My top 5 learnings on corporate innovation

By 30 January 2017 No Comments

Key insights for corporate leaders on how to innovate

By David Granaada, 5 minute read

With just 2,5 years of working experience I consider myself lucky for already having worked with some of the leading companies in the Netherlands. At Innovation Booster, we work project based, so every couple of months we are part of a completely new working environment. However, the success factors and pitfalls for innovation challenges largely remain the same. So, what has this taught me? Well, 5 simple but crucial lessons. Let me give you an insight into what leaders and practitioners should be aware of before innovating within corporate domains.

  1. The best ideas are closer than you might think

Every day I meet people with bold ideas, in many cases people that have been working for the organization for quite some years already. Managers can unintentionally overlook this in their hunt for the “golden egg” or “the silver bullet”, often the default mode when it comes to innovation. We spend a lot of time on ideation sessions and creative facilitation to come up with bright, sexy and exciting ideas. However, I have come to learn that the best idea can already be within the premises of the organization itself.

Unfortunately, these ideas remain trapped in someone’ head, sometimes for years and years for all sorts of reasons. In short, this calls for:

  1. A culture in which employees feel safe and valued for expressing their thoughts, although they may be unconventional and risky
  2. A way of working to quickly test these ideas and gather evidence on their potential

So, in parallel to your search for the golden egg, reach out to the people in your organization, regardless of their position, background or seniority. They might just have the thing you are looking for.

  1. Early stage innovations require vision, not a business case

I’ve witnessed it many times: a manager and an idea owner discussing the progress of a new concept and arguing over statistical significance, i.e. the business case. Too often, early stage innovations are killed because they lack the financial backing that is used in traditional waterfall project management approaches.

Business cases are great tools when working on a validated idea, but not for testing and discovering one. While this is taught from the start to the ones that have a practitioner’s role in innovation projects, leadership is often left out of the equation. It stresses the importance of what we call the “sandwich model”; training both practitioners and leadership so they speak the same new language of innovation and understand each other from the start.

  1. Understanding customers is a matter of quality over quantity

In line with this, is the importance of “getting out of the building”: actively visiting customers/prospects to fully understand their behavior and their decisions. Though, many times this is neglected and people resort to old-fashioned market research tools to generate high quantities of response, because we are biased to think this is the only reliable method.

The result is loads of yes/no answers, but no actual insight in why respondents choose their answers. Especially for discovering a problem and testing solutions, gaining such in-depth customer insight is vital. Service design is the way to go here. Choose for the why and small quantities to start with, rather than large numbers and superficial answers. Again, this is important to also permeate in the mindsets of leadership to avoid situations where leadership expects validation by the thousands whilst the practitioners are verifying assumptions at relatively small sample sizes. Just a side note; I’m not saying that you should ditch the trusted market research tools. After your initial customer research we’re you’ve found your first assumptions, the traditional channels can be used to quantify them. Using it this way will empower you.

  1. Sharing is a key ingredient for success

While innovating, there (hopefully) comes a time when you hit a successful experiment meaning you’ve hit high conversion rates, promising feedback and excited stakeholders. For me, this often meant it was the right moment to engage with (external) partners on specific knowledge or with hardware/software suppliers. I often stumbled on resistance, best illustrated by the quotes “If we talk to them, they should sign an NDA” or “we should not yet expose this to the outside world, what if someone copies our idea?”

Overprotecting intellectual property can greatly slow things down and will never get your idea to the next step. The point is, maliciously minded people might be able to steal your idea (what), but they will never be able to steal your journey including all the learnings (how). Many times we only see the “tip of the iceberg” (the successes) and forget about what’s below: a massive amount of productive failures.

  1. Innovation is a matter of military discipline and persistence

I once used to think that innovation was all about super creative ideas, bold visions and fuzzy front ends. I’ve learned that this is true, but I’ve also learned that it is evenly important to build a routine of continuous learning, knowledge sharing and weekly sprints to improve your product or service.

This isn’t bound to time. Customer contact tends to be very extensive at the start of the innovation process when finding a problem for and testing various solutions with a target audience. However, once a product is piloted or even launched, it is too often considered done and it results in a relapse into old patterns and ways of working.

Once you’ve build momentum with a promising concept, don’t loose it and return to the safe haven of the office. It just starts here. Persist in getting out of the building (literally) and keep moving agile. How to do it? Set a plan for knowledge sharing and keep updating the organization with both success and failures. Set clear targets and review your roadmap every quarter. But most important: enjoy your entrepreneurial journey.

I hope these insights can help you when embarking on your innovation journey. I’m always on the look to learn so if you have something to share; let me know.

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