All organizations worldwide want to be innovative — meaning they want to systematically convert ideas into successful products or services. Furthermore, just a few of them understand that even when a team is naturally creative, it does not mean that the company can launch new successful products or services intentionally and sustainably. Proper Innovation Management doesn’t occur spontaneously. It requires a set of tools and activities, including idea generation, research, development, testing and evaluation (The DOING), but also a set of cultural principles that foster innovation (The BEING).
The DOING is usually represented by the Innovation Pipeline: a visual tool that helps you understand and map the generated ideas and the initiatives at each stage of the pipeline (i.e.: idea, research, prototyping, development, testing, commercialization, scaling, etc). An Innovation Pipeline allows an organization to define the criteria for each initiative to make it to the next step. It measures the different KPIs in each stage of the pipeline, among other benefits.
The items on that pipeline could represent potential new products or services, improvement opportunities in existing processes, new tools to make life easier internally in the organization, and so on. It will depend on the focus and the innovation strategy of the organization.
Usually, most of the innovation efforts are focused on having a healthy innovation pipeline that reflects a good amount of generated ideas, a reasonable conversion rate between each stage of the pipeline, the number of successful implementations on the market (internal or external), and of course, the innovation pipeline results in terms of RoI, margin, market share, stock value, etc.
Now, let’s talk about something that is not evident when looking at the Innovation Pipeline; something that lies under the surface and is not as tangible as the numbers or metrics related to innovation. Let’s talk about some of the cultural principles that foster innovation: the BEING. Here are some important aspects to consider:
- Encourage creativity. Creating a safe space is one of the best ways to encourage employees to share their ideas, and make sure they feel safe doing so. Show that all ideas are valued, even if they don’t ultimately get to the end of the innovation process. A safe environment is where everyone has a voice. Questions and concerns are also welcomed.
- Encourage risk-taking. Innovation often involves taking risks. Teams must feel empowered to take calculated risks without fear of failure or retribution.
- Embrace failure as success, if we learn from it. This is one of my favorite parts of our “Delivery Excellence Manifesto” here at GAP. It’s great to celebrate success, but it is also crucial to learn from failure. Continuous improvement is better than deadly perfection.
- Provide resources and support. Innovation requires resources, whether that’s time, funding or access to technology. Ensure that your organization has the resources and support needed to pursue new ideas and make them move forward through the innovation process.
- Foster a collaborative environment. Also, as part of GAP’s Delivery Manifesto, we say “Alone we are smart. Together we are brilliant.” Innovation comes from collective intelligence, which is even better if you have a diverse and multicultural team. Encourage collaboration, open communication, and idea-sharing across departments and hierarchies.
- Lead by example. Executive levels must model the behavior they want to see in their organizations. If leaders prioritize innovation, employees will follow suit.
- Continuously learn and adapt. Innovation is an ongoing process. Companies must be willing to adapt and evolve as new ideas emerge and the context changes. Encourage a culture of continuous learning and improvement, and be open to pivoting when necessary.
Now the big question is: If the organization doesn’t have such a culture, how can it start emerging? My suggestion is to focus on your leadership layer. Identify the leadership skills you need to shape this culture. A mature leadership model such as “The Universal Model of Leadership” by Bob Anderson and Bill Adams is a great way to start.
Also, provide the resources to assess and develop those skills. At GAP, we have implemented the Leadership Center of Excellence, a cross-departmental and diverse group of leaders that work on programs and resources to help the organization grow in the right direction, developing leadership skills, and fostering a culture of innovation.
By combining the BEING and the DOING aspects of innovation, organizations can turn ideas into new successful products and services in a constant, systemic and intentional way. Creating and maintaining a culture of innovation is no easy feat, but it is essential for the long-term success of any organization. As Steve Jobs once said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” So, let us strive to be leaders in our industries and create a thriving culture of innovation. By doing so, we can drive progress, create new opportunities, and make a meaningful impact on the world around us. Let’s embrace the power of innovation and see where it can take us!