One of the first and most effective things you can do in establishing your innovation process is to ensure that your entire management team hold the same priorities when it comes to risk and experimentation, so no one is discouraging this kind of participation before it even begins.

Another significant challenge that faces many CIOs is combating the idea that inspiration is divine. Innovation is not accidental, it is deliberate, and can be practiced. While ideas may strike at any time – particularly amongst those on the front lines or new hires bringing fresh eyes to a project – it is about establishing a routine for considering and nurturing these ideas until they reach their potential. The best way to create this kind of ‘innovation perimeter’ is to create and share a short term focus, so everyone knows what you’re aiming towards, even if you also gather ideas that fall outside this remit.

Establishing an Innovation Process Framework

You’ve set your goals, capture your ideas, and now it’s time to bring them to life. This is where an innovation process framework really comes into its own. This is a clear and guarded channel for developing, considering, prototyping, testing and implementing new innovations. Here at Idea Drop, we have a tried and tested implementation process that guides you through the entire journey, but can be easily adapted to your specific needs.

So often, the success of an initiative rests on the nuance of its delivery. By following a process, iterating and learning as you go along, and then sharing feedback at the end, you demonstrate to your entire team that innovation matters. In the end, seeing your best ideas brought to life – sensitively and effectively – is the best possible thing you can to do create a sustainable innovation process.

Idea Drop is idea management software that helps you to collect and develop your team’s most innovative insights. Learn more here.

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