5 steps to make sure your innovation delivers business results
You are interested in growing your business because there are excellent opportunities. You also think your operations can be more efficient and effective. You think your team could be helped to realise their potential.
You have tried a few new things in your way but are not happy with the results. Your friends say ‘innovation’ is the answer, but you are not sure.
Here are five steps you must take to ensure that innovation delivers business results for you. Results that matter to you and your business.
1: Choose a motivating challenge
2: Understand what will stop you or come in the way
3: Choose the right team
4: Use divergent and convergent thinking to find high impact solutions
5: Execute with meticulous care, measure results
Step 1: Choose a motivating challenge
Before you do anything else be clear about these definitions:
An idea is a prescription for action. It is not a point of view or an opinion. It is not a piece of research. Every idea statement will have an active verb and a noun. A well-written idea statement will help you understand precisely, what you need to do.
Creativity is all about newness and freshness. Any piece of real creative work is different – it surprises, it delights. It is seldom dull.
Innovation is about implementing the new (creative) idea for the benefit of stakeholders*
* Customers, employees, vendors, owners, partners, etc
Step 1: Choose a motivating challenge
As the CEO of the business, you need to be clear about what do you want ideas for? What business problem do you want to address?
How do you define the challenge? Here is one way to do it.
Ask yourself what is happening today in your business. Are you happy with it?
What could be happening better? What could be different?
What would you want happening instead? What is impossible to achieve in this situation? What do you wish you could do?(but everyone thinks is impossible)? What do you say would be great if only we could do it?)
Have a discussion with your people if you wish. You must have a clear, single line statement emerging out of the discussion.
Here are a few examples:
Maintain consistent margins with ever changing labour costs
Delivering impeccable service in a highly volatile environment
Innovating in a compliance-driven environment
Step 2: Understanding Barriers/defining the real challenge
When we think of the wishes, let us think of the following. What comes in the way of achieving our vision, our growth target, strategy implementation? How can we crack these?
List all the obstacles and barriers to your vision/wishes/growth strategy. Choose the top 3 (toughest/most difficult). Then arrive at the real challenge statement for which you want ideas.
“How do we keep the cost of tea production at Rs 60/kg,
month on month.”
“How do we deliver quick service in spite of increasing volatility in the environment. Service that is appropriate and relevant.”
“How to catch an error before it occurs.”
“How do we cut rework by 50%.”
Step 3: Choose the right team
That you must choose the right team to work on the challenge is stating the obvious. Here are a few guidelines.
Imagine that same people are working on the same challenge they have worked before. How likely are they to suggest new ideas and solutions?
So, look at a mix of individuals who have a stake in solving the problem (whose responsibility it is). Al add others from different departments, who are knowledgeable and smart. They could bring entirely different perspectives. They are not responsible for results or solving the problem.
Consider choosing people using the A E I O U guidelines:
A – Administrative skills (process/planning)
E – Entrepreneurial skills (bold thinking)
I – Integrating Skills (ability to take everyone together)
O – Outside perspectives/insights. (The ability to look at outside trends and link them to our opportunities/challenges)
U – Understanding our customers and employees. What are their motivations and how to get the best out of them?
Step 4: Using Divergent and convergent thinking skills
You are ambitious and are keen that you must get some fresh ideas. That is why you have also put together a cross-functional team. Each person is likely to bring in a different angle.
That is the first right step. But merely getting the group together is not enough. You must ensure that each one feels that he has the freedom to share his idea without fear of criticism.
Please state what you want from them – That you are looking for ideas to solve the challenge. That you welcome ideas never thought of before. That you are not averse to trying some crazy or risky ideas if needed. What you want are fresh new ideas.
Remember how Einstein defined Insanity:
“Doing the same thing over & over again and expecting different results.”
Here are a few guidelines:
Ask everyone to write down his idea
Do not discuss the ideas at this stage
Focus on getting a large number of ideas (Quantity will lead to quality)
Think about selection, development and execution later. Spend all your energy in getting people to think differently. Encourage them to contribute new ideas without any hesitation.
Do not censor any idea.
You are looking for new ideas. It is your responsibility to create a safe and comfortable environment for your people. Make it informal, relaxed and fun.
Ask people to capture all the ideas that occur to them. One idea per post-it/sheet of paper. Give them at least 15 minutes to do so.
Once they finish, introduce some new ‘thinking techniques’ to generate fresh ideas.
b. Provocative questions
Ask the following questions one at a time:
To solve the challenge,
– what do we need to stop doing?
– what do we need to start doing?
– what do we need to continue doing?
– what do we need to change?
– what do we need to introduce new?
– what do we need to let go?
c. Call a friend
Calling a friend is an interesting way to get some fresh ideas on your challenge.
What you do is to go through the contact list on your mobile. You might come across the name of a friend who is an expert in the area of your challenge. You can call him, quickly tell him what you are working on and ask “If you are in my position what would you do?”
Call people from your friend circle, professional network or business contacts.
You get some interesting ideas, often practical too. Many times it turns out to be something you did not think of. Ask your people to call their friends and seek fresh ideas.
I do that all the time and get excellent results. In one of the workshops on inventory management, participants called their vendors. We were flooded with outstanding ideas.
d. Web Search
“Google it” has become the most natural thing to do. Make sure you enter the keywords from your challenge statement in the search string.
I always find this is useful. I get a whole range of useful material – articles, blogs, research papers, useful websites.
You are sure to get at least a couple of ideas through Web Search.
Networking is slightly different from ‘Call a friend’. Here you think of people whom you respect for their expertise, experience, etc. It could be a former boss, a colleague in another department, a professor you know, etc. You speak to them and pick their brain. It could be on the phone or in a personal meeting.
Jolts are unusual questions. They push you to think differently so that you explore entirely new angles.
Look at a few ‘jolts’ here:
What if it was a different company? What would you do differently? (Change name. Size. Location. Different fields etc.). Using Jolts yields some new insights.
What if it was not your company and you are only an employee?
What ideas might be considered completely crazy?
g. Leveraging Strengths
What if you leveraged all your strengths? Strengths that are unique to you, that your competitor does not have. Leveraging Strengths is a powerful technique and often yields excellent ideas.
“The ultimate solutions to problems are rational, but the process of thinking of them is not.” – Synectics, USA.
Step 5: Execution/Measurement (convergent process)
Before you start thinking about execution, you need to look at all the ideas you have generated. Let us assume you have produced 30 ideas. What should you do next?
Here is what you can do.
First sort the ideas – separate known ideas and new ideas.
Let us say you have 15 known ideas and 15 new ideas.
Let us process the new ideas because you are keen to try innovation to improve business results. Remember the quote from Einstein. Insanity: doing the same thing over & over again and expecting results!
In most cases people might suggest that you remove all the useless ideas first and work on the rest! DON”T listen to this advice.
First select ideas, never reject anything. You only select. Use your gut-feel. Pick up ideas that you like, and are passionate about. Ideas that you find exciting. You may not know how to execute them, but don’t worry.
Let us say you have four such ideas. Ideas that you love, and are passionate about them.
Ask yourself: Are you willing to bet on this idea? Put your money on it? Willing to support the idea right through? If your answer is an emphatic yes, select that idea.
Let us say you have two such ideas. Now you have to build a case for the idea like a lawyer does. The way to do it is to look the current benefits, potential gains and execution concerns..
Think about the advantages of executing this idea. How will your idea improve things for the better? How will it make a difference to people, process, products, profits? How will it make life simpler, better, safer, more enjoyable, hassle free, etc?
What will be the future gains if we executed your idea? How will life be better? What can we do more of? Less of? What will no longer bother us?
Think about a few practical concerns.
A concern draws attention to practical implementation issues; you may encounter during execution. A concern is NOT a negative point. While looking at concerns put yourself in the shoes of all the key stakeholders. The decision maker, the people who will be affected by the idea, the people who have to execute it, etc.
We state a concern as a “How can we …” poser.
Example: How can we get the right people within a short time
or How can locate the right technology etc
Some concerns may be significant and need more attention. Generate new ideas to overcome that concern. Use any of the idea generation techniques that work for you.
This way you have thought through the idea well and are in a position to share it with the right people. Such thorough preparation would ensure that you get buy-in, investment and support during execution.
D. Shivkumar of Chairman of Pepsico India, suggests the following final sieve:
Is the idea on strategy?
How big is the opportunity?
Will it give us a sustained competitive advantage?
Do we need new capabilities to execute this idea?
How resource intensive is it?
How do we measure the results of innovation?
The simplest way to do it is to check whether it achieved the outcome it was meant to deliver. At what cost? Over what time?
I recommend “Beyond the Idea” by Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble. It will help you in thinking through the implementation aspects of your new idea.
You might believe that all this is common sense.
R. Sridhar, Innovation Consultant, Facilitator & Coach