Innovation - 11.08.2018

Innovation Tips from Tony

Innovation isn’t complicated, but requires rigor. These six tips helped me.

Tony Hunter Author: Tony Hunter

Many organizations and leaders find it difficult to define innovation. This mystique around innovation creates an unnecessary obstacle to driving change and creativity in any organization.

Disclaimer: Nobody bats 1000, but if you don’t try new and different things, you will fail. Diversifying your innovation “bets” should anticipate failures. And make sure you encourage your team to bring bold ideas forward.

Below are several tips I’ve learned through the school of hard knocks. This list can accelerate and drive innovation across organizations or departments.

Tip 1: Involve everyone in your organization, regardless of title, in the innovation process.

Make innovation real to everyone by defining what it means. And what does it mean?

My definition: inject continuous improvement into everything you do.

Simply put, do something you already do, better; do something you already do in a different way, and identify new ideas or processes to replace existing tactics and strategies. Incorporate innovation objectives in your management teams and MBOs/goals, and measure their results. Then follow through by rewarding and recognizing the best ideas in your organization.

Tip 2: Never, ever, accept the first “good” idea.

Collaboration and competing alternatives always result in a better idea. Ideation, by definition, means that you create several ideas before landing on a solution. During ideation, force a discussion of competing alternatives after landing on your best idea; make sure the alternative is more bold and more aggressive than the initial idea. Employ the “measure, monitor, and refine” approach along the way; always maintaining optionality to pivot as needed..

Tip 3: All market-facing products and services should be vetted thoroughly.

Ask whether there is a customer need or problem to be solved. Then identify and assess all competitors in the marketplace. Press on whether your product or service has unique, differentiating attributes… answer the question “who will pay?” Decide on whether you will build, buy, or partner. And finally, develop short, mid, and long-term financial return-on-investment metrics.

Tip 4: Create an innovation pipeline to ensure your bets are diversified, from both a risk/reward and time horizon standpoint.

This pipeline should include tactical, strategic, and game-changing initiatives. The allocation of resources and investment dollars should be allocated to ensure the overall risk/return meets your company’s objectives and risk profile. Scanning the marketplace for emerging trends and competitive threats should be part of the process. Last, appoint an “owner” of the pipeline process to manage initiatives from concept to implementation.

Tip 5: A leaders’ primary responsibility is to make bets on people and ideas.

In the end, leaders are judged on how well they make bets on people and ideas. Assessing ideas and people requires weighing the track record of similar ideas, and the track record of the originator of the idea. After green-lighting ideas, put your best leaders in charge of your biggest ideas. This is not rocket science, but don’t forget that leadership matters.

Don’t penalize people for ideas that don’t succeed… except for failure to execute properly. Otherwise, you’ll always get incremental ideas. Share the successes and failures with your management team, embrace and share the lessons learned.

Final tip: Culture, Culture, Culture

Culture is a powerful force in organizations. Therefore, it’s important to understand the risk-taking appetite in your organization, and the behavioral norms of the company as well as the influential and powerful leaders in the company. Proceed with these factors in mind. A good starting point is “pitching” lower risk, high-probability success ideas to build confidence in the process.

And never forget: culture may eat strategy for breakfast…but it will also eat innovation for lunch. Ensure your culture is ripe for innovation, and then apply these tips for success.

Clearly none of these tips are complex or overcomplicated. I’ve found failure occurs when there is a lack of rigor and discipline. If you apply these principles with the appropriate discipline and rigor, the level of innovation within your company or department will increase dramatically.