Every organization wants to innovate. Not everyone succeeds. And often, the reason for failure is that organizations are trying to capture lightning in a bottle. Good luck with that. Instead, we prefer to plan for success. In this article, we’re going to dive into the practical details of our fluency model — the Innovate to Impact framework — looking at each stage of the journey and outlining the steps you need to take to proceed to the next level.
The framework relies on a collaborative approach to innovation — avoiding the pitfalls of both the top-down and bottom-up approaches that so often end in frustration (see article one for a fuller description of the collaborative approach). But success demands more than just setting up a team and hoping for the best. Let’s look a little closer at how your journey towards sustainable innovation can map out. It starts with a vision: how you see ways to differentiate yourself from the competition.
Stage 1: Experimenter (Build the capability & innovation engine)
The first stage of your journey is all about building capability and the innovation engine that will help you with experimentation. Your innovation team needs to understand all key stakeholders; the roles team members will play; how to source ideas from people across the enterprise; and how to establish communication channels and build a process that will allow efficient execution of the experiments that you’re going to conduct.
Experimentation, however, needs to be aligned to a purpose: that of getting you closer to your vision for strategic customer differentiation objective. Successful experimentation will help you scale through the steps of this framework, and smooth the path towards sustainable innovation.
As part of the innovation engine, your team needs to get accustomed to the discipline of sourcing ideas; validating them; ensure the focus is aligned to business priorities; and evaluate experiments’ success in ways that are tangible to the business. This helps the team to be lean in their approach of building an innovation engine for experimentation.
As part of this stage, the following are the aspects you need to consider:
To build the capability and set foundations to carry out experiments in the most efficient manner.
What you need to do?
At this stage, you will need to:
- Identify the purpose of your innovation programme and set a long term charter for the programme
- Identify the key stakeholders and team members
- Build relations and alignment with leadership and understand strategic objectives of the organization
- Generate, validate and select a set of ideas and experiments in collaboration with people across organization
- Prioritize a set of ideas and run experiments using the rapid innovation framework
- Review your process to identify the most efficient and impactful way to build experiments
- Repeat the process for different types of experiments to fine-tune your innovation engine
This phase is all about building an innovation capability that turn your ideas into products, prototypes or some tangible results (success or failure) in the most efficient manner. Once you’ve taken the above steps, its expected that you would have:
- Built the team that’s capable of running experiments in the most efficient manner
- Understood the communication pathways and decision points within your organization
- Proven your capability that you can turn ideas into products, prototypes or some tangible results (success or failures) within a definite period of time
This should invite more attention for you innovation programme and possibly enable you to secure additional funding.
One of the biggest challenges for this early-stage Experimenter team is that the projects may fail, or at least not produce the anticipated results. Maybe more experiments fail than succeed.
This can undoubtedly impact morale. So you should raise this possibility with the team at the outset. Because at this formative stage, successful projects aren’t the only goal: it’s essential that your team learns to adapt and quickly identify when projects aren’t delivering. They’ll learn far more from projects that go awry than those that are plain sailing.
Innovation in practice
Google X is a great example of how experimentation-oriented innovation labs can be set up. X is a diverse group of inventors and entrepreneurs who build and launch technologies that aim to improve the lives of millions, even billions, of people. Its goal? 10x impact on the world’s most intractable problems, not just 10% improvement. It approaches projects that have the aspiration and riskiness of research, and tries to tackle them with the speed and ambition of a startup.
Some of its best known ideas include Project Loon (balloons to deliver internet in rural areas) and Project Wing (Drones for good deliveries).
Stage 2: Value creator (Build enhanced credibility and strengthen leadership support by targeting internal value creation)
Once you have a solid engine that enables you to turn your ideas into tangible results and has proven its worth through a series of experimentation, you should then turn your focus onto building impact within the organization. This can be done through targeted value generation using your engine. As a part of value creator, your focus should now be to partner with important business functions within the organization, identifying opportunities where impact of innovation can be highest and partner with the users or functions to deliver those innovations to them.
The important difference between the experimenter phase and value creator phase is that in the latter, you identify specific areas (such as recruitment, staffing or operations) and work with the end users to establish a hypothesis of value and agree on it before starting to work on solving the problem and delivering an innovation. In this phase, your working team becomes bigger as you welcome the potential users and functional people into your team and focus on co-creation to deliver impactful innovation through your engine.
The purpose of this phase is to strengthen the partnership with the organizational leadership by providing direct and tangible benefits to the important business functions through your innovation engine.
What you need to do?
To prepare successfully for this stage, you should:
- Identify and partner with an internal business function, which is strategically important for the organization (say staffing, recruiting, sales)
- Talk to the users and understand their problems, as well as opportunities in the area
- Ideate within the context to understand the possibilities for innovation
- Map idea to potential value /outcome and target specific idea for experimentation
- Create a working group with users and functional people that would work with your team to co-create the solution
- Use your experimentation engine to build the solution/product/prototype and targetedly deliver the value
- Measure the value delivered
Because your innovation team is now working with a target group within the enterprise, you can expect the team to hone their ability to generate ideas that solve specific problems for that team. This can help build the culture of purpose-led innovation.