By Kendra MacDonald, CEO of Canadian Ocean Supercluster.
I have been supporting organizations during their innovative processes for almost ten years. Someone recently asked me about some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
It was an interesting question, as I’ve noticed that the discussion of innovation is moving down the agenda as organizations face challenges such as labor shortages, inflation, the geopolitical landscape and climate change. stakeholders to think innovatively which I believe will help us address these complex challenges.
1. Develop a clear definition of innovation
Innovation is a popular word. It is widely applicable because it means developing something new and adding value. Yet it can become so watered down that hardly anyone clearly knows what it means. Doblin organizes innovation 10 species including configuration, service offerings and experience. In my experience, organizations that can clearly define their innovation objectives achieve better results and create greater impact with their innovation spending.
2. Innovation is not technology
I like technology. When asked to solve a problem, I immediately start thinking about a technology that could help solve that problem: artificial intelligence, blockchain, 3D printing, virtual reality, robotics and autonomous systems. There are so many technology options to choose from. However, if you only focus on the technological solution, you will look for a problem to solve instead of defining the problem and being open to possible solutions. There was a recent article on innovations related to Canadian banda Canadian retailer, and one of them was giving the service team roller skates to reduce service times, which I think is a good example of an impactful solution without necessarily using the latest technology.
3. Make innovation part of your work culture
Many organizations have appointed an innovation leader to achieve their innovation goals. No leader can achieve these goals without fostering a culture of innovation throughout the organization. Innovation teams cannot operate in a vacuum; they need to work with the entire organization to understand challenges and give teams the tools to develop their own solutions.
4. Become data driven
Innovation requires experimentation, but it’s easy to get very attached to your idea and old ways of doing things. Defining the data you will collect and how you will measure success is important to ensure that you can walk away from that idea if the evidence shows that it doesn’t work as intended. Think of feedback from customers, suppliers, social media and employees. Cast a net wide to make sure you don’t ignore critical feedback.
5. Leadership is key
For a truly innovative culture, you need to set the tone from the top down. If employees are told to be innovative, but their leader does not show innovative thinking in their own approach, then creative ideas will quickly cease to flow. An innovation team, no matter how capable, will not succeed if they are not encouraged, supported, and have access to leadership to advance their ideas.
6. Innovation takes patience
Change is difficult and as humans we often struggle with it. Building an organization that is always innovating is an organization that is constantly changing. That is not easy and getting there, especially if you start as a traditional organization, takes time and patience. Breakthroughs that seem to come out of nowhere have often been quietly developing for many years.
7. Celebrate failure
I don’t like to fail. While it’s easy to say we should celebrate failure, who wants to be the one whose idea failed? But you’re not innovating if you don’t take risks. And while one idea succeeds, many ideas can fail along the way. Developing a process that celebrates those who try new things – that commemorates the lessons, rather than pointing out the failures – is an important balance in being innovative. The blame game will quickly nip innovation in the bud.
8. Create diverse and innovative teams
More diverse teams produce more innovative thinking. Tackling a new challenge requires generating multiple perspectives, and this is more likely to happen with a diverse team in a psychologically safe environment. This is not easy to achieve, but the results are worth the effort. Getting perspectives from customers and other stakeholders can provide even greater diversity of perspectives and often leads to better results.
9. Make your champions visible
Trying something for the first time is a challenge, whether launching a new product, redesigning a process, implementing a new technology or hosting a new event. To be innovative, you have to be willing to get out there and risk being out there all alone. That limb is a little less lonely if you can cultivate a few others in your organization. This could be others on your board of directors or even within your extended community of suppliers and customers. It’s not easy to find these like-minded individuals, but the more transformational the idea is, the more other champions can push it forward. If you’re successful the first time, it’s much easier to find champions for the second round. Make sure champions are thanked and recognized for their support.
I often talk about the importance of innovation in an uncertain world. In a world of labor shortages, how can we innovate our compensation and retention strategies to build the team we need? Can we deploy more temporary resources? Can we change our input and collaborate with others? As we tackle climate change, how can we find new ways to run our business to reduce our impact on the environment? Are these challenges creating new business opportunities? Despite the above insights, curiosity is the most important tool for an innovator, and there’s never been a more important time to be curious.