Innovation is the application of new solutions that meet new requirements, inarticulate needs, or existing market needs. Organizations, and the people who lead them, love to think of themselves as innovative. Entrepreneurs pride themselves on their ability not only to be innovative themselves, but also to breed a culture of innovation in their businesses.
But the truth is, the larger an organization gets, the harder it gets to maintain that culture of innovation. Cultures that once supported fresh thinking fall victim to supporting safe thinking. Companies that once thrived on risk (think they) can no longer afford to take risks.
Even in my own case, I can tell you that innovation is more difficult today at Likeable Media than it was five years ago, when we were just a husband and wife dreaming up big ideas. It just gets harder.
In order to better understand how leaders of organizations of all sizes can better support innovation, I turned to my friend Mike Maddock, arguably one of the world’s greatest experts on the topic. Mike is the CEO of Maddock Douglas, an internationally recognized innovation agency that helps leading corporations invent and launch new products, services and business models. Mike is also the author of three bestselling books on innovation. When it comes to innovation, nobody knows more than Mike and his team.
These are the seven simple steps to create a culture of innovation, according to Mike Maddock:
1. Assess your current culture.
What are the current levels of the following: desire to be innovative, know-how to be innovative, empowerment/support to be innovative? Realistically understanding how prepared and ready for innovation your organizational culture is will help you know how easy (or difficult) it will be.
2. Determine the significance and role of innovation in your company’s future.
Will it be smooth sailing ahead? Or rapid change, consolidation, new entrants, commoditization, pricing pressures? Are you in an industry where innovation is required, or one in which it’s rarely seen?
3. Declare an innovation mission or vision aligning the role of innovation to the company strategy.
Until this is truly integrated, on paper, to the company mission or vision, innovation will be only a buzzword. The more people that are involved, of course, the better.
4. Specify metrics for your innovation mission.
Percent of sales, percent of profits, and percent of company with the desire, know how, and empowerment to be innovative are three potential metrics. The key issue is making sure you can measure and track your innovation.
5. Organize to support innovation.
Avoid “ivory tower” dedicated teams who are off on their own – they may come up with great ideas, but it won’t help your ability to build a culture beyond them. Also, avoid the other extreme of “voluntold” committees, overwhelmed by the tyranny of the urgent.There is an important distinction between what’s urgent and what’s essential.
6. Create a roadmap of cultural “interventions” to shift the culture.
Four key areas to explore are creativity, risk taking, collaboration and customer focus. Make sure these interventions are measurable and tie in to the greater innovation mission.
7. Intervene, measure, repeat, win.
By organizing for innovation, you can turn it from a buzzword to a fundamental, ongoing part of your business strategy, whether you are leading a team of one, one hundred or one hundred thousand.