In recent years with unfavourable economic conditions, many Australian companies have made decisions that have changed the way we innovate in our country. Senior managers and Executives have eased off the pedal when it comes to developing new ideas and have not necessarily empowered their staff with the time and resources to try things differently.
Make no mistake, innovation in any industry is easier said than done. It is hard to structure - and success or failure is just as difficult to quantify. Innovation can equate to risk, so it's often easier to merely follow the success of others rather than create radical and truly inspirational ideas. It requires time, the right skills and a structured process to ensure continued improvement in any organisation.
An HBR article from 2007 discusses the "The Innovation Value Chain" which defines the process of innovation in three main steps – Idea Generation, Conversion and Diffusion.
Idea generation is not necessarily the biggest issue. Getting some of your smartest employees to collaborate together and brainstorm new ideas can result in improvements to the business processes or new products. Alternatively, get external feedback from your customers and end users by running structured workshops.
However, the trick is in the ability to conceptualise these ideas (Conversion). Screening ideas to become concepts is a very important part of innovation. Converting too many ideas with a lack of focus can quickly turn into a giant snowball – you need to know which ideas to shelve and which ones to fund. On the flip side, poor allocation of funds or encouraging conventional thinking can restrict the process of conversion and can very quickly diminish the company's value of being innovative.
Diffusion of the conceptual product or service is the last phase to successful innovation. Getting buy-in from your customers as well as internal staff ensures support and spread of these concepts to become fully fledged working services or products. There is no business logic in spending time and money innovating with no significant returns.
Within our organisation, we recently introduced an initiative called the "Adrenalin Rush". We formed innovation "crack" teams which were comprised of members from various production departments (Creative, Frontend and Backend Development) – whereby team members are given the necessary resources as well as 2 full days to brainstorm on ideas and deliver a prototype.
The team members brainstorm ideas that improve internal business processes or add value to our existing clients' products. During this process there is no involvement or direction of the management team. Post brainstorming, the team decide on the ideas that they believe can be prototyped within the period of time available. A screening process is added before prototyping where a working group gives high level feedback on the ideas being developed. From there, creativity and development is fuelled by beer and pizzas.
Come Friday evening, the entire company gathers for end-of-week drinks and the Rush teams present their working prototype to the group – often to howls of "oooooohhhhs" and "aaaahhhhhhhs" from the floor! The team talks everyone through the highs and lows of the past 2 days and the session ends with an interactive Q&A. All brainstormed ideas and innovation concepts from the Rush days are also "sandboxed" for future teams to enhance and improve on, or to spin-off in a different direction.
This process has so far been run 3 times this year, and every outcome has been fruitful to both our business as well as for our clients. The viability of each idea is graded on innovation, creativity, value-add and cost. The winning ideas are then developed into final products and incorporated into the suite of strategic solutions we offer clients.
Through this process we have found ourselves offering a difference when compared to industries in the same market - a value that both our clients and our staff appreciate.
Remember, that not every idea needs to be a blockbuster to start with. Smaller ideas or increments to existing ideas can result in big returns. SMEs can and should give their staff small but necessary amount of time to allow their company to innovate and offer a point of difference.
The mentality of simply following the leaders does not armour the follower with a distinct point of difference.
Photos from our Adrenalin Rush sessions: