innovation skills training

How To Bring Innovation To A Company

I’ve spent 15 years helping leaders bring innovation to their companies. In this blog, I share five ways to bring innovation to your organization.

I’ve spent a lot of time helping leaders and their teams answer the question of how to bring innovation to a company over the past 15 years. In this blog, I share six common mistakes companies make when solving how to bring innovation to a company and five things they should do instead.

innovation at work

Six Mistakes to Avoid

If you’re wondering how to bring innovation to a company, here are six common mistakes you’ll want to avoid:

  1. No definition of innovation
  2. Lack of clarity around what they’re innovating and why
  3. Failing to appreciate how change and innovation go hand-in-hand
  4. No innovation framework
  5. Implementing ideation software or running brainstorming sessions without the explicit use of creative thinking
  6. Being hard on yourself

How do I know this? 

From first-hand experience working with business leaders and intrapreneurs in Canada, the US, the UK, and Israel; as an Advisor to the Conference Board of Canada’s Executive Council of Innovation and Commercialization; and through our 2018 global research study which assessed “Who are the innovators in organizations?” and “what are the hidden factors that cause innovation to stall out?”.

So, how do you avoid making these mistakes? 

How to bring innovation to an organization

Below I outline five ways you could bring innovation to a company. 

1Define, contextualize, and measure innovation

How does your company define innovation?

Most companies talk about innovation in very general terms, like everyone knows what it means. While you, like many others, might be tempted to assume you know what innovation is and you can “google” a definition, what many people don’t realize is that innovation is contextual.

So, even with the same standard definition of innovation, what one company needs to do to innovate could be completely different than another.

But wait – there’s more!

Also missing was innovation’s sidekick: an innovation framework.

An innovation framework guides you in “framing up” the critical aspects of innovation – the people, process, products and innovation culture necessary to achieve the desired outcomes.

Does your organization have clarity around who will innovate, what and how they’ll innovate and how they’ll be supported in the process?

It’s difficult to do something when you don’t know what it’s supposed to look like, how you’ll do it and what success looks like.

If improving innovation in the workplace is the goal, you need to put a stake in the ground, contextualize and define innovation, target it, and describe the actions and behaviours you want from your people.

And for good measure (sorry, the pun was too tempting), share how you’ll measure impact so that you know you’re getting results on those actions and behaviours.

Here’s why you want to avoid making the mistake of no innovation definition and no innovation measures. Typical stats on innovation project failures run above 80%. You take unnecessary risks with results, and it impacts engagement. Some people will be working hard, wondering if their actions are “innovative enough” or on target. Others won’t bother trying because, let’s face it, what doesn’t get measured, doesn’t get done.  

And here’s why implementing innovation without an innovation framework is a bad idea. When innovation teams form, they typically focus on what they’ll do rather than how they’ll get it done.

As a result, when they run into problems, as is so often the case with innovation, they don’t have a process to work creatively through their problems or collaborate effectively across functions and, as a result, get stuck, frustrated, and have difficulty advancing their goals.

2Be clear on what you're innovating and why 

Many people believe that innovation is only about introducing new products and technologies. This is “revolutionary innovation.”

A common misperception is that if they aren’t involved with doing something revolutionary, they needn’t be bothered with innovation – which is far from the truth.

And quite frankly, it’s not inclusive. It limits innovation to a select few in the company and is a missed opportunity. You need everyone in your company focused on solving your business problems creatively to find innovative solutions.

An excellent way to bring innovation to a company is to make it a practice to find new and better ways to do your work – continuously. It’s called incremental innovation and it involves smaller internal changes resulting in value for the organization, its people and its customers.

For example, revolutionary innovation might include creating new technology. On the other hand, incremental innovation could involve adopting a new technology that results in substantial productivity increases in the company – automated accounts payable, electronic funds transfer and digital signatures on documents requiring approval. 

How do you find opportunities for incremental innovation? Look for opportunities when something bugs you and you wish it were different. Look for:

  • That business process that keeps tripping you up,
  • Handoffs to other teams that never seem to go well
  • The rework or missed deadlines because something isn’t efficient
  • The customer who isn’t happy
  • The stuff that leaves you shaking your head and wondering, “Why do we do that?” 
bring innovation company

When you find these places, ask yourself, “How might we do this better, faster, more simply?” These places will help you build innovation skills in your employee base, and they’re great opportunities to improve your efforts at diversity and inclusion in the company. Everyone can identify opportunities for improvement, develop solutions, and make the changes necessary to get the bottom line and customer-facing benefits. 

Here’s why you want to avoid not having clarity about what you’re innovating and why. 

It doesn’t go so well. You don’t get the benefits innovation should produce, and you leave yourself more vulnerable to market changes and disruptive, unanticipated events – like those from pandemics, competitors, customers and supply chains.

3Use innovation to respond to change, uncertainty, and constraint

Innovation changes things. And while many people engaged in innovation often fail to appreciate how much innovation changes things, there’s a flip side to innovation that is often unrealized.

We live in a VUCA world, and we’ve all become much more aware of the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity in our corner of the world.

Whether by choice or by chance, change is a constant reality. And as organizations figure out how to deal with these changes, they must navigate uncertain outcomes and constraints on people and other resources.

Many of our clients realize that status quo responses and old working methods don’t cut it when faced with change. They need new strategies for getting existing work done and adapting to unique circumstances and requirements. 

In other words, it’s the perfect time to bring innovation to a company.

There are opportunities to find new and better ways to do work, and let go of work that is no longer valuable.

In a VUCA world it’s critical to build resilience to change and respond to the challenges it brings creatively. One of the best ways to do this is to teach people creative problem-solving as a process for innovation and set them to work on solving your business problems. We give our clients tools and training through our ThinkUP Framework™ program and teach the FourSight® collaborative problem-solving system.

4Improve how you get and develop ideas

Many companies have invested in idea management software and use it to run idea challenges. Others use virtual or in-person engagement to generate ideas, typically in brainstorming sessions.

Getting ideas is more complex than simply asking people for their ideas. 

There are two things you need to make an ideation session a success:

  1. An idea protocol that includes explicit use of creative thinking; otherwise, you get ordinary, obvious ideas that lack the novelty necessary for innovation, and
  2. Clarity on the decision criteria you’ll use to evaluate and prioritize ideas.

How do you know if your company has an idea protocol?

Let me ask you this:

  • Are ideation sessions framed as problems to be solved using open-ended questions starting with phrases like – how to or how might? No question or a question beginning with the words “how can” won’t set you up for success.
  • Do participants in the session know their roles and expectations of the session? Do they know what will happen to their hard work of generating ideas, who owns the challenge and who will decide which ideas will advance?
  • Is the process of generating ideas separate from evaluating and developing ideas?
  • Are people given explicit guidelines for thinking creatively?
  • Is it safe for people to contribute ideas? Or are their ideas debated, discounted, ignored, maimed, made fun of or otherwise killed?
  • Can 6 – 8 people generate and record 30 to 50 ideas in less than 5 minutes?

You need an idea protocol if you answered yes to any or all of these questions. Check out our blog on How to develop innovative ideas.

5Lighten Up

And finally, I’m going to suggest you lighten up. You should yuck it up if you’re working to bring innovation to a company.

Here’s why: It’s been said that innovation is the most challenging work you’ll ever love.

While people can be passionate about innovation, an innovator’s job is never easy. It takes a lot of effort and faith to keep moving forward when the outcome is uncertain. 

Eventually, innovation is rewarding – either through a eureka moment, the silver lining of an unexpected result, a quick win, or a win that took a long time to come.

The creativity researcher Goran Ekvall uncovered ten dimensions contributing to the creative climate necessary for innovation. One of these dimensions is playfulness and humour – the need for spontaneity and fun.

bring innovation to a company

So, if you want to bring innovation to your company, remember to be playful, take time to celebrate wins, and incorporate humour, spontaneity and fun to blow off steam. 

Need help bringing innovation to your organization?

If you need help bringing innovation to your company, we understand your pressures.

Let’s talk about how to get you, your teams and leaders the innovation skills and complex problem-solving training, coaching and support your company needs. Book a discovery call today.