What it takes to innovate without an innovation department

When it comes to innovation, we usually face two main challenges.
  • Not everyone understands well the true value of innovation. So I like to say that innovation is the art of turning ideas into business (and money) in the mid and long term.
  • The hardest part of innovation is not having an idea: the hardest thing is to carry it out. The good news is that although the innovative idea fails, we always have the opportunity to learn from failures.

But let’s start at the very beginning. The first decision to make is what kind of innovation we want to do. This point is very important because it will determine who should take the lead and how.

Different levels of innovation:

According to The Innovation Policy Platform “a radical or disruptive innovation is one that has a significant impact on a market and on the economic activity of firms in that market, while incremental innovation concerns an existing product, service, process, organization or method whose performance has been significantly enhanced or upgraded”.

Radical innovation implies risk and has to be driven from the top to bottom and to make it work you have to exclude from the daily team and give to a separate business unit.

Incremental innovation implies lower risk and has to be driven from the bottom to up. To get it done you need to create an internal culture in the organization.

When there’s no innovation department and we expect innovation to surface among employees of the organization (therefore incremental innovation) then some conditions must be met. Somehow there must be a culture of innovation with the following approach:

Jump and learn: learning by doing
Most of the innovative ideas are already in the organization, although for many reasons very few arise. Not everybody feels comfortable when taking risks or dealing with uncertainty. And definitely only a few are willing to devote extra time to these processes. Therefore, the most important thing is to find the right people with the right attitude.

From this point, we must devote the right time for planning and then move on to implementation rapidly. Only by applying the appropriate methodology, we will ensure that we learn from the failures and we incorporate our learnings in new innovation processes.

Ownership & rewards: people first
It is highly recommended that the team that will develop the new idea feel that owns the process. The best scenario is one in which the team developing the idea is also the team that starts and operates it. Betting on teamwork is a way to significantly increase the probability of success and collective learning.

In my post “Questioning in business” I mentioned Yamashita’s considerations: “Company leaders are realizing that if they’re only asking the small questions, it’s not going to advance their agenda, their position or their brands. In order to innovate now, they have to ask more expansive questions”.

Devote time (quantity and quality)
If we are truly committed to innovation, it is essential to dedicate a specific time in our agendas. Senior management full alignment is also essential.

As I said before if we want to ensure that the innovation process works (results and / or lessons for the future) is essential to use a rigorous methodology. And that cannot be improvised. It is essential to have adequate training provided by the company.

Other posts on innovation:
The challenge of innovation
Innovation prowess
The role of the leader in the innovation process