Does Your Company Truly Prioritize Innovation?

Being innovative is kind of like being healthy. Most know it’s something they are supposed to say or be, but instead of making sure the right behaviors, structures, and processes are in place to make it happen, we keep using the word instead of looking at what actions would back up this claim.

Much like the one salad you had that one time last week doesn’t make you healthy, the one idea you had that one time last year doesn’t make you innovative.

Yet we say it over and over again, almost to make ourselves believe it. And it can creep in at an individual, company, or industry level. Some of the companies and industries at greatest risk for disruption spend more time and dollars positioning themselves as innovative instead of being innovative.

So how do you know if this is happening in your company or industry?

1. When a customer or consumer has a question or concern, you explain why your solution <is the best/is correct/will always be needed> versus working to better understand their experience with your offering and how you could improve it.

These types of responses position you as the hero and put you in a dangerous position of developing and building upon blind spots.

If you always have the answer, you are not in the habit of looking at the ways in which you may not have the answer – something your competitors are surely looking at. Not to mention this type of response makes your customer feel as though they are not being listened to, making them more likely to leave when someone who will listen to them does come along.

2. When people bring up ideas that could work, you respond with why it <is too hard/is too expensive/doesn’t work here/already done> instead of thinking about how it might work.

Part of innovating and creating value is focusing on the opportunity versus the answer. If we have the answer, then there’s nothing left to explore – and if that were the case, no one would ever create anything new. Building a habit of questioning assumptions and looking at the context helps pull ideas apart into their relevant pieces.

If it is too hard, why? What could make it easier? Could we try this in smaller steps to test it versus dismissing it completely?

If it is too expensive, why? Are the same assumptions that made it expensive then true today? Are there other options we haven’t considered that would allow us to get to the same goal?

If it doesn’t work here, why? What made it not work here before? Has something changed that might make it work now? What would need to change to make it work now?

If it’s already been done or you already know how to do it, pretend like you must do it again tomorrow. Could you execute? Is there anything missing from your process that would get in the way of you executing? Plan for that now or you won’t be able to bring an idea to life later.

3. You focus more on fun ideas than on removing barriers that prevent those ideas from coming to life.

Sometimes what gets in the way of innovation is the vocabulary we use or the preconceived ideas we have as it relates to certain words. Many people associate being innovative with being creative, and many people associate creativity with having many ideas.

The myth of creativity is an entirely different discussion – in fact someone wrote a whole book about it. And plenty of articles like this one have been written about how we are all creative – it’s just that we don’t all have regular practices in place that help us bring out the creativity that already exists inside.

But back to ideas. If innovation was an ideas process, most of us would be wealthy and retired by now. How many conversations have been had during our evenings and weekends that end in “we should patent this?” Yet we don’t.

And we don’t do it for the same reason companies don’t do it – to actually bring the idea to life would require identifying and moving through all the steps required to execute.

Which means that if companies want to increase their innovation efforts, they need to improve the process by which they foster and execute on ideas.

4. If someone does have an idea for a product or improvement, there’s no criteria by which it can be supported so that it can come to life.

Many services will try to convince you that you just don’t have the right ideas sitting in your company. What’s more likely is that you’ve focused more on finding the idea than on making sure the tools and processes are in place to execute the idea.

When the only way to get an idea through the system is for someone to believe in it so much that they almost single-handedly do all the work not only to remove barriers to resources, but also to persuade and convince each person along the chain that the idea is good, this is not a system of innovation.

Yes, there is a chance that one idea may make it through the system, but it is not a sustainable solution in which many ideas can come to life. A sustainable system focuses on clarifying what kind of ideas would be most useful – arguably the most important step, as everything else is a waste if the company is not clear on the boundaries of where it will go.

From there, the system works to foster ideas so that they don’t lose momentum, test and learn around those ideas that fit the focus, and execute on those that fit.

This process must move quickly – if your process doesn’t make it clear where the idea goes and what a possible path might look like for execution, people will lose interest and stop presenting ideas. Further, if too many steps of approval and consensus are required to move the idea along, progress will stall.

Some of the questions to be answered up front that help the process move quickly later on include:

What specific resources do we need to test and learn? Do we have access to all of those resources, without having to ask for approval from multiple or even one person? Do we know what triggers taking the idea to the next level?

Do we have the right team to help us solve that type of problem? Are there clear lines of decision making? Once the decision is made, does the decision stick?

5. You point to that one innovative thing you did that one time.

Many companies have what they would call a history of innovation. Oftentimes there are a few key stories that those in the company can point to that “prove” how innovative they are.

History in this case is truly irrelevant, as the context in which the idea came to life must be considered. What conditions were in place? Are those same conditions in place now? Are those the types of problems that the company is interested in solving now?What is more useful is to focus on present-day actions and behaviors, and look at whether or not they are working to create the future you hope to achieve.

The above behaviors keep companies – and individuals and industries – from taking a proactive approach in identifying additional ways to create value. And in today’s environment, being proactive is critical.

The first step in being proactive is often taking a hard, objective, and true look at whether or not you are performing and behaving the way you say you do. Only then can the true gap be identified and a plan put in place to close that gap, moving you closer to the future you envision.

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