It takes two factors to make innovation real at an organization: concepts and culture. Work on both at the same time and the rest will emerge as a by-product of the process.
If you outsource your innovation efforts, you will end up with concepts that will not be accepted by your existing culture. Some concepts might be potent enough to generate a lot of sales. Others will be even stronger, allowing your company to reframe what a category means to consumers and positioning you as the leader—think of the famous examples: Swiffer, i-phone, and Tesla.
However, you will not allow such radical concepts to launch without changing the mindset of the culture itself. Without working on the culture while generating concepts, new thinking and new value-generating concepts will be rejected by the preset filters and default thinking of the organization.
On the other hand if you just work on the culture, but do not produce concepts that resonate in the market, you have created no new value.
Rather you inspire the high-potential or bored troops, give them a format to bring their best to the organization—and then boom; they crash, as there is no method for producing concepts, which gives form to the dredged-up now-awakened creativity. They will leave as soon as they find a place where they can take what you awakened in them and give it form.
Work on culture and concepts must be undertaken at the same time as part of an innovation journey that will assure a positive outcome. You have to work on the people in the business (culture) and on the market ideas (concepts: products, services, business model changes, initiatives, etc.), the inner and the outer, to transform into an organization that drives new results.
Like muscle memory, you have to work on culture and concepts each week for at least 90-days to begin to embed innovation.
How to Start?
Many prospective clients fret about how to start an innovation journey. They know they are missing out on creating new value—and allowing competitors access to the runway to outpace and lap their growth.
Our advice is simple: do exercises and training to change the culture and work on concepts that are consumer- or customer-insight based.
Don’t worry about larger implications such as which department innovation will exist within, metrics for innovation, or how innovation will dovetail with the existing new product development process.
For the first 12-to-18 months keep the approach simple. Host a series of workshops to initiate the culture. Teach your people the methods and mindset of innovation, as tools for complex problem solving. Pick a small, multi-disciplinary team or two to work on a few projects. Generate new concepts that arise from market insights. Repeat.
Then, the right structure and definition for innovation for your company’s unique needs will naturally emerge.
Michael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an innovation and strategic growth firm based in Memphis, TN and the author of Going Electric. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.