Over the last few articles, we’ve discussed the absolute fundamental principle behind innovation — it comes from your employees. Yes, it can come from other places, such as stakeholders and investors as stated by the Conscious Capitalism book by Mackey and Sisodia. It also can come from ‘crowd innovation’. Both of these utilize people external to your organization.
Employees see opportunities first hand every day. The question then becomes how do you get innovative ideas from them?
We started a laundry list of things to do for employees in “Innovation - Where to Start (Part 1)”. This leads to the question — which came first the chicken or the egg? What do you put into place first?
These where-to-start innovation articles are for those of you with a limited budget and limited resources. Doing all this at once is just not possible.
The information I’m sharing is for the troublemakers who are taking a stand to make things better, regardless of how outside of your job description it is. You need to collect data, document value, and propose to executives why they should listen to you. I was in that situation for many years and now I’m passing my experience onto you.
Mark Murphy contributed an article to Forbes, “Three Tools To Inspire Innovation From Your Employees.” His ideas range from leadership involvement to designating autonomy time. His last idea, “...make time for sharing these observations at regular staff meetings.” Again, we’re at the chicken and egg scenario. Do you train leadership to ask for innovations, which essentially would require management approval (and possibly a budget for leadership training), or do you start even simpler (and cheaper) and present possible innovations?
It’s my opinion that if you are starting a grassroots effort to get innovation started at your organization, first get the ball rolling with the least amount of effort possible.
That means getting a few innovations documented to show the value of simply asking for ideas from employees or registering your own ideas (point #1 above). This would allow you to document the potential value of your efforts, which can be used to persuade management to look at providing a budget for leadership training and, eventually, innovation process development (points 2 & 3 above).
So where to start? Start small. Start lean. Start by learning and documenting basic innovations to show how eventually your organization can reap the benefits of being an undercover boss 24/7.
When starting innovation, the most important aspects are the foundation principles from which the innovation comes. The most important aspect to remember is where innovation comes from - employees. Some companies are “Using the Crowd as an Innovation Partner,” but that’s a way to “answer the most vexing innovation and research questions.” I’m talking about simple, straight-forward ways for any leader to implement innovation in any organization.
Bill Fischer contributed an article to Forbes stating, “Most employees don’t believe that they are looked to for innovation. Good ideas are abundant within our workforces, but we don’t invite them in.”
This is a fundamental principle about where to begin to find innovative ideas. There are a few more questions that need to be answered, such as:
All of these issues can be addressed in due time. But first, the question is whether you believe the fundamental principle that Bill Fisher discusses in his article. Before approaching the first step, do you know which direction to go?
Tony Robbins gave a great analogy about strategy. Even if what you are doing is as simple as going to see the sunset. “You can be all excited about seeing a sunset. If you start to run East as hard as you can … you’ve got the wrong strategy.” I’m helping you run toward innovation. It’s toward your employees.
Greg Satell recently published the article “We Are At The Dawn of a New Era of Innovation. Will You Still Be Able to Compete?” which begins by talking about Wharton Professor David Robertson's new book on innovation, The Power of Little Ideas. What piques my enthusiasm is David’s quote, “Disrupt yourself or be disrupted!” Why am I so passionate about this approach? Because it requires internal employees to provide innovations to disrupt the way things are. This is motivation for all the troublemaker employees who want to make things better to voice their opinions and be heard!
Throughout my entire career, I’ve been one of those troublemakers who insisted on proposing ideas to make things better. When I voiced my opinions, one of two scenarios took place:
All three have two common elements ANY leader in ANY company can implement:
All it takes is a little effort to reap the benefits from innovation. Are you ready?
Paul Misener VP of Global Innovation Policy & Communications at Amazon states in a recent presentation, “Amazon strives to be an innovation machine guided by four principles: customer obsession rather than competitor focus; passion for invention; commitment to operational excellence; and long-term thinking.” All of this sounds like it would require a consultant to analyze how to get the organization from where you are to these lofty goals. The truth is that Amazon has been working at implementing innovation processes for many years. They have Jeff Bezos, a visionary, guiding them along the way.
Amazon Innovation Principle #1: Customer obsession rather than competitor focus
Many companies and consultants are obsessed with the competitive landscape. This first principle simple means don’t waste resources on analyzing the competition. Instead, focus your resources on understanding your customer. Innovation comes from directing resources to make products customers want to buy.
Amazon Innovation Principle #2: Passion for invention
In Inc.com’s article 37 Quotes From Thomas Edison That Will Inspire Success, one quote states, "To have a great idea, have a lot of them." Translation - innovation is not about one person in the organization having a great idea, it’s about creating a culture where many employees have many ideas. Creating a culture of innovation can simply come from senior executives stating in unison that they care about and want to hear employees’ ideas, and then honor those ideas.
Amazon Innovation Principle #3: Commitment to operational excellence
This may seem quite a lofty goal, but it is simply based on continuous improvement - a key part of innovation. Innovation does not need to be always about big ideas. It can be that many employees have many little ideas that make operations and processes a little better every day. The question is whether or not you have the ability to listen to ideas, sort out the good ones and implement those of value, regardless of size.
Amazon Innovation Principle #4: Long-term thinking
So much pressure on a business comes from the requirement to make wealth for shareholders, quarter after quarter. Unfortunately, that makes innovation difficult. If you need to invest in a new product, will you launch it with quality, or rush it out the door to meet sales projections? Creating quality products, that employees are proud of and customers will be loyal to, takes chutzpah and long term focus.
For help establishing innovation in your organization, contact Alfred Ricci.
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