Finding himself lost in the countryside a driver spots someone leaning on a gate and stops to ask for directions. After a long silence and a thoughtful stare at the sky the answer finally arrives: “well if I was going there I wouldn’t be starting from here.”
Rural myth or not, the story perfectly sums up the way in which many businesses start their innovation journey. CEOs generally agree that innovation is an organisational imperative but all too often the approach used to integrate an innovation culture is doomed to failure. Put simply, if you try to move to an innovation culture by calling a meeting and demanding ideas you have lost before you start. Changing an organisation into one which lives and breathes innovation is not rocket science but it does demand careful planning. Starting the innovation journey in the right place, following the roadmap, may not deliver instant results but it will lead to an organisation which is transformed permanently and which delivers consistently. And whilst it’s true that demanding ideas may result in a few quick fixes, unless innovation has been incorporated into the organisation’s DNA, the impetus will soon fade to be replaced by cynicism and doubt.
So, how do we engender a lasting innovation transformation? Quite simply by following four steps from innovation strategy via innovation leadership and innovation culture towards innovation capability. In this article we are concentrating on innovation strategy and will look at the other steps in future blogs.
As with any business activity, starting with a strategy means taking the time to understand not only where you want the business to be but being realistic about your starting point and what changes are needed along the way. Survey after survey reports that people and culture are the most important factors in driving innovation and the more radical the change the more robust the innovation strategy needs to be. For example, moving from a strict hierarchical silo business to one which empowers and encourages entrepreneurship and collaboration will require a shift in engagement as well as working practices as employee hearts and minds embrace the new vision.
Taking time to create the innovation strategy, understanding the cultural drivers and mapping out the route may not result in instant action but it does firm up the vision and underpin the change in culture which will be required on the road ahead. More importantly, taking time to develop the innovation strategy allows CEOs to open up the vision from pure product driven innovation towards differentiated innovation.
Given the right tools anyone can design a light bulb, and with talent and backing some can design a superior light bulb. A differentiated innovation strategy forces companies to think about “what will make us unique”; how not only our light bulb but every aspect of our company will make our light bulb shine brightly in the hearts and minds of consumers. Essentially, differentiated innovation moves innovation away from the few and into the organisation as a whole.
An organisation’s culture may be made up from its interaction with employees, customers and others over time but a change in organisational culture starts with the leader. As the desire is articulated in the vision and mapped out in the strategy a clear pathway starts to form. In its quest for innovation the organisation is now starting from the right place. Innovation leadership, culture and capability are up ahead but with a clear strategy to follow this time they have a chance of succeeding.