Innovation strategy is often about direction and momentum. But in order to have either, you need at least a small amount of mass to get started. And as we all know, whether it’s a boulder or a bureaucracy, inertia keeps objects at rest from moving. So how do you get up some speed? Try these methods.
- Focus on small innovations. Big innovations often grow not out of big ideas, but a thousand little ones that come together at the just the right moment. What’s a little problem you can solve that makes either life at your company or life for your customers just a little easier?
- Keep the focus on your core business. Think of the Swiss Army Knife. Yes, you can get truly ridiculous variations with a hundred tools. But how many of those tools will you use? And how many of them are genuinely useful? One useful “boring” feature that supports your core business is worth a million useless flashy ones.
- Embrace failure. Much of science is literally failing, learning from that failure, and failing again until you succeed. For every brilliant work of art, there’s an embarrassment a genius burned in the fireplace. If people fail and don’t get in trouble, it’ll embolden them to keep trying.
- Go where your employees are. Visit their departments and workspaces to talk with them. Sometimes a roadblock to innovation, or a better way to understand the innovation they’re proposing if you can’t quite see the value, is literally right there in their space.
- For each innovation or approach, appoint a leader, a stakeholder who understands the issues well and can make calls quickly. Also, ensure this leader can get every group of stakeholders on the same page.
- Have leaders create a small team with a short deadline to solve a problem. Time pressure helps people think, and small teams don’t get bogged down in getting approval and consent from everyone.
- Make your trust and respect clear, and make that a policy for everyone in a leadership role. People don’t speak up because they’re afraid of being wrong. Make it clear it’s OK to make a mistake, and with smaller innovations, and thus smaller stakes, it’s more important that they learn something useful. And similarly, don’t hesitate to step in to protect a good idea.
- Don’t imitate your competitors, but understand why they present the innovations they do. Is an odd new feature they’re proposing some sort of brilliant innovation, driven by data? Is it a prelude to shifting to another segment of your industry, or even out of your industry altogether? Or is it a wild swing in the dark based on a hunch?
- Keep one eye on the deck and one eye on the horizon. One of the most powerful tools human beings have in any organization is the power to work together to achieve goals, but that means every one of us has a small bit of work to do, and we can focus on that work to the exclusion of all else. So take a breath and look up towards your ultimate goal, and make sure the rest of your team does the same.
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