Innovation isn’t magic, and success shouldn’t be based on luck.
Additionally, successful innovation isn’t just the “good idea;” instead, it’s when the idea is created and adopted by the market.
So how do we get from idea to product that the market wants? The answer: a system.
More importantly, with the right process, we ensure consistency. While there are common innovation approaches that companies use like design thinking or lean innovation, there isn’t one “right” way to approach innovation.
In this article, we’re going to explore the phases involved in identifying what works for your organization, and how you can be intentional in the way you approach innovation.
Phase 1: A System for Innovation Starts with People
Innovation starts long before you even schedule your first brainstorming meeting.
It begins with knowing your team and understanding their skills and ambitions. What talents do you already have on your team? What talents do you still need to hire for?
A good innovation system will not only leverage the talent you have but also help you identify the talent you need. This approach prevents organizations from having incredibly capable individuals underperforming in the wrong roles.
Try designing your perfect team without thinking about current titles and roles. Instead, start with focusing on the right skills and crucial tasks. Now, fit your team back into the picture. You should be able to see where you need to invest in new hires or training.
Think about the people outside your team using an org chart to better understand the leaders influencing decisions and the talent you can bring to innovation conversations. This work is how you build a thriving innovation ecosystem.
Ideas come from everywhere and in every department. When you limit inputs to only your team, you’re shutting the door to excellent opportunities, diverse conversations and multidisciplinary approaches to problem-solving. Additionally, these cross-department efforts are the first step in getting buy-in for the future innovative ideas your team will present.
Phase 2: Define Innovation
Innovation has varying levels of risk, and tolerance is different at every organization. Before you start dreaming about the next big thing, understand what “big” means to you and what “big” means to the leaders and where those definitions might diverge.
So what are the different levels of innovation?
Level 1: Incremental Innovation
This type of innovation is the lowest risk. It results in transformations in the core product.
Level 2: Breakthrough Innovation
In this approach, a company will expand the existing business to reach new customers.
Level 3: Transformational Innovation
The final approach is the riskiest and it involves creative new products to serve new markets.
Most organizations will invest in all three levels, but not equally. For example, an organization with a low-risk tolerance might invest 80-90 percent of the designated budget on incremental innovation and split the remaining between breakthrough and transformational.
Starting with the same definition of innovation paves the way for buy-in later in the innovation process.
Phase 3: Create Space for Innovation
Innovation requires investing time and resources for exploring, thinking and experimenting. These types of activities aren’t always accompanied by a tangible deliverable. As a result, we put off this ambiguous work until…later.
But, later never comes because the tyranny of the urgent is dominating our priorities.
As leaders, we need to create space for innovation by making these tasks a regular expectation, not a random exception.
As individuals, we can advocate for resources to do this work by explaining its value and making ambiguous progress measurable.
Here’s how that might look:
- Each quarter will involve a specific number of customer interviews.
- Every week, you’ll examine content produced or products created by two separate competitors.
- Each workday includes 30 minutes for brainstorming, thinking or reading even if it seems unrelated to the daily or weekly task list.
This phase means creating physical space, calendar space and emotional space to be innovative. Specifically, the freedom to leave the desk, the time to explore and permission to fail.
Phase 4: Get Organizational Alignment
This last part of designing your innovation system involves understanding not just the work of your team, but the entire organization. Specifically, how will this innovative idea affect other departments?
How do you identify where communication is falling short or systems are breaking? How do you fix it? These questions are about aligning your organization.
For example, your organization might have regularly scheduled meetings (like standups), but these might not be the appropriate environments to announce a new idea. Instead, the organization could agree to a quarterly meeting designed to support these bigger conversations.
A scheduled meeting about innovative ideas might also move these more ambiguous activities up the priority list because there is a deadline and opportunity to share out the areas your team is exploring.
The final step is choosing an innovation system that serves your team and the organization the best. Download the newest ebook “Product Managers Guide to the Innovation Process” to learn about the most common approaches including:
- Design Thinking
- Rapid Prototyping
- Lean Innovation
- Open Innovation
Systems for Innovation Should Evolve
So your well-designed system is meant to level up people. The process elevates the floor of excellence.
It’s important to not think of these systems as shackles because you can always edit them.
It’s yours to make amendments. If you figure out a way to do better—do it. If you have that attitude, you can have the best of both worlds. You can have a constantly evolving system that is responsive to your people, but you can also have a floor of innovation so that you can guarantee customer success nearly every single time.
Focus shows you how to find opportunities in your market’s problems, score them objectively and identify where your company’s strengths intersect with market values.
Then, you’ll learn how to use that knowledge and market data to successfully and credibly sell your strategies internally.
Enroll today for this in-person or live-online experience.