The American inventor and businessman Thomas Edison was famous for the words: “There’s a way to do it better – find it!”
If you want to define innovation in one sentence, it should be that one. The desire to do it better the whole time – whether it be the procedures in a hospital, business development in a high-tech start-up or an attempt to create the ultimate cloud-based CRM system for salespeople.
Once upon a time, many private companies could survive almost without innovating in whatever they did. Instead, their focus was on delivering quality products and ensuring that these products maintained a level that matched the competition in the market. A market that was admittedly moving very slowly compared to the fierce competition that almost all industries are experiencing today. In the public sector too, it used to be possible to go a long way by sticking to the way you had always done things. In fact, this approach could often be an advantage, because you did not make yourself unpopular inside the organisation and get blamed for simply wanting to make cuts, fire people or streamline the whole thing at the expense of staff satisfaction.
Today the vast majority of organisations, both private and public, have realised that an innovative approach to their work is essential if they are to attain the goals and dreams they have set for themselves. In the public sector in Denmark, innovation can help to ensure that the results of people’s hard work lead to development rather than divestment. In private industry, technological development, globalisation and fierce competition have made innovation a keyword and something completely crucial to their future survival as a company.
Alongside this development, however, many organisations have difficulty finding out how to turn innovation into something more than a nice word in ‘core value’ documents and strategies. This shift then also calls for a different kind of awareness of what innovation means in practice – and the ability to bring innovation right down to earth and make it a natural part of the daily routine.
When good ideas also prove to be good in practice, they should be implemented as quickly and as widely as possible in the organisation. The most effective organisations in which to implement ideas in practice have an innovation culture rather than just a strategy… In my consulting and innovation company Listen Louder we have developed the “Innovation Ladder” as an indicator of how far a given organisation has progressed in implementing its ideas and created a distinct innovation culture.
If you want to succeed in making the development, testing and implementation of ideas into a permanent part of your organisation’s DNA, it should not just be about values and strategies but also very much about culture. A culture in which you are always looking for ways of doing things better.
You can use our innovation ladder to assess where your organisation is right now, and apply our concrete tips in this and the next blog post to make the transformation from innovation strategy to innovation culture.
Good tips to move you from step 1 to 2:
Management explicitly states that innovation is a critical success parameter for the organisation.
Run one or more workshops for the staff, to talk about what innovation means for you specifically.
Discuss WHY innovation makes sense for the individual employee.
It is not enough to talk about what innovation is and how you can become more innovative. You also need to create the motivation in the individual employee.
Identify a number of ambassadors for innovation activities and give them tools and influence to share their enthusiasm with their colleagues.
Create visible communication on your work with innovation. For example, you could set up whiteboards to share small success stories or use newsletters and the intranet.
Good tips to move you from step 2 to 3:
Take actions to move innovation from being a value and a strategy to being a definite culture. Make it a fixed agenda item at your team meetings, for example.
Reward innovative actions. Introduce an innovation prize or find some other way of celebrating when you produce new and innovative solutions.
Create a common language within the organisation for innovation. For example, you could use Listen Louder’s innovation model (from the book “Listen Louder”) or similar tools to ensure that your staff can easily share knowledge and understand each other.
Good tips to move you from step 3 to 4:
Involve customers and other business partners much more in your innovation work.
Ensure that all the values in the organisation are redefined as actions to add value.
Focus on increased knowledge-sharing to support innovativeness and an innovation culture. For example, work to turn your intranet into a social and motivating tool for knowledge-sharing and innovation rather than a necessary evil.
Set aside resources to establish a distinct innovation culture:
– In a public-sector organisation this could mean direct dialogue with political leaders on allocating extra (risk) capital to innovation efforts.
– In a private organisation it could mean dedicating 10-15% of employees’ weekly working hours to be used as they see fit for innovative ideas and measures, provided that they undertake to share their knowledge with their colleagues.
In my next blog post, I will provide you with some practical tools to test quickly whether or not an idea is a good one. This testing process and procedure is absolutely crucial because far too many decisions are taken on the basis of attitudes and hierarchies rather than experience. To put it more directly: The people who are the most persistent, shout the loudest, talk the longest or decide the most in the organisation will force their ideas through. The problem is that these same people are not necessarily right!