How to make a success of innovation in your organisation

by Cecilia Thirlway, on 2 Mar 2017 4 min read

hands working and cutting out.

While we’d love to think that all you need to get innovation projects up and running in your organisation is to start using Solverboard, we know that it’s a bit more complicated than that.

We work with innovation consultants, managers and directors every day, so we know that creating a culture of innovation in any organisation takes hard work – but also that it can make the difference between an organisation that is just surviving, and one that is truly thriving.

Before you start

Find out as much as you can. Insight is absolutely crucial: work out what the problems or opportunities for your organisation are.

If you ask the people in your organisation, those at the coal face day in, day out, they often have a good idea of where the problems or opportunities lie, even if they don’t know how to approach them. Talk to people at every level, talk to your customers, partners and suppliers, and if possible, talk to the customers you’d like to have.

Quite often, this is what our customers do first on Solverboard for Business: post an open call for information using the Quick Ideas function. What’s going wrong? What’s going right? What have people noticed? It can be as small as an unusually high return rate on a certain product, or as large as an idea for an entirely new business model.

Where do you want to get to? You need to be clear about your organisation’s strategic goals. You can generate a ton of ideas, but unless you know what you’re trying to achieve, how are you going to evaluate them? Don’t get bogged down in the tactics and business plans: the whole point of innovation is that you might find a better way to reach those high level strategic goals than the ones you’ve currently planned.

Get leadership buy-in from the start. Research from Accenture has shown that innovation projects where senior leaders were heavily involved and engaged were much more likely to succeed. This is partly because they can help clear any roadblocks in the process quickly if they’re heavily engaged in the process. So make sure your leadership is behind the process from the start, not just in word but in action.

Use your people

Invite everyone. It’s tempting to work with people you know and can rely on – but diversity is hugely important in innovation, and good ideas can come from anywhere. So invite everyone to take part – not everyone will, but some will definitely surprise you. (On that note, Solverboard’s analytics tools are really useful for identifying innovative talent in your organisation.)

Create cross-boundary teams. One of the strengths of Solverboard is how it allows you  to cut across organisational boundaries, whether they’re geographical, physical or structural. Build small, empowered teams that combine people from all sorts of different places, inside your organisation and out, to get fresh approaches. And don’t be scared to use different combinations for different stages. Experiment. Have fun.

Get your people thinking differently. No one is going to come up with new ideas when they’re stuck in their daily routine. Think of ways of breaking out of the norm to help people think in different ways – this can be as simple as a change of venue. Remember that different people approach creativity in different ways (read our blog post about adaptors and innovators for details) so make sure there are opportunities for all types of approach.

Define your process

Valuable innovation doesn’t happen overnight. There are various stages that you need to go through and it’s important to think ahead to how you’ll manage those. We’re going to talk about innovation processes in another post, but here are a few crucial pointers.

Is the problem really what you think it is? How you define and frame the problem you’re tackling makes a huge difference to the kinds of solutions you might receive – for example, ‘Come up with a new type of book 7 year old boys will love’ assumes that the solution to the problem will be a book. It might not.
‘How can we instil a love of reading in 7 year old boys?’ still has the goal of motivating more 7 year old boys to read, but is open to different ideas for getting there. Similarly, this case study shows how redefining a problem led to some creative solutions for the problem of heating empty rooms in buildings.

Many innovation experts suggest that you should spend as much time as possible defining the problem before moving on to solutions, as the process of exploration throws up possibilities that may not emerge otherwise.

Don’t judge ideas too quickly – and revisit them. At the ideation stage, resist the urge to start assessing ideas as you go along. In the early stages, you want as many ideas as possible, no matter how crazy, so just keep moving. And when you’ve selected ideas you want to take forward, don’t simply discard the rest: that pot of ideas is a huge asset and should be revisited regularly as your organisational landscape evolves.

Use independent evaluation – and don’t be scared to stop. People can get territorial about their ideas; teams can fall victim to group-think; there are many ways in which ideas that should have been discarded can carry on being developed. Build in opportunities for independent evaluation with strict criteria to ensure that only the best ideas are developed. Remember failure is an essential component of innovation.

Keep it exciting

Keeping people engaged in the process is not easy

- we all have short attention spans. Make sure you have a mixture of quick wins and long-term projects (on Solverboard, these are called Quick Ideas Challenges and Detailed Solutions Challenges) in your innovation programme, so people don’t get bored waiting for results. Mix up online activity on Solverboard with offline initiatives such as hacks or jams (you can use Solverboard for people who can’t come to keep track of what’s going on, too). And keep up the momentum with communications – people draw their own conclusions from silence.

Please note: in February 2018 Solverboard for Business became Solverboard Work, and Solverboard Open became Solverboard World. Find out more about these changes here.

Topics:Idea ManagementInnovation ConversationsChange & Transformation