“Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship. The act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth”- Peter Drucker
“Innovation” seems to be the favorite buzzword of business these days. Have we really wondered what it is all about? Is it a trait, behavior, skill or a competency? According to popular belief Innovation is a special skill possessed by a select few and an organization that hires such people is sure to succeed. Let’s delve a little deeper into this belief by putting things in perspective and busting this myth.
Innovation is all about bringing about novelty or creating something new and path-breaking. This certainly does not get accomplished by swaying of a magic wand by those wizards with special skills. It requires one to go through the rigor of understanding the ground reality and experiencing it. What do great leaders do when they innovate?
In my observation, over 20 years I have managed to collect some favorite approaches of successful innovators. Invariably, great innovations start with “I don’t know” and not with “I know”. This open acknowledgement of ignorance is the gate opener for a boundary-less thinking process to start. Leaders that drive success through innovation actually work towards building a culture of innovation rather than forcing their ideas down unilaterally. They focus on brainstorming and ideation and also are open and receptive to all kinds of ideas. This enables them to finally sieve out the most innovative idea. So, innovation starts with “I don’t know”.
Curiosity got the better of me to see the transformation from this ‘ignorance’ to ‘innovation’. Haven’t we noticed people carrying out extensive research of the unknown? That’s what is all about, seeking more and more about what you don’t know! The “Tell me more” type of questions sometimes are so powerful in business. While evaluating service providers, we come across those that have answers to whatever questions we ask. We also encounter those who ask “Tell me more” with the inquisitiveness to come up with a novel idea to suit not just our requirement of today but also to cater to our future needs. Obviously, our choice of service provider would be the latter who is more “innovative”.
In this context, let us redefine “innovative culture” more simplistically –
Does Innovation have barriers?
Ironically, ‘Innovation’, the buzzword for business growth may not always get a warm welcome. The most common reaction to seeding an innovative culture is – resistance to change. Some favorite remarks form organizations that are resistant to change –
- Innovation is not standardized and validated
- Rationalization of the new ideas is a pre-requisite before we implement them
- What if things get complicated with innovation?
- Our motto is “simplicity”. Innovation is quite contrary to that.
Breaking the barriers
“Rethink the way you think!”That’s the key! Rigid organograms which are hierarchy driven will have to be made egalitarian. Job titles will have to be redesigned. It does involve a lot of thinking out of the box for this transformation. Since innovative ideas spring from “I don’t know” and “Tell me more”, one very effective way is to apply the framework of Design Thinking (DT).
Design Thinking for Innovation
Great design has that “Ah ha” factor that makes products more desirable and services more appealing to users.
“Design-thinking firms stand apart in their willingness to engage in the task of continuously redesigning their business…to create advances in both innovation and efficiency—the combination that produces the most powerful competitive edge.” —Roger Martin, author of the Design of Business
DT is a methodology used by practitioners to solve complex problems and find desirable solutions. A design mindset is not problem-focused, it’s solution focused, and action oriented towards creating a preferred future. Design Thinking draws upon logic, imagination, intuition, and systemic reasoning, to explore possibilities of what could be—and to create desired outcomes that benefit the end user. Applying this to the organization that can drive innovation culture has resulted in a very successful model. The traditional ‘Thick lines’ and ‘Dotted lines’ are now getting replaced by fluid ‘spaces’. The team that needs to use DT would have ‘Champions’ who are enablers, ‘Leaders’ who are providers and ‘Geniuses’ who are developers. This is not a rigid top-down hierarchy but a flexible one with people taking each other’s’ places at all times and whenever appropriate.
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting to get different results.” A. Einstein.
Agility in business for some organizations a big change in their way of doing things and style of working. This of course forces them to move away from their comfort zones and experiment. This could also mean adopt new cultures and adapt to new beliefs. This opens up progressive and unlimited thinking which in turn opens up a world of opportunities. This is how developing innovation as a skill becomes a powerful tool for expressing agility within the organization, since it invites its leaders and collaborators to question their processes, communications, work dynamics, use of technological resources and customer relationships, as well as to address trends in their environment.
4 steps to achieve business agility through innovation and DT
Culture of innovation to drive business agility is a challenge that starts with its people, and then progresses into its processes and procedures. Consequently, here are 4 steps that organizations may consider.
- Promote an Innovation Organogram of Champions, Leaders & Developers where ideas are encouraged and openly welcomed.
- Inculcate the spirit of research and collaborate not just with internal stakeholders but also with peers and even competitors. This would help in anticipating trends and staying ahead of the curve.
- Apply un-conventional tools that aid innovation such as brainstorming, empathy maps, journey maps, storyboards etc. to support Step 1 & 2.
- Encourage Change Champions to drive the innovation towards agility. Thus…