Innovation often is seen as something you have to solve – something you have to manage – by giving budgets, allocating people, introducing new titles (such as Chief Innovation Officer) or building Research Departments or Labs. This is not completely wrong – but I believe that it’s not enough. Innovation is an outcome of a culture that enables creativity, courage, and off-the-wall thinking. E.g. if your company is to hierarchical or to much focussed on silo goals chances are high that the employees stop thinking in challenging and creative ways. It is demotivating when you create an idea, showcase it and get the typical answer of “Cool, but no” or “Cool, but we did try it” or “Cool, but this is not your job”…
That’s a pitty because there is so much innovative potential when you involve the whole company and enable each single person to rethink the products / strategies / processes / organizational structures … Be aware that you has to Un-Think some of the things you take for granted. The most important part: Your organizational structure, the positions and roles you have (even the CXO’s) and the functional departments are good for reducing complexity in the day-to-day work – optimizing these structure leads to operational excellence but not to innovation. Innovation happens outside these structures, innovation is happing within the social relationships, within the heads of your best people (which is not a function of hierarchical power). So strive for operational excellence but also make sure to make the culture of your organization independent from these structures.
Here are 7 easy to implement approaches you can try to make the first step towards a more innovative culutre. Feel free to share your own ideas…
1. The Green Field
Ask the following question and invite each employee to find the best answers:
“What if you had to build YourProduct a second time from scratch knowing everything we know today. Knowing that social is really core to what we are doing, knowing how the market evolved, knowing that everything is moving to mobile, knowing all of the ups and downs we had about the web and how the web and YourProduct had been monetizing and how journalism and markets had happened on the web. what would you do differently to redo a better version of YourProduct and maybe the industry itself.”
Set Up an forum to collect answers within your intranet or set up an internal blog where everybody can post stuff. Just make sure that everybody is able to contribute. Maybe it’s a good idea to let people contribute anonymously to avoid that the value of ideas is confused by the position the contributor holds. In a second stage you could ask everybody to vote for the best ideas. By letting everybody vote you get a pretty objective ranking, let people grapple with the ideas which will lead new ideas and get a good overview of the “zeitgeist” of your company.
At the end you can reward the best ideas by giving contributors time to work on the ideas, build products and eventually take part in the strategical thinking of your company.
2. You – The User
Chances are high that you have some employees who are also users of your products. In a closed culture and missing empowerment these people do not connect their work on the product and their private usage of the same. This is unused potential since the connection of internal knowledge and hands-on user experience is pretty powerful.
So, ask your staff who is using the product in some ways and invite these users to give open feedback about their experience. What do they feel when using the product, do they see any gaps? Just start an internal discussions and listen!
3. Back To The Future
Beam your company into the future (say 20 years from now). Make it feel real by telling a story of the future: Wear different clothes, hanging futuristic pictures, creating newspapers of the future etc. Then invite each person, each team to act as if they were in the future. What would be different. Which products won’t be there anymore, is there a different org structure? Let people build prototypes or pretotypes of things that will be there in the future. Let them draw a picture that is as concrete as possible.
You could combine this with the forum mentioned in 1. Let people answer the question: What is the future all about. Maybe you’ll find the next big thing your company is looking for since you build the first big thing (which was the reason why the company was founded)…
4. Dive Into A Crisis
This is the same approach as the previous one but in this case you don’t tell a story of the future but of a concrete crisis. If the company is not too big call everybody for an all-employee-meeting and tell the story of the crisis you created: Maybe the government made a new law which makes it impossible for you to sell your products anymore, maybe Google released the same product you habe, maybe ….! Just make clear to make it feel as authentic as possible and ask people to make strategies how to come out of this crisis. What should be done differently? How do you communicate with customers?
This one could also be good to find your future leaders. People who stay positive and find ways to conquer crisis are the people you need to lead.
5. Beeing The CEO for one week
Give people the power to act as if they in charge. First step: Ask people to describe what they would do differently, what they want to reach etc. Second: Let everybody vote for the best pitch. Third: Give the winners the power to act like executives. Let them use the CXO offices, give them all the information needed and help them to be successful.
This is radical and you might be afraid of your people. Ask yourself: Why! Is there a lack of trust? Do you really think that people are not able to do your job? Just let them try. Give them the power to challenge how you act.
6. The Innovation Date
Set up a system where employees are randomly connected to each other once month into a group of 3-5. Let them spend the day together to share informations, experience and solve problems you have. You could ask the questions already mentioned or give them the freedom to find problems and challenges by themselves. With this approach you make it easy for your people to connect. Just make sure to give them space and time to work it out and use the randomness of their connection as effective as possible.
Your established teams are created by intend – which is good for operational tasks. This temporal “team” is randomly connected – which is a good foundation for innovation since innovation is also kind of random.
7. The I-Day
Take one single day and make it the idea day. The goal is not quality but quantity. Everybody should produce as much ideas as possible. It should be better to let them make it offline. Just give cards or post-its to every person and make a big enough wall to collect each idea. Maybe you turn off the internet for this day and let people sit on different places. Make a goal: Maybe 10k ideas on one day. Let them think, talk, think and give them the time to o so. Remember: 1 out of 100 ideas is something really valuable.
Afterwards you collect and analyse all the input and look for patterns, the remarkable stuffm things that you never thought about. You could reward the people with the highest amount of ideas (not the best ideas). Just make sure that you come out with something that you will do with all the input! This could be repeated and framed by questions like the ones already mentioned.