One topic that comes up repeatedly for us at Corporate Path Leadership is lack of innovation. Complaints arise about an organization not being nimble enough, not having leaders that take risks, or ideas being killed before given a fair chance. The narrative often has the same end result: The grass is greener on the other side of the fence (in a more innovative company) and innovation is just not possible in the current company.
But what if innovation was possible in any company? The reality is that any team or department can take steps to become more innovative without asking for permission or waiting for someone else to take the lead. Here’s how:
WEEK ONE: Take the Time to Spell Out How You Want to Innovate
(Don’t jump immediately into what you want to innovate)
We’ve all been there. A brainstorm session has been set up to come up with five to seven brilliant new innovative ideas in two hours. The best minds are in the room. Post-it notes and markers are in rapid action. Task force members are assigned to drill deeper, etc. The challenge with this approach is that it rushes one of the most important pieces, which is to find out how a team wants to innovate.
“You must first separate the process from the solution. Until you get agreement — and enthusiasm about how to innovate, and where to focus innovation ideas, you’ll always come up short.”-- Ken Giffin, Corporate Path Leadership
Instead of a traditional “Let’s Get to Answers Fast” approach, think about leading a 90 minute “Where To Focus Innovation” session. Ask attendees to come to the meeting thinking about two things:
1. Areas of the team/department that are functioning really well. Of course, everyone wants to focus on areas that are broken — and you can do that separately. But spending time capturing the areas that are going well is ripe for determining future innovation opportunities.
2. Other industries/places where team members find inspiration, with the requirement that it can’t come from your industry.
In the meeting, come to agreement on the process areas where the team/department can best innovate and discuss, at a high-level, the places where people are finding outside inspiration.
HOMEWORK: For the following week, have everyone to research innovation ideas related to the process areas that have been identified. Each team member should bring two ideas to the next meeting.
WEEK TWO: Identify Test Experiments Through a Mini Innovation Tournament
So, in week one you identified how and where you want to innovate, and sources of inspiration. Now it is time to talk through some tangible ideas as a team. The key is to get a good volume of ideas that are thoughtful and have potential. The secret to doing that is to have each participant present one or two ideas in the form of an innovation tournament. Each idea will be on a large flip chart sheet of paper, using the entire room to showcase the ideas.
(For more reading on what innovation tournaments look like, see the book from two Wharton authors on how to construct them: here.
An easy structure for the flip chart information can look something like this:
1. The title of the idea (ask participants to think of it like the title of a book or movie)
2. List two issues that the idea will address
3. List two reasons why the idea will work
4. Include an impact statement of what life will be like with the idea implemented (for the team or for customers, or for the company as a whole, etc.)
In the meeting itself, give everyone a maximum of 3 minutes to present their ideas and support as noted above. Don’t allow for any feedback or questions until all ideas have been presented.
Then give everyone an opportunity to come up with two additional enhancements to any of the ideas already presented. The person providing the extension can both verbally talk about their two extensions, and capture the extension thought on a post-it note that can be placed on the original flip chart idea sheet.
After everyone has had a chance to add their extension thoughts, have the participants each use five voting dots to select the ideas they think have the most potential. All five dots can go on one flip chart sheet, or five individual dots can go on five different ideas (or a combination). This shouldn’t take more than 3-4 minutes.
Then the group reviews the priorities and determines how to assign owners to do some experiments for the top two or three ideas.
That’s it! Two weeks is all it takes to try something new and add some innovation thinking to your team. We look forward to hearing about what you come up with.
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