Fostering a culture of innovation

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Innovation is a new way of doing something or “new stuff that is made useful” (Wikepedia). Let’s accept this definition for the sake of this discussion. What is most important about this definition is what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t say anything about bleeding edge, or technology, or space or futuristic. Innovation can manifest in a thing or a process or a new way of describing something (think semantic web).

Innovation has has gone through a hype phase of popularity and we are argueably on the tail end of the hype. Not that it will fade away or that it is less relevant, but many are tired of hearing about it and so don’t really know how to foster it within their organization. Innovation has always been with us and arguably always will. Having the discussion about innovation allows us to increase our understanding of it and to some degree, harness it.

The problem for many organizations is that innovation activity is not all that effective when shoved off to an isolated “innovation group” who may be disconnected from the rest of the organization and not given the tools and resources or permission to feedback into the organization. That’s where culture somes in and the word fostering (encouragement; aiding the development of something ) comes in. An organization truly must get behind the idea of innovation for it to thrive and provide any real return on innovation investment (ROII).

So innovation can be (and should be) fostered throughout an organization and even pushed a little. You might consider identifying people, or teams to have a defined role to push the innovation agenda forward (let’s call them innovation teams for now). you might allocate time for these teams to work on an innovation agenda; brainstorming, research, idea sponsoring, problem solving, opportunity identification. Now that you have primed the pump of innovation by giving some people the permission (and mandate) of innovation, give them the tools to do it.

Can your innovation team be innovative? Let’s assume that the people on your innovation team want to be there and have bought into the concept… are they ready… do they have the skills? They may be ready, but likely they will benefit from support, as in training or learning. This is currently an area of interest for me. How might we train people in innovation or to be more innovative. There are numerous brainstorming and ideation excercises out there, but I’m thinking that we also need to help our “inovators” develop the skills in design and creative thinking. Creativity is the foundation for innovation. It will allow us to see things differently, to explore how the other side of our brain might solve the problem or exploit an opportunity. The excercises and brainstorming sessions are the tools to use to move forward, while creative, design thinking are the hands that will manipulate and guide the tools.

Now that there is a group in your organization with the premission for innovation and they have the tools and skills for creative problem solving (and more), make sure they have the infrastructure to make it effective. Innovation will require a governance structure appropriate for your organization, the support from the top, it will also require tools for collaboration, communication, sharing and knowledge management.

To recap, the three legs of the stool to foster innovation in any organization, are; 1. identify innovation as a role in your organization and give people the permision and mandate to carry it out, 2. provide the tools and skills for creative thinking and problems solving and 3. give them the infrastructure to make it all useful.


Written by sjdixon

March 18, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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