While you’ve discovered the challenges that can keep you from innovation (and how to navigate them) and ways to engage your teams around driving change in this series, this guide to innovation would not be complete without these best practices that prevent you from making rookie mistakes or stifling your efforts.
With these 4 recommendations, you’ll have the clarity that your competitors lack and the confidence to boldly disrupt your team, company and industry. Here’s what you need to know!
Best Practice #1: Build from the Top Down
A lack of innovation isn’t usually about bad ideas or poor creativity. It’s often linked to low buy-in or underwhelming support from the very top. If there isn’t a budget, creative culture or approval from the decision makers, it’s unlikely those with less sway in the organization will feel comfortable taking the risks necessary for disruption.
That’s why building engagement and support from the top down should always be one of the first tasks. It means access to resources, clear leadership and presents a major step forward in helping your team feel comfortable challenging the status quo.
When approaching your C-Suite or board about innovation, consider what matters to them. According to Jeff Pruit, CEO and chairman of TallWave, it’s vital to “learn to speak their language” and he recommends coming prepared with ROI estimates, market analysis and a roadmap for success. This shows your executives that there is a real opportunity and it will be well-managed, backed up by data and metrics.
Of course, not all innovation is about growth or positive outcomes. Your pitch may need to help executives understand the consequences of not supporting innovation such as competitor threats, market changes and the cost of staying the course.
When building support for innovation, you may encounter concerns over resources or bandwidth, however, the following best practice may help you overcome this objection.
Best Practice #2: Adopt a New Innovation Source
Even if your team has some of the best and brightest minds in the business, there’s much to be gained by looking outside your organization for fresh ideas and support.
Not only does this bring in new perspectives, it’s a proven approach to tapping into new skills, resources and traits your company may not have, a leaner approach to disruption. One real world example of external innovation is Z-Tech, an initiative by Anheuser-Busch InBev that empower small and medium-sized businesses to change the world through technology. By working with a larger organization, all Z-Tech ventures have access to the data, tools, experts and network a smaller team could never have otherwise.
These partnership opportunities exist outside the beer world, too. Google for Startups and The Unilever Foundry provide innovation support and vast resources to organizations. For businesses big and small, these institutional innovation partners can be a game changer.
However, this external innovation concept doesn’t always mean a smaller organization utilizes the support of a larger one. In fact, many established businesses find value in partnering with startups, getting access to their creativity, agility and expanding beyond internal capabilities.
What goes into a successful startup partnership? According to Andrew Shipilov, Nathan Furr, and Tobias Studer Andersson, you should follow these 4 steps:
Step 1: Establish the most important problems you need to solve.
Step 2: Build awareness of the problems with potential partners.
Step 3: Partner with startups that match your culture and needs.
Step 4: Outline the scope and expectations with a contract.
By following these 4 steps, you’ll solve the right problems with partners aligned to your needs, clearly defined and agreed upon from the start. Ultimately, coming from a place of trust, transparency and a desire for mutual benefit will yield the best results.
A bonus benefit of working with external innovators: they will often alert you to challenges and opportunities that weren’t on your radar, bringing even more value to your efforts.
Best Practice #3: Find the “Innovation Sweet Spot”
Not all innovation is worthwhile and, for too many organizations, they may not realize this until they’re heavily invested in a new idea. So, how do you know when a concept is worthwhile—or when to tweak it?
According to Kevin Shahbazi of Board of Innovation, you need to find the “innovation sweet spot”, meaning your concept features each of these 4 traits:
Desirability: Is there a demand for this innovation and is it meaningful to your customers?
Viability: Can you support and scale this change with your business model?
Feasibility: Can you implement this idea on technical and operational fronts?
Integrity: What is your concept’s impact on the world—and is it a positive impact?
This is particularly valuable for refining your innovation plans. If, for example, your partnership with a startup leads you to create a highly in-demand service, however, it will overwhelm your logistics team and crush your technical infrastructure, then it may be time to innovate these areas or move on to the next idea.
When your idea neatly and objectively fits into these 4 quadrants, you can confidently pursue your idea with the confidence it’s worthwhile. This framework also works when creating buy-in from stakeholders inside and outside of your organization, showing the promise of your idea.
Best Practice #4: Incentivize Innovation
Attempting something new, challenging and potentially wrought with setbacks requires more than support and funding. It demands a culture that celebrates new ideas and creativity, incentivizing contributions and outcomes.
With support from executives, you can further foster a culture of innovation by rewarding innovators. This could be as simple as giving shoutouts to changemakers on Slack, celebrating both failure and success. Or, if you’re really focused on change, you can encourage your team members to use 20% of their time to innovate and build side projects, as 3M and Google do.
Suppose failure and the fear of failing is the largest roadblock to new ideas. You can follow the example of Coca-Cola, which gives out an annual Celebrate Failure Award to recognize ambitious ideas that didn’t pan out. While this may sound like rewarding bad outcomes, many of Coke’s failures actually turned into hit products or pivots that led to incredible value.
Creating awards or new policies may sound like distractions or barriers to a brilliant new innovation, but it’s in fact one of the most important and creates the culture and space your team will need to be bold. Prioritize this step alongside getting executive buy-in; it’s that vital.
Now, you have the knowledge, insights and steps you need to take action and have a positively disruptive year. Whether you transform your logistics, overcome a marketing challenge or launch a best-selling product, now is the time to put your strategy in place and take the next steps.
Will 2021 be a year of innovation for you and your business? Comment below with some of your big ideas and what you’ll need to do to go from brainstorming to building.